The Return of the American Chestnut

History of the American Chestnut

American chestnuts, giants that could grow up to 125 feet tall and 16 feet wide, once dominated the forests of Appalachia. These “redwoods of the East,” as they were sometimes called, made up between one quarter and one half of all the trees in their eastern forests. As the 19th century turned into the 20th, close to four billion American chestnuts towered over the landscape. Today only a few hundred mature American chestnuts survive. 

At the turn of the century, a fungus known as Cryphonectria parasitica was accidentally imported from Asia on Japanese nursery stock and made its way through the American chestnut population, entering through wounds in the bark and cutting off nutrition to the trees above the infection site. The pathogen was first detected in New York in 1904, and by 1950, almost the entire population of American chestnuts was wiped out.

Read more: That Old Chestnut

Woodworking Characteristics of American Chestnut

The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a fast-growing hardwood tree whose lumber is nearly as strong as oak, yet lightweight.  While the heartwood is durable, the sapwood is prone to infestation, which is why most remaining lumber is known as wormy chestnut for its characteristic insect damage. Chestnut is easy to work and glues and nails well. Naturally rot-resistant, straight-grained, and formerly plentiful, American chestnut was once used for a wide variety of purposes, including home construction, cabinetry, furniture, utility poles, railroad ties, and musical instruments.  Reclaimed wormy chestnut lumber today is often used for rustic furniture. 

Read more: American Chestnut Makes Comeback

American Chestnut Restoration Efforts

Hope still remains for the American chestnut. Two distinct restoration efforts are underway, each with their own advantages and drawbacks.


The American Chestnut Foundation has been cross-breeding American chestnuts with Chinese chestnuts for years in an effort to breed a hybrid that is as much like the American species as possible, but with the blight-resistance of its Chinese relative. The Chinese chestnut is much shorter, growing to approximately 65 feet instead of 100, with leaves that are shorter, thicker, and more rounded. The breeding process involves crossing the American and Chinese varieties, waiting several years for them to grow, inoculating them with the blight, and then choosing the few that exhibit the most American growth habit and the best blight resistance for the next generation. After decades of this crossing and back-crossing, the foundation has come up with a hybrid that is 15/16 American and 1/16 Chinese and has very good blight resistance. Millions of these hybrids will soon be planted in various publicly and privately owned sites in the American chestnut’s natural range.

Read more: Revival of the American Chestnut

Genetic Modification

The second restoration effort is more controversial. The American Chestnut Research and Restoration project at SUNY is attempting to bring back the American chestnut with genetic modification. The Oxalic acid in the blight is what kills the trees, so Dr. Will Powell at SUNY took a gene called Oxalate Oxidase that breaks down Oxalic acid from a wheat plant and spliced it into the DNA of an American chestnut.  These genetically modified American chestnuts have great blight resistance, better than the American-Chinese hybrids, and are indistinguishable from native American chestnuts, but some people worry about the unintended consequences of releasing a genetically modified species into the landscape. The SUNY team is waiting for approval from the USDA, the FDA, and the EPA before they can plant their genetically modified chestnuts in the wild. 

Read more: To save iconic American chestnut, researchers plan introduction of genetically engineered tree into the wild.

If one or both of these restoration efforts succeed, the American chestnut may return to its former glory in the forests of Appalachia. Perhaps future generations will once again prize American chestnut lumber for its ample availability as well its light weight, strength, straight grain, and rot-resistance. 

How Will the New Trucking Regulations Affect Hardwood Lumber?

In recent months, the required implementation of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) in fleet trucks has been on the minds of both suppliers and customers across many industries. The change to ELD as a standard has certainly introduced some new challenges for the hardwood lumber industry.

What are the Requirements of the New ELD Rule?

According to the American Transportation Research Institute, one of the biggest challenges in trucking this year is the new requirement by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), effective as of December 18, 2017. The new rule requires drivers to use electronic logging devices instead of paper logs. ELDs monitor duration of engine operation and mileage driven, among other information. 

Federal hours-of-service regulations require that drivers may drive no more than 11 hours a day and  they must have ten consecutive hours off between workdays and ELDs are now required to ensure compliance with these rules.

Challenges of ELD Requirements

The introduction of ELDs represent some challenges for both the company and driver. 

Cost: ELD installations are a significant cost for fleets. 

Learning Curve: Understanding and operating the new equipment while on the road can be difficult. 

Aging Workforce / Driver Shortage: There is concern that asking an aging workforce to use new technology will nudge an aging workforce out of the occupation. This would likely exacerbate the driver shortage already facing the trucking industry.

Loss of Productivity: Regulations may reduce driving hours for some compared to the previous status quo.

Longer Lead Times: With a continued driver shortage and stricter daily driving hours, deliveries are likely to take longer, especially as companies and drivers adjust to these new systems.

With ELDs, idling time counts as time in service, so if drivers have to wait to unload or pick up, they’ll have less time to drive before they’re required to take a ten-hour break. Shippers are still working to adjust to carefully planned delivery appointment schedules to avoid paying extra for driver detention. 

Advantages of New ELD Requirementstruck_driver

Despite challenges of the new requirements, benefits and opportunities exist within the new landscape as well. 

Safer Work Environment: When it comes down to it, ELDs are intended to create a safer work environment for drivers. ELDs help drivers to manage their schedules, avoiding fatigue, and reducing accidents. 

Save Time and Errors Compared to Paper Logs: Drivers spent up to 20 hours per year maintaining a paper log. ELDs are intended to eliminate this time for drivers. ELDs will also reduce mistakes.

Increase Customer Service Over Time: Dispatchers will be able to track shipments for accurately, providing more specific delivery times.

What Does All of This Mean for Lumber Shipments? 

In the short term, hardwood lumber is moving slower. Whether a company is running their own fleet or using independent drivers, everyone is still adjusting to the changes that accompany the new ELD requirements. In addition, we are seeing trucking costs increase as low trucking availability works against a learning curve for everyone involved. 

Over time, this should lead to positive opportunities for those who choose to look for ways to use ELDs to work smarter and more efficiently over time. In the meantime, no matter your role in the hardwood lumber industry, have patience while we all learn together.


An Added Challenge: Driver Shortages

In the American Transportation Research Institute’s annual industry issues report for 2017, driver shortage topped the list of critical issues facing the industry for the first time since 2006. The trucking industry has been coping with a driver shortage for the last 15 years, and the numbers are getting worse. The industry was approximately 50,000 drivers short in 2017, and that is expected to increase to a shortage of 174,000 by 2026. An aging population of truckers is the primary reason for this shortage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 

the average age of a commercial truck driver in the United States is 55 years old. To keep up with demand and replace a workforce nearing retirement, the industry will need to hire 898,000 drivers over the next decade. Most trucking companies report that they are getting plenty of applicants, but only a small percentage of those applicants have the required experience and qualifications necessary to meet safety standards. 

Unalam: Committed to Quality and Innovation

Guest post by Tony Morgan, senior technician for Wagner Meters.

Though it started out in 1892 selling lumber and seed in a mill in Unadilla, New York, Unalam, an innovative manufacturer of laminated wood structures, has certainly come a long way since then.

In 1906, this 125-year-old multi-generational family business began making silos for area farmers. The early success of its silo business was a precursor to the steady growth and success Unalam would experience through the years.

After incorporating in 1909 as the Unadilla Silo Company, Inc., Unalam maintained its silo product line until the 1980s. Meanwhile, in 1928, the company added a new product line – glulam barn rafters – which has carried its success into the 21st century.

“According to legend,” relates Zoë O. van der Meulen, Unalam’s executive vice president and a 6th generation family member in the business, “my great-grandfather got together with a friend who owned a local glue factory and decided to make laminated barn rafters. That’s how we got into the laminated business.”

The laminated wood Unalam makes is called glulam, short for “glued laminated timber.” Glulam consists of a number of smaller pieces of lumber bonded together with durable, moisture-resistant structural adhesives. The end result is a single large, strong, structural beam. 

These structural beams can be used as vertical columns or horizontal beams, as well as curved, arched shapes. The beams are connected using bolts or plain steel dowels and steel plates.


Glulam Saved the Business

The shift to laminated products proved to be a very sound decision for their business.

“If we had stayed a lumber mill, I don’t think we would be here today,” adds van der Meulen. “Our ability to evolve with the changing marketplace and to grow our glulam business has enabled us to stay relevant, innovative, and competitive.”

With the continued success and growth of its laminated products division for more than three decades, Unalam in 1963 opened up a new laminated production facility in nearby Sidney, New York. It’s here at this 150,000 square foot plant that all laminated products are manufactured, while the original site in Unadilla houses the executive and administrative offices.

Today, Unalam specializes in manufacturing customized glulam products of varying sizes and shapes, though customers can purchase stock laminated beams in more traditional dimensions. But the majority of its products are custom made.

The company primarily works with contractors on a variety of jobs within a 500-mile radius of the plant, though it has also sold its laminated products beyond that, including Arizona, Colorado, and even Ireland. Their products typically go into sports arenas, churches, schools, and bridges, as well as garage headers, laminated countertops, light poles, picnic pavilions, and more.

Lee Young, Unalam’s maintenance supervisor, proudly declares, “If it’s built out of wood, we can build it.”

And that’s true. Unalam has glued up a complete circle out of laminated wood, crafted a spiral staircase, and built a 40-foot high and 40-foot long sculpture called the Big Bling for renowned sculptor Martin Puryear. Unveiled in Manhattan, New York, but currently residing in Philadelphia, Puryear’s glulam sculpture features curves and straight pieces.

Unalam has also set some records along the way. In 1977, the company laminated beams for the Walkup Skydome at Northern Arizona University. For its first six years, the Walkup Skydome was the world’s largest clear-span timber dome until the completion of the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash., in 1983.

The company also glued the longest glue laminated beam in the world in 1998 – almost 175 feet. It’s part of a covered bridge about an hour’s drive from the plant.

Although the process of making glulam was invented in Germany more than 75 years ago, Unalam has been more innovative with it.

“We haven’t created a different process, but have taken the process to the extreme,” says van der Meulen.

“We look at what’s possible, and then apply our tools and techniques to come up with a finished product that’s more dramatic, imaginative, and aesthetically pleasing.”

Once a project gets underway, Unalam’s engineering and design team create the product in a shop drawing, including all its measurements. Although the lumber usually comes in 20-foot boards, they’re glued to the required lengths – often 100 feet or more.

To get the lumber to the specified length, they use a machine that cuts finger joints. These joints are glued together ensuring the boards attain the proper length.

After attaining the desired length, they plane the boards and glue them on steel forms. Unalam’s plant is large enough to allow them to configure the material they’re gluing into whatever shape or size is called for – S curves, arches, or straight pieces.

The process is relatively quick. Once the boards are sized correctly and bent to the correct shape, they sit overnight while the glue cures. After curing, the boards are taken off the form and sent to the plant’s finishing department where they cut the ends, drill any holes for connections, wrap it up, and ship them out by truck to the job site. 

The plant processes 10,000 to 15,000 board feet daily.


Moisture Measurement Is Critical

For decades, Unalam has built its reputation on a constant commitment to quality. Their assurance of quality starts with their rigorous monitoring of wood moisture.

“We manufacture products that need to not only look nice but also maintain structural integrity. That means when we glue our materials, the wood has to be below 16% MC (moisture content). Some jobs specify much lower MC. So we need to know that our products we’re gluing have the ideal MC or else the glue won’t hold and we won’t have a reliable product heading out the door,” says van der Meulen.  

To ensure quality glulam products, Unalam continuously checks for moisture in the Southern Yellow Pine and Douglas fir timbers it uses. Although the wood brought in has been kiln dried, MC can increase to unacceptable levels during transportation and storage.

“We’ve had some issues in the past where we paid for premium material and ended up with a very wet material,” notes Young.

Therefore, when lumber comes off the truck, Unalam’s quality control department spot checks the lumber for moisture using Wagner Meters’ L601-3 handheld moisture meter. What they find determines whether or not they’ll put the lumber into production or put it aside for drying.

“If the meter tells us we have a wet load, the lumber’s put aside with a fan blowing on it and stickered so the air can flow between the boards to dry out. We’ll spot check it again a couple weeks later to make sure the MC is below 16%. We don’t want to send it through the chain if we don’t have to in order to save time and money,” says Young.

Lumber put into production is checked again for moisture using Wagner’s 683 in-line moisture measurement system. As the lumber passes through lengthwise, the 683 measures moisture levels along the entire length.

When the sensor detects excessive moisture, it sprays green paint on that part of the board. When the lumber comes out, the person stacking the lumber can easily see the green paint. He then stickers and stacks the wet boards separately so it starts to dry out.

“We’ve been using the 683 system since 1993. Funny thing, Wagner says this system is obsolete and they no longer manufacture it. But it’s performed great for us these past 24 years,” says Young.

An Innovative Leader

For more than 100 years, Unalam has been an innovative leader in glulam manufacturing. It has a reputation for creating striking, exposed applications such as spectacular vaulted ceilings, magnificent arches, and soaring dome roof systems for large clear-span structures.

It also has contributed hidden applications, including simple purlins, ridge beams, floor beams, and large cantilevered beams.

“From our 1906 invention of wood silo door technology to our earliest experimentations in glulam in 1928, we continue to stand behind our commitment to crafting solutions for today’s building needs . . . and our promise that if it can be done with wood, Unalam can do it,” says van der Meulen.


Thank you to Tony Morgan and Wagner Meters for this article! 

Tony Morgan is a senior technician for Wagner Meters, where he serves on a team for product testing, development, and also customer service and training for moisture measurement products. Along with 19 years field experience for a number of electronics companies, Tony holds a B.A. in Management and his AAS in Electronics Technology. Call Wagner Meters today at (800) 634-9961 and ask for Tony, or visit



When to Use 2 Common Lumber

What is 2 Common Lumber?

The National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) sets the standards for hardwood lumber grades, which indicate the amount of clear, defect-free wood in a board. The best grade you’ll find in most lumberyards is Select and Better (S/B), followed by 1 Common, 2 Common, and 3 Common. Lumber is graded not by its general appearance, but by the actual measurements of its clear sections and its specific defects. According to the NHLA, “The Number 2A Common grade includes boards that are a minimum of 3″ wide and 4′ long that yield from 50% up to, but not including, the minimum requirement for Number 1 Common. The smallest clear cutting allowed is 3″ by 2′ and the number of these cuttings depends on the size of the board.” In other words, the good sections of a 2 Common board will be of the same quality as a Select and Better board, and they will be at least 3 inches wide and 2 feet long. 

Is 2 Common Lumber Worth Considering for My Project?

2 Common lumber works well for many projects. The main advantage to 2 Common lumber is its cost, which can be up to 50% less than that of Select and Better. The disadvantage is that 2 Common lumber generally has more defects than S/B and contains more waste per board. Remember that, once re-sawn, the cuttings from 2 Common lumber will be the same clear wood as the more expensive S/B lumber; they will just be shorter and/or narrower. Grades indicate the percentage of clear wood in the board, not its general appearance.


What are Good Uses for 2 Common Lumber?

Depending on the project, 2 Common lumber may allow you to create a high quality result on a much smaller budget.

2 Common lumber works well for small projects, and also for larger projects that require lots of small pieces. Additionally, you can use higher grades of lumber for the small parts of your project that require larger cuts, while saving money by using 2 Common for the rest. Of course, 2 Common is also good for projects where its rustic character would be an asset. 2 Common is often used in manufacturing for flooring, furniture parts, and cabinets.

Is 2 Common Right for my Project?

If the largest solid cuts for your project fall within the parameters of clear cuts from 2 Common, or if you are expecting to glue up wood, then 2 Common is well worth considering. For smaller projects or larger projects with small pieces, using 2 Common can be a good way to stretch your budget.

Ash Lumber and the Emerald Ash Borer

Ash is a great species of lumber to work with. Ash is known for its staining potential and ability to mimic oak. It has great shock resistance, and solid workability. To this point, it has been an economical wood that was always readily available.

The light brown and creamy white colorations of ash look great with a simple clear finish and are strikingly beautiful.

Uses for Ash Wood

Ash is used for furniture, flooring, doors, cabinetry, architectural moulding and millwork, tool handles, baseball bats, hockey sticks, oars, turnings, and is also sliced for veneer. It is a popular species for food containers due to the wood having no taste. Learn more about ash lumber.

How the Emerald Ash Borer is Killing the Ash Trees

Emerald Ash Borers are likely to kill 99 percent of the U.S. ash wood trees, says the U.S. Forest Service. This exotic insect girdles and kills the tree. The killer beetle has made a home in 26 states, two Canadian Providences and is continuing to spread. In just 10 years, it has become the most destructive forest pest ever seen in North America.

The demise of the ash tree is a truly sad event.

Can the Emerald Ash Borer be Stopped?

emeraldashborer-adultResearch continues and (expensive) single-tree treatment is now available, but as of now, the infestation continues. In areas of the country already infected by emerald ash borer, quarantine efforts are underway to slow the spread of the emerald ash borer to new areas (the latest quarantine map).

Very recently, the USDA has approved three species of parasitic non-stinging wasps for import from China. The wasp eggs develop inside of the ash borer larvae, killing it. After they emerge from the trees, the adult wasps continue to feed on larvae and eggs in the area. Woodpeckers are the wasps only natural competition. According to the USDA, the wasps are not attracted to pets or people and have no stingers. What looks like a stinger is actually their egg-laying organ.

Currently, scientists are breeding and releasing them. As of the fall of 2017, the wasps have been released in 19 states. But their population still has to catch up to the immense borer population.

“It’ll be years before that balance comes back into the ecosystem until then, there’s no silver bullet to save those ash trees,” said Heminghous.

Giving Ash a Second Life

ash furnitureMany woodworkers and designers are embracing ash, with a desire of paying homage to ash in its wood form, embracing the idea that even when you can’t save the ash tree, you can save its wood. The Chicago Furniture Designers Association has even launched a furniture exhibition entitled, Rising from the ASHES: Furniture from Lost Trees.

This resurgence in the popularity of ash is bittersweet. We will continue to celebrate and use ash lumber while it is available, while cheering on the parasitic wasps and hoping they will catch up to the emerald ash borer.


Learn More

For more information refer to
Be certain to check any quarantine regulations before removing ash.

What is Happening with Hardwood Plywood Products from China?

An update on the anti-dumping case before the Commerce Department.

Many people are wondering about the latest decision by the Commerce Department and what it means for hardwood plywood. We’ll do our best to clear up some of the questions.

Did Chinese Companies “Dump” Hardwood Plywood?

Yes. The U.S. Commerce Department reached a preliminary determination on June 19, 2017 that some Chinese companies are, in fact, dumping certain hardwood plywood products in the United States.

A Commerce Department investigation found that exporters from China had sold hardwood plywood used for wall panels, kitchen cabinets, tabletops and flooring in the United States for as much as 114.72 percent below fair value, the department said in a statement.

The merchandise subject to this investigation is hardwood and decorative plywood and certain veneered panels. All hardwood and decorative plywood is included within the scope of this investigation regardless of whether or not the face and/or back veneers are surface coated or covered and without regard to dimension or thickness. Excluded from the scope of the investigation were wooden furniture and kitchen cabinets, including RTA. Also excluded are finished table tops, finished countertops, and laminated veneer lumber door and window components.

What Penalties Were Imposed?

The department preliminarily set an anti-dumping margin of 114.72 percent for Shandong Dongfang Bayley Wood Co Ltd and a margin of 57.36 percent for other respondents eligible for a separate rate. A rate of 114.72 percent was set for other Chinese producers who belong to a China-wide entity, the Commerce Department said.

Mandatory respondent Linyi Chengen Import and Export Co Ltd was determined not to be dumping and was not assessed any anti-dumping margin, the department said.

As a result of the decision, the Commerce Department will instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection to require cash deposits from the firms based on those preliminary rates. Linyi Chengen will not be subject to a cash deposit rate.

How Did This Start?

The investigation was launched after the Coalition for Fair Trade in Hardwood Plywood initiated a complaint on behalf of itself and its members, six private firms in New York, Oregon, and North Carolina.

What Does This Mean for Pricing and Availability?

That’s a great question! We wish we had a magic eight ball and could figure that out. Past industry trends show that this may result in a rise in the cost for imported plywood. There are also possibilities of shortages throughout the supply chain as pricing and supply adjustments are made.

If you regularly purchase hardwood plywood products, work with your distributor to plan for any pricing or inventory changes ahead of time.

Read the Entire Department of Commerce Fact Sheet.

Hardwood Distributor’s Association Annual Meeting – 2017


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

3pm-5pm            HDA Board Meeting in Music Row 3
(invitation only)

Thursday, October 26, 2017   

11:00am-1:00pm              HDA Annual Meeting in Music Row 5
Featuring Keynote by Meridith Elliott Powell.
Lunch provided.

Friday, October 27, 2017

10:45am – 2:30pm           Distribution & Mill Tour at Middle Tennessee Lumber
Transportation and lunch provided.


Keynote Speaker

Meridith Elliott Powell

Defy Marketplace Gravity!
Succeed No Matter What This Economy Does

Your success depends on your ability to build a business and develop a team that thrives on change and eats stagnation for lunch. This is a world where market fluctuations are the norm and competition grows like kudzu.

It is time for you to defy marketplace gravity!

In this program, you will learn the business growth strategies you need to dominate your market. Build a team that thrives in change. Design a strategy that gets results. Get above the white noise. And leave the competition in the dust. Defy marketplace gravity and you leave your competition in the dust!


“Meridith teaches and leads with true wisdom, providing real insight versus repeating things we’ve all heard before.”

– Grant Millan, CEO Sun Project Systems


Please RSVP for these events to Stephanie Rodrigue.

What Factors Affect Hardwood Lumber Prices?


The price of hardwood lumber can vary based on many factors. The answer to a question that seems straight-forward (e.g., “how much is a board of ipe?”) actually depends on a number of variables, some of which we’ll go over here.

How much are you buying?

Most of the labor involved in filling an order is in finding it, pulling it, and transporting it around the warehouse. That combined labor takes about the same amount of time regardless of how much you buy. Therefore, you’ll typically get a better price on a large order compared to a small one.

What size do you need?

Obviously, standard size boards are going to be cheaper. Since lumber is a natural product, its size is going to be limited by the size and shape of the trees it comes from. Longer or wider boards may cost you more, depending on the species. For example, wide walnut is very hard to come by and you can expect to pay a premium for it, but wide poplar or oak are more readily available and won’t cost you much more.

Where does it come from?

Transportation is a major cost in the lumber industry. Domestic woods that grow in your local area are going to incur much less transportation cost than exotics shipped halfway around the world. If the lumber has to cross several national borders, you’ll probably be paying for inspection and fees at each border as well. The political climate in the countries the lumber is sourced from also affects the price. For instance, if you’re buying an African species, it may have to be transported through countries that are undergoing civil wars, making transportation risky and more expensive.

When do you want it?

Some hardwoods are more in demand during certain seasons.  For instance, any kind of hardwood decking is going to be expensive in summer, when everyone wants to build a deck.  Buying in the off-season can save you money, although you have to factor in lower availability.  

What’s the weather? 

Species that come from places with rainy seasons are generally harvested during the drier parts of the year, not year-round, so supply can vary throughout the year and the time of year that you buy them affects the price. If there has been an unseasonably long wet season, this can affect both the availability and price of the product. As responsible stewards of the land being harvested, operations typically work around the rainy season. Cypress lumber is harvested from very wet areas and is especially dependent on a dry season for harvesting. 

What quality do you need?

Lumber is a natural product, with knots, defects and natural characteristics that influence the grade of each piece of lumber. Each log is produces a combination of higher and lower grade lumber. If you want to buy only the part of the lumber that is only the highest quality and grade, this increases the price. If you are able to use a product with knots and defects, the lumber price will be lower. 

This is when it is important to know what lumber grade best suits your project.  Learn more about lumber grades. 

How is the lumber price being quoted?

As we’ve discussed in the past, lumber pricing can be quoted either net tally or gross tally. The price per board foot is different for net and gross because each counts the volume of lumber differently.  

Learn more about net tally and gross tally. 

Hardwood Lumber Pricing is Influenced by Many Factors

The price of hardwood lumber varies by the size of your order, the length and width you require, the country of origin, the season in which you’re purchasing it, the grade you need, and even the weather. If you’re not sure what you need, talk to your trusted supplier. 

Contact a trusted hardwood distributor is your area. 




What are Hardwood Lumber Grades Anyway?

Why Do We Have Hardwood Lumber Grades and What Do They Mean?

For someone just beginning to purchase hardwood lumber, lumber grades can be overwhelming. Most lumber companies use the generally accepted grading rules set by the National Hardwood Lumber Association.

To help you understand what these grades mean, here’s a short description on those grades.

What Does a Lumber Grade Mean?

Grades are based on the amount of usable clear material in a board. The highest grade boards are FAS and Select, followed by #1 Common and #2 Common. What grade you choose depends on your project. Some projects, such as tabletops and high quality furniture, may dictate the highest grade available. Many other projects are just as easily adapted to #1 Common (often referred to as cabinet grade) – kitchen cabinet doors, smaller projects and items where some character is acceptable.


A lumber grader inspects lumber to designate a lumber grade.

About Hardwood Lumber Grading

The National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA: rules were designed to provide the furniture industry a mathematically measurable method to grade lumber for its amount of clear, defect free wood. Since then, they’ve been be adopted across the hardwood industry as a way to consistently provide a similar product to customers time and time again.

Hardwood grades are based on the size and number of clear pieces that can be obtained from a board when it is cut up to be used to make a product. Grades are not determined by gut reactions to what a person thinks the grade should be, but actual measurements of clear sections and definitions for defects.

In practice, some of the above grades are rarely used in the commercial trade and others are typically combined. For example, lumber graded “Select & Better” would include FAS, F1F, and Select boards.

What Lumber Grade Should I Use?

The upper grades, FAS, F1F and SEL, are most suitable for mouldings, joinery products such as door frames, architectural interiors and furniture requiring a high percentage of long wide cuttings. It should be noticed that FAS – the highest grade – is not synonymous with being 100% clear material.

The Common grades are likely to be most suitable for the cabinet industry, most furniture parts and flooring. Explore the use of the common grades to achieve the most value considering lumber cost and yield.

The Steps in Determining Lumber Grade:

  1. Determine species.
  2. Calculate the Surface Measure (SM).
  3. Determine the poor side of the board.
  4. From this poor face, calculate the percentage of clear wood available.

Note: If Number 1 Common is the grade of the poor face, check the better face to see if it will grade FAS for the F1F or Selects grades to be achieved.

  1. Once the grade is determined, check for any special features such as sapwood or heartwood cuttings for special color sorts.
  2. Sort to bundles according to buyer and seller specifications.



For a full illustrated guide to the various grades.

Learn more about NHLA.

Potential Woods for Use in Outdoor Applications

When you’re constructing a deck or building Adirondack chairs for your backyard, you want to make sure you choose a wood that can stand up to the elements.  While many people go straight to treated yellow pine for outdoor projects (it is the cheapest and most common option), there are plenty of wood species that hold up at least as well even when left untreated.  Here are a few woods to consider for your next outdoor project.


This tropical hardwood from Central and South America makes an excellent choice for outdoor projects, including decking.  Ipe is very hard and dense and resists warping, cracking, and decay extremely well.  Its oil and extractive content makes it highly resistant to insects and fungi, and untreated ipe can last up to 40 years outdoors.  Its density makes it fairly impervious to denting and foot traffic, but also hard to cut. 


Long a popular choice for boat building, teak is another good candidate for outdoor applications.  Teak is prized for its beauty as well as its durability outdoors, and you can expect to pay a premium for it.  Teak’s high stability means it won’t shrink or expand much with changes in humidity, and its natural oils and extractives repel water and deter insects.  Unlike ipe, teak works easily.  One caveat: most teak on the market is not sustainably sourced, so if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your wood choices, look for certified sustainable forested teak. 

African Mahogany

Less expensive than teak but more expensive than ipe, African mahogany is another top of the line choice for outdoor applications.  African mahogany is a durable hardwood that resists decay, infestation, and warping and is easy to work.  Left untreated, its durability will endure a very long time, but its beautiful reddish color will fade to gray.

VG Fir

Vertical Grain (VG) Fir has been a traditional choice for porches for over a century due to its wide availability and durability, both of which still make it a good choice today. VG fir is quite dimensionally stable, so it expands and contracts evenly and is unlikely to warp.  Naturally resistant to decay and insects, VG fir can last 10-15 years outdoors untreated, and is an affordable choice.

Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar is another widely available, reasonably affordable choice for outdoor use.  It’s dimensionally stable, typically straight-grained, and resists warping, decay, and insects (including termites).  Untreated, Western Red Cedar will last about 20 years outdoors.  As cedar is a softwood, you can expect to see some damage from foot traffic if using it as decking or flooring.  Beware of splitting when driving fasteners, and expect tannins to appear as stains around them.

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