Making the Grade: Lumber grading course held at OSU South Centers

OSU South Centers recently offered a Lumber Grading workshop for those employed in timber and related industries. Photo Courtesy of News Watchman

OSU South Centers recently offered a Lumber Grading workshop for those employed in timber and related industries. Photo Courtesy of News Watchman

Over a dozen loggers from Ohio and abroad gathered at OSU South Centers last week to participate in a course designed to give them a better understanding and develop their skills in the timber industry. The five-day Lumber Grading Short Course/Flex Day Course was instructed by National Hardwood Lumber Association National Inspector Barry Kibbey, who has instructed lumber grading workshops across the country for the past 41 years, in addition to working in various aspects of the timber industry.

“Timber and related industries are important to Southeast Ohio. This course gives local residents employed in the industry an opportunity to continue to develop their skills,” said Hannah Scott, program manager of the Ohio Cooperative Development Center College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at OSU South Centers, in Piketon.

The course began on June 29 and wrapped up on July 3. The course, Scott says, was organized and hosted by OSU South Centers Business Development Network in conjunction with the National Hardwood Lumber Association.

“The OSU South Centers Business Development Network has also worked with Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth to provide reimbursement grants to cover the costs of the training for companies sending employees through the Make It In America workforce development grant,” she said. “The skills learned during the course can be taken back to their place of work to help them become more efficient and to continue developing the many timber-related businesses in the area.”

Participants can also transfer skills learned as they pursue other opportunities in timber and related industries, said Kibbey.

“During the class, I taught them the initial education they need for inspecting lumber,” said Kibbey, who works as the regional representative for the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA). “They evaluated boards for quality and value. Because they will go back to their sawmills and in a year’s time will be handling up to a million dollars of lumber, they will be responsible for accuracy as they work to improve the quality of lumber they manufacture.”

Start-up and well-established, multi-national timber companies participated in the course, including Ohio Valley Veneer, Ohio International Lumber, Taylor Lumber, Weaver Logging, and Murray Timber and Log.

Brendan Weaver and Dustin Ehr traveled three hours from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to participate in the class in an effort to earn lumber grading certification and learn how to recognize and improve the potential yield of logs and lumber.

“My dad is my boss. We own a logging company about 30 miles south of Fort Wayne, and we buy standing timber,” said Weaver. “My dad started the business 30 years ago. We just bought a mill and hope for good things in the future. Because of this class, I feel like I’ve learned enough to start grading lumber. I now understand how to find defects in the lumber that may affect the value.”

For Weaver and Ehr, the class taught them many important skills that apply across the industry.

“As a sawyer cutting logs, we can now look at the log and be able to cut it in a way that we get more yield and better boards out of it,” said Ehr. “Even when bucking it up, we will be better able to see knots and know how to cut the board so the knot doesn’t matter as much. We’ve learned so much this week.”

Locally, Kibbey says the most valuable species of timber include black cherry, red oak, and walnut.

“Walnut is, bar-none, the most expensive domestic species in this area. There are different rules and variations for grading walnut, so we dedicate a full day of the class to this specie,” said Kibbey. “Black cherry runs a close second in value. Red oak is very common in this region and is the go-to specie for everyone because it always has a market somewhere in the world.”

Some of the lumber graded in the U.S. will be sold abroad, as far away as China, says Kibbey. He added that the timber industry is the “oldest industry in the U.S.”

“When they first landed tall ships in my home state of Pennsylvania, they harvested pine trees for ship masts, making the timber industry the oldest in this country,” he said. “We take multi-billions of dollars of hardwood produced in the U.S. each year and ship it all over the world. I’ve yet to find anyone who can survive without the hardwood industry in one way or another.”

For this reason, the rules learned during the Lumber Grading course have been accepted as a “world standard,” said Kibbey. During the workshop, participants completed a “thorough study and explanation of the NHLA rule book, emphasizing the basics of hardwood lumber inspection.”

“They are on the ground floor of learning all of this,” he said. “This course is a stepping stone to management. After this class, they will go back to their companies and work with trained professionals who already know how to do the job. They will bring them up to the standard needed for their company. It is a continual training program. There will always be a hardwood industry.”

Mark Spencer, of Murray City, Ohio, participated in the first-annual lumber grading workshop at OSU South Centers. According to Spencer, many landowners don’t fully understand the lumber grading process and what goes into establishing the value of a log.

“I have been in the industry for 19 years, and we just finished building a sawmill,” he said. “People don’t always understand the industry. They see the large end of the log and think that is what is being measured, when we really measure everything from the short end down. That’s where we make the overage to make up for defects inside the log. Timber work is not easy work.”

In 2010, the forest products industry contributed $22.05 billion to Ohio’s economy, said Scott.

“In our region, close to 12,000 people were employed in the forest products industry, and the labor income from the industry totaled over $500 million in the region,” she said. “These figures are not at all surprising when you observe activity in the region. Log trucks are common on state Route 32, and there are a number of sawmills in Pike County alone.”

For more information regarding upcoming workshops and courses offered at OSU South Centers, visit southcenters.osu.edu. For questions or to suggest a future class or workshop topic, call the OSU South Centers at (740) 289-2071.

From The Pike County News Watchman  |  July 8, 2015