Mark Barford, CAE, is executive director of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, Memphis, TN. I was pleased to read Rick Hill's recent comments regarding the hardwood lumber Grading Rules developed and maintained by the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA). It was an especially refreshing “rookie” viewpoint. Without a true understanding of the purpose of the Rules, an inexperienced person would be confused as to what is needed in the way of material for manufacturing products on a mass scale.
If an outside person were to look inside any professional field, take for example medicine or law, without any specific education in either field, that person would be confused. The same is true of the NHLA Rules.
As you stated, the Rules were created more than 100 years ago for the purpose of easing the trade of hardwood lumber and creating a common language. The Rules for the Inspection of Hardwood Lumber are yield based and mathematically provable.
They are designed to value large volumes of lumber based on the yield in which the grades represent. Color sorts such as 1 and 2 white maple are describing to the end-users, the minimum amount of material they can get from the shipment they receive of all sapwood material.
The Rules themselves are evaluated through a member process every four years. The process is intentional, followed by a 2/3 majority vote of the Active members to ensure a consistent and repeatable set of Rules. The change process is quite involved to ensure the majority of the active members of the Association are in agreement on the change and the Rules do not get altered on a whim to satisfy one or two people or a short lived trend.
The explanation of the Rules and specific applications could be a lengthy discussion of which I am happy to engage at any time. I invite you to visit NHLA headquarters in Memphis, Tenn. where the 14-week Inspector Training School is held. Since its inception, the School has graduated more than 7,200 lumber inspectors.
NHLA also hosts three and four-day short courses taught by NHLA National Inspectors throughout North America and around the world. I would encourage you to attend any one of these courses as a guest of NHLA.
As the export market of North American hardwood lumber has grown exponentially over the last ten years, NHLA has become truly international and as such consistency and durability of the Rules has even greater importance. NHLA has taught the grading Rules around the world and is working diligently to keep up with the demand for education and hands-on training.
It is remarkable to see a shipment of North American lumber arrive in China with an invoice specifying FAS or 1 common grade lumber and know that definition means the same thing on both continents.
It may seem from a “rookie” perspective that the language is “clunky” but from the perspective of the oldest and largest hardwood trade association, this language has created a system of trade that has existed and thrived for more than 115 years and NHLA is dedicated to remaining as the keepers and educators of the Rules.