How To Buy Wood
Learning the Lumberyard Lingo
When learning how to get started woodworking, you will soon take the much-anticipated trip to the lumberyard or the specialty hardwood store to buy the stock for your first project.
I wasn’t taught how to buy wood. I also didn’t know there’s a completely different lingo that goes with the lumberyard.
Going to a lumberyard or hardwood store is a lot like going to a bakery in a foreign country. You can clearly see the bread and pastries, but you don’t have the words to tell the salesperson exactly what you want. You can point and use just enough of the local language to make yourself look like an idiot. Then they answer you in a strange dialect you never heard before and act as though you should know what they are talking about. It can definitely be an intimidating and frustrating experience.
On my first lumberyard trip, I had no idea there were so many variations in a board! I told the flannel-clad sales guy I needed a one by six by 6 foot Maple board. He just looked at me and said:
“Well I ain’t got 1 x 6, would a four-quarter or eight-quarter do? I have some eight-quarter rough-sawn planks that you could have re-sawn into four-quarter. Oh, and are you looking for it quartersawn or riftsawn... surfaced or skip-planed?? How many board feet did you say?”
When I finally got to the counter to pay they charged me in board feet, and the entire time I felt like I was being taken for a ride.
By the end of today’s post, you should be able to walk into a lumberyard or hardwood store with confidence and a pretty clear idea of the type of wood you are looking for and how to describe it to the salesperson. I hope you find it helpful.
Helpful hint: There can be a big difference in price and variety of wood available depending on the type of store you go to.
- A big box store like Home Depot or Lowe’s is generally going to have a limited selection, like a fast food restaurant.
- A specialty hardwood store is like a fine dining restaurant with an extensive menu.
- Lumberyards or lumber mills that process the Hardwoods on site can be like going to a grocery store where they are limited by stock on hand but they have a whole bunch of it and you have to be willing to search for what you want.
The Wonderful World of Wood
Hopefully, we all know that wood starts out as a tree or “timber” and once cut and trimmed it is called a “Log” ☺.
Types of wood in a log:
- End grain: the small end of a board where you can clearly see the rings of the tree.
- Edge grain: the longest and narrowest side of the board.
- Face grain: the large flat sides of the board.
Types of Boards or Planks:
Plain-sawn: planks are sawn at a tangent to the curve of the log. Notice how the growth rings are seen as an even curve across the end grain. Face grain will form “Cathedral” patterns.
Quarter-sawn: planks are cut at a radius to the center of the log. The growth rings can be seen almost vertically across the end grain. The face and edge of the board will have straight grain. This type of cut will shrink and expand less than others.
Rift-sawn: the end grain of these planks show growth rings at a 45-degree angle. The edge grain and face grain run straight.
Rough-sawn: planks that have just been cut at the lumber mill. No squaring or smoothing has been done.
Skip-planed: planks that have been partially smoothed on one side to show some of the wood grain. Can also be called “hit-and-miss planing”.
S4S (Surfaced on 4 Sides): planks that are planed smooth on both faces and both edges are straightened.
How to Calculate Board Feet:
Rough-sawn boards are measured in one-quarter inch increments.
- A four-quarter board will be 1 inch thick.
- An eight-quarter 2 inches thick and so on...
One board foot is equal to 144 cubic inches. So “board feet” are really the volume of the board, not its length.
This means that a 1-foot long board could contain more than one board foot.
Examples: If you have boards with the following measurements...
12-inch wide x 12-inch long x 1-inch thick= 144 cubic inches 1 Board Foot
12-inch wide x 12-inch long x 2-inch thick= 288 cubic inches 2 Board Feet
6 inch x 24 inch x 1 inch = 144 cubic inches =1 Board Foot
1 Board Foot = 6 inch x 12 inch x 2 inch = 144 cubic inches
So you see the dimensions of a board can change a lot,.. but the number of board feet can remain the same. It’s all about measuring.
Knowing this, you can calculate in advance how much the wood for your project will cost.
An easy calculation for the number of board feet in a plank is to multiply the thickness by the length and the width (all in inches and divide by 144.
Thickness x Length x Width (all measurements in inches) ÷ 144= Number of board feet
Example: 2 x 68 x 9 ÷ 144 = 8.5 Board feet
You now have the lumberyard lingo at your fingertips so you can go and buy wood with confidence.
You can even practice evaluating the different cuts of wood everywhere you see boards!
A good place to practice is on a fence.
Usually, you’ll find every type of board making up an average plank fence.
What do you think of this topic? After reading it I hope you're not "board" I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Check out more information at https://howtogetstartedwoodworking.com/home/