Module 8: Wood Utilization and Technology

Lesson Five - Grading and Marketing Wood Products

Lesson 3 provided information on grading roundwood products, such as sawlogs and veneer logs. In this lesson the focus is on the products recovered from these logs. Markets for roundwood and converted products are also covered. Please keep in mind, however, that market information - especially prices - can become obsolete very quickly.

Marketing Wood Products

If you are a member of a group venture or a producer's association, you will have access to current marketing information. Otherwise, you may negotiate your own deal with the pulp mill purchasing representative. Periodically, there is a good export market for pulpwood from Nova Scotia in both hardwoods and softwoods. For a list of brokers dealing in export pulpwood, refer to publication No. I on the Further Reading list.

Hardwood Veneer Logs
In 1995 the following firms purchase hardwood veneer logs:
(1) Columbia Forest Products, Indian Head Division, P.O. Box 848, Presque Isle, Maine, U. S.A. 04769. 1-207-764-4428
(2) Veneer Products of New Brunswick 1981 Ltd. Napadogan, N.B. EOH IEO.
(3) McAdam Plywood & Veneer Products Ltd. McAdam, N.B. EOH lK0.
For first-time sales, these companies will often send their buyers to your location. This provides you with hands-on experience in grading veneer logs which may avoid costly rejection at their yards.

A listing of sawmills in the province is provided in publication No. 1, on the Further Reading list.
Other roundwood products include studwood (8' softwood logs), fence posts, poles, fuel wood, and pallet logs.

Specialty Products
This category includes roundwood destined for very specific applications, such as musical instruments and turned products. Markets are usually small but very rewarding, especially when the product is in short supply. The following provides a brief description of both the round product, and its' converted format.

1. Bolts (or flitches) for musical instruments
Both straight-grained spruce and sugar maple are in demand. Spruce is used for guitar sounding boards, while sugar maple is used in building fiddles and violins. Special grain patterns in sugar maple, such as curly grain, and fiddle-back grain are preferred and command high prices. In 1995, two Nova Scotia instrument makers are:

  1. Nicholas Tipney Oldtree Instruments
    Russia Road, Black Rock
    Kings Co., N. S.
    BOP IVO 1-902-538-3271.
  2. Otis A. Tomas
    Meadow North River,
    Victoria Co., N. S. BOE I BO.


2. Bolts for shakes and shingles
There are no firms manufacturing split shakes in Nova Scotia. Reference No. I at the end of this Lesson cites 12 shingle manufacturers. Shingles are produced from short (18") bolts of spruce, fir, pine, and poplar preferably with no knots and straight grained.

3. Cooperage bolts
These are tree sections (bolts) destined for the manufacture of barrels and kegs. `Slack cooperage' (barrels and kegs used for dry or bulk goods) are manufactured in Nova Scotia. The staves and headings may be of almost any species, unless food-stuffs are to be packaged. Aspen and spruce are preferred species for some slack barrels and kegs, particularly those used for decorative purposes (flower pots and plants). Reference No. 1 cites three manufacturers in the province.

4. Spool wood bolts
Spool wood was the common industry term for 4-foot white birch bolts, destined to be converted into squares and subsequently turned into spools and bobbins, and other products. Plastics have cut into the market for spools but many other wood turnings are still very much in demand. Sugar maple, yellow birch, and other species are now being used in this market. The turning industry itself is largely concentrated in New England, particularly in Maine.

Other specialty products are listed below.

Birds eye maple - occurs predominately in sugar maple, and frequently in red maple. This poorly understood figure has fascinated people for years. Wood containing birdseye commands a high price. It is especially prized for the manufacture of small wooden containers, furniture such as coffee and end tables, and cabinets. Birds eye veneer is similarly in demand. In this case the veneer is either sawn or sliced from flitches. If you can recognize birds eye in the standing tree, and you have enough of it, get in touch with buyers of specialty products such as those listed in the yellow pages of the Halifax directory .

Curly and fiddleback maple - this has also been referred to earlier in relation to musical instrument makers. Curly maple is also in demand for the same products listed for birds eye. A great deal of birds eye and curly maple is salvaged from firewood piles. Fiddle makers often obtain much of their requirements in this way.

Sporting goods and related products - small industries, producing a variety of sporting goods, require wood with special qualities. Hockey sticks, for example, require white ash handle and rock elm blade. The method of bonding the handle and blade requires specialized machinery. Baseball bats are also produced from white ash. Initially, the blanks or squares are sawn on a bolter to obtain straight grain - the major requirement. Squares are then turned on a multispindle lathe from a steel pattern. The ash should have at least six annual rings per inch for bats.

Bowling pins - made from hard maple. Small, Canadian type pins are turned from a one-piece blank, while the larger pins are made up from laminated blanks. Bowling pins are finished with a high-resistant plastic coating. Billiard, pool and snooker cues - are usually made from hard maple from straight-grained blanks. These are turned on back knife lathes. Specifications for cue-stock are very high as is market price.

Billiard, pool and snooker cues - are usually made from hard maple from straight-grained blanks. These are turned on back knife lathes. Specifications for cue-stock are very high as is market price.

Wood turning, general - bats, cues, and pins have already been noted. There are hundreds of other uses for turned goods from plain, round dowels to complicated cross-sections. Turnings with round cross-sections are turned on lathes of the kind described. Turnings that are not round in cross-section (axe handle), and which may also depart from a straight long axis (chair legs, French Provincial) are turned on a shaping lathe. In these lathes, the wood blank turns very slowly, while a rotating cutter-head is brought to bear against the piece. The cutter head, in turn, follows a similarly slowly turning steel pattern.

Sawn Products
Domestic - There are various ways to handle sales. Softwood lumber can be sold dressed, or rough, green. Well manufactured lumber can usually be sold in rough form to a lumber company. They will put it through their planing mill and sell it along with their own material.
Finally, you can sell direct. This means selling softwood lumber to (i) a retail yard or (ii) to a user such as a house construction firm.

Hardwood lumber can be sold the same way with one important exception. In the hardwood trade (not including hardwood retailers selling to small cabinet shops, etc.) lumber is always sold rough. There are a number of hardwood brokers and wholesalers in the yellow pages of the telephone directory.

Export - Few people are in a position to export lumber out of Canada. Nonetheless, export markets are described briefly. Softwood lumber to be exported to Europe must be kilndried or otherwise heat-treated to satisfy sanitation requirements. This is not required for the U.S. The best course of action is to sell to one of the lumber firms that do export. They will dry the lumber in their kilns, and do all the paper work required to prove drying (sanitation) took place.

Some subtle differences exist when exporting hardwood lumber. You can put up fairly small quantities of kiln dried lumber for export to Europe. Hardwood lumber for export is often in the higher grades - No. 1 Common and Better - and is shipped either in a container or well wrapped and strapped, as break-bulk. Lists of agents and importers appear in reference No. 2, Further Reading. To export hardwood lumber to the U. S. you should contact one of their importers or wholesalers. To get appropriate names to refer to the yellow pages for Boston, or New York. A better way is to contact the Office of Nova Scotia in New England, through the Economic Renewal Agency in Halifax.

Other Wood Products
Other wood products were listed earlier under the collective heading `reman'. These include hardwood dimension stock, mouldings, trim, window cases, and virtually all the architectural millwork - both softwood and hardwood. There is a large domestic and export market for reman and cut-up stock. Listings for both domestic and export possibilities are in Further Reading.

Grading Wood Products

To sell something as variable as wood, requires specifications that are understandable and consistent. In the 1800's, large North American lumber producers developed their own grading rules. In many cases the grades developed in one region bore little resemblance to those from another region. The market, such as it was, tended to be chaotic.

At the onset of World War II, North American industry began gearing up for a major conflict, requiring an all out effort to produce war materiel. This huge effort provided the impetus to standardize grading specifications for most wood products, of which lumber and plywood were major items. Eventually these efforts toward standardization led to the formation of national authorities charged with producing and administering grading rules. These thrusts to standardize were coordinated between the U.S. and Canada, resulting in few differences in present-day grading specifications between the two countries.

National Lumber Grades Authority (NLGA)
The NLGA was incorporated under the federal Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs in 1971, to deal with all species and grading rules in Canada. Its membership includes all regional lumber inspection agencies such as the Maritime Lumber Bureau. The NLGA turned over supervision of grading to the Canadian Lumber Standards (CLS) Division of the Canadian Standards Association.

The CLS is responsible for establishing policy and control of grade marking Canadian lumber, through a variety of boards or bureaus. It should be mentioned that the formation of the NLGA, and CLS, was primarily- to ensure safety in the application of softwood lumber. Except for the poplars, it does not apply to hardwoods. The grading rule then, for softwoods throughout Canada, is the `Standard Grading Rules for Canadian Lumber'.

Softwood Lumber Grade Basics
Since most softwood lumber is used `as is' it must be graded with that in mind. For example, a piece of dressed lumber, 2" x 10" by 12-feet in length (nominal dimensions) will probably be used as a joist or rafter. The following describes a typical softwood lumber grade:
No. 1 - Structural light framing (2" - 4" wide - Checks - checks on the ends are limited to a length equal to the width of the piece; knots - sound, firm, encased, and pith knots if tight and well-spaced, are permitted in sizes not to exceed the following:

width of piece
at edge
unsound knots & holes
1 ½"

Shakes - on ends, limited to half the thickness. Away from ends, several heart shakes up to 2' long, none through.
Slope of grain - 1 in 10
Splits - as for checks
Stain - firm
Wane - 1/4 the thickness, 1/4 the width. 5 percent of pieces may have wane up to ½ thickness and 1 /3 width, for 1 /4 length.

The above is just one of many softwood lumber grades and categories. It is shown to illustrate the concept that the piece is graded with its strength (in this case as a stud or for minor framing) in mind. Again, it is to be used `as is'. It is often called a `defect grading system'.

Hardwood Lumber Grade Basics
The grading of hardwood lumber and related products evolved differently over the years. The impetus for establishing uniform, national grades for hardwoods came primarily from the United States. These developments culminated in the formation of the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA), based in Memphis, Tennessee. The NHLA publish and periodically update the applicable grading rules `Rules for the Measurement and Inspection of Hardwood and Cypress'. The NHLA rules are recognized world wide and, interestingly, have not been converted to metric units. They are published in many languages.
Hardwood is graded on an entirely different system than softwood lumber. Factory lumber is intended to be cut up into components. Usually, these components must be clear - free from all defects. These are called "clear cuttings" system and can be considered in the same way as described for the production of dimension stock. Hardwood grades are based on the yield of clear cuttings (yield being expressed as percentage of the area of the board). However, the width, length, and number of cuttings permitted also comes into play.
Cutting unit method - In determining yield, the cutting unit method is used. A cutting unit is one inch by one foot. The number of units in a clear cutting is found by multiplying width (in inches), by length (in feet). Use fractions if necessary in both width and length. In actual grading, the total cutting units for all clear cuttings is obtained and compared with the `yield' requirement for the grade. Table 7 shows cutting requirements for standard grades.

TABLE 7 - Hardwood Lumber Grades Standard Inspection

Additional Specifications
In addition to grades many wood products have parallel specifications such as standards and codes to govern their use. Standards are the grading rules just discussed as well as others dealing with safety, strength, etc. Codes are legal documents that require products to be manufactured according to certain standards. The National Building Code (NBC), for example, sets out minimum standards for construction, and is `legal' to the extent that its provisions are mandatory for all construction financed under the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. If a province adopts the NBC then it is a legal code for all light frame construction within the province. Nova Scotia adopted the NBC in 1987.

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) publishes standards for all types of products in Canada. There are two standards for wood; one for softwood lumber, and one for the "Engineering Design of Wood". The CSA authorizes the Canadian Lumber Standards Accreditation Board for monitoring all softwood lumber grade marking in Canada.

The Underwriters' Laboratories of Canada (ULC) develops and publishes standards, and specifications for products that relate to fire or accident hazards or crime prevention. Through its laboratory it also provides certification and testing services for fire-retardant treatments and pressure treating facilities for wood products.

Environmental Considerations

There is no human endeavour today that does not come under the scrutiny of the environmental movement. For the most part this is a good thing because all of our activities impact on the environment. Only when this scrutiny unfairly limits our ability to do business do we object.

Forestry has come under particularly heavy attention from environmentalist activists.
Clear cutting, the use of herbicides and insecticides, and other forestry practices are under fire. So how does this relate to the utilization of wood?

There is a trend in Europe, and to a lesser extent, North America, to examine the `forestry' behind each product being sold. Who is doing the examining? It began with the environmental movement, but today individual firms - furniture companies, large importers of softwood lumber, and consumer organizations - are taking on this task. Some believe that consumers have effectively shut down the tropical hardwood industry. We do know that in the hardwood trade, the switch from tropical (dark coloured) to temperate (light coloured) hardwoods has been monumental. The huge softwood lumber industry has not escaped either. Buyers question the practices of all Canadian suppliers, especially those from British Columbia.

One area of concern focuses on the habitat for wildlife in the forest environment. Nova Scotia has joined other provinces in developing forest/wildlife guidelines and standards to be implemented on Crown lands. Where possible these guidelines should also be practiced on private lands by incorporating these standards in your forest management programs. The guidelines include practical techniques to enhance wildlife habitat and recommendations on forest diversity (age, openings, cutting areas), establishment of wildlife corridors and edges, management of forest adjacent to water courses, protection of cavity trees for birds and small mammals, and other common sense practices. Fish habitat is also an area that should be addressed in this context. A comprehensive publication (No. 8, Further Reading) provides woodlot owners with information on selection, location, and construction of stream crossings to protect fish habitat.

How can owners of woodlots and producers of primary and secondary wood products respond to these forces? Each of you must decide where you stand on the issues. In the long run your decisions and actions will affect how you do business.

A standards certification agency will be responsible for determining whether your products have originated from a sustainably managed forest. Sound far-fetched? Not so! It's happening as this is being written. To sell wood, certain standards of conduct will have to be met. Plan on it!

The Future Of Wood

Wood is one of Canada's major resources, and if not the largest in terms of industrial activity, certainly near the top. Nova Scotia's economy depends significantly on what the future brings for this huge renewable resource.

Will wood products maintain their position in the next century?

World population is predicted to increase steadily. Under-developed third world nations are striving for better standards of living for existing populations. Thus, it would appear that the market for wood products will keep on growing.

There are also world wide movements aimed at reducing the by-products of human activity - garbage. These would substitute bio-degradable materials like wood for plastics and metals, especially in `throw-away' items like packaging. Wood is also making a come back for certain industrial uses. Replacement of carpeting by wood flooring is an example. In Canada, wood-frame housing is taken for granted. But the traditional house building material in a large part of the world is masonry and metal. We believe wood will form a greater content of houses, worldwide, in the future. Even feeding a growing world population may have an impact on wood use since cellulose - the basic constituent of wood - can be converted into food for both animals and humans.

Nonetheless, while it appears the forests of the world will be called upon to produce even greater volumes of wood products, a parallel force suggests that forests and wildlands be used for activities and purposes other than wood production. This is not only an environmental movement. As people have more time for leisure activities many would like to see more space set aside where they can enjoy these activities.

Even though we may be sorry for industry, we still ask politicians to have these areas set aside. Most only want to see them reserved as wilderness to protect the downstream effect such as water levels and water quality in streams and lakes, where we angle for salmon and trout. The amount of forested land to be taken out of production in the future will be large. Furthermore, forestry practices on remaining lands will be ever more closely scrutinized. Smaller cuts will be the rule.

Are these incompatible trends? First, the problem is not as simple as the one we have described. Many more factors such as technology come into play. Trends can also change. Forecasting can be a risky business. In 1952, the Stanford Research Institute, a world renowned organization, forecast the demand for forest products in the U. S. by the year 1975. As it happened, they underestimated demand by 200% for plywood, 50% for pulpwood; and gave no estimate at all for other panel products - which by 1975 was a huge industry.
To sum up, the production of forest products will increase to meet increased demands. The increased production will be from a smaller land base. More fibre per hectare will be grown by doing better forest management on more of the available land. Converting these managed trees to products will become much more sophisticated.

The production of lumber will gradually decrease. In its place will be wood-based building products including joists and studs, and other structural members, extruded from our composite material feed stock. True wood, as we know it, with its pleasing grain and colour and other attributes, may be reserved for decorative purposes only.

Further Reading

  1. Anon. 1992 Nova Scotia Forest Production Survey - 1992, Dept. of Natural Resources, Halifax
  2. Anon. 1992 Europe 1992 and Canadian Value-Added Wood Products, External Affairs & International Trade, Halifax
  3. Anon. 1993 Nova Scotia Directory of Manufacturers, 1992-1993, N.S. Dept. of Economic Development, Halifax
  4. Anon. 1994 Rules for the Measurement and Inspection of Hardwood and Cypress, National Hardwood Lumber Association, Memphis, TN.
  5. Anon. 1973 Standard Grading Rules for Canadian Lumber, National Lumber Grades Authority, Vancouver
  6. Anon. 1993 Nova Scotia Hardwood. Sustainable Development Opportunities for Solid Wood and Wood Fibre Products, N.S. Dept. of Natural Resources, Halifax
  7. Anon. Forest/Wildlife Guidelines and Standards for Nova Scotia, Dept. of
    Natural Resources, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  8. Brathwaite, G. 1992. Woodlot Roads and Stream Crossings. Dept. of Natural Resources. Halifax, Nova Scotia