Now that you understand a bit of the history (or at least our theory) behind the numbers swimming around on your lumber order (see Part 1), we hope you feel empowered to place your lumber order with confidence and understand exactly what you’re getting. If it’s described in terms of quarters, then what you’re getting is rough-sawn lumber. Once it’s planed and dried, it should approximate the whole number to which the fraction can be reduced. In the mean time, though, there’s a little bit more that you should know.
When your lumber is described in fractions, you know that it will be priced according to volume. Lumber is priced by the board foot, which is a volume measurement. So many variables influence the price, and the size is only one of them. The thickness, as set by the log carriage, is produced by a fast cutting blade that produces variable thickness over the board’s length.
The log shape will influence the board’s width, as well. As the boards are seasoned and dried, shrinking will result. Let’s say the end goal is to have a board that is 4/4 after shrinkage, drying, etc. In order to accommodate that, the green board might be closer to 1-1/4” thick in places.
Most sawyers have the experience to know how thick to cut a board to allow for drying, but the organic nature of wood definitely causes variation. Even though there will be some inconsistency from board to board, the fact that lumber is sold by volume means that you are getting the amount of wood for which you’re paying. Just as a gallon of milk is the same amount, whether you purchase it in pints, half gallons, or gallons, 100 board feet is 100 board feet, no matter how it’s sawn.
If the lumber you’re purchasing is not priced by board foot and measured in quarters, you’ll be dealing with linear foot pricing. Wood sold by the linear foot has been planed on at least two faces, possibly all four faces. Described as S2S or S4S boards, they’re priced according to board foot, while factoring in labor costs to mill the boards to a particular dimension. Exact thickness and width — along with an average length — will be specified. While the price will be higher, the product will be ready for joinery or installation.
Even if we can’t be quite sure of the origins, hopefully it helps you to understand why lumber is sold according to volume and why the quarter-thickness convention makes sense. Most importantly, you now know what you’re getting when you hear boards described in fractions such as 12/4, 8/4, 4/4, etc. At J. Gibson McIlvain lumber company, we welcome knowledgeable customers and truly strive to assist our customers in understanding more about the lumber they buy.
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.
For more information on J. Gibson McIlvain’s lumber products and services, call Monday-Friday toll free (800) 638-9100 to speak with one of their representatives.