What makes up hardwood lumber pricing?

It can be interesting to think about how lumber goes from the forest to the manufacturing plant. When you add each phase together you can get a good picture of the key elements that impact the overall total of the hardwood lumber pricing.

From the forest to the sawmill. From the time a forester is asked to visit a tract of land to be harvested and select the trees to be cut, to the time a logger fells, de-limbs and bucks the tree for transportation to the mill, costs are accumulating. The costs for these activities vary but usually are either a lump sum payment for the entire job or a price per unit harvested by volume, species, and grade.

Transforming hardwood logs to boards. In the sawmill, hardwood logs are transformed from round tree trunks to flat boards.  They go through a process of debarking, sawing into various thicknesses, edging to be made square, and then categorized by size, thickness, grade, and appearance. In a sawmill, the cost of sawing logs to lumber includes many variables with the main ones being the cost of logs, manpower and machine operating costs. (See 4 common sawing techniques section, below.) Totaled this can represent up to 50-70 percent of the final hardwood lumber cost to the customer. 

Green lumber to kiln-dried lumber. The drying process can be a combination of air-drying, (lumber in stacks on sticks in the open air on the yard), pre-drying, (the use of sheds, fans, vents, and baffles to control airflow), and kiln drying (climate controlled heat treatments with specific humidity levels and airflow). In most cases, the goal is to get the lumber moisture content down to 6-8 percent. The drying process can amount to another 10-20 percent of the total lumber cost. 

Grading, sorting and packaging lumber. This phase is usually labor intensive but it enables suppliers to properly account, value, and prepare the lumber for shipment to customers. These activities take place in the lumber concentration yard and enable the hardwood supplier to prepare the different hardwood lumber products for sale. 

Freight costs. Transporting lumber from the hardwood concentration yard to the customer can take many different forms, including flatbed trucks, rail cars, and ocean containers. Costs are based on distance and mode of transportation, and can vary based on time of year, demand and the price of fuel and labor.

All this is to say that an average cost for transportation cannot be stated; it is best to obtain an exact quote at the time of order. However, in general, the cost for transportation could total up to 10-20 percent of your total lumber purchase.
Many hardwood lumber suppliers also offer value-added services, such as custom sorting, ripping, surfacing and moulding into S4S products. These can add to the overall price.

4 common sawing techniques
Flat sawn, sometimes referred to as plain sawn, is the technique most used by sawmills because it is the most efficient. When lumber is flat sawn the annual growth rings are usually 30 degrees or less to the face of the board resulting in a grain pattern that is referred to as cathedral.

Live sawn cutting is when the sawyer cuts clear through the log without rotating it in the carriage. Boards can be wide and include the full range of the log’s character.

Rift sawn lumber is produced when boards are cut at angles between 30-60 degrees. This results in boards with straight grain patterns throughout the face, without any flecking.

Quarter sawn lumber also produces boards with straight grain patterns, but it is intentionally cut with the growth rings intersecting the boards at angles of 60-90 degrees that results in a flecking on the face of the board as the molecular rays become more visible.

Source: Baillie Lumber Co. For information call 716-649-2850 or visit Baillie.com.

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