Lumber Nomenclature - What's In a Name?

By Rick Hill | Posted: 10/21/2012 9:55AM


Woodworking Sales Expert RIck Hill

Timberland Wood Products timber tips

 Net Versus Gross Tally

There are two common ways to count the amount of footage in a load of lumber: Net Tally and Gross Tally. Gross Tally is calculated when the lumber is green, before it is dried in the kiln. (Green lumber is always figured on Gross Tally.) Net Tally is based on the lumber after it is dried. Wood swells when wet, so Gross pricing is lower than Net Tally by about 7%. This wet lumber pricing adds a fudge factor that leaves you subject to the calculations of your supplier. when determining Gross price to your actual footage, some suppliers minus 7%, some divide by 93% and some even divide by 92%. Buying your dried lumber on a Gross scale is like buying a can of peas and paying extra for the water. Net Tally is based on the footage after the lumber is dried, so your price is much closer to the actual footage on the load. When buying Kiln Dried lumber, use Net Tally for a realistic cost.

 The lumber business is the odd duck of our woodworking world. It is a conglomeration of companies, all focused on turning a commodity into a specialty.

Atmong these businesses is Timberland Wood Products (, a Sheboygan, WI firm that took me under their wing, and as they started to teach me the lumber business, I realized that woodworking companies, purchasing agents, and other people new to the industry could use the same help that Timberland was giving me. 

The lumber supplier market has several issues that inherently create confusion for the manufacturer, buyer and seller:

•  Lumber is cut directly from logs, the logs from trees, and trees unlike hinges or laminate are never consistent. They are the true embodiment of Nature, so the prevailing rule is inconsistency, or as the Japanese say, "Wabi-sabi".

• Trees tend to be harvested at certain times of the year. If the weather is unforgiving the loggers cannot get into the woods and cut. This creates seasonal demands and fluctuating prices. *

• Many species of trees, like hickory, stain quickly in hot weather if not placed into dry kilns within a few days. This can create more demand as loggers and kilns avoid cutting and drying some species even though they could get into the woods.

• The lumber supply as a whole is fragmented by individual companies that specialize in one area of the industry or even in one type of lumber. This is forced on some companies by the local species in their nearby geography, and by others just by their individual preferences. Some companies just log, some only run dry kilns and others inventory and sell. To add to the chaos, many users of lumber demand very exact species, or specifications on their lumber usage.

•  The lumber industry uses it's own "Lumber Lingo" that makes it hard for new buyers to understand. If you are a new purchasing agent and one of your jobs is to buy lumber, you may see a quote for "4/4,FASF1F, KD Poplar, S2S 15/16" RWL with 30%14-16' at a Gross price per thousand board feet. Talk about confusing!


♦ 4/4 = 1"thick

♦ FASF1F= the grade of lumber

♦ KD = Kiln Dried.

♦ S2S 15/16" =surfaced on 2 sides to 15/16" thick.

♦ RWL=Random Width and Length.

* Gross= the price for lumber before it is dried.

Lastly, there is a whole set of codes for the grade of lumber created decades ago by the NHLA, or the National Hardwood Lumber Association. Examples of the codes are FAS, F1F, 1C, 2C, 2A and 2B along with several others. 

My goal in future columns is to help you decipher the confusing lingo, the geography, and the specialties ofi the lumber market in a way that we can all understand. 


About the Author

Rick Hill

Rick Hill is a Contract Buyer Specialist with Timberland Wood Products, Sheboygan, WI. Timberland contracts with woodworking companies to help them lower their total lumber costs at Rick comes from a 20 year history in the cabinet and furniture supply industry. On fall weekends Rick can be found banding hawks and falcons at the Cedar Grove Ornithological Park. You can reach Rick at

Comments (6) Leave a comment 

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Greg Blomberg    
Comment via Facebook  |  October, 22, 2012 at 10:43 AM

Greg Blomberg commented at Facebook: "Rick-The buyers tips need some tweaking. Actually the Gross FOOTAGE is 7% higher, than Net on KD lumber. To off set this, the Gross PRICE is 7% lower than Net on KD lumber. Different lumber shrinks different amounts which accounts for the 7 vs 8%, but the NHLA Rules and Sales Code state KD lumber should be sold on a Net Tally. By purchasing on a Net tally every board/pack/load should contain the usable footage that you expect...not some footage plus a fudge factor even if the overall cost comes out the same."

Rick Hill    
Glenbeulah, WI  |  October, 22, 2012 at 11:13 AM

Greg, You are right. Thanks for the clarification. The point we are both making for new buyers is to buy from Net Tally. Thanks for the help. Rick

Canada  |  October, 23, 2012 at 08:35 AM

Avoid any company that want's to sell by "block tally". Some companies selling small quantities want to measure the the lift dimensions and not use the tally, you will be paying for lumber you do not get. Lumber width is measured in inches, if a 6" board is under 6 1/2" it is still a 6" board but if the board is over 5 1/2" it is also a 6" board. Similarly if a board is under 8' 6" long it is an 8' board, if it is over 7' 6" it is also an 8' board. I had one company try to sell me Select Shorts, if a board is under 6' long it is 1C and has to be 6' or longer to make any grade higher. You are right Rick, there is a lot to know.

Rick Hill    
Glenbeulah, WI  |  October, 23, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Thanks for spreading the knowledge Trevor.

Danny Conkin    
Sheboygan, WI  |  October, 23, 2012 at 01:09 PM

Block tally is an interesting topic. Good companies who have the facilities and personnel to tally lumber after kiln drying have found out its a lot cheaper to rough (block) scale. Of course they are NOT gonna short themselves so who does that leave? Lumber width is measured in inches, thats true...however it is measured as it is. Your customer may be confusing the NHLA "minimum width rule" in paragraph 10 of the NHLA Rule Book. This rule allows shipping lumber that is less than the width specified by 1/4". If you order 6" and wider...they can ship 5 3/4" and wider....One way to be clear is to order "full" 6" and wider.. Lengths are always supposed to be measured to the full foot...regardless of type of scale...7' is 7'...7'11" is still measured on a 7' scale.

Canada  |  October, 24, 2012 at 08:30 AM

Page 8 NHLA Rule book. "In tallying the widths, pieces measuring to the even half inch are alternately counted as of the next higher or lower width. Fractions below the half inch are dropped and fractions above the half inch are counted as of the next higher width." "Lengths are always supposed to be measured to the full foot...regardless of type of scale...7' is 7'...7'11" is still measured on a 7' scale." Your right Danny, this is what I was thinking of. : Surface Measure: A rounded area measurement for hardwood lumber. The surface measure shall be determined by multiplying the full width of the piece in inches and fractions by the standard length (see § Standard Length) in feet, dividing by 12, and rounding up or down to the nearest whole square foot. (Fractions less than or equal to one-half square foot are rounded down and those greater than one-half square foot are rounded up.)"


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