What is Tally and Why is it So Important?

Date: October 8, 2021 Category: Product News, Uncategorized

We frequently get inquiries from customers requesting all long-length boards. Sometimes we can do this, but in some products it can be more challenging and we may push back. Why do we do this? Is it just because we’re mean?

Protecting the integrity of a tally is critical for our customers. But what is a tally? A tally is simply the length structure of a given pile of wood. Some wood products are sold Pulled To Length (PTL), where each unit only has one length in it. Other products are sold Random Length (RL), where each unit has a wide assortment of lengths ranging from as short as 3’ to as long as 20’. Even in cases where we buy PTL, we typically have to buy an assortment of lengths – to get three units of 16’, for instance, we may have to buy four 8’s, three 10’s, four 12’s, and three 14’s.

Replacing broken tallies can be very difficult, if not impossible. If you’re looking for 100 pieces of 1×6 clear cedar that are 16’ long, my total tally looks like this:

68/6 239/8 219/9 255/10 182/11 370/12 82/13 81/14 84/15 112/16 42/17 89/18 131/19 172/20

Looking just at the 16’s, we do have 100 pieces available for sale, but:

  • Those 112 pieces are spread across six units of product. To get to the 112/16’s, we’d have to open six units, handle them completely to remove the 16’s, and put them back together again.
  • If the customer who called before you wanted 100/16’s and we accepted the order with no discussion, the tally that would be left for you would be much heavier to shorter lengths, which are far less desirable.

There are plenty of conditions that would allow us to accept your order, but we need to be mindful of the following:

  • Can we replace the 16’s if we sell them exclusively? Would a mill sell us an order of just 16’s? If so, would they charge a premium?
  • Do the job site conditions require 16’? Are there areas of the projects (ex: near doors and windows, chimneys, stairs, etc.) that could utilize shorter lengths? This is almost always the case.
  • In the rare instance where all longs are required, could some waste be tolerated so we could employ the 17’ – 20’ lengths in the tally above?

While I am using 16’s in this example, tally sensitivity is an important concept across all lengths, and in many species and grades of lumber. Certain lengths in several species may be an easier get than others, but utilizing the entirety of the tally is important to ensure fair market pricing to end-users. It’s also the best thing for the resource and for the environment; using the entirety of the tally means getting the most out of a critical natural resource, being environmentally responsible, and leaving a bit of the good stuff for the next builder who’ll need some.


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