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 www.wagnermeters.com.



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 http://www.emeraldashborer.info/.
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: www.natlhardwood.org) 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.

What You Need to Know About Hardwood Plywood

Hardwood plywood is a great choice for furniture, cabinets, and many other projects due to its strength, stability, and convenience.

​​What is Plywood?

Plywood is an engineered wood product consisting of three to seven layers of thin sheets of wood veneer that are then glued together.  Each veneer is laid with its grain at a right angle to the last (or tighter angles such as 45 degrees in some plywood). This is done to create a product with high dimensional stability that resists splitting and warping.

​​What are the Advantages of Plywood over Solid Stock?

Plywood’s main advantage over solid stock is its high strength and stability.  Its availability in a variety of thicknesses and sizes often makes plywood a more convenient choice as well.  Plywood comes in a variety of thicknesses (typically 1/8″, 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, and 3/4″), which can eliminate the need to plane your own boards.  It also comes in large sheets (typically 4’x8’), which can eliminate the need for edge-joining.

​​What are the Disadvantages of Plywood?

The face veneers of plywood are very thin—1/30 of an inch, on average.  This can make plywood hard to cut without splintering, and doesn’t leave much after sanding.  Plywood is heavier than solid stock and more susceptible to water damage, which could be problematic for some applications.  The edges must be finished specially, usually with edge banding, to conceal the layers.

​​How Does the Cost of Hardwood Plywood Compare to Boards?

By the board foot, hardwood plywood is comparable in price to solid hardwood.

​​What are Good Uses for Hardwood Plywood?

Hardwood plywood is well suited for a variety of common uses.  It is often used in cabinetry and furniture making.  Many musical instruments are made from hardwood plywood, including pianos and string instruments.

​​What do the Different Plywood Grades Mean?

Plywood is graded A-D (best to worst) for its front face and 1-4 (best to worst) for its back. A1, A2, B1, and B2 are acceptable for applications where both sides will be seen, while A4 or B4 would be fine for projects where the back will not show.​

Guide to Plywood Core Options

When it comes to plywood, is it what’s on the inside that counts?  All hardwood plywood has a face and back veneer of hardwood, but the core can vary.  Here’s what you need to know about the different plywood cores available.

Veneer Core Plywood

The most common type of plywood core is made up of layers of veneer–typically fir in the west, poplar in the east, and aspen in the northeast.  Of the three most common types of plywood core, veneer core is the lightest (approximately 70 pounds per 4×8 panel) and has the best strength, stability, and screw-holding properties.  It is also the most expensive and the least uniform, since the layers of wood veneer have natural voids.

Particleboard Core Plywood (PBC)

The cheapest core option is particleboard, which consists of refined wood particles of varying sizes bonded with urea formaldehyde.  It is the weakest plywood core option (although still denser than solid wood) and does not hold screws as well.  PBC is also very heavy (a 4×8 panel weights approximately 100 pounds) and swells up when exposed to moisture.  It does offer a more uniform texture than veneer core plywood, creating a smooth void-free surface for veneer.

Medium-Density Fiberboard Plywood Core (MDF)

MDF is an engineered wood product similar to particleboard in which the refined wood particles are of a smaller, uniformly sawdust-like consistency.  It’s a step up from PBC and down from veneer core in terms of strength, stability, and screw holding ability, and is priced between them.  Like particle board, MDF is very heavy, will soak up water, and offers a void-free surface for veneer application.  Because of its very uniform consistency, cut edges appear smooth and are easy to finish with paint.

Combination Core Plywood

Combination core is a less common and more expensive option used with some expensive hardwood veneers. A combination core uses a layer of MDF or particleboard directly under the face and back veneers and veneer layers in the middle to get the best of both worlds—a smooth, uniform surface for face veneer application combined with the strength and stability of a veneer core.

The Rise of Alder – A Wood Highlight of Alder Lumber

What is Alder?

Only 20 years ago, no one had heard of this hardwood lumber from the Pacific Northwest called alder. These days, alder is a popular choice for many hardwood applications, with demand for alder lumber reflecting this new popularity.

Red alder is the most common hardwood tree growing in the Pacific Northwest. Through a proactive campaign of education, marketing, and creative use, alder is now a highly sought after hardwood throughout both the Pacific Northwest and around the world.

What is Alder Wood Used For?

Most of the higher grade lumber is used for furniture, cabinetry, and turned products. Alder is also used in doors, millwork, decorative woodwork, carvings, and edge-glued panels.

Alder dries to an even honey tone and can be finished to resemble more expensive fine-grained species. There is little color variation between the heartwood and sapwood, making alder also ideal for light or natural finishes. Alder’s popularity continues to grow among fine furniture and cabinetry makers worldwide.

Why Are Alder Grades Different?

Most companies that produce or sell large quantities of alder use a proprietary grading system to address some of the unique qualities of alder lumber. Alder lumber is marketed in over 20 distinct grades. It is often marketed for the furniture and cabinet industry and successfully competes in paneling and pallet stock markets. Similar to typical NHLA grades, yield and clear cuttings are part of most alder grade determinations. In addition, alder grades take into account the character marks allowed in the wood. Pin knots are common and not considered a defect.

What Are the Typical Sizes of Alder Lumber?

Alder trees are naturally smaller than many other commercially desirable hardwood trees. This is reflected in the more limited widths and lengths of alder lumber. Most alder lumber ranges in length between 6 feet and 12 feet, with the majority either 8 or 10 feet long. Most available lumber is 4/4 and 5/4, with some 6/4 and 8/4 stock available in more limited quantities.

Proprietary grading addresses the more limited sizes of alder lumber whichtill allows users to utilize alder in the best manner possible.

What Are the Characteristics of Alder Wood?

Alder has an excellent reputation for machining and is also a desirable wood for turning. Alder can be nailed without splitting or screwed without pre-drilling. It glues well and can be sanded to a smooth finish. Alder is evenly textured, with a subdued grain pattern, and has a moderate weight and hardness.

Because of its uniform, small pore structure and consistency of color, alder is a preferred wood for finishing. It accepts a variety of stain types and can be successfully substituted for other woods when properly colored stains are applied. When finished natural, it has a warm honey color.
More Information on Alder:

Learn more about alder lumber.

Find a distributor near you.

Learn more about alder, the tree.


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