Suggestions for Asian lumberbuyers

Dana Spessert is the Chief Inspector at the National Hardwod Lumber Association (NHLA) and spends much of his time educating designers and specifiers on the process of grading American hardwood. Here, he addresses some of the most commonly asked questions he is asked about purchasing American hardwoods during his talks and seminars.


Hardwood lumber is produced and inspected in North America primarily utilizing the NHLA – Rules for the Measurement & Inspection of Hardwood and Cypress. These Rules have been the standard for inspecting hardwoods for over 120 years. The primary purpose of the Rules is to establish a standard to separate the lumber produced from the logs to sell to the appropriate segment of the industry, such as flooring, millwork, cabinetry, furniture and many others.



When a customer is inquiring about purchasing hardwoods some things are critical to understand.In this article, I would like to take an opportunity to explain as many as possible from my experience.

  1. Hardwood lumber is traded as a raw material; it must be manufactured into something else in order for it to marketable by the manufacturers. Each board may have many defects on them and contain enough usable material to meet the grading standard.
  2. As a customer of a hardwood supplier, there are many things to consider before ever mentioning the price.
    1. Study the products to be produced to determine the size and number of pieces needed for the finished goods.
    2. Determine species needed for the products to be manufactured.
    3. Determine how many faces (sides) of each piece will be visible after product has been assembled.
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  3. Discuss with the supplier what the final products that are being produced to determine which grades best suit the needs.
    1. FAS & FAS 1 Face is primarily utilized when long (5 feet and longer) pieces are necessary for products.
    2. 1 Common is considered cabinet grade because of the size of pieces used to determine the grade. Also, some larger furniture pieces are manufactured from 1 Common.
    3. 2a Common is considered a flooring grade, although many manufacturers will utilize this grade for furniture and other products.
    4. Color of the boards should also be considered, as the sapwood and heartwood are not limited by the grades, it is considered a special sort in most cases.
  4. If deciding to utilize the grade of 2 Common for flooring or other products, understand that 2 Common is not a single grade, it is two grades combined, 2a Common (clear pieces) and 2b Common (pieces with small character). The grade of 2b Common is going to have a lot more defects on the surface of the board.
  5. Some color specific grades are listed in the Rules, for example, Hard Maple can be purchased as #1 and #2 White Maple which has a stipulation about how much of the dark heartwood will be allowed on the pieces obtained from the boards. There is also a grade of Sap Hard Maple which has less restrictions than above, and can be utilized in a similar nature for the products that need a consistent color.


The grading process

After considering all of the above guidelines and the decision has been made to purchase the grades of lumber, utilize the following to keep the relationship building process moving forward with the supplier

  1. On all purchasing agreements between buyer and seller, make sure to include these words near the bottom of the agreement: “NHLA Rules and Sales Code to Govern.” This will help in at least two ways; it will inform the supplier that there is knowledge of the Rules and Sales Code and it allows the NHLA to perform inspections if there is an issue with a shipment. This statement is not only for NHLA members; it is available to non-members as well.
  2. Before claiming shortage of volume, make sure you know how to tally lumber in a proper way. It is recognized that there might be difference between tallying using metric system opposed to using inches/feet and surface measure. Metric system can be more accurate and can show certain shortage in volume. Nevertheless, the correct method of tallying is the one that uses inches/feet and SM. (Inches and fractions X length in feet divided by 12 and rounded to the whole number (up or down).
  3. Learn the correct way of measuring moisture content of your lumber before claiming a moisture issue. Make sure your moisture meter is properly calibrated or utilize a microwave oven to test.
  4. Storage is another important aspect of handling lumber. If your lumber was kiln dried, it is important to keep it properly stored, with no exposure to rain, snow, etc. Keep it covered (in a warehouse, etc.).
  5. Do not just look for the cheapest product, but for a quality product. Remember that “You Get What You Pay For!” (meaning that if it is cheap, the quality is probably not good).


Dana Spessert giving some tips on how American hardwood lumber is graded

Education about the varying grades through the American Hardwood Export Council’s (AHEC) many publications and seminars held throughout the world are a great resource for understanding the grades. Please reach out to your local AHEC office if you require more information.