Q: I bought some kiln-dried 4/4 soft maple lumber that was dipped in a fungicide to prevent stain. The surface is really bright, but just under the surface the lumber has a gray area about 1/8-inch deep encircling the lumber. The core is just fine. We didn't see this when we graded the lumber. Obviously, when we plane the lumber, we are getting gray where we plane lightly and good color if we plane more heavily; overall this looks blotchy. What happened?

A: Part of the answer is easy and part is tough. The easy part is that this is a gray enzymatic oxidation stain that occurred between the time the lumber was sawn and the lumber was stickered and began to dry quickly. When light-colored woods are held during warm weather without drying or are dried too slowly, the surface begins to oxidize, just like an apple turns brown after you take a bite. The result of such oxidation is a gray stain. The stain "grows" deeper into the wood as the non-drying conditions are maintained longer and longer. Your thin gray layer means that poor drying lasted only a few days. Old logs make this stain develop more rapidly than fresh logs.

In your case, then, perhaps there was a delay between sawing and stacking. Perhaps the lumber was on a truck that didn't come directly to the drying operation? Perhaps the wet lumber wasn't stacked promptly but was held tight-packed at the drying operation?

You might ask, "Why is the surface bright?" The chemical dip used had, in addition to a fungicide, a surface brightener, which prevented the stain from developing on the surface. So that is why the wood looked great when inspected initially.

So, now here is the hard part of the answer. Who is responsible? I am sure that you do not want to pay for the lumber. Yet the NHLA grading rules are based on a surface inspection, which in this case indicated excellent quality. So, it is going to be difficult to return the lumber due to a grading error - I do not believe that there was one. In addition, grading errors usually have to be addressed within 14 days. However, you may have recourse under the laws of your state. The basic legal concept is that a product must be suitable for the use intended. In this case, you have a defective product. If the seller does not settle with you promptly, then you will have to see your attorney. In many states, after the seller pays you and retrieves the lumber, the seller will then have to go to the kiln drier or supplier; you cannot jump over the seller yourself and go to these other processors directly. Good luck.

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