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Author Topic: Grading timber in MA  (Read 2505 times)

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Offline ex-Engineer Wannabe

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Grading timber in MA
« on: October 17, 2005, 09:13:51 PM »
Hello, to the board!   :)

I just spent quite some time reading through a long thread entitled "Gripes my @$$,” hoping to get information on grading softwood.  Although it quickly became clear that this is a very sensitive issue to many forum members, I, unfortunately, wasn't able to glean much clear information about this problem.

As we've been severely impacted by the storms in New Orleans, we are seriously pondering the idea of moving out of the area.  Considering that much of our family resides in west Mass, we are also contemplating a move to that part of the country.

I recently learned of a piece of property that's for sale in the western part of Hampden County.  Although it's in a very rocky/sloping part of the county, it is also heavily populated with healthy White Pine.  As the recent storms have turned things upside down for us, financially, we are forced to come up with the most efficient type of housing we can find.  And that’s where a timber frame comes in.

Having been raised in a rural area, where folks pitched in on building projects and such, I see our recent misfortune as a way to force myself back to where I’ve always wanted to be anyway – back to the land!

Anyway, I’ve made contact with the building inspector and have come away with the one major impediment that seems to face many of my fellow forum members – grading the timber.  Yep, just like many posts I’ve read recently, I too seem to be in the position of hiring someone to put a stamp on my own milled timbers [for my own home, no less].

I believe that the majority of us agree that this is more or less a way to control small scale milling.  Nevertheless, it seems to be a reality that I will have to face in the near future.  Having written all that, I’d like to ask for any information I can get on this dilemma.  I’d like to read posts from small scale sawyers who, like myself, have been forced to have the timber they’ve cut for their frames graded.  It would also be very helpful to read how folks, if any, worked around this problem. 

Is it extremely costly to have an inspector come to your land for the purpose of grading timbers?  I’d especially like to hear from any of the timber framers in the New England area who’ve been in this situation.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can give me,
Bill in NOLA     
"Measure twice, cut once" -- Don't know who coined this one, but he was pretty wise.

Offline Vermonter

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2005, 11:54:07 PM »
Before I start, let it be known that I know I will get in trouble for this one......
I've followed these threads, bought information from NELMA (New England Lumberman's Association), checked into the classes and certifications, and talked extensively with graders.  In this area, there is a significant investment of time to achieve grader certification (read: you have to work as a grader).
It looks to me that if someone (or a group) were to decide on some standards (like the NELMA ones), they could have their own grade stamps made and grade their own lumber.  Any chance we could band together and adopt some grading standards?  Maybe we could offer classes and create an independent sawmill grade stamp.  Just my thoughts, what are everyone elses'?
New homestead

Offline ex-Engineer Wannabe

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2005, 01:16:52 AM »
Thanks for the reply, Andrew  :)

It would seem that you must have read the long "Gripes my @$$" thread as well because I thought that's where it was headed -- toward sawyers getting together to combat this problem.  Obviously, if enough folks got together on a common grading standard, a certification process of some sort could be created. 

Personally, I have no interest in improperly grading milled wood -- there's way too much at stake!  Common sense would clearly dictate this for anyone cutting timbers, or dimensional lumber for that matter.  Anyway, my understanding is that grading to an accepted standard should be just as safe as relying on the integrity of an ultra-high production grader.  In short, it's been my experience that nearly anything will pass even the closest scrutiny -- as long as it can be technically justified.  And a professional trade standard like the one you cited [NELMA] is all the technical justification anyone should ever need.

Count me in -- I'm all for it!
Bill in NOLA 
"Measure twice, cut once" -- Don't know who coined this one, but he was pretty wise.

Offline Don P

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2005, 06:52:11 AM »
Bill,
Are you in for the long view or do you just need grading to get your house built? What you all are talking about with changing the present grading system will take quite awhile. For the house you should probably contact NeLma and find the closest accredited grader. Around here it runs $65/hr and we pay for 4 hrs windshield time.  Another question is whether the lumber needs to be graded or gradestamped. A grader from a local mill can possibly come out and grade your wood, he cannot stamp it though. If it needs to be stamped that is one of the agency's staff graders.

A laborer works with his hands
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An artist uses his brain, his hands, and his heart

Offline Jim_Rogers

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2005, 08:32:42 AM »
Grade stamped lumber is not done to "control" small mills, it's done to protect the public from bad timbers/lumber being used to build houses/shelter.
The public I speak of is you, your kids, and all future people who will live in your house long after you've moved on/died/sold out.
As a sawmill I know and have milled 2x4's with 3" knots in them. Is it strong? Not one bit!!!!!
What if I sold this to a customer who didn't know any better and used it to build his house. Would it stand up under the first snow load?
Probably not.......
So, as a sawyer, I'd better not create any such low grade lumber at all for any reason.
Buying a grade book, reading the rules, learning the rules, understanding the rules, applying the rules, is a major undertaking. It's not as easy as it seems.

I have hired a NeLMA graded to come here to my sawmill yard and inspect timers. It took one day/or less. The customer paid him his one day wage which is their minimum. Which was either $275 or $375 for his service.
He looked at all four sides and both ends of every timber, to inspect it, over a 100.
I had to be ready with my fork lift to move all the timbers out of the way after he inspected them, and so he could inspect them. I had to be ready to sort out the rejects that he found and to store them separately, which I did.
He wanted to know which size timbers were posts and which size timbers were intended to be beams. And if you don't know the difference between a post and a beam you'd better learn that one right away......
A post has a lower grade requirement as it's strength is in compression, vertically as the tree stood.
A beam is by the name a horizontal member of a structure, be it sloping or not. So a rafter is a beam.
Other rules that make a timber a beam and not a post is the actual size. An 8x8 could be a post or it could be a beam. But a 6x10 can never be assumed to be a post (although you can always use it as a post). A timber who's depth is larger than 2" of it's width is always considered to be a beam and that means it has to be graded to "beam and stringer" rules and not "post and timbers" rules.
Beams and stringer rules require smaller defects (knots) and a higher quality of lumber than posts and timbers.

After the inspector left here he provided a written report to the customer (I never saw this report) but with the physical stamp on the timber and the written report the building inspector was satisfied that the customer complied with his rules.

We considered it not that big of a deal. The day I spent doing it, watching him, I learned a lot. The money spent was cheaper than the nightmare of what would have happened if the building failed for fell down due to a low grade timber breaking under a heavy snow load.

I've taken several short course grading seminar to understand and learn the grading rules so that I will not produce a low grade timber intended to be used in a structure. NeLMA will not issue a grade stamp to a portable sawmill. Even if they would the entrance fee and monthly dues for having one is a cost I don't think I could afford, even if the association would vote to let me join.

The reason that associations like NeLMA have been formed was to self police the lumber industry. There are national rules that each area association must comply with.
If you were to start a new "small sawmill association" to get your own grade stamps you'll have to follow the national rules anyhow or your association won't be able to grade stamp lumber/timbers.
One good reason that the lumberman's associations police themselves is that if they didn't then the government would.  And we don't even want to think about was a mess of red tape that would create.

If you intend to hire a traveling grader to come to your mill site/yard wherever and inspect your timbers, make a couple of extra ones of each the sizes. Especially if you have one or two that you question as being good enough.

Buy a grade rule book and read the grade rule for number 2 beams and stringer, and number 2 for posts and timbers for lumber 5"x 5" and larger. And as you create timbers larger than 5x5 see how they compare to the rules in the book. I was taught to learn one rule first and then apply it before you try and move on to learn more rules in the book. This will help you to prepare for your timbers that you intend to have inspected.

I hope this info has helped you to understand that having your timbers grade stamped isn't a major deal, and that you should do it so you can sleep good at night in your own timber frame home.

Jim Rogers
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension

Offline beenthere

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2005, 10:47:54 AM »
Jim
That was very well said.

south central Wisconsin
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Offline ex-Engineer Wannabe

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2005, 02:22:10 PM »
Thanks to the board for your replies  :)

Jim, I'm not sure if you read through the six page thread I mentioned in both of my posts or not, but it certainly left me with the impression that the "majority of us" (at least the majority of those responding to that very long thread) don't have a lot of confidence in the present grading system.  If one walks into their local mega box store to buy graded/stamped lumber, chances are very high that they'll leave the store feeling that the selection was of a generally inferior quality.  And like most of us, I've been buying graded wood for many years that I know I can beat with a healthy tree and a portable sawmill.  Isn’t that the reason many of us got the sawyering bug in the first place?   ;D

As the extent of my experience with a "traveling grader" is what I read on this forum—I’ve never actually heard of one in my area of the country—I’ll confess to ignorance in that regard.  Perhaps there actually are good folks out there that take the grading process seriously?  And as I pointed out in my first reply: "I have no interest in improperly grading milled wood—there’s way too much at stake!  Common sense would clearly dictate this for anyone cutting timbers, or dimensional lumber for that matter."  Anyway, I think it's quite clear that I'm on the record as an advocate of following "...a professional trade standard like the one you cited [NELMA]..." (also taken from my first reply).

In short, I believe it's a given that the vast majority of small mill operators frequenting this forum are only looking for one thing—high quality wood.  ;D ;D ;D  And taking that as a given, I have no reason to believe that Andrew has anything other than the best of intentions either.  Like me, he sees no reason why a sawyer—possessing the proper training—shouldn’t be able to grade his own wood.  And why would a small mill operator want to expose himself to the potential liability that would come with misrepresenting his product anyway?  I think the answer is pretty obvious.

The “problem” or “dilemma” I’m seeking advice on isn’t how to circumvent the grading system, it’s how to avoid being forced to buy wood blessed by the “ultra-high production grader” I mentioned earlier.  Having suffered catastrophic losses in the recent storms here, I simply can’t afford that option.  Like many others who’ve posted in this forum, I also just want to build my own shelter as efficiently as possible (which is why I posted in the timber framing section in the first place).  :)  Short of being certified myself, hiring a certified “traveling grader” would seem to be the next best thing.  I’m happy to read that there really is such a service available up there.  :)  By the way, DonP, where are you located?

Thanks again for the replies—please keep 'em coming,
Bill in NOLA   
"Measure twice, cut once" -- Don't know who coined this one, but he was pretty wise.

Offline beenthere

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2005, 02:51:04 PM »
B in NOLA
What seems to be confusing the issue here is the vast number of grades of lumber that get discussed. If bringing up lumber at the local box store that looks bad and has a grade stamp, that isn't the same grading system as timbers for beams and posts in a timber frame.
There are structural grades, stud grades, and light framing grades of lumber in additiion to the timbers. The box-store graded lumber is the low end of the small logs that cannot produce the higher grades that go into structural light framing such as engineered laminated beams, I-joists, and trusses (these big markets cream a lot of the higher quality lumber from the log resource). 
Small sawmills don't have the special markets to take the high quality, so it ends up in the product making it easily look better than the low-end stuff at the box store.

Getting the grade stamp is another problem. Personnaly, I think Arky has the right idea. Put it on there, and the inspector can decide if it is suitable for his acceptance. Truly, IMO, the inspectors and their codes they are hired to apply, are the guilty ones (not the grading agencies), as they are taking the safe route and saying only graded and stamped lumber (or timbers) are acceptable. That is the big hurdle, to nudge them out of their 'safe' zone.  As stated elsewhere today, the gov't worker will survive his/her job playing it safe, but they are 'at risk' if they try to play or act outside the box.  So its predicatble what they will do, unfortunately.
south central Wisconsin
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Offline Don P

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2005, 10:12:33 PM »
That was well said all around. Bill, I'm in southwest VA. My situation and sympathies are the same here, but that doesn't get you a house any quicker. I would look into having a grader come in and get your money's worth  ;) :).

NeLma has grader training. They also have grading rules for download off their website. I would do my best to grade before you call them in. You do have time on your side when grading, you can walk away from a timber and come back later with a fresh eye. A line grader has 3 seconds to make the call on dimensional stock.

The only way our inspectors will allow self graded wood is if another government agency feels willing to take on the responsibilty of licensing you. At that point you become an "accredited" grader, as called for by the building code. The problem with this setup is there is no third party independent auditing of your work. I was hoping the inspectors could be trained to act as that audit. They weren't too interested in that.

The grader/ teacher that spoke to our inspectors told them this almost verbatim,
Quote
The box-store graded lumber is the low end of the small logs that cannot produce the higher grades that go into structural light framing such as engineered laminated beams, I-joists, and trusses (these big markets cream a lot of the higher quality lumber from the log resource). 
Small sawmills don't have the special markets to take the high quality, so it ends up in the product making it easily look better than the low-end stuff at the box store.
A laborer works with his hands
A craftsman uses his brain and his hands
An artist uses his brain, his hands, and his heart

Offline Vermonter

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2005, 11:16:29 PM »
I think you folks got my point.  I also know that hiring a grader is not that big of a deal.  However, it will only be for special projects, etc.  I'd like to market all of my lumber with a stamp of quality.
To clear up some of the SlowDepot poor quality issues, it helps to know that NELMA grading rules, depending upon type, allow a percentage of mistakes.  They call it grade variance, and for SPF studs, the 2003 rules allowed up to 10%.  They can play with that number at will, as they write the standards.  So, up to 10% of all the studs that come into the store do not meet grade.  The customers then become the graders, and do not accept these pieces.  That inventory sits on the shelf, and if you order a delivery, you can expect they will take off the top of the pile.
I think I'm going to get a rubber stamp made anyway, even though there's nobody around to check it.
New homestead

Offline Vermonter

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2005, 11:26:08 PM »
There's another active thread related to this topic;http://www.forestryforum.com/board/index.php?topic=14102.0

Hope the link works
New homestead

Offline Jim_Rogers

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #11 on: October 21, 2005, 06:36:05 PM »
Bill in NOLA, I haven't read the six page of info you mentioned.

I have enough trouble trying to read all the stuff on this section, and rarely wander beyond it's boundaries. If there was more info about grading out on the FF I didn't see it.

Your post was the first I knew of it.

But, anyway, I just wanted to explain my point of view about my experiences here at my sawmill with my customers and the traveling grader who came here.......


Jim Rogers
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Offline ex-Engineer Wannabe

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Re: Grading timber in MA
« Reply #12 on: October 21, 2005, 07:03:36 PM »
:)  As always, your posts are very informative! :)

Considering some of your threads that I've read, I can understand that you don't get much time for the other sections.  Nevertheless, there are quite a few on the board that are very interested in learning more about grading their own, high quality, products.  And, once again, the idea is to LEARN THE PROPER WAY to go about doing it.  :)

Have a great night,
Bill
"Measure twice, cut once" -- Don't know who coined this one, but he was pretty wise.


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