Questions: Or, what happens when an outsider joins the lumber business

By Karah Hawkinson, Social Media Coordinator

If you’ve read the employee spotlight about me, you know that I’m not originally from the lumber/building materials (LBM) industry. My background is in history and marketing. Sure, I’ve done my share of home improvement projects, but I’m an amateur and I know it. In the ten months that I’ve been working at Country Lumber, I’ve learned a lot. And I’m wise enough to know that I’ve only scratched the surface. Today, I’m going to share with you some of the questions that I’ve had this past year, and what I’ve learned since joining the LBM industry. You might just learn something yourself!

  1. Cherry trees are tiny. How do they make enough wood to become lumber, millwork, or furniture?
    Through a quick internet search, I learned that there are different kinds of cherry trees. While we tend to think of the pretty flowering trees from Japan, cherry wood actually comes from a different species called the American Black Cherry Tree (Prunus serotina). The Black Cherry has a much thicker trunk than the ornamental varieties, and makes nice hardwood that usually has a straight grain, making it easy to mill and work with. A cut Black Cherry Tree looks kind of like a bullseye. The inner heartwood is darker in color, and the outer ring, or pulp wood, is lighter.
  2. Is MDF fake? Where does it come from? What is the production and use difference between MDF, plywood, and particle board?
    This question turned into a rabbit trail as each piece of information gave me more questions. As I’ve stated, I’m no expert. But here’s what I’ve learned:
    Engineered wood – including MDF (medium-density fibreboard), plywood, particle board, and a host of other products – is made from real wood, or at least wood fibres. So it’s not “fake” per se.
    These man-made products start with wood fragments, which are put together with adhesives. That’s as general a description as I can give, because each type of engineered wood is created differently. MDF, for example, is tiny wood fibres coated in wax or resin, then adhered together to form a dense, solid material. Particle board is similar, but instead of tiny fibres, it’s made from wood chips mixed with a binder. Plywood, on the other hand, is made of thin sheets of wood veneer which are glued together, alternating the grain to give it strength.
  3. Like I said, learning about engineered wood gave me more questions. Is engineered wood better than real wood?
    Yes and no. Like everything in life, you have to have the right tool for the job.
    Engineered wood is man-made, so it can be created to meet more specific requirements and have greater uniformity than natural lumber. Engineered materials can be made from recycled wood or wood or scraps.
    On the downside, engineered wood products don’t have the grain and look of natural wood unless they’re covered with a wood veneer. Also, the adhesives in engineered products may contain toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, so you should wear a mask when cutting it.
  4. What is maintenance-free decking made from?
    All this research on engineered wood made me wonder about composite decking. Composite decks are maintenance- and splinter-free, and look like new year after year. But what are they made from? Turns out they’re a composite of wood fibres and plastics, moulded or extruded to look like timber planks. Exact formulas and processes vary by manufacturer, but that’s the basic recipe. I had no idea there was wood involved, and many contain recycled materials, too!
  5. What about treated lumber?
    When we built our deck ten years ago, and when we fenced our garden, we used green treated wood. I wanted to know what that was about, so I did some digging. Wood is a porous, natural material, so it’s prone to rot and insect infestation when it’s in contact with moist ground. To improve the longevity of lumber, they use pressure-treating. This process involves soaking the wood in a preservative, then putting it in a pressure chamber so the preservative can soak deep into the wood. This helps the lumber resist rot and repel pests. As with the manufactured wood, there are chemicals involved, so it’s best to use gloves when handling treated wood, and wear a mask when you’re cutting it.

I hope you got some new information from my wonderings, or at least got a good laugh at what an LBM newbie doesn’t know. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment. I’m always up for new things to research!

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