How to get timbers grade stamped

By Jeff Easterling

President Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association

Unlike standard dimensional lumber, beams and timbers are not required to carry a grade stamp at the point of sale; Maine timber framers have traditionally used their own judgment in determining their suitability.

But architects and building codes are increasingly requiring all structural lumber to carry a grade stamp. To meet those requirements, timber framers may access an on-demand grading service available through Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association (NELMA).

The turnaround time is relatively quick and the price is reasonable. NELMA is an accredited grading agency that employs three on-demand grade stampers in New England who inspect timbers on site.

Why it’s a good idea

By permitting an accredited agency such as NELMA to grade lumber/timbers for a building project, the sawmiller, architect, builder, and homeowner can be assured of each item’s grade and subsequent strength.  This removes the potential liability that may result from grading guess-work and structural failure.

Plan ahead

The building code authority where the materials will be used should be contacted prior to completing a request for services to be certain of the grade marking or identification that will be acceptable. The most common types are:

  • Hammerbranding and Certificate of Inspection – A non-ink impression of the grade is hammered onto each piece and a certificate is completed that provides detailed information of the inspection. No additional stamping fees are required,
  • Ink Stamping – An official ink stamp is applied to the face or end of each piece signifying the grade, species, moisture condition, agency logo, and inspector number. Additional fees may be applied should special ink stamps be required.
  • Certificate of Inspection – Used in cases where only the certificate that provides detailed information of the inspection is required by the local building code authority. No marks are placed on individual pieces.

Please note that the schedules for NELMA’s Inspection staff are completed up to 3 weeks in advance. As a result, we highly recommend that the request form be completed and returned well in advance of any deadlines that the job may require.

Not all timber is eligible for grading

Not all lumber or timbers are eligible for grading within NELMA’s On-Demand program. Listed below are specific criteria that must be the material will be considered for grading.

  • Reclaimed/recycled material from older structures or lumber/timbers in-place are NOT eligible. Any material that shows signs of prior use will be not be graded.* Lumber or timbers must be recently produced and may be kiln-dried, air-dried, or green; a surfaced or rough finish may be graded.
  • Lumber and timbers that have been notched, drilled, mortised and tenoned will not be graded.
  • No round logs will be graded. Material must be in sawn form
  • If the final application is structural, the species of the material must have published design values established for use in construction. Most all softwood species are approved for this application along with the major hardwood species.

*Design values for structural use are currently based on newly sawn lumber/timbers. Studies indicate that lumber/timbers that have been under a loading application (studs, joists, rafters, beams, etc.) in a structure for a number of years may have reduced strength values. No consistent reduction in strength calculations are available at this time, consequently there is no method to confidently designate a design value for reclaimed/recycled.

Important notes

  • On-site assistance to the NELMA Inspector is required for lifting, turning, stacking, etc., particularly for large timbers which may require mechanical assistance as well (forklift).
  • Additional timbers should be made available should the final use of the lumber/timbers require a specific grade (No.1, No.2, etc.) and a specific quantity as not all of the material may make the required grade.

Fee Structure

The fee for an On-Demand Inspection is a flat daily rate of $275.00 (as of 1/1/18) for each inspector needed to complete the grading request in a timely manner. Typically, only one inspector is required.  Mileage to and from the NELMA Inspector’s office to the grading site, at the current IRS rate, will also be assessed, however the total miles may be reduced if the grading location is within the NELMA Inspector’s regular route and can be scheduled to coincide with the Inspector’s normal visit to the area.  Meals and Lodging expenses may also be added, although overnight stays to complete the inspection are typically not necessary.

Requesting On-Demand Inspection Services

A “Request for Lumber-Timber Inspection Service” form is available online at website under the Inspection Program/On-Demand Inspection Program tab.  This form may be completed and returned to NELMA via scan and email to, or fax the form to 207-829-4293.

Upon receipt of the completed request, NELMA staff will review the form and contact the primary person listed to obtain any additional information necessary to approve the request and/or schedule a mutually-acceptable date to perform the grading service.

Contact NELMA toll-free (800-819-6040) or by email at for any questions or clarifications needed regarding the On-Demand Lumber Grading Program.

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