The Definitive Guide to Lumber

“Lumber” is a catch-all phrase for the wood used as construction material, cut lengthwise from trees. It has been used for thousands of years, and the first sawmill used to cut lumber dates back nearly 2000 years. Lumber is all around us, and it’s easy to take it for granted when we use it so much. But how much do you really know about how trees make the journey to wholesale lumber distributors? It’s actually a pretty interesting process, and it’s one we love to share.

It Starts With the Trees

Lumber is produced from either hardwood or softwood trees. While it’s true that hardwoods are indeed hard and softwoods are soft, there are other characteristics of each that differentiate how they’re used to create lumber.

Hardwoods have leaves that are lost in the colder winter months. This category includes oak, maple, walnut, and birch trees. They are more expensive than softwoods and commonly used for floors, cabinets, and trim work. Softwoods have needles and remain evergreen, and spruce, fir, pine, and redwood trees fall into this classification and are used for wall studs, decking, rafters, and joists.

Both types are quality graded based on the number and size of defects (like knots or holes) in the wood that impact its appearance. The higher the grade, the fewer the defects, which means highly graded wood should be used where appearances of the wood matter — like flooring or cabinets. Lower-grade wood can be hidden in the walls (like studs) or with painting or staining.

Move On to Manufacturing

Most lumber in the US comes from trees in forests that are managed by lumber companies, leased from the government, or located on privately-owned land. When trees reach the appropriate height, they are marked to be cut down (or felled). Once the tree has hit the ground, the limbs are trimmed and the tree is cut up for transport to the mill if necessary.

Once the trees reach the mill, equipment is used to remove the outer layer of the bark that can find a second life as mulch. The debarked trees are moved on conveyor belts where huge circular buck saws cut them into predetermined lengths. Lumber that is freshly cut moves to be seasoned, where they’re air-dried or put into a kiln to reduce moisture even more.

From there they are planned to match required dimensions, smooth out all sides, and round off corners. An inspection happens next, a grade is stamped on the end, and lumber is bundled together by wood type, grade, and moisture content. Those bundles are moved to wholesale lumber distributors to be sold.

Know When You Go

When you get to the wholesale lumber distributor, make sure you’re armed with information about your options when it comes to lumber grading. Remember, too, that the type of wood needs to be considered as well. Softwoods are primarily used for construction and are divided into stress-graded, nonstress-graded, and appearance lumber. Hardwood grading is less complex and based on the wood’s appearance and defects.

Here’s a great guide with some insight about lumber grades:

The upper or highest grades are designated as FAS (Firsts and Seconds), FAS/1F (FAS-One-Face) and Sel (Selects). These are most suitable for applications such as furniture, long clear moldings, and other product use where there is a necessity for long wide cuttings that are as clear as possible. The common grades, Number 1 Common and Number 2 Common, are suitable for kitchen cabinet work, furniture parts, and plank and strip flooring.

All Lumber Is Not Created Equal

While there are universal grading standards and quality control policies in place, not every place that sells lumber is selling high-quality products. By visiting a local wholesale lumber distributor, you’ll work with professionals like our team that specialize in only lumber — unlike big box or home improvement stores that carry a range of products.

Norman Lumber has a well-established reputation within the Forest Products Industry. We enjoy trusted relationships with a network of mills across the country, making us a competitive supplier for a wide range of hardwood and softwood products.

Located on the edge of the Mark Twain National Forest, our mill works with the U.S. Forest Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation, private landowners, and independent loggers to source timber for our sawmill operation. We’re experienced with custom requirements and demanding specifications, and we are sensitive to the individual needs of our customers.