It may be an understandable question, but it’s also a complicated one: What will my lumber cost? From the customer’s side, it seems simple, reasonable, straightforward. But from the lumber supplier’s standpoint, it’s actually pretty complex, requiring both analysis of the specific aspects of the order as well as synthesis of a variety of factors.
Unfortunately, many lumber suppliers fail to communicate with any level of openness regarding what goes into any given lumber order price. As a result, customers can understandably feel wary of the reasoning. As a lumber customer myself, I admit to sometimes wondering whether the price I’ve been quoted has been pulled out of a hat or somehow tied to something equally irrelevant, such as the weather forecast or the mood in the office on a particular Wednesday afternoon.
In reality, the reasoning behind lumber pricing is simply too nuanced for any given supplier’s representative to summarize in a 5-minute phone conversation. But I will attempt to shed some light on it here.
The Realities Facing Real Lumber
If you think about it, it does make sense that pricing is often straightforward and fairly steady for manufactured products, such as mass-produced building materials. Sure, shifts in overhead expenses and raw materials will occur; however, they won’t be as significant as the pricing variations found with natural building materials such as lumber. Between issues like supply that relies on natural availability, as well as season and governmental regulations, and then demand that fluctuates based on season and style trends, there’s plenty of reason for the ever-changing lumber pricing which you understandably find frustrating. And that’s just the beginning.
The Significance of Lumber Grade
Most lumber customers realize that lumber grade will have an impact on pricing: a clear board without any sapwood will understandably cost more than a knot- and worm-hole-ridden board. However, as a lumber supplier, we don’t have the luxury of ordering only top-grade or above-grade lumber; if we could, it would undoubtedly cost far more than it does.
In this discussion, it also bears mentioning that lumber grading isn’t always as detailed as you might assume; many applications require specific characteristics that actually require above-grade lumber. Combine that with the fact that we never get a shipping container completely full of FAS lumber, and you’re somewhat at the mercy of how picked over a given pack may be when you place your order.
For instance, let’s say a shipment of Mahogany starts out being 70% FAS. But by the time you place your order, only 30% of what remains is FAS (due to others before you purchasing many of the FAS boards). If you require only FAS, your price will necessarily be higher, in order to absorb the price of the boards in the shipment which are going to be left and probably unsalable.
Have you learned anything new? We’re guessing lumber grade isn’t as significant of a factor in pricing as you thought it was, and timing is even more important. Of course, these aren’t the only factors contributing to lumber pricing. Let’s take a look at a few more in “How the Size of Boards Affects Lumber Pricing.”
Learn More About the Lumber Industry
• Do You Really Need Extra-Wide, Extra-Long Lumber Boards?
• Wood Color Change: Extractives & Staining
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods and 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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