Simonson's Matt Smieja

Simonson Lumber manager Matt Smieja stood in front of a rack of engineered wood, which is viewed as the strongest today and used in strength applications such as a building header.

Building a house, garage or even a shed today isn’t as easy as going to the local lumberyard and buying whatever dimension of wood you need.

A lot of emphasis goes into the grade of the wood and its stress and load ratings, according to Everett Brands, manager of Arrow Building Center in Glencoe. Arrow took over the former Fullerton Lumber Center on Desoto Avenue this past October.

Today, main structural pieces, such as headers, consist of LVL, or laminated veneer lumber, an engineered product typically of poplar, fir or pine. It is laminated under heat and pressure with a moisture-resistant resin and it’s stronger than typical native wood. Building codes call for the use of specific lumber grades for specific applications.

“Anything longer than six feet as a header has to be LVL,” Brands said. The LVL products range up to 36 or 48 feet long.

While regular lumber could sag or bow under extreme weight, the LVL won’t. Thus LVL is typically used over windows and entries, especially with tall entries.

“We use a lot of engineered products — beams, headers and I-joists,” added Matt Smieja, manager of Simonson Lumber, just outside Hutchinson along State Highway 7 East.

Years ago, when forests were being cut for the first time, the wood tended to be of higher quality as far as grain and knots. But new stands of trees generated are of a lower grade.

“With a lot of wood today, it would be difficult to find one piece of the quality needed (for those applications),” Smieja said. “So a lot of it is engineered and engineered wood has come a long ways. The bigger and longer the piece, the more likely it is an engineered wood product.”


“A lot of the engineered stuff is, in my opinion, stronger than the old standard lumber,” he added. “It is a really stable product. They can get rid of the imperfections in it and make is as close to perfect as you can get.”

That’s not to say traditional lumber doesn’t have its place. Most all studs are still 2 x 6’s or 2 x 4’s of spruce, pine or fir, known as SPF, from western Canada.

Construction lumber has different grades and codes that require lumber to be at least a No. 3. Anything less is the type of rough lumber you might see made into pallets.

No. 2 lumber is typically construction grade and comes in No. 2 premium or No. 2 standard. Smieja said the difference between the two can be a bit gray. No. 1 is the best construction grade, but homes are usually built with No. 2 premium lumber.

In construction, the numbering doesn’t define appearance, Smieja said. It is more about the strength. Wood with fewer (and smaller) knots or cracks is stronger. Wood with no curve in the grain is better, too. A No. 1 wood would have the smallest, and least frequent knots.

“Most of what you see is No. 2,” he said.

Plywood is still used, often as the layer placed over floor joists.

A different set of lumber grades are used for hardwoods — oak, cherry, hickory, maple or poplar — typically used in cabinetry and furniture. It is graded on a letter system for appearance with A being the clearest of defects such as knots.

“We sell very little of that,” Smieja said.

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