First, let’s define exactly what we mean when we use the term “short lumber.” Here in the U.S. lumber industry, “short” is used to describe the entire category of boards that fall below the 8-foot length. Most of them are actually longer than 7 feet, and the rest are typically 6 feet or longer. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them. Really. So what’s the deal? Let’s explore a little.
Who Says Being Short Is a Bad Thing?
Did you realize that it’s solely in the U.S. that boards under 8 feet long are considered “short”? The trend toward larger homes in America may be to blame for the trend toward extra-long, extra-wide lumber, but in Europe, what we consider “short” is considered within the range of standard size. While U.S. sawmills consistently turn out boards that are 8 feet long or longer, sawmills across the globe produce plenty of “shorts” that U.S. wholesalers must purchase along with longer lengths.
Why Does Species Make a Difference?
The percentage of shorter lumber that comes in a shipping container packed full of lumber varies according to species, but it’s almost always part of the deal. Because each species has its own unique tendencies, including size, we can expect some species to produce longer or shorter boards than others.
One species that usually comes in a variety of lengths, including shorts, is Genuine Mahogany. Several mills in South or Central America usually have to work together to come up with the quantities we typically purchase. Since the Mahogany tree isn’t as large as it once grew to be, they end up yielding shorter boards than they once did; short boards typically account for about 20% of each load we receive.
By contrast, Utile and Sapele trees, both from Africa, typically grow to large, hearty sizes, making extra-wide, extra-long, extra-thick boards easy to yield — and shorts with these shipments are significantly fewer in number. In a typical load, we receive about 5% shorts. Most other exotic species run somewhere between Mahogany and those African species.
What Happens to Short Lumber?
We already mentioned that in Europe, builders are accustomed to working with shorter lumber. But here in the U.S., suppliers are still required to purchase short lumber as a by-product of longer boards. In essence, those purchasing the longer boards end up paying, in part, for the short boards, too, allowing those who are willing to defy the norm and use short boards to save up to 30%!
Sometimes, your application requires long boards. We get that. But when it doesn’t, and you’ll just cut the boards anyway, why not purchase short lumber and save yourself (and your customers) some money? By refusing to allow it to be wasted, you’re also contributing positively to the lumber industry and the environment. Consider it your good deed for the day. Or even the week.
If you want to chalk up some goodness (and cost savings), continue reading to learn about odd-sized decking!