There are various grades of lumber. See, for example, https://www.woodworkerssource.com/hardwood-lumber-grades.html . I’d like to learn people’s thoughts on where the sweet spot is. I’ve purchased ungraded lumber from a local sawyer and find that I waste a lot of time working around the defects and waste a lot of material. On the other hand, higher grades of wood would be more expensive and, with some creativity, maybe I can find things to do with the waste. I’m particularly curious about what the more experienced people here do, those who have done this for a living and need to balance cost of wood vs. cost of labor dealing with defects.
First, let’s just get it out there, lumber grades are kind of from a bygone era, and don’t have as much relevance as once was the case. Of course there will always be areas such as, e.g., long runs of molding, high-end veneer, period furniture, etc where the market still demands perfection.
These days, there are entire market segments where characteristics that lumber graders are required to call “defects” actually raise the price of wood — knotty pine, knotty alder, reclaimed woods of all stripes, live edge (this has been the flavor of the month for years now), etc.
Certainly there are all kinds of pros serving very different market niches, so every type of response to your question is possible. These days, accentuating the so-called defects is very much in vogue, and it gets called “character wood”. This may have started back with George Nakashima and his classic “Arlyn” table, which was a wild mess of redwood:
There’s also a huge market for taking even incomplete pieces of “character” wood and setting them in a bath of epoxy, letting the entire thing cure, and then using the epoxy chunk with wood bits trapped inside as if it were a piece of lumber. So-called “epoxy river” tables and the like, I’m sure you’ve seen them.
Also, any sort of defective wood can simply be labeled as “rustic” and used in a different context than has traditionally been seen. One might say this opens up more opportunities for creativity because a broader range of options exists in todays marketplace.
So I don’t know if there is a sweet spot per se, it’s up to the individual and even can vary based on the mood of the individual. You might make a perfect Morris chair in flawless quartersawn oak one day and a rustic country cupboard using knotty pine the next, right?
Ed, I think it depends on what you are making. If you are making something with a lot of small pieces you can use a lower grade of lumber. You just spend a little longer working around defects. For larger pieces use a better grade. I’ve pulled pieces out of the slab pile to use for drawer supports, and some select and better for a chest,all at the same time.
When I went to Home Depot their normal common boards have so many defects it’s nearly impossible to use if you need the whole amount.
Their select pine boards are nearly flawless, I don’t think I’ll be buying the lower grade every again. I spent 15 minutes looking at the common boards and found an immediate select when I found them (I am a noob).
Bit late comment on a relevant topic.
The NHLA manual on grading made for me very interesting reading. It seems primarily to provide minimal criteria on hardwood grades, to address the situation where manufacturers of [kitchen] cabinets and floors purchase wood without first having inspected it.
While the NHLA criteria are rather relaxed on warp (½” to be lost for an 8″ wide board) and appear absent on grain direction, they still impart benefits – particularly within the EU. Grade FAS (both faces good, i.e. free from knots over several feet) can probably not be achieved without the wood being more or less straight grained; and as the EU have no guidelines whatsoever, but demands many popular hard woods imported from North America to comply with NHLA, I can North American wood that is superior to their European counterparts, at a lower price. (Been waiting eight months now for the European Commission to justify the EU position).
London, UK; Boston, MA
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