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For American hardwood, the grading rules are easy and need less explanation in terms of quality sorting/ranking.
For us in Asia, it is important to get two abbreviations into our heads: National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) and Ame- rican Hardwood Export Council (AHEC). Download the “A GUIDE TO SUSTAINABLE AMERICAN HARDWOOD” on NHLA rules from AHEC, read them and you will understand the basics, just by reading the summary page in the back.
Begin at page 74-75 in this great book. Skip the surface measure and just focus on minimum board size, minimum cutting size and minimum yield percentage, and you can already act as a knowledgeable person and join the discussion. The rules are so simple that you hardly need to know what a defect is. Just focus on the area with no defect, make a judgement of the % of the plank without defect (clear cutting) and you can judge if you have received an up to grade hardwood lumber.
So, NHLA laydown the grading rules and uphold them in a case of a dispute, while AHEC promotes American hardwood to export. These two organizations have done a remarkable work, with positive results in Asia, particularly in China.
Regions for hardwood in North America
When looking at US hardwood specifically, we talk mainly about the Appalachian area- the east of US or what spans from New York- to Alabama state. The Appalachian timber is where price and appearance really come into play. Northern Appalachian is more expensive than Central, which in turn is more expensive than Southern Appalachian lumber in general.
Why this? Same grading rules, same quality, all KD, all need to be shipped by container. Is it because northern lumber has less defects than southern? Not really.
This is why the NHLA grading rules are so good. A 1COM is a 1COM and 2COM will always be a 2COM – same number of clear cuttings and percentage of clear yield.
Some claim that Northern Appalachian has a more uniform color than southern. Some say Southern Appalachian has more mineral streaks than northern. Northern Appalachian trees grow slower than Southern and mature nicer, like a good wine. So, what should you choose?
It all depends on what you need. If color does not matter to your production, then buy Red Oak instead of White Oak, it is cheaper and just as good. I always recommend Red Oak if color does not matter.
If you have a specifically request for White Oak, then buy southern Appalachian Oak if color is not a serious matter. Buy northern Appalachian if you will run your production in a clear natural color. For everything in between – buy central Appalachian.
However, different species have different preferences. Ash may not have the same favorable properties as White Oak in the same area. Therefore, it is recommended to talk with your supplier about what is best for you, for your budget and for your production.
One thing you can be sure of, is that when you talk to your sawmiller, his lumber is always the best.
Challenges for American Hardwood
So, what are the challenges with US hardwood? To begin with, supply can be a challenge. Allow me to explain. Prices often fluc- tuates, this week’s price is not next week’s price. These days, price is only going up and has increased a lot in the last months.
Further, there is a lack of availability of American White Oak and Walnut. It is not because of the Chinese market increasing demand, but it is caused by a lack of lumber and a very strong American domestic market, who often pay high prices! In other words, why ship a container overseas when they can get same or higher price from a truck load a few hundred miles down the road.
In the last 4 months, we have seen increases in prices between 6 – 24% alone, depending on species, grade and area. Daily I am asked: “what is a normal price for American Hardwood?” or “when will the price hike stop?”. To this I can’t answer clearly. Some experts say after 1st quarter of 2021, while some sawmillers name 3rd quarter of 2021.
Other than that, American Hardwood is pretty straight forward, luckily.
Playing our part
As a global trader, we strive to create continuous growth and expand the business globally, while respecting the environment in the process. Sustainable managed forests are the best way to preserve standing forests. The wood from these forests is an environ- mentally friendly material and contributes to a better carbon balance.
United Nations define sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” A sustainable approach to forestry entails that no more trees than the forest’s natural replenishment rate are felled.
It also entails that forestry practices balance the needs of the environment, wildlife and forest communities- supporting decent incomes while conserving the forests for future generations.
United Nations Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDG) addresses the global challenges we are facing, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. At Global Timber we chose to work specifically with Goal no.13 (Climate action), no. 8 (Decent work and economic growth) and no 15. (Life on land).
Temperate American Hardwood
Temperate wood, as the lumber coming from US and Canada, is generally an abundant and sustainable resource. The risks associ- ated with import of American Hardwood are low, and the requirements for documentation not as high as for tropical hardwood.
About 70 – 80% of US forest land is private owned and only 15% is owned by the forest industry. A very small percentage is FSC certified. Still, American Hardwood is a low-risk lumber due to sustainable and transparent forest management.
In fact, every American Hardwood specie is growing at a far greater rate than it is harvested. US grows more hardwood than it harvests, ensuring reliable, long term supplies for its industry.