For many years, the design values of Canadian dimension lumber were determined by testing small clear samples. Although this approach had worked well in the past, there were some indications that it did not always provide an accurate reflection of how a full-sized member would behave in service.

Beginning in the 1970s, new data was gathered on full-size graded lumber, known as in-grade testing. In the early 1980s, the Canadian lumber industry conducted a major research program through the Canadian Wood Council Lumber Properties Program for bending, tension and compression parallel to grain strength properties of 38 mm thick (nominal 2 in) dimension lumber of all commercially important Canadian species groups. The Lumber Properties Program was conducted as a cooperative project with the US industry with the goal of verifying lumber grading correlation from mill to mill, from region to region, and between Canada and the United States.

The in-grade testing program involved testing thousands of pieces of dimension lumber to destruction in order to determine their in-service characteristics. It was agreed that this testing program should simulate, as closely as possible, the structural end use conditions to which the lumber would be subjected to.

After the test samples were conditioned to approximately 15 percent moisture content, they were tested under short- and long-term loading in accordance with ASTM D4761. Lumber samples in three sizes; 38 x 89 mm, 38 x 184 mm and 38 x 235 mm (2 x 4 in, 2 x 8 in, and 2 x 10 in), were selected across the Canadian growing regions for the three largest-volume commercial species groups; Spruce-Pine-Fir (S-P-F), Douglas Fir-Larch (D.Fir-L) and Hem-Fir. Select Structural, No.1, No.2, No.3, as well as light framing grades, were sampled in flexure. Select Structural, No.1 and No.2 grades were evaluated in tension and compression parallel to grain. Several lesser-volume species were also evaluated at lower sampling intensities.

The in-grade testing resulted in new relationships between species, sizes and grades. The dimension lumber database of results was examined to establish trends in bending, tension and compression parallel to grain property relationships as affected by member size and grade. These studies provided a basis for extending the results to the full range of dimension lumber grades and member sizes described in CSA O86. In Canada, both the CSA O86 and the National Building Code of Canada (NBC) have adopted the results from the Lumber Properties Program. The data has also been used to update the design values in the United States.

The scientific data resulting from the Lumber Properties Program demonstrated:

  • close correlation in the strength properties of visually graded No.1 and No.2 dimension lumber;
  • good correlation in the application of grading rules from mill to mill and from region to region; and
  • a decrease in relative strength as size increases (i.e. size effect) – for example the unit bending strength for a 38 × 89 mm (2 x 4 in) member is greater than for a 38 × 114 mm (2 x 6 in) member.

Following the testing program, the consensus-based ASTM D1990 standard was developed and published. Data for bending, tension parallel to grain, compression parallel to grain, and modulus of elasticity continue to be analyzed in accordance with this Standard.

Unlike visually graded lumber where the anticipated strength properties are determined from assessing a piece on the basis of visual appearance and presence of defects such as knots, wane or slope of grain, the strength characteristics of machine stress-rated (MSR) lumber are determined by applying forces to a member and actually measuring the stiffness of a particular piece. As lumber is fed continuously into the mechanical evaluating equipment, stiffness is measured and recorded by a small computer, and strength is assessed by correlation methods. MSR grading can be accomplished at speeds up to 365 m (1000 ft) per minute, including the affixing of an MSR grade mark. MSR lumber is also visually checked for properties other than stiffness which might affect the suitability of a given piece. Given that the stiffness of each piece is measured individually and strength is measured on select pieces through a quality control program, MSR lumber can be assigned higher specified design strengths than visually graded dimension lumber.


For further information, refer to the following resources:

Canadian Lumber Properties (Canadian Wood Council)

ASTM D1990 Standard Practice for Establishing Allowable Properties for Visually-Graded Dimension Lumber from In-Grade Tests of Full-Size Specimens

ASTM D4761 Standard Test Methods for Mechanical Properties of Lumber and Wood-Based Structural Materials

National Lumber Grades Authority (NLGA)