The most common thickness we sell in exotic species is 4/4. As African species continue to gain popularity, a shortage of 4/4 thicknesses has resulted.
The good news is that this apparent shortage is no indication of actual supply: We can easily source plenty of 8/4 and 12/4 boards. Utile, Sapele, and African Mahogany are all large trees that grow prolifically throughout Africa. Wide or thick boards are easy to source.
But the current shortage of thinner boards provides an example from which we hope you, as a lumber customer, will begin to understand some common issues relating to how sawmills operate and respond to global market demands — as well as the uniqueness of the North American market.
Did you know that 4/4 lumber is basically a North American product? While it’s extremely popular here, the rest of the world tends to prefer their lumber a little thicker. Neither thick nor thin lumber is clearly the best option, but simply a matter of personal — or, rather, national — taste or preference. Or so it seems. Historically, most architectural styles require lumber that’s thicker than 4/4, and that may be a contributing factor. Beefier boards tend to behave better in wetter climates, as well.
Regardless of the intricate web of reasoning, the fact remains that throughout Europe and Asia, lumber that’s 8/4 and thicker is preferred. And if that’s what the majority of the world wants, that’s what a saw mill will primarily turn out. In addition to the limited market for 4/4 lumber, that size requires extra labor and produces extra waste, making prioritizing larger boards even more attractive.
Even though the North American preference for 4/4 lumber is fairly unique, it is still a significant factor in the market — after all, the United States is still arguably the largest buyer of hardwood lumber in the world. Because of that fact, many mills actually set up production runs just to meet the North American demand for 4/4 material.
However, they end up losing money on 4/4 production runs. Why? The lower quality, or common grades, of 4/4 lumber that inevitably result as a byproduct are completely unmarketable. The North American market rejects these boards, because we’re used to accepting only FAS equivalent, clear grade lumber. The European and Asian markets reject them because of the 4/4 size. How do the mills respond? They stick with 8/4 and thicker material.
To complicate the issue further, many door and window manufacturers in the U.S. refuse to use 4/4 lumber or 8/4 lumber, leading to a new market for 5/4, 6/4, and 7/4 boards. Some North American builders also request 10/4 lumber. The rest of the world is content with standard sizes of 8/4, 12/4, and 16/4, though, and they’ll also accept common grades. So that’s what the sawmills generally produce.
Continue reading with Part 2.
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.