Practical Lumber Tally Methods

A moulding manufacturer needs advice on a method for tallying lumber that his people can conveniently implement. January 27, 2007

We're a custom woodworking shop with increasingly large amounts of moulder work. Some are contract jobs, some are time and materials. How do we tally lumber in a way that people will actually use? What kind of tally sheets do you use? Do you have a dedicated computer next to the straight line rip saw? Sure, you can say "write it down," but when you're dealing with a mile or two of material each day, writing down each individual board gets to be quite time consuming on its own. Any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
From contributor J:
I bid everything based on estimated waste and other variables. If you have a budget, the optimizing ripsaws will track the bf used along with yield, and other info.

From the original questioner:
No, we're not that big. We've got an older Diehl straight line rip, so the saw's pretty dumb.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Do you want to tally the lumber? If so, this is quite easy to do by measuring the width of the pile and then the number of layers and then the length and finally the thickness. (This is called end tallying.) After using some lumber, then re-measure and determine how much is gone. Another way is to weigh the lumber pile for which you know the footage. Then, after you use some, reweigh and the percent loss can be applied to the original footage. There are automatic tally systems, but I have not seen one that is cheap enough for smaller operations. Maybe we will see one at IWF this year?

From contributor D:
When I ran a large shop that did custom and stock moldings, I kept track of all lumber in and all finished product out for over 5 years, as well as all labor in the process.

We tracked the material going into the gang rip as Dr. Gene describes. This told us gross board footage. We also had a l/f wheel at the infeed end of the molder, and it told us net l/f of molder blanks. At the end of the molder, we defected the moldings with an upcut saw, and then used the "tallynometer" and a long table with foot marks to measure each length of usable molding.

This insured that we shipped the correct amount of molding for each run, and the tally was transferred to the paperwork as a record of what was supplied/invoiced. The heart of the system was the "tallynonmeter" - a board with 14 counters mounted accessibly. Each counter was labeled from 3' to 16' in one foot increments, and the offbearer would defect the board, see the measure on the table, hit the correct counter, and stack the mold. Repeat as needed. When the run was done, he would transfer the tally to the order along with a total, and the counters would be zeroed.

From contributor Z:
The way we do it is we have an order puller. He works in the warehouse and pulls the orders ahead of time, keeping tally of each course, using the boards that will give the best yield. On large runs 1000'+, he will do the same but in front of the rip saw. Our tally sheets are made on the computer. Down the left side is 4bf-12. Each box has a bunch of smaller boxes in it. If a board is 5bf, we put a small dot in a small box (holds 10 dots) in the 5bf column. This way you can monitor your waste per LF at the end.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all your responses. I think what's going to work best for us is something similar to the "tallynometer" with a bunch of counters on a board. Typically, we're ripping from a pile or two that we know the length of. What we then need to write down for billing is the width of each board used. So, we've got 12 or 14 counters, say, standing for one inch width increments from four to 16 inches. You pick up the board, hit the counter and rip. It's much easier than using a pencil on a pad of paper for each board if you have many hundreds of feet. I'm thinking that you can probably have up to four rows of counters for different lengths before it all gets too confusing. Obviously, you have to reset the counters when you switch thicknesses or species. I can also see a day when you've developed a standard waste factor so that for nearly every moulding, you automatically know exactly how much wood you'll use right out of the starting gate, but I'm not sure about this.

From contributor Z:
But you need to figure out how many BF it takes to get the LF saleable product to fill your order. Can you do that with a LF counter and still keep track of how much BF you start out with? I guess what I'm asking is, do you eat the waste or send whatever comes off the production line to the customer? No matter what it looks like? You need to figure out BF to saleable LF with waste factored in. Adjust your price from there.

From contributor B:
At the company where I work, we order random width lumber. We make so many different items that I save everything that will rip to 1 inch. The scrap is dust and strips less than one inch. I've even saved strips that will rip to 3/4" and sold them for cleat stock. I have to admit that the largest part of my production comes from dimension stock. No ripping, just run through the moulder and send to the machine room. I just have to sort while feeding to get the color or face or wane sometimes. Still a time saver. I get about 90% yield on my dimension stock and the dim. company reimburses the rest.

From contributor D:
For what it is worth, we only did a gross measure of the wood we used to produce, say, 1500 l/f of 4" base. We measured the whole stack of rough lumber before and after the rip. The off fall was recycled back into the lumber stack or to a stack that held off fall for narrower projects (always an abundant supply). This number was compared to the tally at the finish end of the molder for an accurate b/f equals l/f comparison.

We also tracked all labor in the process, per run. We did this for 5 years, and I still have extremely accurate data - to 3 decimal points - as to how much material it takes to make a l/f of any of a hundred basic molds, as well as the rip labor per l/f, the resaw labor, molding/tally labor, as well as the total. We knew the direct costs very well.

The custom runs were obviously more expensive, and specified lengths could get very costly. We always just overran and billed them, but the customer knew we would do that before we ran the job. We still always held back 25 l/f or so since they invariably would come back and "need one piece more."

From contributor J:
I use an Excel program that you can use to set up for the waste/bF for straight line ripping, ripping to width plus the saw kerf and milling allowance (per LF). You can also adjust the yield based on the grade of lumber you are using. After setting it up, you can view a report of how much lumber is needed for a run of mouldings, and the total price.

From the original questioner:
At our shop, when we lift up a board for a time and material job, the customer is effectively buying it, and the tally of the exact boards used - whether five or fifty - is the only way the office will ever know what to bill the customer for, and the only way the office will ever know if we're on track for bid jobs or not.

Trouble is, the guys doing the ripping and moulding are under a good bit of pressure to get the job done immediately, so everyone comes up with different ways to figure out which boards they actually used. Truth is, when you're in the groove running a straight line rip - and you're always running it alone - you will absolutely lose count at some point, or forget a board here or there. So, I'm trying to make it easier for us to register which boards we actually use.

From contributor N:
We have been running moldings about two years now. I have tried every way I can imagine to accomplish what we all are talking about. My suggestion would be to negotiate long term contracts for all the off cut. We have done that and two days next week we will run 1/4 rnd and 5/8 cove. One thread earlier spoke of an old man doing the pulling and pre-packing the run. This is the beginning crucial point. Having your sawyer at the rip saw concern himself with this is a real task. I can't even personally keep this in order. Some math that will work - build twice the bdft volume into the price of any custom run. Sell your chips. At present I have 3 40 foot containers. It will most all leave to the horse people next week. Inventory when your stock arrives and presort lengths and widths. Inventory periodically your scrap. Until you can invest in high tech equipment, watch the balance of the numbers, i.e. initial bought inventory, sold product and volume of scrap on hand. Crucial is making sure the scrap has a future home. Very small moldings in large quantity... This took me quite a few months to negotiate at local lumber companies, but is a permanent cash stream. All the record keeping would be my choice also. Seems to be inaccurate and slow the entire process down.

From contributor C:
A timber measure or lineal footage counter may be a viable solution. The heavy-duty #2901 Timber Measure has many features including a friction brake to prevent overspin and a spring tensioned counter mount to make sure the lumber is always in contact with the measuring wheel. Units such as these are widely used to accurately count footage of materials coming off of machinery.