In Part 1, we talked about some questions you can expect to answer as you discuss your next lumber order with your trusted lumber supplier. (And we hope that’s us, by the way!) We’re guessing you’d prefer that ordering lumber for any given project were more straightforward; that’s a nice story. However, it’s simply not reasonable, considering the fact that lumber is not a manufactured, made-to-order product, and we cannot pretend that it is.
Whether you realize it or not, a conversation about your expectations and those of your customer are important precisely because each person’s ideals as well as the specific requirements of the project at hand, are similarly nuanced. Contrary to popular misconceptions, the lumber-buying process cannot be reduced to a grading category — even though that can be a helpful aspect of a lumber order conversation.
Why Grading Categories Aren’t Sufficient
Part of the reason that lumber ordering can’t be reduced to grading categories is that each species has its own set of characteristics; any universal grading system simply cannot account for all of them. Add to that the fact that grading systems are limited in what they actually describe (they don’t account for type of cut, for instance) and that they are more useful for some industries than others, and you’ll start to understand why this question about the definition of “top grade” is so important.
If your application requires a specific cut or pattern, there are terms to describe those things; however, they are not part of grading specifications. While your customer’s idea of top-grade Teak may well include “vertical grain,” not all FEQ Teak will necessarily include that designation.
In addition to grain patterns and cuts, some lumber dealers also like to specify the level of heartwood included in each board. The term “all heart” or “90% heartwood” may be used to include this characteristic — yet another detail not part of the NHLA grading systems.
Why Project Details Are Important
Sometimes the issue isn’t as much a specific type of cut or grain pattern, but rather simply that a certain number of boards appear similar to one another. The designation “color matching” applies here — and that’s yet another difficult topic for a naturally occurring product such as lumber. You (and your customer) need to understand that no real wood boards will perfectly match one another, unless you paint them. But at the same time, if a reasonable degree of color matching is important, you need to say so — or risk a terribly mismatched assortment of boards.
If you are building stairs, you certainly won’t want one board with rift sawn grain and another with quartersawn; in fact, you’ll probably desire a similar pattern on each. Do you see how you could easily receive all top-grade boards that did not meet those criteria?
Like in so many other areas of life, the more communication that occurs surrounding your lumber order, the greater the chances of that order’s meeting the expectations of all involved. And in the end, that’s what we all desire, right?!