Q: I have some 4/4 and 5/4 white oak lumber that has been finished and now the customer is complaining about some randomly spaced dark streaks that run across the lumber's width. They are only in a few pieces of lumber. These dark areas look somewhat like sticker marks, but are randomly spaced and sometimes are very wide (6 inches), sometimes very narrow (1/4 inch). They are only in the heartwood. I know that we didn't detect these in our plant, as we would have eliminated them. The customer says that the color difference only pops out when the wood is finished.

A: This is a rare defect that I probably see once every several years. I have heard the defect referred to as "ghosting." The dark streaks are a result of a dark-colored fungus that got into the tree while it was alive. Possibly there was some previous logging in the forest that opened the stand, causing the white oak to develop some small branches lower on the stem. Then as the canopy filled in over the next few years, the lack of light caused these little low branches to die, resulting in an entryway for fungi. By the time you get the logs sawn, there is nothing you can do about the problem. It is next to impossible to detect this color variation in your operation. It is only when finished that the color variation becomes obvious, and certainly objectionable too.

I expect that you sold the lumber in good faith with reasonable inspection procedures. You did not cause or enhance the color variation - it is a natural event. So, I suspect that a lawyer will tell you that you are not responsible - this is one of the natural variations in white oak.

On the other hand, the buyer will argue that there is an implied warranty with lumber that says that the wood must be suited for its intended use, which it is not when it has these "hidden" color variations.

The bottom line is that as a supplier, you will end up "biting the bullet" to keep a customer.

(Paying a lawyer and hoping that you win isn't an option, because you will likely lose even if you win.)

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