Similar to the issue we’ve discussed previously regarding the North American market’s preference for even-length decking, lumber thickness can be an issue where you end up paying more for less overall lumber. And we’re thinking that’s not really what you want to do. If you’ve tried ordering exotic species in 4/4 thickness recently, you may be under the (false) impression that wide, thick lumber isn’t as available as it once was.
The Reality of Global Demand
The fact is that even wide, thick exotic lumber is in high supply; if you order 8/4 or 12/4 boards in African species such as Utile or Sapele, you’ll realize that. The issue actually boils down to market demand. And when only the North American market has a demand for a certain size, mills aren’t motivated to produce much of it. And for good reason. And as popular as 4/4 lumber is here, it’s not at all common across the globe. Most other lumber markets across the globe — including Asian and European markets — actually prefer thicker lumber. (We’re not sure exactly why, but we know it to be true.)
The Issue of Added Waste
The global market isn’t the only reason mills prefer to cut 8/4 or thicker lumber, as opposed to 4/4 lumber; if they stood an even chance of selling both for a comparable price, they’d still prefer to mill and sell the larger thickness. Why? It takes more labor and results in more waste to saw two 4/4 boards than a single 8/4 board.
In addition to the economic preference for sawing thicker boards rather than the thinner ones uniquely preferred by the North American market, there’s another waste-related issue that comes up. Sawing 4/4 lumber necessarily results in a greater amount of lower quality, Common grade lumber. This thinner stock lacks the stability of its thicker counterparts, due to wider sapwood incursions. And the American market generally doesn’t accept such lower-quality boards. In fact, we’re pretty picky about only FAS lumber (which is a topic for another day). Since the rest of the world doesn’t want 4/4 lumber, anyway, and we won’t accept Common grade 4/4 lumber, mills face a losing proposition when they saw 4/4 boards.
The Options Available To You
The issues explained above translate into this: when we as a lumber supplier purchase lumber in these exotic species, we’re essentially forced to purchase it in greater widths in keeping with the sizes in demand globally.
This scenario leaves you, the customer, with a couple choices. First, you can purchase thicker FAS lumber and have us re-saw it to your specifications at our in-house millworks. Due to the additional labor required, though, added cost will also come into play. Second, you can accept the thicker lumber and essentially pay less for more wood. Value engineering can help you design projects with this issue in view.
Continue reading with Part 4.