Lumber pricing is a complete mystery to many, and at J. Gibson McIlvain, we’re not into perpetuating the confusion. In fact, we’re doing what we can to “pull back the curtains” and help our customers understand not only the many factors contributing toward lumber pricing but also how to save money on premium lumber.
While it’s never sufficient to provide solely the grade of lumber which you are looking for when communicating your lumber preferences and needs, typically, grade offers at least a starting point for fulfilling an order. With plywood, however, the limitations of the grading scheme prevent grade from meaning much at all.
For instance, two sheets of plywood can be labelled with the same grade but display such different characteristics that only a gambler should trust the grade to communicate quality. As counter-intuitive as it may be, when it comes to plywood, you need to start not with grade but with price.
While plywood certainly undergoes similar fluctuations in pricing just like solid lumber (as well as artificial pricing shifts like this one), as an engineered material, its pricing is a bit more complex. Basically, when you see bargain-priced plywood, it’s not just due to a supply-and-demand situation favorable to a buyer: It’s usually because steps have been skipped in its production, thus shaving off some production costs to create a cheaper product.
So doesn’t grading account for that kind of corner-cutting? The short answer is, well, no.
The alphanumeric grading designation by the HPVA (Hardwood Plywood Veneer Association) basically describes the front and back faces of plywood, with A-1 designating top quality on both faces. Do you see the limitations of this system? It does nothing to describe the core nor how the face is attached.
As any builder knows, a solid core is the real beauty of high-quality plywood. Whether it’s Fir, Poplar, MDF, or a combination, the core is comprised of various materials and manufactured using specific processes — none of which is reflected in the plywood grade. In addition, the added time and materials needed for book matching (or color or grain-matching) a face veneer will necessarily result in greater cost.
Because of the limitations of plywood grading and the many key characteristics which the grading scale overlooks, you really need to know your project specifications — and be willing to communicate them — when you place your plywood order. If you call for a quote and the supplier doesn’t ask you about how you’re planning to use the product, scratch that supplier off the list.
Certainly, you don’t have to go with the highest quote, but if a supplier’s figure is far lower than the rest, don’t get excited; scratch that one, too. Different suppliers aim at different profit margins, so there will be some variation. When there’s too much, though, you can be sure that you’re not getting the same quality as the rest.
Here at J. Gibson McIlvain, we supply only plywood manufactured with the highest quality in mind. Our cabinet-grade plywood is available in either veneer or with MDF cores in these species: African Mahogany, Birch, Cherry, Maple, Red Oak, Sapele, Walnut, and White Oak.
Learn more about the lumber industry:
- Should I use Ipe or Teak? Two high end lumber types defined
- Why buying tropical lumber is so important
- How to prevent cracks in your large timbers
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.
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