Rules Corner – December 2020

A Margin of Error When Tallying Random Length Lumber

-By NHLA Chief Inspector, Dana Spessert

Inspecting hardwood lumber correctly comes down to two things, knowing the Rules and identifying defects. In this month’s article, I want to discuss the defect, Incipient Decay.

NHLA defines “Incipient Decay” on page 85, under Definitions in the Rules Book as:

“The early stage of decay that has not proceeded far enough to soften or otherwise perceptibly impair the hardness of the wood.  It is usually accompanied by a slight discoloration or bleaching of the wood.”

There are a few issues with qualifying a defect in this manner.

First, if it decay (defined as the decomposition of wood substance by fungi), then by its very nature, it would be considered unsound and therefore not allowed on the reverse side of a Clear Face Cutting or in a Sound Cutting. Second, if it is not decay, then it would be considered “Stain” defined on page 86, in the Rules Book as:

“In hardwoods the word “stain” is used to describe the initial evidences of decay.”

In the second case, if it is considered stain, then it would be allowed in Sound Cuttings and on the reverse side of a Clear Face Cutting.

Bottom line, I would suggest not classifying any defect as “Incipient Decay” due to the ambiguity of the definition. It should be considered stain or decay (rot) and, therefore, less confusing when determining whether it is allowed in the cutting.

On a different note, I would also like to discuss how hardwood lumber is measured. Due to hardwood lumber being primarily traded as a random width, random length raw material, the official method of tallying hardwood lumber is surface measure.

Surface Measure is described on page 7, paragraph 16, under the heading of Measurement & Tally. The Surface Measure is essentially the square feet of the surface of a board, rounded to the nearest whole foot. The method to determine Surface Measure is to multiply the full width with fractions times the standard length (length rounded down to the nearest foot) divided by 12, rounded to the nearest whole number.

The area of the Rules Book that denotes the use of Surface Measure is also on page 7, paragraph 18, where it states:

“Random width lumber of standard grades and thicknesses shall be tallied surface measure, and this tally shall be the number of feet, board measure, of 1” lumber. In lumber thicker than 1” the tally so obtained is multiplied by the standard thickness as expressed in inches and fractions of an inch.”

There is a lot of lumber being traded that uses different tally methods, one worth mentioning is the End Tally, which is also described in the Rules Book on page 7, under paragraph 16 marked “Note:” and it states:

“Note: End Tally refers to the method of board footage measurement where lumber is tallied on a 12 Ft. basis as described in paragraph 21 except all width measurements are taken from the ends of boards after the lumber has been stacked in bundles.”

It is recognized that there will be some minor differences in end tally measurement from “board measure” method. In cases of footage dispute caused by the use of both measurement methods, the footage as determined by “board measure” will supersede.

Due to the many ways in which a tally of width and length can be calculated, (rounded on each piece or rounded after total), there can be as much as a 1.5 – 2 % difference in the tally of width and length and Surface Measure. This does not even account for tapered lumber measurement, which is described on page 7, paragraph 17:

“Tapering lumber in standard lengths shall be measured one-third the length of the piece from the narrow end for surface measure and to record footage on length and width tallies.”

As is clearly noted that the Surface Measure is to be taken 1/3 the length from the narrow end, this would be impossible for an End Tally to accomplish when the board is already in the pack to be shipped.

The point of all of this is to state, that if everyone tries to do things correctly, there is still a margin of error to tallying random width lumber.

If you have any questions, please reach out to me at [email protected].