The Importance of Lumber Optimization

No matter how you cut it, optimizing your lumber lists is key to success in the construction industry. Too little lumber causes unnecessary delays, and too much lumber creates extra expenses that could cost you the bid or cut into your profits. Or maybe you’ve got the just the right amount of lumber but it’s all unusable waste from cutting the wrong pieces. To make matters worse, the waste was from your longer and more expensive pieces of lumber! All that lumber is wasted and now you’re on your way to the nearest big box store just to get those last few pieces that you need. These situations happen, but you can minimize their occurrence by properly optimizing your lumber lists.

What is lumber optimization? As a simple example, let’s say for a home renovation project you need two 2-foot pieces and one 3-foot piece of 2×4 for a total of 7 linear feet. It might be obvious that an 8-foot piece is all you need—who cares about that extra foot of waste? But what if there aren’t any 8-foot pieces in stock? Or what if you’re not just doing a small task at home, but instead a full framing project for an important client? Those factors are magnified as you scale up your project size. Extra pieces can add up quickly and give the false impression that you’ll end up with a 12-foot board when really you just have a bunch of short cut-offs.

Another angle to consider is the ever-soaring prices of lumber. Not just in terms of waste, but the costs of premium board lengths. For example, say you need an 11-foot board and a 13-foot board, and your lumber yard stocks 24-footers. It might seem like an obvious choice to grab that 24-foot piece until you look at the price tag. It might just be better to grab a 12-foot and 14-foot piece instead.

This last example needs to use the concept of a maximum optimization length. A maximum optimization length, or MOL, is the longest length of lumber that smaller pieces will be optimized for. Consider the first example again but let’s triple the materials we need:

(x6) 2-foot pieces, and (3) 3-foot pieces for a total of 21-linear feet.

The local lumber yard stocks 8s, 10s, 12s, 16s, 22s, and 24s but anything larger than 16 feet long comes at a premium price.

In this case our desired MOL would be 16 feet.While a 22-foot piece would give us what we need, it comes in at a premium price and wastes an extra foot of lumber. The better choice would be one 10-foot and one 12-foot piece.

When these kinds of decisions are made repeatedly throughout a project, they can make a huge impact on your final cost estimate. On the other hand, optimizing lumber can be quite demanding of your valuable time. Fortunately, producing lumber lists with software solutions like PrebuiltML have algorithms to handle all of this for you. In addition to properly applying your custom stocking lengths and MOL, these lists can also include the cut logic behind all the optimizations. This ensures that not only is waste minimized on the initial shipment, but additional waste isn’t created by miscuts on the job site.

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