How can you guarantee that the FSC wood you are buying is good quality? What do you look for?

Asked by Suzie Segal, Los Angeles, CA

How can you guarantee that the FSC wood you are buying is good quality? What do you look for? And is FSC wood the same high quality as standard wood? Can you buy bad FSC wood?


David Rodriguez

Answered by David Rodriguez

Dallas, TX

Ware Architecture

November 6, 2009

FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood is graded and stamped for quality attributes according to the same rules and standards as non-FSC wood. It is important, then, to know who the various grading authorities are. The American Lumber Standard Committee (and, in Canada, the National Lumber Grades Authority and the Canadian Lumber Standards Accreditation Board) governs the grading of wood and ensures compliance with the standards. FSC wood bears another stamp, of course, certifying that the wood was harvested from an FSC-certified forest. But the FSC designation has to do with forest management practices, not the grade of that particular piece of wood.

Understanding lumber grades

Understanding the different grades and specifying the grade you want is one very important aspect of ensuring quality. The eight grades, from highest to lowest, are Select Structural, No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, Stud, Construction, Standard, and Utility. Specifying No. 2 and better is generally adequate for most dimensional lumber uses such as framing, joists, and plates. Generally, No. 1 is used only when visual aesthetics are important (e.g., for projects that involve exposed wood). See this lumber guide from the Canadian Wood Council for details on the characteristics of different grade levels. Pages 23 and 24 of the document are particularly helpful in summarizing uses and grades.

Choosing a reputable dealer

Moisture, certain molds, and certain insects can degrade wood if storage and handling practices are not up to par. Sourcing lumber from a reputable dealer is, of course, essential. The following qualities are good indications that a lumber dealer is following industry best practices:

  • Has been in the business for a significant length of time
  • Has stock or ownership in the business
  • Takes pride in the overall appearance of the place of business
  • Offers training or classes on wood use for various home construction projects.

Selecting the right wood for your project

What qualities do you look for in the wood? It depends on the intended use. If it is dimensional wood for wood-frame construction applications, you would do well to choose SPF (spruce, pine, and fir) from quality producers/distributors with the following characteristics and at least a "#2 and better" grade stamp. (If one is looking for flooring, trim, engineered wood products, or other wood applications, the criteria may differ.)

  • Moderate strength: Make sure the wood is strong enough for its intended purpose if using for wood frame construction.
  • Small knots: Knots of about 1/8 of an inch and smaller have no effect on the strength of the wood.
  • Holds nails and screws well: Some woods expand and contract a lot with temperature and moisture fluctuation and work nails out over time.
  • Other qualities: Good workability; lightweight; straight grain lines on boards.

Can you buy bad FSC wood? It's possible, but as long as one adheres to the principles described above, it's unlikely. Because of the significant chain of custody requirements (and the higher cost as a result) for handling FSC-certified wood, chances are quite good that any FSC wood one purchases will be well cared for throughout the supply chain. Specifying an appropriate product and grade for the intended application and sourcing from a reputable FSC-certified dealer should yield good wood.

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