Buying short boards might be a great way to save your customers money and even secure higher-quality lumber than you thought your budget would allow. In addition to getting more for your money, though, you’ll also help reduce lumber waste. But as much as you had to think outside the box (or at least the assumed North American lumber industry norms) before, we’re really going to challenge your thinking now: you can actually save money by purchasing longer or thicker boards than what you’re accustomed to buying. Yes, really! Today we’ll focus on how thicker boards can actually save you money.
Realizing Why Thick Boards Have Greater Availability
We get it: as a US lumber customer, you consider 4/4 to be “normal.” At J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber, it’s certainly the most common thickness that we sell. However, we’re having trouble lately getting that thickness in African species such as African Mahogany, Sapele, and Utile. The issue isn’t that the boards we can get are thinner than 4/4, though; instead, they’re thicker. Because those trees grow to be quite large, they produce plenty of wide, thick boards. We can actually get plenty of 8/4 and 12/4 boards in those species! That’s the good news.
The reason that 4/4 boards aren’t available in certain species isn’t due to a lack of raw material; instead, it’s all about global demand. Much like the issue with short boards, these African species are milled with the global lumber market in view. And for whatever reason, markets outside the US are more likely to prefer thicker boards. Whatever the reason for these varying preferences, the fact is that European and Asian markets have a preference for thicker boards — typically 8/4 and thicker. If that’s what most of your customers want, then that’s what you focus on.
Understanding the Cost of 4/4 Boards
In addition to the fact that a significant market prefers thicker boards, mills have other good reasons for not wanting to mill 4/4 lumber. Doing so requires more labor and results in a greater percentage of the log wasted, due to the extra sawing. An additional deterrent to sawing the 4/4 boards that only the US market accepts is tied to quality and grade. Because the thinner 4/4 boards require sawing closer to the edge of a log, the thinner boards are more likely to include more sapwood, making them less stable. These boards are, as a result, more likely to be classified as Common.
To understand how all of this translates into higher prices for thicker boards, check out Part 2.