I have mentioned many times how difficult it can be to source high quality hardwoods. We have been diligent at keeping a good inventory of them—both domestic and exotic—in stock. However, sometimes, I just can’t find what is needed. Recently, one of our three owners, Dovi, told me that we were pretty depleted in a number of species, and asked me to fill the racks. I called the mills to determine what was available. Of course, “what is available,” is a less important consideration than, “how good is it?”
The system used for grading hardwoods is a lot more complicated than that used for pine and other softwoods. In my opinion, there should be only two major categories: clear and not clear. “Not clear” can then be further graded as to exactly how “not clear” it is. If you are building something for which the customer wants “clear,” well, clear is clear, and that’s that. Even a small knot or sap streak will not be acceptable. This is where the buying becomes tricky. Most hardwood is graded to be “FAS,” (firsts and seconds) or #2, #3, etc. If you order FAS, you MAY get a few boards that are clear, but don’t bet on it. Higher grades than FAS vary widely, and I have found that Many hardwood graders should be wearing masks and carry guns, considering their abuse of NHLA grading rules…so, what to do?
A few mill wholesalers will begrudgingly let favored customers pick through units to get what they want, but that is prohibitively time consuming, and they usually jack up the price, too. I have bought that way many times, when necessary. This time, I put pressure on the wholesalers by placing a LARGE order, but insisting that all hardwoods be at least clear on one face, or I would send back what wasn’t. I bought thousands of feet of walnut, cherry, poplar, and sapele, in 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, and 8/4 thicknesses, both S4S (fully planed) and rough sawn. This was the largest single purchase of hardwoods that I have ever made, in almost 50 years in the business! The quality is excellent, and—in the case of some species—amazing! For example, in a few thousand feet of 4/4 and 8/4 sapele, NO KNOTS! NONE! The 5/4 and 6/4 walnut is some of the best I’ve ever seen! I also filled the racks with S4S Eastern White Pine, mostly “C and Better” (clear!) and “D and Better” (some tiny knots.)
I wish I could accomplish this all the time, but it just ain’t so. You really need to come over and see this stock—you will not be disappointed! Yesterday, my wife, Cindy, and I were putting the wood in the racks, and a few customers were buying boards before we could put them away! Barney & Carey customers want the best, and we’ve got it! I can envision some magnificent tables being crafted with the 8/4 sapele, or our shop will create anything your heart desires! This is special, folks, and it sure beats selling 2x4s!