Here in North America, 4/4 lumber is considered standard. In fact, it’s by far the most popular thickness we sell here at J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber. However, it may come as a surprise to you that 4/4 lumber is not preferred across the globe, the way it is here. The rest of the world prefers a thicker cut, such as 8/4 and 12/4.
The European and Asian lumber market demand have led to an abundance of thicker cuts of lumber, even while there’s a shortage of 4/4 thicknesses. (This issue has been especially apparent with African species such as African Mahagany, Sapele, and Utile.) Because of this disparity between the global market and the North American market, it’s an issue worth considering.
Initial Labor, Time, and Waste Issues
You may be wondering if North America is still a leader in the hardwood lumber industry, and the answer is a resounding “yes.” However, despite our significant force within the market, our preference for 4/4 lumber isn’t exactly a no-brainer for the mills. First, sawing 4/4 lumber requires more labor and leads to more waste. Since there is still plenty of demand for the less-labor-intensive 8/4 lumber, it’s a better deal for the mills to turn out 8/4 lumber than 4/4 lumber.
Additional Grading Requirement Concerns
In addition to taking more labor and time to produce, the 4/4 lumber preferred by North American customers is more difficult to produce. By nature of the way lumber is sawn, more common grade lumber is produced when 4/4 lumber is sawn. (Basically, mills need to saw closer to the edges of the log, which produces wider sapwood incursions; the thinner stock tends to lack stability throughout the drying and transportation processes, as well.)
Because Americans tend to be more insistent on clear FAS lumber than the rest of the world, this additional issue puts mills in quite the quandary. Whereas the larger cuts of Common grade lumber could be sold easily within the Asian and European markets, there is no place for them to go with the high percentage of Common grade 4/4 lumber.
Resulting Options in Attaining Thinner Lumber
The inevitable result, as you might imagine, is that lumber in widths such as 4/4, 5/4, and 10/4 will continue to become more difficult to find, or prices will rise significantly. As the lumber importer, we are basically forced to purchase the wider stock that’s in demand, globally. Of course, when we resaw it, that adds turnaround time and labor costs.
Alternately, we can buy the thinner lumber, but then we have to absorb the cost of unsalable Common grade lumber, increasing your cost for FAS quality boards. As a result, you’ll notice that our prices for 5/4 or 10/4 thicknesses are higher than for 6/4 or 12/4 boards.
We can work with you to determine the best route for your unique lumber requests, but hopefully at least now, you understand the issues surrounding the seeming shortage of thinner lumber, and why you can expect to pay more for it.
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 (800) 638-9100.