Lumber Tally: Rough Versus Milled

When you buy dressed lumber, the quantity is tallied based on the rough board footage, before milling. The "rip-off" percentage can sometimes confuse the buyer. September 27, 2012

I recently changed lumber suppliers. A vendor that is about a 10 minute drive quoted prices exactly the same as my former vendor that is half an hour. Previously there was almost a $5 per sheet for sheet goods and 10-20% difference for lumber. I've been buying there for about 3 months now.

Today I am finishing a 3 month project and needed just one board of cherry lumber to complete. After picking a board and receiving a tally sheet from the warehouse, I was puzzled to see 10.6 bd ft charge for an 11 inch by 10 foot board of 4/4. When I asked how a 10 footer less that 12 inches wide could be over 10 bd ft, I was told they multiply the total bd ft by 115% to account for straightlining. If I had been buying more than one easy to calculate board, I never would have caught this. The warehouse guy really didn't know why, and referred me to the front desk.

I went to my former supplier later the same day and asked how they calculated purchases (trying not to look totally stupid after 40 years of this). He knew right away who the other lumberyard was and about the 15% "straightlining" charge which he referred to as a 15% ripoff.

When I got back to the shop I called the first yard and talked to the manager. He tried to tell me this was an industry standard and that's how it's done. I told him that he was now talking to a former customer. In the past 3 months I figure I have paid for about 75 board feet of cherry that never arrived.

Should he have told me that when I asked for a board foot price quote there is a hidden upcharge? We all know that 4/4 wood is 3/4" and why, but when buying s3s wood, I would expect to pay for what is actually there. Any losses along the way should have been accounted for in the company price quote.

I know full well that lumber tallies, especially hand done on small quantities, are subject a bit to some fudging, rounding off, and the basic math skills of the guy on the forklift, but 15% purposely added, plus the math skills?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor K:
For lumber at a mill I think you would always pay for the rough lumber. Some mills just call it a straight line ripping fee. When you size lumber and are left with a pile of rippings, do you eat those or do you bill the customer for them? You will also pay for any lumber they plane off surfacing.

From the original questioner:

To clarify, I asked for a price on S3S cherry.

Vendor #1 $XXX. I pay for the wood actually present. His price takes into account all losses from rough to the product in his racks. Bills for 100 bd ft, delivers 100 bd ft.

Vendor #2 $XXX. He then added 15% with no explanation. Bills for 100 bd ft. Delivers 85 bd ft. When questioned, says it's industry practice. This is like having the gas pump say 35 gallons, when you know you only have a 30 gallon tank.

I am well aware that we charge our customers for all the scrap that ends up in the trash, and likewise I expect to pay for all the costs that go into the materials I purchase. The issue is that they are not delivering what they quote/invoice. If you sell cabinets by the foot, for example, no one is going to pay you for 12 ft of uppers if they only have a 10 ft wall. (What are you going to tell them... it's loss from one falling off the truck?) If I bought rough lumber, I expect to absorb all the losses from milling.

From contributor T:
If I order 100bf and want it s2s and sl, my supplier pulls 100bf rough lumber then mills it. The average for my orders is about 10% loss, so I get 90bf. They don't sl, then tally. If the price for red oak is $1.90/bf, that is the price I pay if in the rough or milled. They don't charge for milling. It is a provided service and saves me time and money. There is another supplier in my area that has the same price for the wood, but if you want it milled, they charge extra. I am not sure how much extra because I don't buy from them. The hidden and not quoted charge you are talking about I think is wrong. I bet they don't move as much wood as the other place, do they?

From contributor M:
This what I what run into here, from all 3 of my lumber suppliers. Lumber is calculated by the rough board footage and billed accordingly, then if it is surfaced and straightlined, I get the remaining board footage. For awhile, some years back I thought I was being shorted through this process. After doing my own surfacing and straightening for years, I realized they were being fairly accurate. If I spent endless hours flipping and running boards several times, I could milk a few more feet than the suppliers, but the labor expense made this a bad trade. For the rates I pay for the services, I cannot do it as cheap, but the final passes we do in house, as we can get a better surface than the mills usually do.

I did have one supplier who billed me after receiving a couple of shipments, for additional board footage. When I questioned the bill, they said they inventoried the yard later on and came to the conclusion I received more lumber than they originally thought. Yeah right. After 10 years I still owe them for those bills and have lost no sleep over it. I have never ordered from them again.

From contributor J:
I have fought this battle for 35 years. When I get prices I tell them I want 325 feet delivered to me. I tell them I am going to measure and verify the load on delivery. Their driver can wait, or not. I will not pay until I verify the footage. I have been told about kiln shrinkage - I don't care. They will lay up 6 layers and measure across and count the layers to come up with their total. Not allowed. You must take the time to verify each board.

From contributor A:
That is standard industry practice. You buy the rough, and pay for any extra milling. It sounds like your new lumber supplier has room to lower their costs to be competitive with your old supplier.

The real cost here hasn't been discussed: go to your mill and watch the off-fall from their straightline operation. You should be stunned to see how little they care about how much they rip off. You should really be ordering S2S and straightlining yourself. That is where most of your money is lost.

From contributor K:
This subject comes up often. Ask your supplier up front how they tally, then you can compare price apples to apples.

From contributor D:
If you buy the lumber in the rough, I would think you get the footage ordered. Surfacing and SLR cost more, usually - about 30 cents a foot. 7% is the number that has been used for many years as the waste factor from SLR, so 100' gets charged for 107'. The lumber is tallied before SLRing. We pay for the waste. I think my suppliers have it figured into the price per foot. I get the amount ordered within, say, 5% at the price quoted. So if it's $1.90 a foot, they may sell it for $2.05 including all the services.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The weights and measures division of every state and province requires that you sell the footage that you bill for exactly. It is illegal to add footage for kiln shrinkage. It is illegal to deliver 15% less footage than billed.

However, as mentioned above, if they sell you 100 BF and then charge for milling, planing, sawing, etc., that is legal, as it is a subsequent processing cost for the 100 BF of lumber that you bought. Further, during their processing, they do in fact lose a bit of wood (not 15%). Technically, the lumber you bought had its title transferred to you prior to their processing and milling. However, if they saw, mill, and plane the lumber prior to selling it (as in your situation), they must recalculate the footage after milling, as you must legally get the footage that you buy when the title to the wood changes to you. In this case, they should raise the price by 15% to cover milling costs, but not change the footage.

The straighten fee of 15% less footage is not an industry standard.

At this point, I suggest that you tell the new supplier that you will contact the weights and measures department and file a complaint in the next two weeks if the difference (75 BF) is not adjusted. Then, if they do nothing, file the complaint. At the price of cherry, you can also file a claim in small claims court. Your weights and measures people should be able to help you supply the court with the documentation showing what is legal and illegal.

A piece of hardwood lumber that is 4/4 and 11" x 10' is 9.1666 BF, but hardwoods are rounded to the closest BF, so it is actually 9 BF.

From contributor P:
Eliminate the problem altogether by asking for what you need, and getting a price for the same. You don't have to worry about any upcharges at that point. If you want 100bf net of cherry, surfaced how you want, then get a price for the end result.

But I have seen it both ways. Some will entice you with the rough price, only to hit you up on the surfacing side, and sometimes being unreasonable. But it's got to be surfaced one way or another, and we've found it is better all in all to have the mill do it (and cheaper), so when it arrives at the shop, you can refuse what is not up to your standard.

If you ordered 100BF NET of cherry S4S, for $X price, that is what you get. Rough product can sometimes play nasty tricks on us.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The Weights and Measure section of each state was established to prevent such tricks. When you buy a gallon of gas or milk or lumber or whatever, they exist to make sure that you will get what you paid for. There are indeed a few rough lumber sellers that sell and include 9% deduction for shrinkage, but it is 100% illegal to do that. As pointed out, when you buy a gallon of gas, you get one gallon and you do not get almost a gallon with a deduction for evaporation or loss in transit. The wood shortage issue actually went to court years ago and so the legal issues are already settled. But in every industry, there are a few cheaters (until they get caught).

From contributor M:
Fellas, pretty simple. Like we tell our customers, make sure you're comparing apples to apples when getting quotes.

From contributor D:
The exact way they tally some products varies. Like a layer or block tally where each 48" X 10' layer was billed at much lower cost per foot than an individual tally. It is a lot like a package deal - some boards we would not have chosen. The grade is also suspect on certain practices. The lower grades have been sold in layers or blocks, not the best grades. The grading system can also vary as individual suppliers can create proprietary grades such as Natural Maple. While not illegal, these grades do not exist according to NHLA books and related info. Can get pretty confusing, but you need to talk to your supplier and learn the rules before you play.

From contributor V:
When I buy lumber wholesale, it is generally gross tally. You pay 8% over the net tally. In other words, $2.00 actually costs $2.16. When I sell lumber, s1e and s2s is sold net tally in the rough. Dimension lumber s4s I sell by the lineal ft.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Let me repeat. The correct and legal way to sell hardwood lumber is that the BF specification is the actual BF at the time that the title to the lumber transfers. The NHLA has specified this procedure as well for decades. As there are a few gross tally sellers, there are some mills that specify both gross and net so that their customers can compare prices. Note that there is nothing wrong with inflating the prices; what is incorrect is using the incorrect BF.

From contributor V:
Gene, I've been buying lumber wholesale for 30 years. Out of the 5 suppliers I use, only 1 sells kiln dried lumber net. You're saying what they're doing is illegal. I sell all lumber retail net, but I've run into this gross tally on wholesale lumber for 30 years. Is there a difference between wholesale and retail?

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
In the past, gross was common. However, a lawsuit in CA was supposed to eliminate the practice. Further, the NHLA adopted a statement about gross and net. I have seen many people, even today, using gross. I have also seen people driving over 72 mph in 65 mph speed zones. I am not sure why the old practice persists, but it does and it is not legal in any state.

From contributor K:
Gene, how do you determine when the "title" to the lumber is transferred?

As far as the original poster, the mill could say they sold him X number of board feet of lumber, then provided a service - straight lining and surfacing - which they may or may not charge for, and then disposed of the waste (rippings) for them. They could have bundled the rippings and bagged the sawdust if he wanted his full measure.

When does lumber cease to be lumber and become a molding or other manufactured product? At straight lining, surfacing, 1 side, 2 sides? Rough lumber is lumber. Surfaced lumber is something else.

From contributor S:
Most of the distributors in Southern California follow the same practice, but 15% sounds high. 7% to cover SL1E loss is normal. We prefer to distribute by the lineal foot or piece whenever possible to avoid any misunderstandings. Although standard practice, it's not something that a customer should discover on his own, after the fact.

From contributor V:
I agree the main thing is to let the customer know how the product is sold. I let my customers know you order 100bd ft, you buy it in the rough, you pay more per ft to have it surfaced and straightlined. If I tried to sell it as 100bd ft after, now we are into… Do we measure the widest part, the narrowest, the average? Who has time for that? All the mills I mentioned that sell gross tally always tell you up front and are more than happy to quote it net.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the comments. I am going to forward to the supplier. By the way, this is a storefront lumber yard. They offer no milling or cutting operations, so I think the Wood Doc has the best view of the situation.

From contributor K:
Your last comment makes a big difference and brings up another question to Gene on legality.

If I run short on lumber for a job, I sometimes purchase from a local lumberyard. They sell random width and length hardwoods that are straight lined and surfaced 2 sides to a nominal 3/4" thickness. They mark the end of each board with the "board footage." Their pricing is by the "board foot." What they are actually measuring and selling is square footage of 3/4" boards, although their measure on the ends of these boards and their pricing reflects the board footage of a full 1" thick 4/4 board, not the 3/4" they are selling. Should I contact weights and measure to report they are cheating me out of 25% in my lumber because I am only buying 3/4" thick boards? It seems lumber standards are pretty worthless in the real world.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Contributor K, your supplier is doing it correctly. For all thicknesses under 1.0", the board footage is figured at 1.0" and also all planed lumber is allowed to be thinner than the standard thickness (amount of thinness varies with thickness), but is still counted as full thickness. These rules are clearly given in the NHLA Rule Book. This has been true for well over 50 years.

Incidentally, tapered-width lumber is measured for width 1/3 from the smaller end.

In my opinion and experience, most sellers do indeed follow the rules for volume measurement. One other rule that is sometimes overlooked is that planed lumber is graded from the best face. Rough lumber uses the worst face, basically.

From contributor N:
Contributor K has it correct. Gross tally vs. Net tally. You need to ask this when you shop around. Maybe they should have told you this upfront. They're not being dishonest. I prefer S2S but it's hard to get, as most small shops can't straightline their own lumber. I find that when they straightline the lumber for you, they remove way too much, and it's never straight or cut clean. Next time ask them for the off fall from the strait line. Maybe you can use some of it for making trim. And that way you can see where your missing wood came about.

From contributor L:
Gene, correct me if I'm wrong. Isn't FAS graded from the poorer face? There is also the practice of "FAS face and better" which is graded from the best face. For any designers/specifiers out there, don't use lumber grades for your finished goods specification! Use the AWI book and if sapwood is not desired, state it in the specs, otherwise it is permissible! Note also some kinds of wood have different rules. Know your specs and what costs they imply for your customer.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Rough lumber is graded from the poorer face. However, SELECTS and FAS 1-Face are No.1 Common on the poorer face and the better face must be FAS (essentially), with rules about wane that are different for 4" and 5" SELECTS. So "Face and Better" (meaning FAS-1Face and FAS) are both graded from the poorer face (which must be FAS for FAS grade and No.1 Common for FAS 1-FACE) and then FAS 1-Face is also graded from the better face as well. FAS is not graded from the better face (as the worst face is already pretty darn good).

Your comment about different rules for different species is true. There are mainly lumber size changes and stain acceptability changes with different species. Planed lumber is always graded from the better face.

Both the NHLA and AWI allow additional specifications to be added (such as a specification about sapwood). As terms such as "kiln dried" have a very loose meaning, it is always best to specify exactly what you want.

As an additional note, the footage when grading is also the footage when the lumber is sold, if clearly stated. On the other hand, the footage when graded dry can not subsequently be inflated to account for shrinkage.

Note that if I have a piece of FAS that is freshly sawn and it measures 10 BF, when I dry it, it will shrink to 9 BF and it may also develop a split, stain or warp that will drop it down to No.1 Common. From a purchaser's viewpoint, the piece is 9 BF of No.1 Common (and that is what it will yield) and not 10 BF of FAS or 10 BF of No.1 COMMON. So, it is not a good idea to buy KD lumber based on green grade and footage.

I did see a company in OH that was selling 36" long pieces of KD oak that they stated were No.1 Common and Better. The rules require Common lumber to be 4' minimum and for Better than No.1 Common, 6' minimum.

Rather than inflate the footage, why don't companies inflate the price and sell the actual footage, as required? They get the same income and you pay the same amount and you know exactly what you are getting. I think they are trying to fool the purchaser by doing otherwise.

From contributor I:
I remember when the NHLA affirmed these rules in the 80s. At the time, we had a supplier who insisted they were options. They also insisted that wholesale lumber was allowed 10% plus or minus on the count. They were remarkably consistent in measuring 9.9% short, and happy to give me credit for a board foot or two if they went over. I still badmouth them any chance I get, though not on a public forum.

From contributor R:
It's common sense. If you buy rough cut lumber, you pay the price of rough lumber, and if you buy dressed lumber, you pay an extra charge for labor, but with less volume of lumber.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
So, when you go to the gas pump and get a gallon of gas, they only give you 0.90 gallons. This is because of losses in manufacturing. Actually, losses are only 0.05, but they take 10% off anyway. Would you say that is common sense? The same with lumber... They add 10% back to the actual volume (even though 5% is closer and maybe only 4% for mixed grain and many hardwood species). The rules are that the measurement of gas, lumber, etc. are what you actually get. That is common sense to me. The other is a rip off.

From contributor R:
That's what I meant. The price of gas is 9/10 of a gallon not per gallon, and there's nothing wrong with that. You know what you're paying for (9/10), while with dressed lumber you're getting less bf than what you should get. That's not right. You should make it clear what a bf means (for the seller) when you're buying dressed lumber, before ordering any lumber.

From contributor L:
9/10? The buyer should know what he's doing, lumber or land. If you don't know the rules of the game how can you play?