Sawing "Select" Graded Lumber from Tie Logs

A discussion of grading standards for "select" hardwood lumber, and whether it's a good buy as byproduct from sawing railroad ties. February 4, 2011

I have a local sawyer that cuts a fair amount of RR ties. When he buys a load of logs, he said it's not uncommon to have some of the logs pretty clear. He's offering to cut Select quality boards out of any of the logs he can for me, and sell them to me at 90 cents/BF after he puts them through his kiln. Does that sound like a great deal, fair deal, or poor to you folks? I'm in the upper midwest.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor S:
What species of wood? How much are you paying for select grade lumber elsewhere? How much sapwood will be visible in the boards? The minimum size for Selects is 4" X 6' (before drying). Can you use lumber that's this size?

From the original questioner:
Red and white oak. I'm not sure on the amount of sapwood. I can use Select oak of all sizes.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Are you aware that Select lumber is actually No.1 Common with the reverse side clear enough to be FAS? In most cases, the yield when cutting up Select lumber is the same as No.1 Common.

From contributor M:
It's not unusual for sawmills that cut ties to sell the boards as described. They are also known as "tie sides" and are usually all 8'. The first boards off the log will be heavy sapwood on one face and maybe the edges. These will likely be the select boards. If the bulk of the boards are 6" and wider and are clear, you will likely have one face that is heavy sapwood. As Gene mentioned, the Select boards can be pulled as clears from No.1 Common and usually have a premium of $100-200 over No.1 Common price. If stock is mostly clear, 6-8", well kiln dried, and end coated the deal is ok if the widths and length and sapwood works in your product. Also check with wholesalers to compare prices.

From contributor E:
There is a significant difference between No.1 Common and Selects and that difference is the size of the cuttings. Selects have a minimum cutting size of 4"x6' OR 3"X7'. The cutting size for No.1 Common is 4"x2' or 3"x3'. So the back side (or poor side) of selects can be No.1 Common, but that poor side will have longer length cuttings than standard No.1 Common. Also, the selects will have one side that is pretty clear, while No.1 Common lumber won't. Even if you only use 2' and 3' size pieces in your end product, using Selects could be better for you.

The bottom line is you have to look over the lumber that is being offered and see if it works for you. The Selects might be just narrow, clear boards that the mill owner can't put in with his FAS/1F orders. If you can buy a product and turn around and make a profit out of it then I say itís a good deal for both parties. What product are you going to make out of the Selects?

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the good input, guys. I'm going to be re-sawing these, and selling them as 1/4" thins. My client needs all widths, and is not too concerned about sapwood. Pieces with no sapwood, I may use for flooring.

From contributor H:
Wood is graded on the poor face, so selects have FAS on the other side. No.1 Common have select on the other face. The question is , buying Select oak kiln dried for .90 cents a board foot - good deal or not? I donít need to see it to say good deal. You will have a greater % of lumber 6" and narrower.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
There might be a little confusion on the grading rule or procedures for No.1 Common and Selects involving the size of the cuttings. Specifically, a Select piece and a No.1 Common piece have identical requirements for the worse face. There is no difference in the size of the cuttings, the yield of clear area (typically 67%) and so on. Only the best side of Select must be 4"x6' or 3"x7' clear cutting sizes; not the worse side.

There is a difference in lumber size. No.1 Common pieces of lumber can be smaller (but seldom is No.1 Common made smaller than the typical minimum Select piece). This means from a practical viewpoint that every piece graded as No.1 Common on the worst side has the potential to be Select if the good side is clear enough.

The reverse side of every No.1 Common piece must be better than the worse side, so must have a yield of more than 67% or whatever the yield of the No.1 Common face is (which is almost always over 67%, as 67% is the minimum). If the good side of No.1 Common is very clear (usually one clear cutting area that is over 83% or the surface until the piece is over 7 BF on the 4/4 basis), then it is Select (a few exceptions apply). As stated briefly, the good side must be FAS. There are some strict requirements for wane on Select lumber, especially 4"and 5" wide Selects. Note that if the piece is 6" or wider and 8' or longer, then it could be both Select and also FAS-1 Face. All FAS 1-Face are also Select, but FAS 1-Face must be 6" x 8' minimum, while Selects can be 4" x 6'.

One subtle difference is that the reverse of the cuttings for Select do not have to be sound. Some us may remember the "Sound back Select" but this is no longer (since 1992). All Selects now are "Common back."

To contributor D,

If you are cutting Select number and require both faces of the parts you are cutting to be clear (C2F, a common requirement for furniture and cabinets), then you will get the same yield of parts from Select and No.1Common. This is because the poor side of both grades is identical. So, Select lumber is not a good buy. The price of Select is (often the same as FAS) 2/3 to 3/4 more than No.1Common, with no appreciable yield benefit for C2F. If you require C1F parts, then Select seems to offer an advantage; yields will be about 5% higher. Is 5% increased yield worth 2/3 or more increase in price? However, if FAS and Select sell at the same price, why not go for 100% FAS?

Most mills will not sell Selects separate from FAS, but will combine both into "Selects and Better." There is no stipulation on how much "Better" will be in the pile, but it is expected that all of the "Better" produced from the logs at the time they were sawn will be included. That is, some FAS cannot be removed and the remaining sold as "Select and Better." Note that Select lumber can be 4" and wider and 6' long, while FAS must be at least 6"x8'. So, if wide parts are needed, Selects might not be the best; however, FAS 1-Face is Select lumber that is 6"x8' minimum size, so this grade might be a better option for many people.