With the increasing lumber prices in the United States, interest from foreign markets to produce compliant goods is at a record high. Mr. Amir Rashad, the CEO of Timber Exchange thus took it upon himself to bring this subject up to discussion on a global platform. To do so, he brought on Mr David Conner (Senior Vice President Operations) and Mr Robin Lillandt (Senior European Representative) from TPI (Timber Product Inspection) to speak on the subject as part of a collaborative panel discussion webinar.


Taking place on the 18th of January 2022 over a video conference that had been attended by industry experts and professionals all over the world, this webinar gave a comprehensive overview of what the timber grading rules are, their function, application, and history, along with the qualification process for sawmills, inspection, and more. 


Amir Rashad kickstarted the webinar by introducing the panellists and then opened the floor with a very interesting question – What Timber Product Inspection is all about. The 1 hour 20 mins long session then went on to touch upon pointers such as:


  • What led to the creation of the American Lumber Standard Committee 
  • Why do we have grade rules?
  • How are the grade rules created and published?
  • How are design values established for dimension lumber?
  • What are the phytosanitary requirements for lumber imported into the US?
  • What is the qualification process?
  • How does a monthly routine inspection work?
  • What does ALSC do during their routine inspection?


While David Connor took the lead and explained the grading rules along with their importance, coupled with statistics and data in place, Robin Lillandt explained the on-ground situation and the inspection procedure for the TPI subscribers that they visit on an annual, monthly or quarterly basis, depending on the program.


Before explaining what grading rules are all about, David Conner started by stating, “The first version of the softwood lumber standard was actually published in 1924 and it is maintained by the ALSC.”


He also shares that, “The ALSC is a non-profit organization that is made up of manufacturers, distributors, users of lumber and consumers of lumber. Those members are appointed by the US Department of Commerce. So, this is a quasi-government non-profit organization. One of the reasons for its being is to serve as the standing committee for the American Softwood Lumber Standard (PS20). ALSC also administers an accreditation program for this grade marking of lumber produced under the overall system.”


At one point while speaking about why building codes are in place, David goes on to say that the building codes are useful in most of the US because they provide for prescriptive usage.


While speaking about the importance of grade rules, David Conner goes on to mention, “You need grade rules out there because the designers and the engineers need to know how a building would perform. You’ve got to know what to expect from that piece of wood to know how you can properly design it. The grades are what tell the consumer, engineer, and designer how the product should be expected to perform. With different grades, you have different strengths, different qualities, and that is where the building codes come in.”


Talking about design values in Europe, David explains that to do that, the ASTM standard requires you to have six different grade cell combinations. So, you get to first have three-different widths, either from 2/4, 2/8, or 2/10, and two grades from each of those widths. So, you end up getting a high grade and a lesser grade at once. 


Each one of those cells requires you to get 360 pieces from a representative portion of whatever region you’re getting approved. You then have to do 3 tests on each one of those cells – bending, tension, and compression testing. So, you end up going through 8640 specimen tests to generate the design values. When you are done with that, take all the results and boil them down to one 2/8 common value. 


Then the sizes are extrapolated back-out to a 2/4 and 2/12 and the grades are also extrapolated to numbers 1, 2, 3. And it is an expensive and exhaustive process. It might take you a year and a half to come up with the design values. 


While Amir goes on to share stories about sawmills who get stuck at the design value stage, David shares an interesting anecdote and states, “There are design values approved out there that we can’t access today and the reason is that they are in areas of political unrest. Two areas that come to mind are the Archangel Region in Russia and Ukraine.”


When prompted about how the inspections take place, Robin Lillandt goes on to explain – “During the routine monthly inspections, we come in unannounced, we select a package of each dimension and each grade that they have in stock, go through each piece, check them for conformance such as knot size, wane size, moisture content, all kinds of general defects. During these routine inspections, we need to find less than 7.5% below grade per item. If there is more than that, we need to hold that lumber and the mill has to re-grade that lumber so that it conforms to the standards, regardless of where that lumber from that production is going to go.”


The interesting interactive discussion with the panellists ended with a Q/A session from the audience where they were asked about every detail regarding American grading rules and how they can qualify for the same. 


Before wrapping up the webinar, Amir Rashad shared how Timber Exchange benefits the global timber market through its three major features – smart supply chain, B2B Marketplace, and the Market Data Hub by complementing the existing business and ERP systems.