Lumber grading: The basics

How lumber is graded and net tallies are determined. November 7, 2000

I'm new to the lumber business. Who grades lumber? If you saw your own trees into boards do you need someone that is certified to tell you that your lumber is FAS, #1 or #2 common? What does the "net tally" stand for?

Forum Responses
Hardwood lumber inspectors grade lumber. If you saw your own trees, and are going to sell the lumber to some consumer, be it flooring mill or furniture mill or broker, it would be very nice to know what grade the wood is prior to selling it. Otherwise, you will be at the mercy of THEIR lumber inspector, as far as how your lumber is accounted for and how much money it will be worth.

Another aspect of this is to deal with reputable people who will be fair. These are usually the people who've been in the business for a good while. Since you are new to the lumber business, you will find out quickly who to deal with and who not to. Word travels fast in this business.

You need to get familiar really quickly with the basics of lumber grading. A good place to start would be to get in touch with the National Hardwood Lumber Association ( purchase a rule book. A short course might be in order as well.

That way, when you visit the persons buying your lumber, you can watch their lumber inspector go through your material and have a better understanding as to why he/she grades the boards the way they do.

Net Tally (and Gross Tally) can be an entire can of worms itself, when it comes to lumber sales. I'm sure others may comment on this. Essentially, a net tally is a tally with shrinkage figured in, and gross would be the lumber as it lays. These shinkage factors are somewhere around 7% for green to dry, and maybe 3-4% in green to air dried.

Some lumber brokers out there can jog the numbers around from net to gross and make more money... not to say that this is good lumber business.

Taking the lumber grading short course (1 week) was some of the best time and money I've spent. When I took the course many years ago, I thought the best lumber was in the center of the log. Now that I saw eastern red cedar it is, but it just shows how ignorant I was in the beginning. Over the course of many years think of how much lumber you may saw. If you lose just a few per cent because of lack of knowledge, think of how many thousands of dollars go from your pocket to someone else's. The more you learn about the lumber business, the more businesslike you can be.

I agree--enroll in a lumber inspection short course. You'll get a copy of the rule book there. Also try dealing with a customer who's fair and will allow his experienced lumber inspector to work with you. Many of the lumber traders (those who buy & sell) were once inspectors or may occasionally inspect a load or two still. It's only to their advantage to help you because it makes their job easier. Always ask questions. Pick their brian.

Net tally is the actual footage of a piece as it sits, right now. However, when grading kiln dried lumber, some people (illegally) will add back footage to account for shrinkage. So, you buy 1000 BF, but only get 910 BF. It is illegal to sell this as 1000 BF; it must be sold as 910 BF (net tally).

When lumber dries it shrinks about 5 to 6%. Yet people will add as much as 9% to the footage. Obviously they are accounting for more than normal drying shrinkage!! (Check and see if they are also selling a bridge in Arizona or land in a swamp!)

Sometimes lumber is graded and measured green and then kiln dried but sold on the basis of green measurement and grade (which is still the net footage because it is the footage at the time of measurement). In this case you will buy 1000 BF net footage based on the green measurement. If you measure it after kiln drying, it will no longer be 1000 BF and probably the grade will drop on some pieces too. So, never do this.

Professor Eugene Wengert, forum technical advisor

Gene, when you say the grade will drop on some pieces, do you mean because of a drying defect, or shrinkage making the piece under width for that grade? Another question: if mill A sells me something for $1000.00/M at net tally, and mill B sells me the same wood for $930.00/M at gross tally, even though this is not allowable per NHLA rules, isn't it six of one, half a dozen of the other?

YES, but many mills add 8% or 9% to the footage, while wood only shrinks 5%.

Grades can drop due to drying defects (man-made or natural defects). Plus, for example, when an 8 BF piece shrinks and is now 7 BF, you are allowed only one FAS cutting instead of two, so the grade may drop.

Professor Eugene Wengert, forum technical advisor