Let's ReThink North American 4/4 Thickness Lumber
Along with blindly following trends, mindlessly ordering lumber according North American standards can lead to paying higher prices. Being aware of the global lumber industry and market variations can help you understand — and maybe even help to change — the issues facing today’s lumber buyers. At the very least, it can help us save you money.
One example of such an issue is the North American standard 4/4 thickness, as opposed to the global preference for thicker cuts, like 8/4 and 12/4. The demands of the European and Asian markets have created a surplus of those thicker cuts, while the industry is experiencing a dearth of boards with a 4/4 thickness. Particularly an issue for African decking species, those ordering Sapele, Utile, or African Mahogany will want to especially consider the impact of sticking to ordering only according to the North American standard.
Appreciating the North American Demand
Perhaps you’re wondering if the North American preferences matter; maybe you’re even feeling a little jilted, right now. While North America is still a major force in the hardwood lumber industry, our preference for 4/4 lumber creates a quandary.
For the mills, sawing 4/4 lumber creates more waste and requires more labor. Since demand abounds for 8/4 lumber, the mills benefit by turning out 8/4 lumber instead of the smaller 4/4 lumber. As long as there’s a demand for 8/4 lumber, they’re better off filling that need than working harder, taking longer, and creating more waste from the same wood.
Understanding the Grading Issues
Not only is 4/4 lumber more costly to produce, but it’s also more difficult to produce. In short, sawing closer to the edges of the log produces wider sapwood incursions, and the thinner stock lacks the same stability of wider boards throughout the drying and transportation process.
An additional complication of the North American standard of 4/4 boards comes up when you consider that Americans are generally more particular about having only clear, FAS lumber than the rest of the world tends to be. Since the demand for 4/4 lumber is uniquely North American, any Common-grade 4/4 lumber is a complete waste.
Creating Realistic Expectations
Finding lumber in widths such as 4/4, 5/4, and 10/4 is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive. One answer to this dilemma is to purchase wider stock lumber that’s in demand globally, as we’ve decided to do here at J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber.
For customers who are absolutely insistent on the thinner boards, we can accommodate their needs; however, that comes with a cost. When we re-saw the lumber, our turnaround time and labor costs factor into the price we can offer, but that price is still preferable to absorbing the costs associated with Common grade lumber that accompanies any lumber we purchase already sawn to thinner widths.
The resulting scenario, however, is that our prices for FAS 5/4 or 10/4 thicknesses are greater than those for 6/4 or 12/4 boards. If we were you, we’d pay less for the greater stability that comes with the thicker boards. The choice is up to you.