Sharpen Your Lumber Grading Skills at WWPA Group Grade Meetings

THE LUMBER INDUSTRY is seeing more and more skilled positions leave the work force. Whether that is by finding a new industry or retirement, it’s a known problem in the lumber mills today. As the addition of more scanner technology enters the lumber industry, mills are finding it increasingly difficult to keep the skills of human graders sharp and current.

Western Wood Products Association (WWPA) assists member mills with lumber grading skill training programs from coaching graders to Group Grade Meetings. The Group Grade Meetings are held in a competitive format, with ample teaching on every board discussed.

WWPA offers four grade meetings per year for member mills. Host mills are chosen that are centrally located to gain the most attendance reaching a wider audience. Also considered, is the product range available at the host mill to ensure that a variety of grade categories are covered during the meeting.

The association draws 300 to 400 attendees at the four meetings combined. WWPA Lumber Inspectors lay out 50 boards to be the discussion/training points. The attendees are broken up into four categories: (1) Certified Grader division, (2) Grader Trainee division, (3) an open division that can include mill employees from all departments, and (4) QC Management Division. WWPA awards prizes to the four categories.

The lumber for the meeting is graded from the grade rule book Western Lumber Grading Rules 2021. The National Grade Rule for framing lumber is also used heavily as it covers all dimension lumber including studs. Also covered are boards, timbers and factory lumber, which can all be found in the Western Lumber Grading Rules 2021. The chosen boards are laid out for each participant to turn the boards, measure any characteristics, and pull back the lumber for optimal viewing.

Each participant will have around one hour to grade out the 50 boards to the appropriate grade. Once all participants have completed the 50 boards, the lumber is then gathered for presentation. WWPA staff then places each board in front of the audience. The grade rules from that particular category are discussed at length.

After the rules are discussed, the participants are shown how to apply the rules and assign the appropriate grade to the lumber. Participants are encouraged to speak up about how they measured a characteristic or applied a rule to that particular board if they determined the piece was a different grade. The talking points involved really get the communication up between certified graders and noncertified graders alike.

This form of grade meeting has proven very effective in teaching grade rules to the participants. They learn not only the grade rule, but how to identify certain grading characteristics, and how to apply those limitations to the grade.

Group Grade Meetings are just one of the ways that WWPA adds value to membership. To learn more about becoming a WWPA member contact Pete Austin, Quality Standards director, at paustin@wwpa.org.

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