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Engineered lumber

by Leon A. Frechette

Published in July 1999, my book Build Smarter with Alternative Materials contains information in Chapter 4 about Laminated Strand Lumber (LSL), an engineered lumber product. LSL is made by reducing logs from fast-growing trees to thin strands up to 12 inches long which are bonded with adhesive to create a billet (large block). Smaller dimensional pieces such as rim boards, windows and door headers, millwork core material, and framing material (e.g., studs) are cut from the billets.

LSL products provide choices for contractors and homeowners, enabling them to bypass conventional lumber with its price fluctuations, shortages, and poor quality. While engineered lumber is more expensive, it is also supposed to be stiffer, straighter, and more stable than conventional lumber. The studs have no surprises—they simply won't bow, twist, or shrink after installation. The difference in price could be saved in labor and/or warranty callbacks.

One product I described in Chapter 4 was TimberStrand© LSL Premium Studs by TrusJoist™ MacMillian. I was told by the company at the time the book was written that it was "one product where you'll never find a twisted stud."

Unfortunately, the company never gave me an opportunity to actually test the product. At the time I was writing the book, I was building a shop using existing alternative materials as well as products newly on the market. The experiences I gained on that construction project were shared with readers in the book. TrusJoist MacMillian declined to participate in the project, citing budget concerns.

I was eager to test their product so I offered to purchase it at wholesale so I could write knowledgeably about it in the book. Again they declined and again cited budget concerns. I remember scratching my head and wondering how something could be a budget issue when I was purchasing the product. It appeared to me that they just didn't want me to test their product.

The whole experience raised some serious doubts in my mind about TrusJoist MacMillian and their entire product line. I was especially concerned when I learned they had dropped SpaceMaker Truss, another LSL product I described in the book. Was it taken off the market because of sales or because of product failure? I couldn't help but wonder if the same fate would befall TimberStrand LSL Premium studs.

I firmly believe a sound decision about any product requires first-hand experience. I wanted to get that experience with TrusJoist and share it with my readers, but they clearly had no interest in working with me. Quite honesty, I can't tell you if the TimberStrand LSL Premium Stud is a quality product or not. The 4-inch long sample I held in my hands was just not long enough to reach any knowledgeable conclusions.

I'm sharing my experience with TrusJoist MacMillian to make a point. If you're considering working with any brand-name engineered lumber, be sure to check it out carefully. Type the product name into your favorite search engine and start plowing through the results.

Specifically, check out the company's history and review the track record of their products. Look for reviews to see what others have to say about the product. Carefully read the manufacturer's product warranty. Make an effort to speak with framers or builders who have installed the product, and ask specific questions about their experiences. Do your homework before purchasing any product because you can't afford to work with a company that doesn't stand behind their product.

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Copright © 2000, 2001, & 2006 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved. The previous article,
in whole or in part, appeared in the July 1999 issue of Build Smarter with Alternative Materials.

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