In the US lumber industry the term “short” refers to boards shorter than 8 feet longer. For us this means usually 6-7 feet long with the large portion of our stock falling in the 7 and change length. What’s interesting is that this is really only a US market term. Americans have become accustomed to thinking that the minimum board length is 8 feet and most request 10-12 foot lengths. Europe is very different and they use “short” lumber all the time. Fewer McMansions in Europe means less demand for long sizes.
So when US sawmills slice up our domestic species they are consistently offered in 8 foot and longer lengths. However in the import market, sawmills produce a good quantity of shorts to serve the European market too. As a wholesaler, when J. Gibson McIlvain buys containers of Sapele or Mahogany (Genuine or African) we get a small percentage of shorts as a by product of buying longer lengths. That percentage will vary based on the species you are buying.
Genuine Mahogany is bought from Central and South America and usually from many different mills to equal the total quantity we request. The tree is widespread but not as large as in the golden era of Mahogany in the 18th century. Smaller trees means greater volumes of smaller lengths so we average about 20% of a load in shorts.
- Sapele and Utile both grow very large and are quite hearty. When we buy containers it is easy to get wide widths, extra length and thickness. So shorts are more of a rarity. In this case we usually see 5% shorts in a load.
- Other imports like Spanish Cedar and African (Khaya) Mahogany will run somewhere in between with percentage of shorts per load.
The upshot of all this is that when you buy in large quantities you end up with a significant amount of short lumber that the US market ignores. At the same time, since this short lumber is really a by-product of importing lumber we can sell it for 10-30% less in most instances.
Think of the savings you can have by specifying short lumber in your next project!
There are plenty of time where under 8 feet just won’t cut it and there is nothing that can be done about that. This is why there is such a booming market for 10-12 foot lumber. However next time you have a project on the drawing board think about how you might effectively leverage this “short” product line. You and your customer will appreciate the saving. And we will thank you for helping us to clear up our yard and not waste stock.