From The Shop: Planning To Be Wasted   2 comments

I recently got a large custom order for golf course hole signs (who knew that was a thing?). I’m sizing the pieces, finishing and installing them. My engraver, Teri, is going to paint and engrave the pieces – 81 total signs.

The signs are to be 3/4″ thick, and in 3 sizes: 8″ x 24″, 6″ x 24″ and 18″ x 24″.

Wood comes in varying widths and lengths, and is sold by the board foot. That’s an industry standard; a board foot is a piece of wood that’s 12″ x 12″ x 1″. That’s great, but you never bring home a piece that size from the lumber yard.

Rather, with hardwood, you buy wood that is rough cut at the sawmill to 1″ in thickness, and then kiln dried and surfaced smooth on the top and bottom sides (or “S2S”) to 25/32″ thick. The wood is in seemingly random lengths. Boards are at least 8′ long but may be longer, in 1′ increments. Commonly, you’ll find hardwood in 9′ or 10′ lengths, but boards may be as long as 16′. If the yard does consumer business, they may be willing to cut boards shorter for customers, leaving a 4′ minimum … but today, I’m not buying shorts; I’ll just be making them.

Here’s the lumber in the driveway. The 6″ minimums are the larger stacks. Time to make some sawdust.

The wood that is actually cut off as scrap when I rough cut for length is very small – usually no more than 1″ per board.

I need 27x pieces that are 8″ x 24″. Hardwood lumber is normally not sold in standard widths (what you can buy at Home Depot, AKA Big Orange, is an obvious exception, and their pricing reflects that customization). Rather, lumber is normally sold “SL1E” or Straight Line 1 Edge. That means the board is ready to go on a table saw to be ripped to final width, with the other edge of the board left rough. However, the  width of the board is measured at the yard and rounded up to calculate the board feet. So, a board that’s charged at 8″ wide will actually only yield a 7″ finished width.

Here I am after 20% of my final boards are cut to length. The short stack of boards are those with defects that are unusable.

And I only need 8″ wide. A board that’s 7″ wide will not work for these 27x signs.

I need to buy a large quantity of hardwood – by my standards. But how much?

I called my pal Richard at Peterman Lumber, and explained my situation. He was happy to work with me, and place the order for lumber that would be usable to me. To get my 8″ width, I need to buy “premium wide” lumber that’s generally 7″ – 9″ wide minimum … but a 7″ finished width won’t work for me. Richard had a solution: he would tell his guys to select boards for 8″ yield, and only sell me those wider boards.

There’s trust involved here. One reason I like working with Peterman Lumber is that they deliver good lumber to my driveway. I’m currently working with 21 species of wood, and they deliver 20 of them. So, I don’t pick the lumber I buy – they pick it and deliver it. I get the privilege of unloading their truck and paying for the wood they selected. Richard assured me that his guys would select the right boards so I could get my minimum yields.

Except, that’s a minimum yield. If they select a board that’s 10″ wide (and gives a 9″ yield), I still have to pay for that extra 2″ of width, 1″ of which is actually usable lumber, but I can’t use that 1″ on this project. That means I’m going to have some randomly sized cutoffs to store (which I so need in my garage woodshop – I haven’t had a big wood cascade in a few months now).

So, that’s my situation. How many board feet of lumber should I order? OK, go.

The client for this custom order expects me to know the answer, bid the project, and deliver in a timely fashion. Buying the right amount of lumber means you have to know the lingo and have the math.

If I have zero waste, I only need 167 board feet of lumber. We already know that’s not the right answer.

I ordered 2 widths of lumber, and here’s the order as placed:

  • 190 board feet of 25/32″ FAS Eastern Hard Maple S2S SL1E. Special instruction: Please pull 6″ and wider clean flat stock.
  • 60 board feet of 25/32″ FAS Easter Hard Maple 8-1/2″ & WDR SL1E. Special instruction: Please pull 9″ and wider clean flat stock.

They actually shipped 193 board feet of the 6″ stock in 10′ and 11′ lengths, and 66 board feet of the 9″ stock, all in 8′ lengths.

In the case of the wide stock, those 66 board feet translated into 9x boards. Since I’m cutting them into 2′ lengths, I have a maximum yield of 36x pieces, and I need 27. OK, so I have 9 extra, right? Nope.

The National Hardwood Lumber Association has set the standard for lumber grading, and here is the rule for the best grade of lumber, “First And Seconds”, or “FAS”:

Grade Minimum board length Minimum board width Minimum cutting size Min. area of clear cuttings required
FAS 8′ 6″ 4″ x 5′
3″ x 7′

The best grade of lumber is sold with the knowledge that over 16% of the lumber will have defects in it rendering it unusable – and only leaving a minimum cutting size of 4″ x 5′ or 3″ x 7′, neither of which is big enough to help me. At all.

These boards are not usable for this project, but will be cut into smaller pieces for other projects … someday.

In this specific case, I cut the 9x boards into 36x pieces, and found 29x of them to be usable. Good thing, as I needed the extra 2x to get the 108x pieces of 6″ widths that I also needed.

In the end, my 259 board feet of lumber got me:

  • 15 board feet of lumber that was only 5″ wide, and so unusable for this project. Good thing Hard Maple is the # 1 species that I use. I will use this wood, just not now.
  • 29x pieces, 8″ minimum x 24″
  • 105x pieces, 6″ minimum x 24″
  • 27x pieces of all widths that have major defects in them and are unusable for this project

The 27x unusable pieces are not totally scrap. I’ll have to cut out the knots, or the splits, or the voids, and then I’ll be able to use what’s left. It’s a good thing I make MBOs and Sous Chef boards that need smaller pieces. After doing this project, I’ve got’em.

So, if you’re keeping track, you’ll see that I ended up being 1 piece short: I still needed one more 6″ minimum width piece to get my 108x pieces. Luckily, I had one in the lumber rack (I am never out of Hard Maple!), so that filled the order.

So, how’d I do ordering lumber?

I got lucky.

The front stack is the 8″ minimum. The next 4 stacks are 6″ minimums. The back stack … defects.

2 responses to “From The Shop: Planning To Be Wasted

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  1. I’m impressed – that’s a heckuva “educated guess” there!!! So what are you going to do next week, lol?

  2. Pingback: The Golf Course Project |

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