Lumber Grading, Quality, and Small Mills

Here's an extended discussion of the public policy issues involved in lumber grading, and construction using un-graded lumber, as seen from the point of view of the small sawmill operator. May 18, 2010

Is anyone making laminated beams out of side lumber? I heard of this idea in a Cooks Saw magazine and it may help in some of my building projects. My mill only cuts 16 foot logs and here in NE Oklahoma, our logs are really tapered if longer than that. Can the beams be made without planing each board? How dry do the boards need to be? I will be using red oak or post oak, so how strong will it be?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor M:
These beams you want to make do not meet building code requirements unless they are used for non-structural capacity. I can not understand how these could be made without holding something up. Owning two mills and being a build code official, I tell everyone that wants to use ungraded lumber that it is not worth the hassle. Wood being as cheap as it is now because of market conditions, why would you want to do this? I love to cut wood as much as the next guy, but I would not use my own lumber in a building for support because of the liability involved. Who wants to be sued if someone gets hurt or killed? There are manufacturers that are certified to build glue-lam beams, even radius beams. You and I are not. The wood has to be prepared correctly, and the proper glue must be used. Then the wood is compressed to a certain value until the glue is dried. I know how to make them, but I still would not.

I am not saying that you should not do this; I want to remind everyone that there are consequences for things we do so that no one gets hurt. The whole county uses the same building code; some areas do not enforce it, though.

I think there might be a show called “How It’s Made” that has the answer you’re looking for. It is on the web from the Science Channel.

From contributor V:
Does that mean that other building techniques do not meet the building code requirements? Such as log homes, timber frame, SIP to name a few.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:

Laminated beams are a quality product (due to the safety issues; failure cannot be tolerated). The individual pieces are usually tested before they are used. The glue joints are carefully made to avoid failures... This also means very smooth and precise surfaces of the wood pieces.

The beams are computer designed to develop the needed strength. The design also indicates where wood is not needed... extra wood adds to the weight and actually reduces the strength. As an illustration, which is stronger and stiffer, a 2x6 loaded flatwise or edgewise? So which width and depth is best for a beam?

In this case, the building codes are designed to assure safety of the occupants. For log homes are similar structures, there are regulations to assure safety. These regulations are conservative to assure virtually 100% safety in all sorts of conditions.

In this case, by side lumber, does this mean jacket boards? Certainly the species is important as well. The log size is also important as with small logs, there would be knots, tension wood, etc., all items that reduce the strength. The pieces must be dry before gluing, as glue does not hold well with wet lumber and also the drying stresses for a wetter piece would weaken and even break the glue joint. Certainly, oak is strong, but it is also heavy, so beams of oak often do not have a lot of excess carrying capacity.

Contributor A has great comments that indicate how important safety is. Remember that you may be willing to live in a structure that is below the safety standards (below code), but eventually you will sell this structure to another person and that person deserves safety.

The bottom line is that you cannot make your own beams out of ungraded, incorrect MC, unplaned lumber and have them perform safely and adhere to the established safety standards for a dwelling.

From contributor T:
I understand sawyers are people and run the spectrum of technical expertise. Perhaps more importantly, like everyone they possess varying degrees of common sense.

But I disagree with the premise that any and all timbers or glu-lam produced by any or all individual sawyers would be categorically unsuitable for use as structural timbers. While it is wise to err on the side of caution, I think we live in a day where blanket statements tend to form a mindset that says we as individuals should just leave all the critical thinking to large corporations and avoid any risks in life whatsoever.

Would I cut timbers or sell site-built glu-lams to a contractor who is building a doctor's office? No I would not. Would I cut them or sell them to him for his hunting lodge? Almost certainly, provided I had suitable grade logs that would produce clear wood, and he was willing to wait.

There's an element of risk involved in everything we do. We should always weigh the reward versus the risk, and make our best decisions based on that. While I believe there are some sawyers who probably have no business even cutting cribbing, I think there are many more who produce quality, sound timbers for structural use every bit as good as something bearing a stamp. Of course the issue of whether or not they are sold in a code-enforced area is a whole other discussion.

I disagree with the premise that it's a patently bad undertaking for any sawyer to produce structural timbers for any reason, or even make their own glu-lams, if this is in fact the notion being put forth.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Although I agree with some of your statements and my previous reply was directed mostly at a sawyer who did not know if the beams had to be planed before gluing and did not know what MC was appropriate, I would also state that most sawyers do not know what factors affect the strength of a piece of lumber. Certainly, a clear piece is strong, but what about one with knots - what size and location of the knots would be okay and what size and location would be weakening? How many knots? What about slope of grain?

In order to develop a strong glue joint, the pieces of wood being joined must be extremely close to each other (0.006"). This would involve a great number of clamps; further, handling and applying the glue would be critical. In the years I have been in this business, I do not recall many small and medium size hardwood sawmills that would also have the expertise, room, equipment to make laminated beams. They certainly could make sawn beams that would then be evaluated for strength, but laminated is not possible in most (maybe all) small or medium sized mills.

Quiz: If you have different grades of lumber for a laminated beam, where should the two strongest pieces be placed - top, bottom, middle, or ?? Is there, when installing a straight beam such as a header over a door, a face that is the top, or can it be installed in either direction? Is 1:6 slope of grain too much for a structural piece?

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the input. I would use these beams for door headers on pole barns. I never mentioned glue. Many folks use 2 - 2x10s sandwiching a piece of osb and claim greater strength. I think that any real wood lumber would have much more strength.

I do own some buildings that my grandfather built in the thirties that have stood the test of time, some of which have 8 inch poles over 20' long for door headers .some still have the bark on them and I don't think they have a grade stamp on them, and they are safe.

From contributor F:
As a builder with a sawmill, I agree with the questioner. We put together planks everyday to make headers and beams. I am in Ontario. Our code book sets out the size and number of planks required and the spacing for nailing or bolting. I think using your local code book will set out the same. One factor is the location in which the beams are to be used. In northern Ontario where we have 10 months of winter and 2 months of black flies, the snow loading requires beams much larger than the southern portion. The Ontario code has a section for using ungraded lumber in agricultural buildings. I am sure your code book has the same.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I did make a mistake in thinking that you were going to glue them. I also was incorrect in thinking that you were going to use them for a dwelling. I also envisioned that you were flat or horizontal laminating and not vertical.

There is no question that beams (ungraded) can be made and serve well, and they were often so in the past. Some were indeed nail laminated. I do think that grandpa had much more clear lumber and larger trees than we do, so he had a better chance of making a strong beam.

Note that hardwoods can be graded for structural use.

From contributor A:
So what about liability issues? If you buy a board from a store and it has a grade stamp and fails, all you can be given is a new board or a refund of your money. Since the grade rules allow a certain amount of boards to be below grade, it is almost expected.

Just a few weeks ago I bought 180 pre-cut studs and paid $2.55 each for them. The customer did not want the studs of his home to bow so he said my studs would not work. Of the 180 studs, I culled 13 of them as below grade and not fit for use. Had to take them back to the store and exchange them and they wanted a 20% restocking fee. I asked why a restocking fee, as the boards were clearly not good boards? Most builders would have used them and the house would have passed inspection since the boards did have a grade stamp.

There are many old barns and homes here with no grade stamped lumber in them at all. (Most old homes, including the White House, are that way.) Common sense is not so common anymore.

From contributor V:
There was a good little discussion on this forum about grading. Well worth reading.

In my area, ungraded lumber is used everywhere. The local authority asks the builder to strengthen the building by one size. Not a bad deal since the building codes should be considered the minimum allowed requirement. If an engineer is running design calculation, the rough sawn lumber can be used with no changes to size.

I would be happy to grade my own lumber. It absolutely makes no business sense for me to pay a grader to do this because I have many small jobs that typically need a quick turn-around. We tend to cut larger logs than the stud mills, and in doing so it is easy to exceed their quality. A grader's got to eat too, just the nature of the business.

DIY grading

From contributor F:
I saw the price that contributor A paid for precuts at a local yard. We have the big orange up here too. I usually pay 2.00-2.25 Canadian for precuts which I think were shipped up. In the past we have said that our cheap dollar at .60-.70 cents gave Canadian mills an advantage, which I feel is the reason for cheaper lumber. The 2 dollars are near parity now. I pay more for fuel and have a much more severe climate. Are there more tariffs in the U.S. that you pay at the mill? Secondly, the big orange is selling finger jointed studs which are stamped. Are they used in some states? I believe in this case that grading would be essential, but they are run through so fast, how are they tested for strength?

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
They are tested for strength by being bent. If they are stiff, they are strong. In fact, they bend them over a short distance, so if a section is weak (large knot for example), it is cut out and then the remaining stronger pieces are finger jointed together. This is certainly an efficient use of our wood resource.

From contributor Z:
There are very few areas left that do not use the UBC as their guidelines for building. If you live in an area that doesn't, that's great. However, the bottom line is that we live in a "sue happy" society, and if you choose to represent a product as equal to stud rated and suitable for habitable building, you are crazy. It may be the clearest nicest material, but unless you are certified to grade and test lumber, it doesn't mean squat (which the big guys are). Sell it for what it is and let the buyer choose his application. I also have knowledge of a rural builder using materials cut on his property, and every stud had to be replaced. He wasn't as rural as he thought.

As far as how things use to be, those good old days are gone. Although there are a lot of nice old structures standing, there are a heck of a lot more that have crumbled because of the very components they where built from.

From contributor M:
I wanted to chime in here again with direct quotes from the IRC and IBC. There is no longer the UBC. That was phased out in 2003 with the adoption of the IRC and IBC. In section R502 of the ICR reads:

“R502.1 Identification. Load-bearing dimension lumber for joists, beams and girders shall be identified by a grade mark of a lumber grading or inspection agency that has been approved by an accredited body that complies with DOC PS20. In lieu of a grade mark, a certificate of inspection issued by a lumber grading or inspection agency meeting the requirements of this section shall be accepted.”

This paragraph appears in many places in the IRC and IBC. This building code has been adopted by many countries around the world including every state in the US. Every jurisdiction that adopts the IRC and IBC can choose to be more restrictive, but can not loosen the code. Some jurisdictions choose to look the other way and let people do whatever they want.

I will agree that many older buildings are still standing after more than 100 years, but almost everyone has walls bowing, floors and roofs sagging. The reason for this is most supporting members were not sized correctly. I watch episodes of “This Old House” where they have to repair deficient load bearing members in every project they do. What is up with that? If our forefathers and mothers were so great in building, why is this happening?

Those of you that think that your sawn wood is superior to what you can buy, prove it! I know the wood I cut is far better than what you can buy in the stores. Can I prove it? No. I do have a structural engineering background and can calculate the strength of the members. Do I have an engineers stamp? No. If you can get a structural engineer to stamp your plans with the use of rough sawn wood, the jurisdiction almost has to accept this. The engineer also must provide a final report that states that his/her butt is taking responsibility for the safety of the structure. You will not find many that will do this.

From contributor T:
I tend to think the reason most older buildings didn't last as long as they could have is because of sub-par design more than bad materials. No doubt shoddy materials were used, but often they just used what they had. Today's sawyer has the luxury of choosing high grade logs from which to cut his lumber. If he doesn't have grade logs to serve markets which require #1 or #2 lumber then he ought to cut firewood.

I also disagree that someone must be "crazy" to sell framing lumber if he so chooses. I would agree that he may be crazy to do so without first understanding how to structure his business so that asset attachment is limited to the bare bones of his business, and not his entire castle.

Bottom line is yes, the little guy continues to get squeezed out of every market which could be profitable because large corporations don't want the competition, and governments no longer represent the little guy. They kneel at the altar of big-moneyed lobbyists. Any little guy who wants to sell where he can regardless of how smart or stupid it may be, does so knowing the risks, or else he'll find out the hard way.

I stay out of all those markets and limit my products to woodworkers, turners, and niche markets. I also would not knowingly sell to hobby toy makers who resell their products at flea markets. They are all breaking the law now too, and are subject to outrageous fines and litigation. Sawmill operating permits are not far down the road. I'm not kidding.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Thanks, contributor A, for a very accurate and blunt statement of the facts.

In the past decades, we have changed our living structures... added increased weight to the structure (king's size beds, books, pianos, entertainment centers, big refrigerators), added upstairs laundry rooms, added longer open spans, added less tolerance of bouncy floors, wavy walls, and wavy roofs, and so on with less desire to build a new structure (log cabins were considered somewhat temporary, for example). Further, we insure them against fire, wind, rain, snow, etc., which means that the insurance companies want a reasonable level of construction, even for outbuildings that may house insured animals, cars, etc. In short, it is hard to compare grandpa's buildings to today's.

From contributor V:
I suppose what I posted before meets contributor A's position. Our local folks ask for the rough sawn building material to be one size larger or it needs to be called out in the plans. Folks will never be able to prove their rough sawn material meets the grade unless the grading barrier is lowered to the point that we can all grade. What is the harm in that? Why is such a natural process so difficult to achieve? Wouldn't it be better (and safer, which is the stated goal of this agencies) for all concerned if the same measures were made on all wood building material?

I believe it is necessary to raise an issue while working on a solution. Raising too many before the work begins is not productive. We should be working together to become part of the standards, and if that is grading/testing/processing lumber, then so be it! This forum should help make this happen... What an opportunity!

On another forum I found a reference to a class for grading softwood. The cost was said to be $700. The class part was okay, but becoming certified is still challenging due to the need to take other steps, not to mention the fees.

From contributor R:
"Every jurisdiction that adopts the IRC and IBC can choose to be more restrictive, but can not loosen the code."

Could you direct me to the U.S. Code or that part of the U.S. Constitution that strips the States' sovereign rights to enact laws by legislative act and gives a private entity the powers to override a states' ability to do so?

I don't recall studying it in any of my law classes. Then again I don't own the largest sawmill in Washington State, so I could be wrong.

From contributor I:
As a high quality licensed contractor and remodeler, I'd like to address a couple of statements that are true and not true. I'm old fashioned in my ways and to pass my contractors license test, I had to degrade my building quality (for correctly passing test answers only).

Contributor A mentions IRC and IBC standards along with 100 year old buildings with sags and bows. It's obvious you haven't seen the lack of quality being produced today and our codes allowing 7/16" CDX (junk) on the roofs with all the waves and sags after 6 years. I do agree we need codes and guidelines, but correctly used, not abused.

Gene's comment is correct that our weights and spans have changed over the years. And as a new sawyer, I agree with contributor T that we can produce as high or higher quality as the large mills, we just don't get the grade stamp.

To the original questioner: Lamination of some sort has been around for centuries! Even timber framing's scarf joint is the layering of one or more. I've seen in multiple old structures the laminating of green ungraded lumber to create beams and trusses that have withstood the tests of time.

The bottom line is, from 25 years of experience studying and repairing older structures - sheds, barns, residences, churches and courthouses - is we have the same building issues now as they did hundreds of years ago. Some value building safely and correctly, and others choose to cut corners. If this wasn't true, there would be no need for codes or even law enforcement.

I had a great, great uncle that worked for the railroad designing and installing timber trestles. After many years of good designs and no failures, the railroad decided that he was going to be removed from engineering because he didn't have a college degree. He only had a third grade education. His degreed coworker, who already had many bridge failures, replaced him. The sad conclusion is our world is revolving more around degrees and grade stamps, and not around good morals and quality that can be produced by the little guys.

From contributor M:
Contributor D, you bring up good points. The state of Florida, I think, is the only state in the country that uses it own code. The reason for that comes from all the hurricanes that state can experience. Their code is based on the ICC (International Code Counsel) codes, but a lot more restrictive. California used to have their own code, but the governor changed that. Most of this information is from what I have read in newsletters from ICC over the last few years. I have to admit that the only state that I do know about for sure is Washington State. I do know that every state adopts the codes as written, then can choose to adopt the appendix’s one at a time, in the back of each book. This state adds many more restrictive parts to all the codes. ICC has many codes books - IRC, IBC, Fuel Gas, Mechanical, Plumbing, Electrical, Fire, Existing Building, Energy Conservation, Performance, Private Sewage Disposal, Property Maintenance, Urban-Wildland Interface, and Zoning. I had to look all these up. The State of Washington does not use ICC electrical or plumbing codes for sure. The electrical code is the NEC (National Electrical Code) and the plumbing code is the UPC (Uniform Plumbing Code).

The codes are adopted at the state level first, and then the county, city or town level depends on where you live. I live outside the city, so I am governed by the county. I work for two cities and they have to use the state amendments and then add their own, if they are more restrictive.

Here is an example. One city I work for has the most restrictive rules on height requirements I have ever seen. The other city could almost care less. This is all within reason. The city that has the very strict height requirements is because of views of the Seattle skyline. The structure, when done, must have a licensed surveyor state what the height of the building is, and stamp it with his stamp. If the structure is too high, it gets torn down, or repaired to the level that was approved when the plans were submitted. Do I agree with this? No way! I do what the city council directs me to do. This is what happens when rich people run amuck. You do have to understand that the average price of a home in this city is about $8-900,000, with many well over 5 million.

Someone brought up the 7/16 OSB on the roofs. Back in the 70’s and 80’s this was only 3/8 CDX with very poor ventilation. The 7/16 OSB is a step up from the 3/8. I personally like the OSB because it uses smaller trees, and saves the old growth forests. 7/16 OSB works great here with proper ventilation and the ventilation is the key to it lasting. This does not work with high snow loads or with high year round humidity.

From contributor A:
Call the SPIB and tell them you have a mill that produces less then 1mmbdft of pine lumber a year. Tell them you want to join and become certified to inspect your lumber. See how quick they accept you and how much it is going to cost you. It is not that you are not good enough, but just not big enough.

I grade by their handbook (try to get one of those as well). The DOC PS 20 was to ensure that with interstate commerce we would all be talking about the same thing. So a 2x4 was the same in NY as in AR. Not so some big mills could get together and exclude the smaller ones. The standards were so that when you bought lumber, we were all talking about the same thing in terms that were defined.

It is no hard feat to become a Hardwood inspector. I went to a large softwood mill one time and the boards were going by the inspectors at a rate of 3 per second. It took a major flaw to get culled. I am putting in a picture of two of the boards that made my load and both have grade stamps. Neither board would have left my yard to be sold as a stud. My boards did come from Canada.

In Arkansas if you pass the test (open book) for Contractors License, most of it is on Workers Comp law and really has nothing to do with knowing how to build. Most Civil Engineers who approve your plans could not build a house. I studied CE for 3 years before I took off sawing. Yes, they are needed and do provide a great service. Yes, there needs to be a way for small mills to grade and stamp their lumber and have no more liability than the larger mills seem to have.

Remember that 20% is allowed to be below grade. Just because it has a stamp does not mean it is worth using.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I was under the impression that 5% of the lumber could be "off grade" for any reason, but that usually only 2% on the average is not perfect. Note that this off grade allowance includes moisture as well.

From contributor C:
That's a good example of what makes it through to the consumer. It is a bit frustrating that clear, tight ringed, straight grained lumber produced by a portable mill, air dried and dressed, falls short due to lack of ink stamp, and what's posted above in the picture makes it through.

From contributor T:
Safety, building standards, reliable grading rules that establish an industry benchmark, interstate commerce, ad infinitum... Yes, these are all part of the solution for the myriad problems that have been identified and addressed over the years.

And although I use quotes for the problem/solution nexus, I don't mean to trivialize them. They are important issues. But they have, like all political impetus, been used as tools to concentrate control into the hands of a few. Just like the American farmer, on a much smaller scale, the individual American sawyer cannot afford to send a lobbyist to DC to buy a congressman.

I know this topic is not something most sawyers come here to discuss, but the fact is, the aforementioned issues have taken a back seat to the real motivation behind most of the regulations that slide through on the coattails of other bills, and that motivation is to eventually completely squeeze out the small guys.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Any mill can hire a certified grader to come in to grade and stamp lumber that has been produced over a long time period. In fact, if several mills get together and hire that person on the same day, it is possible to save on travel costs.

From contributor V:
So Gene, I take it that you are in favor of the way things are now? Which I think means we would relegate these mills to specialty softwood cutting or just hardwoods, or the odd yard tree? Stick with the small markets.

I would be happy if a grader could be available for a reasonable price relative to the work my mill can do and my customer needs. I have checked - it would nearly double my selling price!

From contributor A:
Size is allowed 20% of the pieces. Grade is allowed 5% of the pieces to below grade. Most of the time when I buy studs from the box store, it is more around 10 to 15% below grade. My son frames houses for a living and he gets bundles of precut studs and says on average he culls 20 to 30 out of a bundle. This is way above the 5%.

If you price an inspector, they get travel pay, then so much to inspect. You would end up making your lumber cost more than what you can go buy it for.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Am I in favor? Not really, but I do not know of an alternative system that will allow a small mill to economically make commodity softwood construction lumber and assure that the lumber meets the quality (including moisture and straightness) and strength requirements.

I do agree that hiring a grader is expensive, but combining several mills together can often prove a better option. But the large mills can make lumber quite cheaply, so it is hard to compete in this commodity market. Hence, niche markets, and other non-commodity markets are better options.

Incidentally, I am old enough to remember when you went to a lumberyard and the construction lumber varied in size by quite a bit... before the present standards were in place.

From contributor A:
Out of the 300,000 bdft of pine I saw a year, only about 75,000 bdft would need to be graded. But let's say the softwood industry had a school like the hardwood folks in Memphis. You pay your fee and go to school and get certified and a copy of the book and a stamp. Then you are only responsible for the grade you put on the lumber (which is all they are liable for). If someone miss uses a board or underbuilds and it fails, you are no more at fault than if I had put in those bad grade stamped studs and the roof sagged in that spot.

I grade my lumber by the book and stamp it with my stamp. It is far better lumber than I get at the store. Sometimes I do not produce enough to meet my own demand. Lumber like flooring and siding does not have to have a grade stamp. Since my repeat sales are so high in the average of my annual sales, it must be good enough and some of my products are higher in cost than the store.

From contributor V:
Wow - that would be a 25% production loss! For me it is more like 50%, looking at my last three orders, two of them would have been affected (that is all of the material in the order). It is time for a change. I will contact our brothers and see what they have to say. I certainly will let you know; I hope I have your support.

From contributor R:
The rules are public documents, which means you can use them to set up an independent grading agency, but you cannot produce a product that can be graded. You can't own a sawmill and have an agency. As to what it costs, it is $750 year plus 2.4cents per thousand bf graded. To get approved as an agency, there is no standard test and a fee of approximately 2k a day for the approval process, but they can't tell you how many days it will take to get approved because there is no standard test or requirements. I suppose if you are someone like me, that has the tendency to ask questions they don't like and will waste their time making them look up what they should already know, you may never get approved no matter how proficient you are at grading. Not a very helpful organisation, and their MO appears to be very questionable. Apparently hypothetical questions are too scientific or law like for them and if it's not black and white, it irritates them just as such questions would irritate the very type of individuals I have previously described.

There is absolutely no reason that each state could not adopt the grading guidelines set forth by DOC PS20 and NIST, under their weights and measure codes/statutes and if necessary require a bond for stamp grading of construction lumber instead of allowing a monopoly to prevail in such a manner.

ss 2.1 Accreditation--Procedure by which an authoritative body gives formal recognition that a body or person is competent to carry out specific tasks.
(they have no standard procedure)

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
If you are a member of SPIB, for example, producing southern pine dimension, once a month, the grading association comes unannounced and randomly inspects some of the lumber you have graded and makes sure you are grading accurately.

From contributor T:
Many small sawyer operations like contributor A could make more money if he could just have his products graded economically. He certainly has the market to sell them as would I if I were trying to serve the building market.

Until 1999 I was a successful remodeler employing eleven headaches. I hated using the spruce and pine crap I was forced to use. I would have gladly paid more for better lumber if it were available. I served a high end market and did not advertise, but had a constant backlog of work. I produced quality results. I had to go through a lot of lumber to do it. There are a lot of builders and remodeling concerns that would jump at the chance to buy the kind of quality lumber others can produce, but it is simply not available to them without the caveats because of politics.

I see a 2-dimensional attitude here and it's because some people have become so conditioned to just accept the status quo, that they have *become* the status quo. Gene, when you say that large corporations can produce studs so much more efficiently than a small sawyer operation, you are correct, but you miss the point so dramatically it makes me wonder what you do all day. Small sawyers on the whole do not want the ability to compete with Weyerhauser. They just want to go after the target markets they choose. Like upscale builders who will pay more for quality lumber. But the Weyerhausers of the world see that as too much competition and make sure the whores in DC write the rules that prevent that competition.

The spec builder and tract-home builders are not what the contributor A's of the world are after, necessarily. They want to be able to sell to the guys like themselves who produce quality over quantity, like the remodeling business that put my family in high cotton eventually. I didn't do it by using junk materials. My bid was usually the highest or close to it, but I had the reputation to sell that kind of product.

Independent sawyers should be allowed an affordable avenue for reaching those markets simply by a lack of oppressive regulations. Just an affordable means to bring their quality products to market, and if they cannot meet the "stringent standards" of the Weyerhausers, then they can flip pancakes at IHOP.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Note that over 70% of the 2x4 construction lumber sold in GA is from Canada, not the USA. It is similar throughout the Eastern US; I do not know about the West. In Wisconsin, it is hard to find anything but SPF.

It is possible to hire a part time grader for softwoods. It does cost money for the grader's time and their continual training, inspection, etc., which even the large mills have to pay.

Note that the grade of STUD requires exceptional straightness (for 2x4 by 8 feet, 0.25" crook, .375" twist and .75" bow), nailing edges must be consistent, and so on. Of course, this quality is at the time of grading and is continually checked by the grading associations both here and in Canada. They cannot guarantee that the buyer will ship and store the wood correctly; poor storage can lead to warp and in fact it has been documented many times that storage before sale is a big issue. Should the lumber be below grade, every piece will have a mill number and a grading association name so one can file a complaint and such complaints are indeed handled fairly.

Of course, there are better grades than STUD; these grades provide higher stress ratings. In fact, it is not uncommon to find that other products in addition to 2x4s will be machine stress rated rather than visually graded to assure even more precise strength and stiffness ratings.

When building with construction lumber in the South using Southern pine, the main grade used (other than 2x4 studs) is No.2. Over half of such lumber is also pressure treated. When one mentions higher quality, does that mean stronger, stiffer or straighter?

A floor joist or truss is designed based on strength and stiffness; almost always, the stiffness is the governing factor. There is more than sufficient strength, maybe 2 to 3 times more. So, what does higher quality mean? Does it look better? Is it straighter? If straightness is the issue, most likely the shipping and storage people are mishandling the lumber.

Although I was employed by Virginia Tech and the University of Wisconsin, my job involved providing technical assistance to mills, manufacturers and builders, visiting hundreds of mills every year for 30+ years. These were both small and large mills; hardwoods and softwoods. I conducted seminars for builders on grades, products, installation (such as nailing patterns). I have managed a sawmill. I have built buildings; in fact, right now I am building (nailing, screwing, cutting, etc.) a large building (wood frame with metal siding) in NW Iowa. I do believe that I have seen the practical side of sawmilling in more mills (small to large) and in more difficult situations than most other people... Mills called me in when they had problems.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Incidentally, the size (1.50" x 3.50" for 2x4) of construction lumber is the size at the time of grading and is extremely accurate. There is also a MC specification, which is the MC at the time of grading. For example, if one sells air dried (abbreviation AD or S-GRN; meaning it has not been in a kiln and is likely over 20% MC) and then the wood is stored in a box store (about 8% EMC), there is potential for about 16% MC change and 4% size change. If stored outside, the EMC is around 12%, if protected from the rain. The abbreviation KD for kiln drying means that the wood has been in a kiln that went above 160 F. The abbreviation KD15 means that all of the pieces (except for the 5% that can be out of the grade specification for whatever reason, including MC) will be at or under 15% MC, as well as at 160 F.

From contributor V:
I did send a letter to the American Lumber Standards Committee. I will let you know how that goes.

Don't forget that stud mills accept 5" logs and somehow get two studs from that. I suppose they accurately make a stud that includes a lot of natural edge. That is one of the eye popping reasons that we say we cut to a higher quality. The other is strength - it is not difficult to witness the increased strength in a rough sawn board. I haven't produced a mechanical performance test to show these strongly held beliefs. If we can get some help with standards I am sure it will come to that.

We can all see how important the standards are and we want to be part of that. I have suggested a new standard for rough sawn that matches the design standards for dimensional lumber. They would be different products but could be used in the same construction designs.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Because studs are nailed to on the edge, there are strict requirements about the lack of a nailing edge.

From contributor R:
While I agree that a lot of defects are caused by shipping and storage methods, I also believe that smaller mills tend to use better quality logs, and the boards are not being ripped from the logs at lightning speeds and are being removed by hand (by the sawyer in many cases), and visual inspections are much better than at the larger mills. Typically an end user would purchase from the smaller mills directly.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Medium and large mills use a computer and are able to scan the log faster than a sawyer and can process more options than a sawyer. From a given log, they will obtain more valuable lumber (based on selling prices). I do not know about the log size differences for small mills.

From contributor Y:
In my experience, the best construction grade logs are smaller diameter, and the modern big mills are geared just for them. My production dies in logs that size. Large diameter logs are way better for me. There's more clear wood but the knots are bigger too. Okay for timbers, but way too big for studs. Before the economic downturn we had to compete with the big mills for quality smaller logs and that was an impossible task. But we could buy their oversize logs very reasonably because they couldn't mill them and would sell them cheap. Was good for everybody.

The large mills in BC's interior, I'm told, can process logs for $100 per thousand. That includes unloading the log truck, debarking, milling, kilning, planing, grading, packaging, and loading the finished product. That's at a rate of up to 1,500,000 bft per shift. But they can't do custom orders.

From contributor R:
Exactly, the big mills are more concerned with value based on volume rather than quality.

From contributor Z:
Economics 101 - that's what the consumer demands. If there was more money to be made and a market in higher quality studs, they would be all over it. If you can create a new market for high end dimensional studs, go for it. You can probably buy all the kilns and planers you need cheap now, from the dozens of mills that have closed within a fifty mile radius of me. Must be all the money they made and didn't feel the need to continue!

Studs coming from small diameter logs is actually a byproduct of modern forestry practices and is an important part of good stewardship. The days of heading into the woods and felling the monster trees because of high yield and everything else knocked down and left to rot are gone. The U.S. lumber companies, at least those that are left, have invested heavily in technology that allows them to utilize this second, third, or even fourth growth timber and turn it into a viable product.

From contributor R:
The consumers are not offered the option to buy graded lumber from small sawmills for dwelling construction at a competitive price, and one reason is the way the grading system is monopolized. I agree they would be all over it if the smaller mills were able to sell graded lumber competitively, and they would still be trying to shut out the little guy. The little guys have invested quite a sum of money also, and support manufacturers like Wood-Mizer, Cooks Saw, Turner, Baker, D&L, and scores of mom and pop manufacturers and service providers.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Please reread the "Economics 101" paragraph above. This is key. The statement "big mills are more concerned with value based on volume rather than quality" is the definition of how a commodity market operates. We see this in hardwood mills as well.

The Southern pine mills can produce around 30 billion BF annually; they are down because of the poor economy now. I do not think that they will worry about small mills greatly affecting their markets. Canadian mills provide even more lumber annually.

It is well to remember that these mills are producing large quantities (and about 82% of their cost is the log), so they need to make only a small profit on each stick of lumber. If a small mill were to produce lumber with this same profit margin per stick, it could not operate. Hence, niche markets are so much more attractive. In fact, these customized markets are not of interest to the large mills.

A consumer can buy No.2 2x4s, No.1 2x4s, and STUD 2x4s. Actually, a STUD is straighter and has a better nailing surface (see my previous note for the actual straightness) than the two higher, more expensive grades. I am doubtful that a small mill can make a better stud unless they use more expensive logs and more expensive kiln drying, the cost of which will destroy profits.

In the South, a consumer can buy 2x6 through 2x12 No.2, No.2 Dense, No.1 and No.1 Dense. So, higher quality is available at a higher cost, but the builders do not buy it. The higher grades go almost totally to truss mills that can afford the cost.

Large mills are very aware of the cost of production, the benefit in improved production, profits and so on. In a commodity market, the competition will try to reduce costs to make a sale, as one can buy the same product from many mills, so the lowest sale cost is the one that wins. (If you visit a medium or large mill, you will see the excellent quality that they produce; it will be better than what you have in the large lumber stores where the product has been mishandled.)

I think that if small mills want to sell softwood construction lumber, we will need some way to assure that they conform to the size, strength, warp, and MC rules. We will have to check them from time to time (once a month and they will have to pay for the cost of this checking) to assure they are being honest and correctly indicating the grade. I think the cheapest way to do this is for a mill to hire a certified grader to come to their mill from time to time to grade their lumber. The cost of this grader would be less than the cost of any other reasonable options I can think of.

Every so often, a sawmill produces inferior lumber and grade stamps it using a counterfeit stamp. As they do not have to pay the grading costs, their product is cheap and a store might buy their wood unknowingly... In a commodity market, the cheapest price is what they buy. Likewise, from time to time a regular mill will produce incorrectly graded lumber and will not correct their grading, so their stamp is revoked. This counterfeit stamping happens more often than one thinks.

From contributor T:
This has been a very educational thread for me. I cater to niche markets, turners, woodworkers, and it happened by accident, but I started out buying a large automated circle mill. Good thing I came to my senses before I sunk a lot of dollars into it because I probably would have lost my hind end.

I had the private capital to do it and the timberland as well, and back then the market warranted, and fuel costs were not so prohibitive that I could have trucked my products the 120 miles to the nearest buyer. I had been given - yes, given - several hundred acres of loblolly pine with every species of east Texas hardwoods that grow here. For a newbie greenhorn with water behind his ears, *free* timber, and zero interest venture loans, it looked like a no-brainer.

Knowing what I know now, it's easy to see how I would've fallen flat on my face with the sudden fuel cost spike, falling markets, and who knows what else. Even under the best of circumstances it would have been touch and go.

I don't disagree with anything you said in your last post, Gene. In fact I learned a lot. Especially about counterfeit stamps. The thing I have a problem with is how the small mills are blocked out of their local markets, not just by the market factors you (accurately) describe, but because they have to compete with the mega corporations and their lobbyists when they are not even trying to get into Home Depot in the first place.

I'm not for any kind of federal government intervention, not even in the form of regulations favorable to the small sawyer, or subsidies. I hate them for big business so I would hate them for small business.

But I believe strongly that small mills ought to have access to their local markets. I believe individual state legislatures ought to write their own laws that allow a sawyer to have access to a state-sponsored monthly stamp program for a nominal fee. I don't believe anyone and everyone who owns a mill should have access to it. I think it ought to be regulated just like HVAC, plumbing, electricians and most other trades, so as not to be a haven for dishonorable types who bilk the public and create unsafe conditions in their wake.

The program I see is one where a sawyer wannabe has to pass a test, just like the electrician's exam I had to pass, and must do at least 2 hours of CE each year (2 hours is nothing). A sawyer who passed the requirements would be issued a license to sell whatever lumber his license stated (there are different levels of HVAC, for example, and the "B" license cannot sell or service certain types of systems). His lumber would be graded monthly and if he received a large order and wanted to sell some lumber before the next scheduled visit by the state grading agent, he could schedule a visit out of his pocket. The lumber would only be allowed to be sold and used in that state or states with reciprocal agreements. That's no big deal either, because those kinds of laws are on the books for everything you can imagine anyway, and many things you cannot.

I can hear some of you saying "but that's not going to change the fact that people aren't going to buy construction grade from small mills when they can buy it much cheaper from big orange." I guess that's where I am probably living in a fantasy world, because I know from experience that a small mill *can* compete with the Depots even in the construction lumber market in many ways. I'm not saying a small mill can make a million a year, but with a feasible stamping program, a small mill could sell enough to provide a good living for his family if he did everything else right.

There may not be many guys like me out there who have access to timber at little or no cost, but even considering the cost of logs, if a small mill had access to an affordable and regular stamping program, it would open the door for many small mills to to sell lumber locally that otherwise could not.

It would take a serious effort by a few individuals at first in a state where it has the best chance to come to fruition, and that state would have to be one where logging was almost non existent, because the logging lobby would squash it like a bug in Washington State or the like. I realize this sounds like a pipe dream, but maybe I'm still green enough to dream.

From contributor Y:
Bottom line is, a small operation can't even come close to competing with a big mill cutting dimension lumber. Byproducts are another reason. I've heard that most big mills in BC make enough off their woodchips to cover their labour costs. I have to burn most of my slabs. I don't even have a debarker. I doubt if I could sell chips anyway, due to the lack of volume.

From contributor T:
I'm doing a terrible job of saying that small mills do not have to compete with them. It may be the same product, but you are looking to serve a different customer, especially in rural areas where convenience and time are so important to contractors and DIYers. It should go without saying that except in unusual circumstances, construction lumber should be only part, in varying degrees depending on the market and other variables, of what a small mill produces.

Small mills simply cannot compete with millions of dollars of capital and dozens or hundreds of employees for the same market. But they *can* sell the same kind of products and do so profitably, in my opinion. Doing it legally could be a whole bunch easier with fair access to those markets.

From contributor R:
"The statement 'big mills are more concerned with value based on volume than value based on quality' is the definition of how a commodity market operates. We see this in hardwood mills as well."

Agreed, yet with hardwood, we smaller mills are not limited or frozen out of the market by a regulation that affords a selective few a monopoly on a specific commodity market. We are allowed to market our lumber as meeting the standard grades as outlined in the NHLA rules without being forced to join some group or pay an additional fee to a private entity for the use of the rules.

Another part of any market is the distribution chain, wherein every link in the chain has to place a markup on the commodity in order to make a profit or at least cover overhead. If small mills were afforded the opportunity to grade their lumber, without having to pay a $500 a day fee plus expenses to hire a transient inspector (from the SPIB for example), and they can't compete, then the laws of natural selection will prevail. But to simply lock them out by excessive fees because some totalitarian group wants to control the market, is wrong.

I assure you that I and others could cut, dry, and market studs, pursuant to the grade rules, and make a livable profit at the $2.55 price tag that was mentioned above (or whatever the current market price is). Yet, if we had to have those same studs graded by a transient grader, we would have to add a minimum of $2.78 per stud to recover our grading expenses (in his example).

It has been some time since I had softwoods graded by the SPIB, but if I remember correctly, there was a bf limit that could be graded in a day without incurring additional fees. Further, the savings that would be gained by having an inspector grade several mills at once would be minimal and would be offset by the additional time wasted arranging a combined grading session. Further, they will only grade lumber for you that was produced by you.

"I think that if small mills want to sell softwood construction lumber, we need some way to assure that they conform to the size, strength, warp, and MC rules."

The market or the laws of natural selection will help ensure accountability. And I do believe that this could be handled at the state level. I'm sure any state's DPR or DOA could come up with a fairly simple procedure to protect the public much better than what is being done now while allowing a free market to prevail.

Basically my argument is, the way the system is set up, it is a suppression of one's rights to prosper, without unfair government intrusion. The federal government has given a selected group the ability to control a specific market and denied the people's right to compete freely.

How much someone does or doesn't spend in order to get into the market is irrelevant.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Basically, the American Lumber Standard was created to keep the government out of the lumber business. The choice was to self regulate or have the government regulate. At that time, natural selection and the marketplace did not control quality or size. With the ALS, we are dealing with quality factors that the average person cannot accurately assess. It is not like food where our taste buds will tell us that this food is good or bad quality (ignoring bacteria spoiling issues).

When grading hardwoods using the NHLA rules, we do not have a safety factor involved, so anyone can grade or learn to grade that wood. Further, hardwoods are not used as is but are almost always cut into smaller pieces to achieve the desired quality.

From the original questioner:
I don't get bogged down in politics, but cost I understand. I used to own two of those sawdust-makin' circle mills. I sold them and bought an EZ boardwalk manual bandmill. It cuts about two times faster than my old mills. My purpose with the mill was to build my wife and I a new house. Where we are, there are no enforced building codes. I built the house with lumber cut from logs off my own place. The framing lumber saved me the cost of the mill, plus I cut my own paneling and trim. It's unique and we like it. It's all oak, and the experience was hard work, but it is paid for.

The earlier post that said no lumber should be used in framing construction that isn't graded and stamped is very offensive to me. I have cut a lot of lumber that is stronger than store bought stamped pine. I have also cut some that is junk. That stuff turns into firewood instead of being a percentage that gets by.

I do some custom sawing now. I used to raise chickens on contract, but the economic slump made my contract contract, and I don't raise chickens anymore. I do have a lot of storage and my mill is set up in an old chicken house - it works out pretty well. I could only get 22 cents for my logs at a pallet mill 10 miles away. Now I get 30 cents plus 30 cents for sawing and people come to me. It's pretty good sometimes, but not always consistent. I just spent a week without a sawing job, but I have a couple orders for next week. I'm still optimistic that there is demand enough to support my small hardwood mill. I offer a product that Lowes doesn't - full 2 inch trailer floor boards that put up with cow manure or dozer tracks, or maybe exact size 1 piece beams or cants for flatbed semi trailers. Plus, they don't sell high quality firewood in bulk. And I do cut quite a bit of hobby wood.

From contributor R:
"Basically, the American Lumber Standard was created to keep the government out of the lumber business. The choice was to self regulate or have the government regulate."

Understood, but it is not a self regulating entity. It is more of a monopoly. Back in the day, a construction crew may have consisted of one to three people building a house from the ground up, and the quantities of housing that are being built, even in today's economy, were not built. Exponential population growth gave rise to the need for more housing and standards.

We also didn't have licensed contractors, framing contractors, roofing contractors, etc. that were held accountable for the construction of dwellings like we do today. These people are licensed at the state or county level; they are not allowed to self govern at a federal level.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
What you say about licensed people at the state level is true, but lumber is a commodity that is sold nationally and not just in the state where it is manufactured.

From contributor V:
I have customers that want me to cut building materials for them all the time, and they are very happy to pay for my service! So yes, I compete, but it is difficult to break through some of the barriers. I am just asking that the barriers be taken down - then let the competition begin.

From contributor A:
I build homes every year where every board in the place I have sawn. I take my little stamp and stamp away. It is by the standards set up by the Feds in DOC PS20. Some people have it in their minds that only large mills can make good quality boards. I do not even waste my time with them. Since I have a waiting list (which is getting longer since all it does now is rain), and turn down more work than I take, I will keep on sawing.

Since I see so many bad boards with stamps, I will say the system is not working. They do not police themselves very well. I do realize that most builders cut them into shorter pieces so that they are not wasted. (There are many cripples in a house.)

There should be a State Level PS20 that allows small mills to sign up and have rules to follow just like the Weight and Measure guys do. They come check the scale.

I will never produce enough studs to hurt the big boys, but the truss company a few miles away would really like to buy 24' 2x6's to make trusses with. But without the SPIB logo on my stamp, they can not (or so they say). That's okay, as I need them anyway.

From the original questioner:
That is exactly how I feel. When someone comes to me wanting lumber, the first thing they want to know is the price, so I tell them that I probably am real competitive with the price of treated lumber at the h d and that doesn't usually scare them off because the lumber I make is very good. I make sure of it. Then I tell them when they come to pick it up, if there are some boards they can't use, let me know and I will cut them some more. You don't get that kind of guarantee at the big lumberyard. I have not had to cut any more for any of my customers. They just come back with another order and some brag on my lumber.

From contributor V:
A few days ago I sent a letter the ALS folks asking them to contact me so we could discuss a rough sawn lumber standard. I suggested that a rough sawn lumber standard would be a unique product that would have its own specification and standard. The rough sawn lumber would have strength factors equal to the dimensional lumber standards. And isn't that the point? We don't want to copy the dimensional mill's products; we want our own access to the same market. I will contact them again at the beginning of next week.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I think you will have to have a size standard, a MC standard, an edge nailing standard and a warp standard. You will have to have a verification technique to assure the strength is the same. You will need a frequent independent check on the accuracy of the grading, size, MC at each mill. I am sure that they will have safety as a #1 concern. I think you will have much better luck working through an existing grading agency. I believe that rough lumber can already be graded through the NeLMA.

From contributor A:
There are sizes and special grading provisions for rough lumber in the SPIB handbook. The size standard and MC's are listed for each thickness and type.

Even the SPIB states that grading lumber "cannot be considered an exact science." Since the rules allow for a few bad boards to come through, the system builders should know a good board and not use anything that is questionable. I would be willing to guess that very few buildings have failed because of poor sawmill lumber. Design, foundation, and over loading are the major causes of failure. Most very old buildings were not built to last a long time, just to get people and stock in the dry as quick as possible. The fact that many have lasted is out done by the many more that were gone in the owner's lifetime.

As for laminated beams (glued up ones), most firefighters do not want to enter a burning building that have them. They fail at 300 degrees with no hint of going. They may stress test well, but time will tell all things.

I will give up my stamp when they pry it from my hands.

From contributor T:
Do you get many of those "surprise inspections" from the SPIB? Hang tough. Keep your powder dry and your stamp wet.

From contributor Z:
Interesting construction method - is that a house being built in the picture?

When talk of rough lumber circulates, is this for the purpose of home construction, and would it be the same dimensions as standard framing material? I would speculate non-typical studs would be a nightmare, being that so many other construction products are based on a typical stud spacing and thickness.

From contributor A:
The SPIB do not care about me. My annual production is about an hour at one of their member mills.

When we build homes, sometimes we use boards machined to specs. Sometimes we build with 1 5/8 by full width boards or timbers, since in this area getting replacement boards should never be a problem.

The home in the photo was built mostly with lumber sawn from the owner's land. He did not buy much other stuff to finish the home, and most of it was sawn by me from logs bought.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor V:
Gene, thanks for the help. Yes, I do expect that there will be elements of product specification that will result in meeting the engineer's strength standards. But as a stand alone product, the specification will not be the same as dimensional lumber; the working strength will be the only area that is the same.

I missed the phone call from the ALSC folks today. I was producing some structural parts for a customer. The kind of parts that would fit into this product category. I hope you are starting to see that these are important products for myself and many others like me.

That was a very nice pictures contributor A posted (though not sure about that back door - the step looks like a big one).

From contributor A:
That is the Master Bedroom and it now steps out onto a cedar deck that doubles as a carport underneath. The door on the side has a roof and deck as well now.

From contributor Z:
I believe we have a convergence of many thoughts and ideas that run the spectrum of what is considered acceptable for the purpose of homebuilding, and it goes further than just materials. No offense to contributor A, but what is in the picture is in no way acceptable finished product in my geographical area for a hundred different reasons I won’t go into. Perhaps this house is the norm for where it’s located. I feel that in the discussion of the small saw operator competing with a retail lumberyard, we are not comparing apples to apples, perhaps based on the areas in which we reside.

From contributor A:
Well, how about this house? I made just about every board in it and it is timber framed. The siding and flooring as well as all the woodwork inside came from my mill. Since it was made from junk that would not be fit for most of the rest of the country, it only sold for $229,000.00. Oh, and the other house had just about 1,800 sq ft of living space and completed cost the owner less then $60,000 to build. Inside it has walnut wainscot, a split log stairway to the second floor. It appraised at $110,000, so one should not be too upset at the cost of building.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Here in the Ozarks board and batten siding is very common even on very expensive homes. I have done it on the gable ends of log homes that cost close to $1million. Siding and flooring do not need a grade stamp. I am not offended.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor T:
I don't see a thing wrong with the home. It looks great. Maybe because it likely has no mortgage attached to it, which would drive the actual cost to 5 times or more what he paid, it looks unacceptable to some. I don't know what your hundred reasons may be, but maybe you should share them with us so we can avoid building unacceptable homes.

From contributor M:
Not to be a killjoy, but have any of these structures you're building ever been inspected? I really have no problem cutting one's own wood. I worry about how the code officials and public might take illegal structures in your part of the country. The legal implications are mind boggling in what could happen to you if there is a structural catastrophe, even if it was not your fault. In the western part of Washington there are very strict standards for seismic and wind loading. We are a D-1 and D-2 which is almost as strict as class E. Parts of California, Alaska, and Hawaii are the only areas that are in seismic zone E. Many parts of this country are at the lowest zones and there is little risk of earthquake or high wind loads.

Where I live, if I wanted to use my own lumber without it being graded, it would never pass the first floor framing inspection. We could get a traveling inspector to grade lumber, but it is not economically feasible with lumber prices so cheap now. Our cost of living here is extremely expensive, which is the reason I charge as much as I do. For me to cut wood for someone’s house would cost two to three times what it would cost to just go out and buy the wood, which includes having the grading inspector inspect the framing members. I do not get many people wanting framing lumber because they know how strict the code is enforced here. The biggest problem I have had is with transplant people from the east and mid-west where many people use their own lumber and sawing prices are inexpensive. 25 to 30 cents a board foot are way out of line here.

When I started cutting wood in 2001, I charged $300 per thousand. That lasted less than a year. After that it was $75.00 per hour until 2007 when it was raised to $100.00 per hour. When I work as a building inspector, I make $32.00 an hour without benefits. There is just not a call for structural wood here, since most of our wood comes from Canada and is very cheap. I sell a little wood on the side, but buying logs, cutting them and selling the lumber would never be possible here. I have read many posts about cutting RR ties, which does not happen here because all ties are changed out with concrete ties for the long life. Wood ties just do not last long. Labor must be cheap back there to keep replacing ties all the time. Do not be surprised within the next few years if wood ties go away forever, with the environmental issues of creosote.

From contributor A:
The homes in town are inspected. The ones out in the County are not, except for electrical and the perc test for the septic system if you own less than 10 acres. My blueprints have to have an engineer's stamp for timber frames, but not for stick built. It cost me about a grand for the stamp on the blueprint. So far all they have wanted to do is reduce the size of timbers, but allow the larger size.

Most of the wood in a house does not have to be stamped. Local inspectors take my stamp as just fine. Most comment on the lumber and the way that I build, then sign off.

Here they are removing the concrete ties and replacing them with wood. Seems the vibration and temp changes cause them to break. Cooked oak ties last 10 plus years, then can be resold for landscape timbers.

You will not have to worry about me being transplanted there. We may be poor as church mice and backwards in some ways, but the living is good here. Now if it would just stop raining.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Concrete ties are so hard that they tend to shake the cars apart, especially high speed heavy load (main freight line) tracks; passenger cars have springs and shock absorbers, so the rigid track is okay for them. Wood ties will be popular for years to come. Creosote is an issue, but the problem from treating plants is now minimal. Life cycle analysis also favors creosote wood ties. Creosote issues have been around for decades and have been well addressed. The failure of most ties is mechanical, not decay. There is a lot more to wood ties.

From contributor V:
I had a nice talk with the ALSC person today. He is telling me that they have already done the work to provide a standard that we can use. There are other steps that need to be done and he believes that I may be able to get a rule developed to match the standard. I will check into this.

Even though contributor M and I live only about 80 miles apart, we present a different point of view on this subject. I live in a rural area; there are a lot of folks that have land, hence the need to use the resources they have - they are thinking green. I hope to get over to his place some time and see his equipment. I know he has done some very interesting upgrades. Our prices look about the same.

Here is a picture of the timber frame front porch that I cut for my customer. I cut all the boards you see in the picture. It came out beautiful. Contributor A, your timber frame would sell for at least three times your price here!

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor I:
Beautiful work - keep it up!

The original question has brought up some interesting discussion. If we humble ourselves we can see life can be simple and still built great. We've seen various opinions on building, materials specs and rules & reg's/codes, how different areas have other ideas concerning "what's politically correct" or not.

I live and make my living in a rural area. Just because we don't have degrees and strict codes doesn't make us wrong - we can still build safe, beautiful houses. Does our area have unsafe builders? YES! But so do the heavily coded and inspected areas. Percentages are roughly the same, just their numbers are larger.

Let's all remember to love what we do, and strive for safety and quality. Every regionhas different conditions (weather, seismic, soil, flat ground, hillside) to consider as what might be the reason we build and see things differently.

From contributor L:
In Wisconsin it is possible for a sawyer to grade lumber for the homeowner to use on his house. The sawyer must take a short course on grading, about a day, and provide the homeowner with a document showing the grade, dryness, type of wood and scale for the inspector. A very sensible way to saw for the homeowner who wants to use his trees.

From contributor T:
That sounds like a reasonable, common sense approach. That's essentially the kind of thing I was referring to in one of my marathon rants.

From the original questioner:
I had 2 loads of logs come in to custom saw today. One cedar in one bunch may be the best eastern red cedar I ever cut, 21ft long and 20 inches at the small end. We will be sawing tomorrow. It will turn into a very beautiful staircase with 2.5 x 12 slabs for the steps, and all the rest of it is for a remodel on a lake cabin. It will work out real nice and be sturdy, with no grade stamp.

From contributor A:
When building boats, do you need graded wood? If it rains much more I am fixing to start building an Ark. I hate to say it, but them Yankees have a good idea up in Wisconsin.

From contributor O:
Someone not taking into account the context of this thread might get the wrong impression that most building failures are caused by poor engineering or materials. To set the record straight - most building failures are caused by water. This is usually due to neglect, causing roof or foundation failures. I heard this stated by a respected source many years ago and haven't found any reason to change my mind. Flood, fire, high wind and (my favorite) changes in taste, resulting in a perfectly good structure being torn down to make way for something new/better/more stylish are some of the other more common reasons. Building failure due to materials or engineering problems is so rare that the media like to cover them, while the other causes are so boring that the media largely ignores them.

Another gem of wisdom that I heard years ago from engineering sources was that most structures that are not professionally engineered are overbuilt. An engineer could have built the same thing using much less material, at a lower cost. So less steel/wood/etc. to get the job done. But most of us have seen over-engineered structures that, while they did the job, would break too easily when they were pushed too hard in unexpected ways. I tend to like more forgiveness in everything I use. That way when I screw up they won't break.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Contributor L, could you please give more info about the ability of a sawyer to provide construction grade lumber for building a house?

Second, I have never seen a short course on grading softwood construction lumber offered, although years ago I did teach edgermen about producing the highest softwood grades, and so we taught them about the grading requirements. Today, with computers, such a class is no longer given. But a one day class on softwood grading would be interesting for sure. Can you give me more info about this class, such as past or future locations?

Third, why would an inspector want to know the dryness or scale? It is my understanding that nominal size, species and grade are all that is required to make a strength decision.

And what sort of test do the attendees at a one-day short course have to take to make sure that they have the softwood construction grading rules correct?

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Snow and ice loading also causes failures (not counting flat roofs).

From contributor V:
Gene, the engineering design calculations can include the variable of moisture content in the wood to more accurately determine the strength of the member. The ALSC standard assumes a moisture content and then provides the engineering design values for each product.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
A wood 2x4, 2x6, etc. can be wet, dry or in between when installed, but after it equilibrates to its in-use MC, it will be the same MC and therefore the MC at the time of installation is not an issue for structural strength for homes. For example, the span tables I have do not indicate a MC at the time of installation or the MC at the time of manufacturing the lumber.

From contributor V:
I assume you are saying the MC will become that of the environment of where it is used. Using wood near the application MC would mean the material will not change shape due to change in MC.

From contributor F:
I have noted in this thread the mention of cheaper framing lumber coming in from Canada. Our dollar is near parity with the U.S. and this may no longer be an issue. A few years ago we had the discussion in regards to the $1 cup of coffee.

Most of the materials used in homes here have to be graded, from framing to sub-flooring and wood shingles, etc. However, it provides a niche service for a planing mill that grades and dresses lumber, perhaps something that would work in the various areas in which you operate.

Perhaps I have a different take because in Canada, most of our products are exported, therefore graded and stamped to provide a basis for pricing. In the U.S. 75% of the products produced are consumed within the U.S., allowing for homegrown markets. However, the lower U.S. dollar for the near short term may provide markets globally, which will require grading standards.

I am a building contractor with a sawmill. I have to carry numerous licenses and one which I plan to add is the Ontario Lumber Manufacturers Association (OLMA), a recognized stamp in the U.S. It requires a 3 day course and exam and an annual fee based on production, and my mill would be licensed. I could grade both dressed and rough cut lumber.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Yes, the wood will assume the MC equal to the EMC of the environment (unless liquid water is present). The closer the wood's MC is, when it comes out of the kiln, to its final MC, the less shrinkage or swelling (size change) and the less warping between the kiln and final use. Swelling, shrinkage and warp all require MC changes.

As has been mentioned, the grade and size specifications are at the time of grading.

Doesn't the license also include unannounced inspections by the association, perhaps as often as once a month? Are these part of the annual fee or are these an additional expense? Will you be licensed to stamp just a few grades of 2x lumber or will the 3-day class include 4/4 as well, many different grades and heavy timbers?

I would add that the OLMA has always been rather progressive and high class in training. It is a good choice for membership and training. The Maritimes also have an excellent association.

From contributor F:
As I understand it, the stamp covers all sizes of structural softwood lumber, but not the various species of poplar which are considered hardwood. I understand the inspections are included in the annual fees, which are based on volume per year. One downside as I see it is the mill has to be stationary, which limits moving to the timber cuts. The logs have to be brought in.

From contributor D:
The model building code is written by the ICC. Each state adopts or modifies whatever it chooses to. We regularly choose not to adopt some of the new provisions in the code each 3 year cycle and also add or modify some for just our state. So no it is not forced upon the states - each state's representatives are bought off fair and square. Our codebooks have a single line in the margin aside text for a code change from the previous version and a double line for a section that is in our state's version only.

The alternative materials section would allow an inspector to accept native lumber, but it allows them to require third party inspection and most aren't going to stick their neck out. I have offered to proof load and they would rather have a grade stamp for the file. If you are a contractor in my state and fraudulently stamp lumber, you can kiss your license goodbye.

NH has a native lumber law. Google it, it's not bad. NY has something similar. In NC I could use lumber from off the property in a home. In VA I can use it for agricultural use only, without a stamp from an accredited agency. I checked a few weeks ago - bringing in a TP grader for me right now is $85/hr, half day minimum including windshield time. The half day minimum is drive time, in my case.

I have been trained at TP and they would be happy for my little stationary mill to join and get a stamp, but I can't swing it. I've been trying to think of some way that would be fair to both sides and the best I can come up with is to have land grant universities train future forestry and engineering grads by having them come out to small mills and perform the oversight service that the grading agencies do, after the sawyer is trained.

Another thought is that somewhere in the mandate the ALSC is not supposed to favor or unduly burden... I'd say it does that to small operations, so maybe they should be required to provide the service for the same BF price they do for the big boys, instead of hourly. This is not a large market and I doubt there are that many calls per month. The pool bears the cost... part of meeting the intent of the law. They are abusing small operators now; this is outside of their mandate.

This is not just an issue related to dimensional lumber, but to any structural wood. Logs and timbers don't compete with the big box. I'm not competing with a commodity but also don't feel I should be penalized just for being a small enterprise.

I've rolled through packs of really ugly lumber to find that the grader was hugging the line, but I agreed with almost all of his calls. That means the lumber is as strong as the plans specify. The allowable percentage deviation isn't intended to allow junk through, but to allow for variation in opinion in a natural product. No lumber should break below allowable design strength for the grade, which is what grading is for. A true #2 is not an especially pretty stick of lumber. That said, I did go to the big box during grader training and brought some sticks to class that failed to meet grade.

Owning a grade book without being trained to use it is akin to trying to write a novel by reading a dictionary. It can be done by some, but not many. If sawyers were training and lined up saying "we're trained, ready and being denied," it would be one thing, but that isn't the situation.

To me it looks like there's blame enough to go around. If we want the rules changed I think we need to show that we're up to it. Get training in place or avail ourselves of what's there, get trained, prove we can grade, then change the rules. Or alternatively petition our representatives to force the ALSC to mandate that all grading is by the foot, level the playing field, everyone pays into the cost pool. For the masses, the price of lumber just went up.

From contributor T:
The above post was more of an education to me than nearly the entire thread. Thank you.

From contributor V:
The ALSC folks will say that the company doing the grading can choose the way to charge for their services. ALSC's job is to write the lumber specification. The company that does the grading develops a process to verify the specification. Then ALSC certifies the grading company's process (hence making it legal).

Therefore, in theory, we could develop our own process and rule to follow. Then we would need to convince the ALS committee to certify our grading process, and we would be in business.

In talking to Carl of the ALS committee, I found that a rough sawn lumber standard has been written. He thought that we should be able to find a grading entity to develop a solution for us. I will be checking his idea out this week (even though this is the snag many of use have run into before).

From contributor L:
The Wisconsin local-use dimension lumber grading course issues the certificate. The UW Extension Stevens Point and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offered the class. The lumber certificate that follows the lumber is a one page document that describes the lumber graded.

From contributor W:
One of the things that NASA discovered in their quality control process was if you required no more than .5% deviation from standards, you got .5% deviation. (They had to go to zero defect.)

The same thing happens in wood grading. Thus an allowance of 5% deviation dictates 5% below grade pieces of wood. Thus, if I build an entire house out of the 5%, it will meet building code because it has the grade stamp.

What happens is, if a board falls below the grade stamped on it, the board is still used because the liability is passed on to the grading agency. "Not my fault, man!" So basically, spec homes are built with 5% of the lumber below grade but they don't fail inspection. I'm sure a lot of below grade boards are cut to smaller pieces and not used as manufactured. But aren't those cut boards still below grade? And where is the grade stamp?

Some sort of standard is needed. It is nice to have a 2 x 4 a standard size from Maine to California (but what if I want to build my house out of 2 x 4 oak?).

It seems to me that having a national grading standard allows end users to pass the responsibility of faulty wood products on to a third party. It allows mass production of houses and excludes the small sawmills in the process.

I'm not a grader by any means and like the idea of standards. If I were a grader I would grade toward the upper end and not the lower margin. Better too strong than have a failure.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Check out this new law for Wisconsin. Note it applies to people that are using the lumber themselves for their own dwelling. It does not allow for selling to other people.

Wisconsin Local Use Lumber Grading (PDF file)

From contributor D:
I like that law. I had asked our inspectors if they couldn't somehow put an endorsement on a contractor's license that shows they have been trained to grade and then allow them to use native lumber. This is good stuff.

I was looking up my notes and trying to figure out how to explain some of what grading is for. It might help to go into how the "allowable bending design value" for a piece of wood is derived. This is from an engineering short course at VT.

Consider a #1 SYP 2x4 with Fb=1850psi (Fb = maximum allowable fiberstress in bending)
The table value is derived from tests of actual lumber.
Average test value was 9,138 psi with a standard deviation of 3,205 psi
A 5% exclusion limit is used;
5% exclusion limit=avg-(1.645Xstd deviation)
9,138-(1.645X3,205)=3866 psi
Fb=(5% exclusion limit)/(1.6 load durationX1.3 safety factor on 5%)
Fb= 5%/2.1=3866/2.1=1841psi

This is from TP's grading class. 95% of wood in a pack should break at 2.1 times the allowable bending value or more. All wood should break above the allowable design value. See how they jibe?

As Dr. Wengert mentioned, this is not normally the limiting factor in design. Normally the modulus of elasticity, E, or stiffness, is the limiting factor. Generally a joist or rafter fails in design calculations in stiffness before it gets into trouble in bending. MOE is not a strength value but a measure of stiffness, a serviceability factor. People don't want bouncy floors or cracked tile or plaster. E is an average number, again from testing actual samples.

From contributor R:
Sweet... a good, common sense law. Now if only we can get the rest of the states to get their heads out of their butts.

From contributor M:
All states could adopt this, but it would be more uniform if you could get the ICC to adopt this program. Then each state would not have to do this. Does this not make sense? I may be a code official, and if you can get this in the code book, I would have the ability to use it when people want to use rough cut lumber; otherwise I can not. To me this could be just another tool.

One very important item here is if you cut a 2x at a full 2 inches you add greatly to the strength of the member. Simpson book has a full page on rough cut hangers. I did contact them and they told me that they might not be available locally; the regional warehouse should have them in stock. It would take no more than a week to get the special order hangers. I really think this would be a great thing. I do see problems on training code officials on this. I have worked with a 20 year code official that could not tell the difference between Douglas fir and hemlock. To me this is very bad! (That is what is primarily used here on the west coast for construction). So, for us this would be easy; for code officials this would be more difficult.

From contributor T:
"All states could adopt this, but it would be more uniform if you could get the ICC to adopt this program, then each state would not have to. Does this not make sense?"

Yes. This does not make sense. Centralized authority is out of control and this would be no different.

From contributor D:
As of this past weekend, the open ICC forums have been closed; it is now a membership only forum. Membership is open to the public for a fee. The ICC is a private corporation supported primarily by industry and the sales of code related material. I kind of doubt you'll be able to get much traction with an ICC code change proposal without going the political route.

Contributor M does have the ability to accept ungraded native lumber now using the alternative materials section. He, or likely more correctly, his jurisdiction's attorney simply chooses not to due to the perceived liability risk. I would be curious if this is a real risk. The WI solution is requiring the inspector to allow an alternative method of grading, so I'm assuming they realize or perceive the risk to be minor.

If you are thinking the line graders are a superior breed to the folks gathered here, I'd like to offer something to think about. The class I was part of scored the highest of any grader training class ever. It was also the first time they had an experienced carpenter and sawyer there. This is not just a job to most of us here, it is what we are. The fellows in that class had never had a truss chord fail under a buddy's feet. A few stories during breaks helped them understand the seriousness of their profession. I tried very hard to take their job from something abstract and put faces on it.

My teammate in the grading class was a nice kid, recently graduated from college with a BA in business, had never worked in the wood industry. He was smart and conscientious, he'll come along fine. He left the class ready to begin riding along for his assignment as an auditing grader for the agency, overseeing the line graders. I left the class, went back to work and cannot legally grade.

I know you are probably one of the good ones, contributor M, you're here, but the system in place needs a whole lot of work. By wanting to require upsizing of each member, you are implying inferiority; I'm curious about your thoughts as to why. The graders I have talked to have pointed out that a small sawmill does not cherry pick the lumber. No lumber is below a #2 and no one is pulling out the appearance "prime," the #1 and the SS to sell to another market. The lumber from their experience is not inferior, it is vastly superior. It is #2 and better. At the building supply, increasingly I get straight #2; it is being cherry picked harder and harder by market forces. This is forcing very tight calls on the part of the line graders. By requiring special order hangers and the waste of material you would be again mandating a disadvantage to the small mills for no good reason. It also would make it more difficult to blend commodity lumber and native lumber in a structure. You still have the right to call for a grader or to reject material you deem to be deficient. A right you now have but probably have never exercised even when you have walked by poor materials. Does that mean I won't upsize? No, I happen to like 1-3/4" myself, 2 ply is 3.5" thick, but that should be my decision, not some random guesstimation by you. If it's on grade and correctly designed, respect it.

I am just a little hometown mill. The beauty of that is that I am held accountable in ways a company line grader in a faraway place never is. I also have more than 3 seconds to view all 4 faces and make the call. The hardest thing I found in the test was having to make the call in seconds: I can do it, but don't feel that pressure at home or on the job; things take as long as they take. I can stroll to the end of the board, think, turn it over a second or third time and then make decisions. The line grader is stuck at one end of a 16 foot stick trying to see the controlling defect on the far end. Those guys talked about things I hadn't considered, a day of rolling 2x12's every few seconds and having to make the calls. Do you reckon they glaze over occasionally?

Contributor M, I'm not really picking on you and I hope you don't feel that way; I'm picking on bad law. My father became a building official before retiring. I do pick on him.

From contributor M:
I do not take much of anything seriously, except the many hats that I wear and where people’s lives could be in danger. I am here for discussion purposes only and to make the code known, for those of you that might not know, plus to learn something new in the process.

Out of all the discussion on this post, it has been an eye opening experience on what code officials and jurisdictions allow in different parts of the country, even within my own state. I have been sawing for many years and when I went through college, I asked every code instructor what they would do if someone wanted to use rough cut lumber. I got pretty much the same answer from them all. Not allowed without grading! I have since learned, in the real world, that many jurisdictions are sticking their necks out, allowing rough cut lumber. I am not saying this is wrong; it just is very surprising to me after going through college and working in larger cities. This probably is because there has never been a lawsuit against them, where most code officials here have been in lawsuits and take a very conservative approach when applying the code.

You brought up cutting 2 x materials at the full 2 inches. I learned in a structural design class in college that a 2x4 cut a full 2 inches by 3-1/2 was 60% stronger than the standard 1-1/2 by 3-1/2, and a 2x6 was 40% stronger. There is one problem here - there is more surface area for energy transfer. 2x4 exterior construction is not allowed without insulation upgrades to make the walls have an R-21 value. Some exterior stud walls have spacing on 24” for energy efficiency. More insulation, less studs to transfer heat from inside the building to outside. Washington State is about to raise the energy code 30% to reduce energy consumption and I am not sure how this is going to be accomplished. Stud spacing makes a significant difference in looking through an infrared camera. You can see every stud in a wall because of this. If we, as a country, want to relieve ourselves of foreign oil, there must be changes in the way we drive and build.

From contributor I:
You just admitted 40-60% stronger, which is what most of this has been about - more strength! So if stronger is better, how is that dangerous according to codes?

I'm not bashing you. I think it's amusing to see the inconsistency of the code and its interpretation. I do find it sad that you could ask 10 code officials the same exact technical question and get 15 different answers (that's counted right, because some waiver on what's correct in their opinion). Kind of like tax codes - they're black and white with lots of gray.

Also, with the energy loss according to infrared, would this truly be considered energy loss or energy stored, since wood is supposedly known for storing energy and transferring it out later according to most log home producers? I do find a log home to have a better radiant heat/cooling feel about it.

A lot of old buildings are torn down not because of the rough cut lumber (which catches the fault), but because of poor construction techniques and workmanship. I'm glad to see techniques improve, but it doesn't mean all the older ones were all wrong.

From contributor A:
If an inspector comes into a building and notices a bad board like the ones in my photo that have a grade stamp, will they fail the inspection? If so, then the inspector must have the ability to grade! So if said inspector came into a building with all sawmill lumber, they should be able to recognize good lumber from bad. An inspector should have a knowledge of good building practices (code as well) and good materials used in the proper manner. Ink does not make the wood good or bad; it is just the way it grew or was sawn.

From contributor V:
I found a copy of the 2006 IRC online. You would think that folks would make it easy to find if they wanted folks to know what was in it. Anyway it is almost 700 pages long.

Contributor M represented section 502.1 in his earlier post. I did not find the same information listed in other places, but it is there. This section does not make any exceptions, even though there are at least 200 exceptions in other areas. I could not find one for section 502.1. The only other building material in the code is engineering wood products and metal stud for this purpose.

From my reading I would say that SIP, timber frame, straw bail, log home and I am sure I could come up with a couple others are not allowed.

On another note I think it was MI that showed a map of the counties that use the IRC code. It was only about 10% of them.

From contributor M:
“If an inspector comes into a building and notices a bad board like the ones in my photo that have a grade stamp, Will they fail the inspection?”

This actually happened when I was doing my internship. There was a bad 6x8 header and I brought it to the attention of the inspector that I was inspecting with. He chose to do nothing about it. This made me worry about what he was thinking. When I asked him, he said it was in a place where there was very little loading on it. So he let it go. I was learning and had little background in what I was supposed to be inspecting.

The answer is no, as long as there is a grade stamp on the piece of wood.

When I come out to inspect a structure now, the first thing I look at is the plans, and I take them with me when I am inspecting the building. The structures much match the plans. Any deviation from the plans requires that they be resubmitted for approval. Load points on a structure are very important and must be carried all the way to the soil. The foundation is the most important part of a building. Being below the frost line, expansive type soils, load capacity of the soil, the footing dug into the same soil layer are all very important. One of the most interesting things I learned in college was if the footing was not in the same soil level, you could experience a serious problem with a term called “differential settlement.” This is when after the building is done; it slowly sinks, and compresses the soil under the footing. Most of the time it is about ¼ inch in the first year and about another ¼ inch in the structure itself. Building construction wood must be below 19% before it is covered per code. In the first year, after a building is done, the wood slowly drops in moisture content to about 10%. This is the reason why after the first year there are cracks in sheetrock where there are wall to ceiling, wall to wall joints. If the footing was not built in the same soil level, the footing in one corner could compress ¾ of an inch and in another corner only ¼ of an inch. Do you see what the problem is here? There could be cracks in the foundation and it the walls from this.

The inspection course, which is a year full time at college to get your certificate, really makes you think about issues I would have never thought about. I started in the construction trades at a very young age and have built high rise buildings, houses, bridges over waterways, docks, everything except dams. School got me to learn about so many other issues that I never cared about before. There really are two sides in construction - the general contractor or builder, and the governing agency for inspection. I teach construction classes at the college now, and the students for the first time ever get to hear from me what an inspector is looking for. This has never happened in the past, where the only instructors have been contractors.

Timber framing falls under the IBC because of the type of construction it is. Most houses are classed as a V-B (five-be) construction with little fire protection and loaded with combustible materials in walls, ceilings, floors and roofs. Log houses and timber framing fall under a different classification and are not in the IRC and are a IV-B (four-be). So much of this falls under what the structure is going to be used for.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Contributor A, what was the grade stamp on the lumber in the picture? Were both the same? Some grades allow that sort of defect.

From contributor D:
"Building construction wood must be below 19% before it is covered per code."

Please give me a code section cite for this? I believe you are mistaken. Design values are adjusted for wet service, defined as use in a location where the wood will be above 19%.
The IRC has 2 methods that may be used. The prescriptive path, building according to the prescriptions written in the IRC using its' tables and prescribed methods of construction. The second path is engineered. When residential construction steps outside of the IRC's prescriptions, the construction must be built in accordance with accepted engineering practice.

"R301.1.2 Engineered design
When a building of otherwise conventional light frame construction contains structural elements not conforming to this code, these elements shall be designed in accordance with accepted engineering practice. The extent of such design need only demonstrate compliance of nonconventional elements with other applicable provisions and shall be compatible with the performance of the conventional framed system"

Log homes, timber frame homes and engineered products used in residential construction are still under the IRC and use this method. A heavy timber does not kick one into commercial code. For wood products the IRC defers to the NF&PA's National Design Specification for Wood Construction. I have 2 sets of plans on my desk now for bid. One is a log home, the other is conventionally framed with a timber framed great room, both go through the provisions of the IRC. I have built complete timber frame homes under the IRC. The "conventional" parts of the homes use the prescriptive code, those parts that step outside of the prescriptions in the IRC are engineered. No IBC.

Contributor V, the methods and materials you mentioned are not prescriptive but they are most certainly allowed under the IRC.

Log homes now have a prescriptive standard developed by industry and the ICC, the standard is published by the ICC and is titled ICC 400-2007 Standard on the Design and Construction of Log Structures. The TF community is working to develop a similar prescriptive standard. I've attended a conference where the NF&PA's Buddy Showalter discussed the progress of the TF standard to date. These are being written so that common elements of both these types of buildings do not have to be engineered each time but will be prescriptive, thus streamlining design and construction.

For grading under the alternative materials section...

Alternative materials, design and methods of construction and equipment.
The provisions of this code are not intended to prevent the installation of any material or to prohibit any design or method of construction not specifically prescribed by this code, provided that any such alternative has been approved. An alternative material, design or method of construction shall be approved where the building official finds that the proposed design is satisfactory and complies with the intent of the provisions of this code, and that the material, method or work offered is, for the purpose intended, at least the equivalent of that prescribed in this code. Compliance with the specific performance based provisions of the ICC codes in lieu of specific requirement of this code shall also be permitted as an alternate."

Going back to an inspector asking for a full dimension 2x because it is 40-60% stronger than nominal. Design determines the strength required. Grading establishes allowable stresses. These drive required dimension. There is no provision in this equation for an inspector to require another dimension because it makes him feel good. If a span table or engineering call for a 2x10, the inspector cannot require a 2x12, as this would be enforcing personal opinion. An 8x24 is over 225 times stronger than a 2x4, so where does it end? This would be exceeding one's authority. May I exceed code minimums if I choose to or if I agree with your suggestion? Most certainly, I do so frequently.

From contributor M:
Good call! There is a provision in the code called moisture content, though.

“R802.1.3.5 Moisture content. Fire-retardant-treated wood shall be dried to a moisture content of 19 percent or less for lumber and 15 percent or less for wood structural panels before use. For wood kiln dried after treatment (KDAT) the kiln temperatures shall not exceed those used in kiln drying the lumber and plywood submitted for the tests described in Section R802. for plywood and R802. for lumber.”

And in the IBC
“2303.1.8.2 Moisture content. Where preservative-treated wood is used in enclosed locations where drying in service cannot readily occur, such wood shall be at a moisture content of 19 percent or less before being covered with insulation, interior wall finish, floor covering or other materials. 2303.2.5 Moisture content. Fire-retardant-treated wood shall be dried to a moisture content of 19 percent or less for lumber and 15 percent or less for wood structural panels before use. For wood kiln dried after treatment (KDAT), the kiln temperatures shall not exceed those used in kiln drying the lumber and plywood submitted for the tests described in Section 2303.2.2.1 for plywood and 2303.2.2.2 for lumber.”

Also in table 2304.7(1) subnote “C”

Not to disagree with you, but timber framed and log houses do fall under type IV construction.

“602.4 Type IV. Type IV construction (Heavy Timber, HT) is that type of construction in which the exterior walls are of combustible materials and the interior building elements are of solid or laminated wood without concealed spaces. The details of Type IV construction shall comply with the provisions of this section. Fire-retardant-treated wood framing complying with Section 2303.2 shall be permitted within exterior wall assemblies with a 2-hour rating or less. 602.4.1 Columns. Wood columns shall be sawn or glued laminated and shall not be less than 8 inches (203 mm), nominal, in any dimension where supporting floor loads and not less than 6 inches (152 mm) nominal in width and not less than 8 inches (203 mm) nominal in depth where supporting roof and ceiling loads only. Columns shall be continuous or superimposed and connected in an approved manner.

602.4.2 Floor framing. Wood beams and girders shall be of sawn or glued-laminated timber and shall be not less than 6 inches (152 mm) nominal in width and not less than 10
inches (254 mm) nominal in depth. Framed sawn or glued-laminated timber arches, which spring from the floor line and support floor loads, shall be not less than 8 inches
(203 mm) nominal in any dimension. Framed timber trusses supporting floor loads shall have members of not less than 8 inches (203 mm) nominal in any dimension.

602.4.3 Roof framing. Wood-frame or glued-laminated arches for roof construction, which spring from the floor line or from grade and do not support floor loads, shall have
members not less than 6 inches (152 mm) nominal in width and have less than 8 inches (203 mm) nominal in depth for the lower half of the height and not less than 6 inches (152 mm) nominal in depth for the upper half. Framed or glued laminated arches for roof construction that spring from the top of walls or wall abutments, framed timber trusses and other roof framing, which do not support floor loads, shall have members not less than 4 inches (102 mm) nominal in width and not less than 6 inches (152 mm) nominal in depth. Spaced members shall be permitted to be composed of two or more pieces not less than 3 inches (76 mm) nominal in thickness where blocked solidly throughout their intervening spaces or where spaces are tightly closed by a continuous wood cover plate of not less than 2 inches (51 mm) nominal in thickness secured to the underside of the members. Splice plates shall be not less than 3 inches (76 mm) nominal in thickness. Where protected by approved automatic sprinklers under the roof deck, framing members shall be not less than 3 inches (76 mm) nominal in width. 602.4.4 Floors. Floors shall be without concealed spaces. Wood floors shall be of sawn or glued-laminated planks, splined or tongue-and-groove, of not less than 3 inches (76 mm) nominal in thickness covered with 1-inch (25 mm) nominal dimension tongue-and-groove flooring, laid crosswise or diagonally, or 0.5-inch (12.7 mm) particleboard or planks not less than 4 inches (102 mm) nominal in width set on edge close together and well spiked and covered with 1-inch (25mm)nominal dimension flooring or 15/32-inch (12 mm) wood structural panel or 0.5-inch (12.7 mm) particleboard. The lumber shall be laid so that no continuous line of joints will occur except at points of support. Floors shall not extend closer than 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) to walls. Such 0.5-inch (12.7 mm) space shall be covered by a molding fastened to the wall and so arranged that it will not obstruct the swelling or shrinkage movements of the floor. Corbeling of masonry walls under the floor shall be permitted to be used in place of molding.

602.4.5 Roofs. Roofs shall be without concealed spaces and wood roof decks shall be sawn or glued laminated, splined or tongue-and-groove plank, not less than 2 inches (51 mm) thick, 11/8-inch-thick (32 mm) wood structural panel (exterior glue), or of planks not less than 3 inches (76 mm) nominal in width, set on edge close together and laid as required for floors. Other types of decking shall be permitted to be used if providing equivalent fire resistance and structural properties.

602.4.6 Partitions. Partitions shall be of solid wood construction formed by not less than two layers of 1-inch (25 mm) matched boards or laminated construction 4 inches (102 mm) thick, or of 1-hour fire-resistance-rated construction.

602.4.7 Exterior structural members. Where a horizontal separation of 20 feet (6096 mm) or more is provided, wood columns and arches conforming to heavy timber sizes shall
be permitted to be used externally.”

We do tell builders that they should not cover walls and ceiling unless the wood is dry to the touch. This is what I was told to do. The jurisdiction I have worked for uses the 19% rule because my bosses interpret this to be so. I have a moisture meter although I am not allowed to use it.

I had forgotten that I have all the 2003 codes in my computer. Most residential types of construction use both IBC and IRC. I see it all the time on plans. Example: 2x2x1/4 plate washers are used in the IBC, but if you use the IRC they must be 3x3x1/4”. I do find this very confusing. You are allowed to mix and match both code books. Most of the time if you use type IV construction (Timber framed and Log houses), all this information comes out of the IBC. As I understand it, IRC is prescriptive construction and engineered comes out of IBC. Since Timber framing and Log houses are not in the IRC they have to come from the IBC.

This is how I see it, although before I did anything to someone, I would discuss this with my peers. I have stuck my foot in my mouth more than once and had to suck it up.

From contributor D:
The IBC has one path, engineering only. The IRC tries to simplify residential construction without requiring fully engineering every house. We know many elements are repeated over and over hence the prescriptive methods such as span tables and descriptions of basic methods of construction described therein. However the IRC does not preclude engineered methods or materials. Just because one has a fully engineered residence does not mean it is outside of the IRC. That is described in the cite I referenced above.

R602.3 Design and construction, this is in the wall chapter but you will find it reworded in other chapters for each assembly;

"Exterior walls of wood frame construction shall be designed and constructed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter OR in accordance with the AF&PA's NDS."

This has just described the prescriptive or the engineered paths in the IRC. Pull down your copy of the NDS... Notice its methods go right up through heavy timber, round sections, everything we're discussing here and more. If I use an I beam in a house I'm not kicked into the IBC. If it is for a 1 or 2 family structure the use dictates the IRC, not the design method or materials used. Yes, you can build a heavy timber commercial building and the code is more restrictive on that type of construction. Log and timber 1 and 2 family homes are constructed under the IRC.

I don't know of a better way to explain it... but I'm gonna stomp you at the appeal hearing.

The moisture content provisions you cite from the IRC do not apply to solid sawn products. If you remember the charring issues with FRT some years ago, that prompted that section. Your jurisdiction is apparently enforcing opinion in this regard and not law. You can recommend and advise on best practice, and I do agree, however you cannot enforce your opinion legally. I've metered logs and timbers over 35% many times, don't like it, have used it in court against suppliers who advertised otherwise, but that is none of your affair. Whenever an inspector tells me something isn't code I ask him to cite the section and describe how I failed to comply. This forces him to read the codebook and then we can discuss interpretation. I generally don't get opinion disguising as code a second time; they come prepared. It also means I need to be prepared, as it should be.

Yup, I do know what shoe leather tastes like. I also try to sail so far above code it never becomes an issue, but that is an option I choose and not a requirement.

If you see improperly graded structural framing in a building it is in your authority to ask that it be removed. I will point to the grade stamp and refuse; that is my proper recourse. You will then copy the grading agency name from the stamp and the mill number and call the agency, asking them to come out and re-grade. If the agency grader agrees with you after the re-grade, the material will be replaced and then I must remove and replace the material per your request. In the case of the WI native lumber grading act, you would contact DNR and they would be required to send someone out. The system still works.

From contributor A:
I got a photo of the grade stamp of the studs. It is NLGA STUD grade stamp.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
For those interested, the grade stamp tells us that the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA) mill #35 produced this material, that it was kiln-dried at high temperature (KD HT), that the grade was STUD, that it is in the spruce-pine-fir group of species (SPF) and that it conforms to the National Lumber Grades Authority (NLGA) rules. By those rules, the edge must be quite intact (small regions of partial omission possible) so that plywood or OSB, etc. can be nailed to it. In the pictures shown earlier the pieces obviously do not have a nailing edge and fail the grade.

Regarding MC limits, they are given so that one knows the size at the time of grading and the MC at that time. There is a 1% size change for 4% MC change allowed (in general), so that when lumber is measured at a different MC, the size change can be accommodated or understood. The MC of framing lumber when installed is not specified, but in use, it will generally come to around 12% MC or a bit lower.

From contributor D:
This is the stud rules page from the NGR (National Grading Rule) manual used by the ALSC and NLGA agencies. ALSC is the American Lumber Standards Committee, NLGA is the Canadian counterpart, National Lumber Grades Authority. The grading agencies are under their authority.

A stud has #3 grade knot and slope of grain restrictions and close to #2 wane restrictions, to give an adequate nailing edge. This is not a stick to interchange into a horizontal application, it's a stud.

"HT- Heat treated to the international standards for core temperature and length of time sufficient to kill a series of pests. (This is often combined kiln drying of lumber, to produce a stamp reading KD-HT)"

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From the original questioner:
You all make my head spin. I know it is a little more complicated than just cut logs, saw lumber, build a building, but this hoopla about grading hurts my side! Good lumber is good and bad lumber is bad. Some good lumber bears a stamp but a person still has to look at every piece and determine its suitability for the application. My lumber does not bear a stamp and I have to sort through it and determine if it is good enough to use or if it goes in the stove. In NE Oklahoma, the grade stamp does not tell you it's good, but it may say it was the cheapest alternative.

From contributor D:
Well, I don't believe we really answered your original question. Yes, you can make built up beams by nailing vertical boards face to face. It sounds like you want to make beams that span further than the 16' you can saw. US building codes say that splices must occur over a support, so that is not allowed here without engineering. I believe Canadian codes allow splices at the quarter points with restrictions.

They don't have to be planed, however, assembling dry, planed and glued/nailed beams will be stiffer. As far as how strong will it really be, I can't answer that in a way that would be meaningful at that level of understanding. It's red oak and probably not as strong as you think. I broke a clear red oak 4x4 yesterday trying to extract a hung tree. I grabbed a knotty beech limb of about the same size and finished the job... Species as well as grade determine strength.

From contributor Q:
I oversaw the sawmill and planer departments in one of the large high speed production sawmills here in Oregon where I had worked for almost 20 years before starting my own portable sawmill business.

When I ran into this issue, I contacted Calvin Wytcherley, the district supervisor for the west coast lumber inspection bureau. The reason I contacted him is because he would come down from Portland once a month to check that the graders at the production mill were grading to standard. When I have lumber that needs graded, I give him a call and set it out in units without stickers, and spread the beams out so that they can be turned so that he can go through the units and beams to grade them when he is in the area. He charges $62.50 hour for his services and a small barn or house will take him a couple hours here, plus another hour of office work.

This requires a lot of extra handling of the wood because I separate the wood into grades to minimize the amount of time that it takes him to grade the wood. So far he has yet to reject or lower the grade of a board.