As hardwoods and softwoods prices have continued to rise, plywood and millwork prices have remained steady. How does that make sense? The only logical explanation is that you’re not getting the same quality product that you used to get.
Maybe you’ve noticed the same kind of thing at the grocery store; I know I have. While other items seem to constantly rise, a few seem to stubbornly stay the same. Why am I paying a higher price for a 5-pound bag of flour but still spending the same amount on a loaf of bread? That loaf is getting shorter, folks. I’m really not that oblivious.
When it comes to lumber — and lumber products, in particular — realizing where you’re being short-changed is a little less obvious than counting bread slices or measuring the size of a loaf.
For starters, grading systems are far from simplistic. Many variables, including species eccentricities, are involved in grading. In addition, the specifications of each system are subject to change — sometimes by government officials, other times at the request of manufacturers. Yes, you read that right: manufacturers of lumber products get to influence lumber grading. If that just doesn’t seem quite right to you, you’re not alone.
We hear people all the time bemoaning the fact that it’s getting more and more difficult to secure the same level of quality they were once accustomed to using. While sometimes we all tend to view the “good old years” through rose-colored glasses, these lumber enthusiasts aren’t seeing things: It’s actually true. And the grading categories have been appropriately widened as a response to this shift.
In addition, long lengths with straight, clear grain appropriate for a moulding run are rarer than a wide, clear face that can be used for plywood face veneer; the grading systems account for that, as well. If you understand the purpose of grading within the lumber industry, you can appreciate those issues.
The shift in grading categories may not be happening for the purpose of being misleading; at the same time, the continually lowering standards and widening of grading categories concerns us. As requests for further widening of categories consistently flood in from manufacturers, the result is a lowering of standards that — if it continues — will essentially make any grading absolutely pointless.
For manufacturers, this lowering of the bar allows them to use lower grade raw materials, keeping the cost to the customer (and their profit margins) fairly consistent, despite rising costs of lumber. Even with using lower grade lumber, though, they can’t quite keep their numbers even without cutting other corners. So they sacrifice on quality control and ramp up production to turn out higher quantities in the same amount of time. The result is more, but lower quality, wood products flooding the market. Producers of high-quality products are struggling, while the masses continue to play the lower-the-standards game and make their money.
Learn more about the lumber industry
- Wood Color Changes Explained
- Can you prevent cracks in large timbers?
- Why Walnut’s Grading Scale Is More Liberal Than Its Counterparts
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.
As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.
Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling toll free (800) 638-9100.