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How to Get Your Own Grading Stamp

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Imagine you're a small sawmill owner who produces high quality lumber at an affordable price. Why can't you sell that lumber to customers who are building homes? Well, you can, but it has to be graded and stamped.

When you buy a 2x4 from the lumberyard you may have noticed that it has a black ink stamp on it with some letters and numbers. What does this mean? It means that this piece of lumber has been inspected and approved for use as a structural piece in a home or other building.

These stamps are issued to sawmills...
“by an approved accreditation body that complies with DOC PS 20”(American Softwoods Lumber standard) written by the American Standard Lumber Committee. These are words right out of the IBC (International Building Code) which has been adopted by most local building departments. The IBC says “Sawn lumber used for load-supporting purposes, including end-jointed or edge-glued lumber, machine stress-rated or machine-evaluated lumber, shall be identified by the grade mark of a lumber grading or inspection agency that has been approved by an accreditation body that complies with DOC PS 20 or equivalent.” (from section 2303 of the IBC)

Is a Grading Stamp Right for you?

To sell lumber for construction purposes you must have one of these stamps on your lumber. So what is the big deal? Why not just go through the process and get one of these stamps, so you can stamp your own lumber? It could be very worth while for you to pursue your own stamp. It could open up doors for you to sell to a broader market. On the other hand, you may be happy selling wood products that don't need a grade stamp such as hardwood lumber, flooring, and molding. But, why not expand your horizons?

Getting your Stamp

Here is what you need to do to get your own stamp. Contact the approved accreditation body in your region to become a member. The list of approved bodies can be found at the ALSC website

Trained Staff

Someone on staff at your mill must be trained in proper grading procedures laid out by the ALSC. They need to know things like how much bark is or isn't allowed on certain grades. They will have to be aware of what moisture level is allowed in the lumber for each classification along with a few other characteristics of softwood lumber and how to grade them properly. If everything is in order you will be allowed to stamp your own lumber and can then sell it as structural lumber.

Inspections

You can expect your mill to be visited by the organization you got your stamp from. They will come by and inspect your lumber from time to time to see if you are grading your lumber properly. If they find enough errors they can hold up truckloads of material for inspection. So it is best to always pay close attention to your grading and be sure you are grading your lumber correctly.

All of these inspections cost money, it will cost you from $250-$450 per week in membership dues.

At $250 to $400 per week the dues to have one of these stamps are more than the average small sawmill owner can justify when making a few boards.

There are a couple alternatives to getting your own stamp.

  1. Hire a traveling grader. They will come out to your sawmill and grade the lumber you have prepared. It is best to have the lumber all laid out ahead of time so that the grader can go through it quickly. They get paid by the hour, so the faster they can do their job the less it will cost you. How do you find a grader? Call some of the accredited bodies on the list at the ASLS website, they will have lists of graders that can help you.

  2. If you live in Wisconsin you can thank your elected officials because you do have a great option to grade your own lumber at a very reasonable cost. It is called Wisconsin local use dimension lumber grading. The program is run by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources. They have developed a one day class and test you can take to be certified to produce lumber on your own sawmill. Then you can sell to the end user for structural use. This opens up a great opportunity to small sawmill owners in Wisconsin. You can download a pdf about this program from the Wisconsin DNR

  3. If you don't live in Wisconsin and you would like to see something like this in your state, contact your elected officials and encourage them to enact a similar program in your state.

You must decide whether it is worth it for your goals to obtain a grade stamp for your mill. You may decide that it is not worth the headaches involved. After all, you can still sell lumber for a multitude of other uses that do not require a grade stamp.

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