Are you planning your first visit to buy lumber? Once you’ve decided to go beyond buying lumber at a home center, there’s some major differences to be aware of when buying lumber at a lumberyard or distributor.
Lumberyards and distribution centers have come a long way, offering a wide variety of wood species, thicknesses, grades and machining options. Here are some pointers for how to buy lumber at a distributor or lumberyard.
When buying hardwoods, you won’t see lumber thickness marked in inches, but instead the convention is to use a measurement in quarters. For example, a 1 inch thick board is typically written as 4/4.
One thing to keep in mind is that lumber is sawn and then dried so the board that started out 4/4 inches will be closer to 7/8” (.875 inches) – and that thickness is before any type of surfacing is done.
A board foot is the unit of volume used to measure hardwoods. Since hardwoods are sold in a variety of lengths, widths and thicknesses, it is simpler to have a kind of measure that can account for all of those variables at once, like volume.
12” long x 12” wide x 1” thick = 144 cubic inches
special thanks to American Woodworker for this image.
Armed with a tape measure, calculator and this knowledge, you can tackle any board foot calculation on the spot. But what happens the day you leave the shop and forget your calculator? Use this woodworker rule of thumb: 4/4 board, 8 ft. Long and 6” Wide = 4 Board Feet
For someone just beginning to purchase hardwood lumber, lumber grades can be overwhelming. Most lumber companies use the generally accepted grading rules set by the National Hardwood Lumber Association. Grades are based on the amount of usable clear material in a board. The highest grade boards are FAS and Select, followed by #1 Common and #2 Common. What grade you choose depends on your project. Some projects, such as tabletops and high quality furniture, may dictate the highest grade available. Many other projects are just as easily adapted to #1 Common (often referred to as cabinet grade) – kitchen cabinet doors, smaller projects and items where some character is acceptable.
For a full illustrated guide to the various grades:
Rough lumber is rarely flat or straight. Milling your own can save you some money but it will take time, equipment and a strong back. It can be beneficial to look into what milling options your distributor can offer.
Most yards will offer the following milling services:
– Rip one edge of a rough board straight (called SL/E, Straight-Line Edge)
– Plane both faces lightly by taking approx. 1/16” off the surface (called Hit-and-Miss)
– Plane both faces, leaving no little wood with rough cut marks, removing approx.. 1/8” of thickness (called S2S, Surfaced Two Sides)
– Mill both faces and edges (called S4S, Surfaced Four Sides).
There are typically varying costs added to the price of rough lumber to cover the additional milling. Depending on your situation, these added costs may save you money in the long run through saved labor, faster lead times and a reduction in equipment needs.