Q: We have a modest lumber inventory of various air-dried and kiln-dried species and thicknesses. We believe that we will not be using some of this lumber in the foreseeable future and want to sell it to improve the cash flow and reduce inventory costs and risks. We believe that we can possibly do best if we sell kiln-dried lumber in small batches to builders, cabinet shops and maybe even serious hobbyists. We plan on planing most of it before selling. My question is how to sell it. Lineal footage, board footage, or by the piece.

A: First, let me support your decision to reduce inventory that does not match up with your expected usage.

Second, planing (sometimes called S2S, meaning surfaced two sides) is probably essential.

Third, I would have at least some of my inventory priced by the piece, with a price sticker on each piece. I would also suggest that you price this a little bit on the high side, as small quantities are usually sold for higher prices and this margin will allow you to give a discount to large users. In fact, you may want to have frequent buyer cards for the smaller shops and hobbyists, so when they purchase $100, they are entitled to a 5 percent discount, for example.

Fourth, I would have some of my inventory packaged (neatly stacked, plastic banded or shrink-wrapped, and maybe with a paper wrap for protection) priced in 100 BF lots (or other large size) with one grade and thickness in a lot. This would be attractive for the some commercial customers and should make handling and shipping fairly easy.

Fifth, if this approach proves successful, you may want to add a few more species and thicknesses to your inventory so that your operation becomes a focal point for anyone needing KD lumber.

Sixth, you may want to have the sales area separate from the plant area. (I am thinking about parking and safety.) You may also need to have different hours for the store; for example, certainly Saturday will be a busy day for the hobbyist crowd.

Q. I am embarking on a project that involves creating an authentic replica of the famous Liberty Bell, now housed in Philadelphia. The wooden yoke supporting the bell is slippery elm. Is this a hardwood? How does this wood compare to red elm? Can we identify the wood or do we need to go to the tree and leaves?

A: This sounds like an exciting project. Here is a little bit of information about the various elm species.

Hardwoods are trees with leaves and softwoods are trees with needles. Elm is a hardwood as it has leaves. The elms are divided into two groups: soft elms and hard elms. Soft elms include two species...American elm (Ulmus americana) and slippery elm (U. rubra). American elm is the elegant and stately tree that used to line our city streets and was dominant in many hardwood forests. It was attacked by a fungus, commonly called Dutch elm disease, and now very few of these trees survive. Slippery elm is also called red elm, gray elm, soft elm, plus a few very local names. Hard elms include four main species: winged elm (U. alata), cedar elm (U. crassifolia), September elm (U. serotina) and rock elm (U. Thomasii).

The hard elms are harder than the soft elms; for example, rock elm hardness is 1320 pounds while slippery elm is only 860 pounds.

When trying to identify lumber using 10x magnification, we can easily separate the soft elms from the hard elms and American elm from slippery elm. (We cannot separate the hard elms from each other.) This separation is based on the size and number of the earlywood pores (these are the first cells formed during a growing season, so they are the cells at the beginning of an annual growth ring). When the end grain is viewed under low magnification, slippery elm has several rows of large earlywood pores, American elm has one row of large pores, and the hard elms have small pores, usually one row wide and not necessarily continuous.

It is interesting that slippery elm was chosen by someone years ago to make the yoke, as slippery elm is not exceptionally strong. The modulus of rupture, also called the ultimate strength in bending, of clear slippery elm wood at 12 percent MC is 13,000 psi. For comparison, hickory is 19,200 psi; hard maple, 15,800; white oak, 15,200; white ash, 15,000; American beech, 14,900; walnut, 14,600; red oak, 14,300; soft maple, 13,400; cherry, 12,300; American elm, 11,800; and yellow-poplar, 10,100. I suppose we will never know for certain why this wood was chosen, but perhaps it works more easily than other, stronger species, or perhaps it was available at the time. It is also interesting that U.S. Park Service now indicates that the yoke is made of "American elm, also known as slippery elm."

As a point of interest, the Liberty Bell is 12 feet in circumference at the bottom lip and weighed 2,080 pounds originally. The yoke weighs 200 pounds. The crack (which became severe in 1846, which is the last time the bell was rung) is over 24 inches long. The bell, which rang an E-flat, is owned by the City of Philadelphia.

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