Timber grades, explained

—by Hamish Randle, MacBlack Timber operations manager

What do we mean when we describe timber as "clear"? Or panelling or dressing grade? Read on as we explain what these terms mean when you buy from MacBlack Timber.

Clear three sides means free from knots or defects and boards are straight. Clear is the finest grade of timber and has a premium price. It’s suited to fine joinery and furniture. Architects like specifying clears for cladding and interior panelling too because of the clean, elegant appearance.

Dressing is close to clear but is distinguished by small tight knots and perhaps pinhead black knots. Can be used for all the same things as clear; you’d choose dressing either because it’s more affordable or because you prefer the look of it (or both).

Panelling is a mid-grade product: think the classic knotty macrocarpa look. It has larger tight knots (up to a third of the width of the board) and maybe small black knots. (Tight knots are stable, black knots may fall out.) Typically used for wall and ceiling panelling, also for decking.

Merch is getting down there but it has its uses for sure. And some people really like its rustic look with tight and black knots and maybe insect damage. It creates a particular kind of look; people line sheds (or their man cave) with it and make rough, chunky furniture. In the softwoods, it’s less than half the price of clear.

Boxing: to be fair this is the last stop before the firewood bin. But if you want oversize dimensions for garden beds or concrete boxing, this is what you’d use. Expect large black knots, surface splits, insect damage, bark wains, bow and crook (that means bends in either dimension).

Ideally, there would be one grading standard consistent across the country. The NZ Farm Forestry Association publishes carefully considered grading schedules and MacBlack largely follows this. But other merchants may have individual ideas about grade parameters. If you're not selecting timber yourself, it pays to clarify what to expect.

PS Don't be the customer that wants clear timber at a panelling price.