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Author Topic: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience  (Read 463 times)

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Offline rojen

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Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« on: April 06, 2021, 07:37:07 PM »
Last summer the wife and I purchased an HM126 to mill some hard maple on our property for paneling and trim for our new home.  The project has turned out nicely so far, plenty of 16' long pure white material with almost no knots.  No great figure though.

Anyhow, while we were cutting trim for our new house, OSB went to $6,000 a sheet and studs are only affordable to the 6 riches kings of Arabia. 

So we're thinking about a post and beam home instead of the original stick built.  Cut the timbers this fall and winter and start raising next spring.

Michigan requires a grand stamp or certificate of inspection for lumber and beams so I will need to have a transient grader come out to the property.  Before I invest the time and logs, I'd like to know your experiences with your local grader.

-Did your estimate of grade match up to your grader, or were you way off?
-Did you cut your own studs for grading since you were already cutting timbers?
-Did you cut extra to account for failed beams and if so how much waste did you account for?
-Cost/time/effort to move your wood
-Any other comments you may have

Sorry if this has been answered, I didn't see much in a search.

Thanks everyone.
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Offline Don P

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2021, 09:20:03 PM »
Go to NELMA's website and download the appropriate grading chapters, study them and make sure your lumber and timbers are on grade before calling in the grader. Have extra to replace anything questionable. Have a saw handy to dock off defects and bump the grade, that works better with dimensional lumber more than timbers that probably have a specific use. Have an area that makes rolling through the wood fast and easy and have helpers to turn the wood for him, he has to see all sides and you're paying by the hour, keep him grading not turning timbers or waiting on stacks to be moved. There is also a grading manual on the NLGA site, the interpretations section there is helpful in explaining how to look at different defects.
The future is a foreign country, they will do things differently there - Simon Winchester

Offline rojen

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #2 on: April 09, 2021, 08:51:11 AM »
Thanks, Don.

Does anyone else have experience getting a grader to come out?  We're seriously looking at building a timber or post and beam home and don't want to cut hundreds of timbers for nothing. 

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Offline Jim_Rogers

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #3 on: April 10, 2021, 10:01:58 AM »
Many years ago, my customer wanted to build a barn out of recycled salvage timbers. His building inspector wanted the timbers graded. He hired the grader to come to my sawmill yard and inspect the timbers. NELMA since then has told me that they will not ever again grade salvage timbers. Only new stock.
The grader came and was teaching a new grader while doing this inspection in my yard.
He wanted to see all four sides and both ends of every timber. So I had to lay them all out on blocks/cribbing (4x4x4') so he could roll them over to inspect them. He also wanted to know which timbers where posts and which were beams/rafters.
As he inspected them and they passed, he stamped them with a metal hammer stamp on the end grain of the timber. And afterwards he mailed a letter to the customer saying that he had inspected all the timbers and that they passed his inspection.

Now, understanding a timber frame structure, you never see the end grain of any of the timbers. Most if not all of the timbers that were stamped were cut off, and the block with the stamp on it went into the burn pile and was gone in short order. In a timber frame the only timbers that have end grain showing are the two long sills and the two top plates. And usually these are covered with siding and can't be seen once enclosed.

The value of the inspection was the letter to the building inspector, saying that they all passed.

The reason that they said that they would never again inspect salvage timbers is that they have no way of knowing what stresses these timbers were under during their previous use or placement. And that these stresses could have weaken the timber in ways that are not visible to the inspector.

The customer had me take two or more timbers that has been inspected and passed and but them back onto the mill and trim them to a different size. I was not happy about doing this.
I believe one timber was rejected, and we milled that up into boards or planks to be used in the barn project.

Although the barn required a building permit, the customer and his builder, told me that they never called for an inspection of the structure after it was built because you only need it inspected if you're going to cover up the framing so it can't be seen. This was a barn and would not have any interior paneling covering the wall structures, so they never called for an inspection that I know of.

Jim Rogers
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Offline rojen

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2021, 09:54:22 AM »
Thanks, Jim. 
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Offline swmn

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2021, 08:55:30 PM »
I do not have any experience bringing a grader out on site.  I do have the NELMA grading guide on paper, the new 2021 printing.  I don't remember the gal's name that answered the phone but she was kind and got my book in the mail pretty quick.

It's pretty basic stuff if you are in decent straight logs.  One thing I did was buy some of the crappy 2x4s at the home center with grade stamps on them and try to figure out how they passed grade, using the appropriate paper guide.  Stud grade is a low hurdle.

One thing that might be a good idea is to count your trees to see what is the biggest timbers you can get in what number, and then choose a design that should be doable.  Just saying.  If you are only building a 16x20 cabin you aren't going to need much timber, but if you are wanting a McMansion you will need acres and acres of trees to choose from.

I personally would start with the top plates, or whatever your biggest needed timbers are from your chosen plan.  Go find your biggest trees, mill them and see if there is hope or if you need a smaller house plan.

I suspect Jim Rogers' experience is about as good as it gets.  In both the WWPA and NELMA paper guides it says the grader has to look at (or be able to look at) all six surfaces of every stick.  With timbers 5x5 and up for a planned habitable structure I would want the inspection to be thorough.  

A forklift might be handy to have that day. One big stickered stack of "to be graded" with a planned area to stack those that pass, and a plan for where to dump the ones that fail.

Worst case you will have a bunch of timbers that won't make grade 2 or better for post and beam, but probably could be remilled into studs.

Offline rojen

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2021, 11:31:16 AM »
Thanks for the answer swmn.  Our original idea for the woodlot was to cut for grade, which we have done successfully.  We cut a lot of 16'+ logs with barely a knot.  

We're heading up in the next week or two to take another look at the lot.  We have mostly Sugar maple but there's a good bit of beech, ash, quaking aspen, and birch to use.  We hadn't really considered anything except the maple but now we can count up the beech.  We have a few dozen absolutely magnificent EWP but I don't want to take them down.  I'm pretty positive my lot was logged for the big timbers back in the day.

There were a lot of leaners we bypassed to get to the better logs.  I'm thinking of using them for knee braces. 

I'm moving my mill to the top of a hillside so I can stack timbers on a series of terraces connected by sleepers.  Going to let gravity assist us rolling the timbers downhill for inspection. 

We're going to determine the size of our house based on how many timbers we can get out of the property.
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Offline everythingwood

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2021, 06:26:08 PM »
You might as well take all the ash now before the ash borer kills it.  I used ash, white pine, red pine, and quaking aspen in my timber frame workshop.  I think I remember reading in one of Sobon's books that a lot of old barns were made with beech.  Just treat them all for powder post beetles, keep them dry, and you should be fine.  As for design, If you are using a mix, I have seen where some suggest designing every member for the weakest species and you won't have to worry about what species can be used in which situation. 

Offline rojen

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #8 on: April 12, 2021, 06:45:46 PM »
You might as well take all the ash now before the ash borer kills it.  I used ash, white pine, red pine, and quaking aspen in my timber frame workshop.  I think I remember reading in one of Sobon's books that a lot of old barns were made with beech.  Just treat them all for powder post beetles, keep them dry, and you should be fine.  As for design, If you are using a mix, I have seen where some suggest designing every member for the weakest species and you won't have to worry about what species can be used in which situation.
What's weird is most of the ash is juvenile, spindly as heck.  Beech maple forests normally should have some older ash but there doesn't seem to be any big logs out there.  Not sure what that means.
 
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Offline Rango

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #9 on: April 12, 2021, 09:20:52 PM »
Hey rojen,

Fellow Michigander looking to build a timber frame structure too.  Have you contacted a grader yet?  If so, did you get a quote for pricing?  What sort of timeframe did they offer?

I might be in the same boat as you and need grading and engineered plans.  I'm not building a habitable structure so I might be able to dodge the engineering but I am not sure about that or the grading.  I have a call out to my township but the person I need to to talk to is on vacation. 

Offline Don P

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #10 on: April 12, 2021, 09:55:18 PM »
If you do need engineering or grading also ask if they will accept a letter of certification from an architect or engineer instead of from a grader. Ours has allowed an engineer to certify that my wood is on grade or better which is cheaper and more readily available for me and provides an insured path of liability, actually better than any grading agency.
The future is a foreign country, they will do things differently there - Simon Winchester

Offline Rango

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #11 on: April 13, 2021, 08:08:57 AM »
If you do need engineering or grading also ask if they will accept a letter of certification from an architect or engineer instead of from a grader. Ours has allowed an engineer to certify that my wood is on grade or better which is cheaper and more readily available for me and provides an insured path of liability, actually better than any grading agency.
Wow that's good to know.  Thank you Don

Offline rojen

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #12 on: April 13, 2021, 09:30:28 AM »
Hey rojen,

Fellow Michigander looking to build a timber frame structure too.  Have you contacted a grader yet?  If so, did you get a quote for pricing?  What sort of timeframe did they offer?

I might be in the same boat as you and need grading and engineered plans.  I'm not building a habitable structure so I might be able to dodge the engineering but I am not sure about that or the grading.  I have a call out to my township but the person I need to to talk to is on vacation.
NELMA has been less than helpful (which is why I asked here) but has confirmed they have graders.  You can go on their website and request an inspection, first grader available will come see you.  I haven't gotten the specific rate, but forum searches shows it's about $350 to start plus mileage from their home base.  You have to pay for overnight accommodations as well if needed, but my research says that's not likely unless you have a massive amount of wood to be graded or you do a poor job of laying out your wood to be inspected.
My read of Michigan's adopted version of IBC seems to say that all structural wood needs to be inspected and graded by the appropriate agency, which is NELMA for all of Michigan's typical tree species.  Even if you can get an engineer to sign off on your timbers, getting your engineer out to your woodlot to inspect the wood is probably a lot more expensive than a grader. 
The state also puts out a lot of resources on the timber industry.  If you search, you can find a list of all the mills in the state and what services they provide.  Any certified grader can give you a certificate of inspection.  Call your local mills and see if their grader is looking for side work.  Only some mills have hardwood graders on hand and most will treat you like a competitor since you don't intend to give the big boss any real money.  The mills up here in Charlevoix county were a little taken aback at my request.  Doesn't sound too frequent. 
I'm hoping we can get a Michigander with a first hand take on getting this done to tell us about it.
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Home-made arches
Polaris Ranger 1000
Chains, ropes, and cable
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Offline Don P

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Re: Tell me about your NELMA grading experience
« Reply #13 on: April 13, 2021, 06:45:53 PM »
The stamp can never leave the mill and a mill grader cannot moonlight and do grading on the side. Your grader will be the auditor from the overseeing agency who checks on the mill graders.
The future is a foreign country, they will do things differently there - Simon Winchester


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