How to Pick Quality Wood

How to Pick Quality Wood

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Pergola-10

There tends to be a lot of confusion around the word “quality” and what that actually means when we talk about wood. To some its grain pattern, colour or the number of knots. To others, its the straightness or longevity of a board. Most of these definitions fit into categories that are known as grades, and some properties of wood are the same across the board. In this article, I’ll explain what properties affect quality, the difference between grades, and what you should look for when preparing for your next project.

Before we define quality, lets discuss the properties of cedar. All cedar is inherently long lasting.

Every grade of cedar perform well in wet conditions, and is resistant to decay and insect attack. Resistance is a property of the material, not the grade.

Colour is another quality that isn’t defined by grade. It varies, in some cases greatly, across grades.

With that out of the way, lets discuss the properties that do vary by grade. The most obvious is number and type of knots. In the lowest grades, knots can be loose, meaning they are likely to fall out. These grades are typically used for fencing applications. The next level up has mostly tight knots that are unlikely to fall out. It is normal for this grade to have lots of knots, and they number of knots don’t affect any other property of the material. The highest grade generally doesn’t contain knots, but may sometimes have a small knot on one side of the board. This is totally normal, and doesn’t affect the quality of the piece.

The grading process is one of the more time consuming, labour intensive processes in the lumber industry. Delta Cedar Sawmill, located across the street from Sunbury Cedar, does an excellent job of delivering quality lumber consistently. On top of that, our staff constantly re-grades lumber in our yard, so that our customers don’t have to pick through piles looking for a good piece. Re-grading also cuts down on the amount of lumber we throw out, which ultimately lowers our impact on the environment and keeps prices down.

Now that we have a better understanding of quality and grading, lets take a closer look at the different grades available at Sunbury Cedar, as well as the grading process. As you may know, there are 3 main grades of cedar that we sell at Sunbury: fencing, select tight knot (STK), and clear. Fencing is the lowest, cheapest grade, STK is in the middle and clear is the highest grade. The different grades are mainly determined by the number and quality of knots in any given board.

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Shown here is a loose knot in a fencing board. These knots have a higher chance of falling out or crumbling.

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This is an example of a tight knot found in STK. It is unlikely to fall out.

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This is a clear board. The length of these boards are generally knot-free (and also not-free, remember to take your yard slip inside before leaving!) Note that there may be knots on only one side.

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Finally, lets look at some defects that you should avoid and some that you can work with.

Bow

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Particularly in a decking application, this is a very easy defect to work with, as the wood is fairly flexible in the direction of the bow. This means that it can easily be “ironed” out once it is nailed or screwed down.

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This is a fencing 1×2, and you would be hard-pressed to dig through the pile shown in the photo and find a piece that wasn’t at least a little warped. When it comes to pieces this small, warping comes with the territory. Again, they can easily be straightened if they’re being nailed or screwed down.

Crook

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This is a type of warping you should probably avoid, again mostly in decking, because it’s harder to “iron” out. It’s not as common as bowing, and we generally pull pieces like this to be re-graded.

Knot Clusters

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This is (k)not a defect. The grouping of these knots do not make the piece more unacceptable to cracking, warping or decay. They only affect the appearance.

Cracking or Splitting

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This is a 4×4 STK post. It is quite common for timbers of this size to show some cracks forming. This doesn’t mean that it will completely fall apart in 6 months. If you’re going to be cutting or nailing around these cracks, then you should avoid pieces like this. Otherwise, they’re perfectly normal.

Chain Stain

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This can happen to any board, but mostly occurs with 1-by material (1×4, 1×6, 1×8 etc.). 1-by material is graded for the rough side, and chain stain will usually be found on the smooth side. It purely affects aesthetics.

To wrap up, we’ve discussed cedar grading, quality and some basic properties. We’ve also looked at some common defects, and why they may or may not affect the quality of the lumber. Hopefully this gives you the information you need to get started on your next project. If you still have questions once you’re in our yard, our knowledgeable staff will be happy to help you pick the best lumber to get the job done right.