Our first article in this series introduced a dilemma that many lumber customers face. They have a difficult time predicting what price they will be charged for lumber. We touched on the fact that this unclear pricing is brought on by several important variables. In this article, we’ll explore some of those factors in greater detail. The first one we’ll look at is lumber grading.
Lumber Grades can Dramatically Impact Prices
It makes sense that a board that’s covered with knots, wormholes, and other imperfections is going to cost less than a smooth, clean board. Even though customers would probably recognize the logic in defect-free wood costing more than flawed wood, they sometimes fail to factor the impact that grading could have into their lumber purchasing budget. In fact, many customers fail to even bring up the topic of grade when they ask a dealer for a quote. Instead, they’ll ask for a general price for a certain species. The problem is that the standards of lumber grading under the National Hardwood Lumber Association aren’t perfect.
The United States customer base generally expects top-of-the-line grade wood. As a result, wood that customers wouldn’t be satisfied purchasing for various applications can end up in the packs of wood that are shipped to dealers. Dealers then have to pick those packs of wood apart and compile the non-salable wood. Then they consolidate the usable wood into new packs. The result of this process is that the cost of the wasted wood ends up getting passed on to the customer in the form of higher prices. The bottom line is that if customers have certain expectations for what FAS Cherry or Mahogany wood should look like, and those expectations exceed the NHLA grading standards, customers will have to be willing to pay more for that type of high-quality wood.
Expect to Pay More for Longer, Wider Boards
Another area that can have a profound effect on the affordability of wood is the specifications you require as a customer. Boards that are wider and longer can end up being significantly more expensive than thinner, shorter boards. This is especially the case if you’re going with exotic species. Since boards that exceed the common 6-8” width aren’t in high demand, some mills may repurpose them and actually make them narrower. Dealers often can only get the wider, longer boards that some of their customers want for high-end applications when they make a special request. The dealer will be charged more for these boards. In order for the dealer to still make a profit, some of that cost will naturally need to be passed on to the customer.
This price fluctuation can really vary by species. For certain species, like Oak and Maple, wider boards don’t cost much more than narrow ones do. Walnut, on the other hand, is a different story. If you want wide Walnut boards, expect your price to be far above the normal listing price for that species. Longer boards don’t tend to pose as much of a price increase until they exceed 14’ in length. 20’ or longer boards are typically much more costly than shorter boards.
Board specifications and lumber grades are just two aspects to consider when it comes to making accurate predictions of wood prices. In our next article, we’ll look at how the location the wood comes from and the timing of your purchase based on seasons can also play a role in paying higher or lower prices for lumber.