In Part 1, we looked at why thicker boards can sometimes be more available than 4/4 boards, which the US lumber market considers standard thickness. But we haven’t yet gotten to the part we hinted at in the title — how bigger (or, really, thicker) can be cheaper. But don’t worry — we’ll get to it this time.
US Market Grade Specifics
We ended Part 1 with the idea that sawing 4/4 thickness makes a board more likely to end up classified as a Common grade. And that brings us to another idiosyncrasy of the American lumber market: we typically accept only FAS lumber. Since only the US market accepts 4/4 lumber at all, and that thickness is more likely to end up being Common grade, saw mills have absolutely no incentive to saw 4/4 boards: most of these boards won’t sell in the US, and none of these boards will sell outside the US. The result would be great waste and financial loss.
Compromises in the Window and Door Industry
US window and door companies have had issues regarding thickness for a while. Even when 4/4 boards are plentiful in a given species, they don’t quite meet the need of this industry — nor did 8/4. So they created a new market for 5/4, 6/4, and 7/4. Since most industries in the global market prefer greater thicknesses, many boards that are sawed to those other thicknesses end up being wasted.
Options for Securing 4/4 Boards
As the demand for these thinner sizes continues to climb, we’ve had to get a little creative. We could request the thicknesses our customers desire, but when we do, that forces us to absorb a lot of waste in the form of common grades we cannot sell; that scenario would force us to inflate the prices of the FAS boards. Instead, we’ve opted to accommodate our customers’ preferences in house. Another option is to purchase thicker FAS boards and resaw them to meet customer demands. However, that translates into a higher turnaround time and added cost of labor, resulting in higher cost to our customers. Either way, the 4/4 or 5/4 boards end up costing more than 6/4 boards!
If you have the capability to mill boards in house, it may be more cost effective for you to purchase thicker boards and resaw them on your own. Or perhaps ordering lumber by the log would make more sense for you, if you have use for Common grade boards.
Wherever the added cost comes in the supply chain, it has to come. If you can make your project work with thicker boards, you could actually save money; but otherwise, J. Gibson McIlvain can help you determine how to get the 4/4 lumber you need at the best price possible.
Continue reading with Part 3.