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Forum topic by Dan Corbin posted 06-28-2012 07:47 PM 1546 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Dan Corbin

57 posts in 2184 days

06-28-2012 07:47 PM

Topic tags/keywords: resource wood tutorial dimension

One of the things that has always confused me is the size of wood. A 2×4 isn’t 2” by 4”, but sometimes a 3/4”-thick board is exactly 3/4” thick (and other time it’s closer to 1/2” thick). Does anyone know of a good tutorial on why this is, and how to get what you want?

Then once I understand what I want, how do I go about finding it? The local big box store has an okay selection of a few types of wood, but it leaves me feeling rather despondent. I went to a local lumber yard, told them what I wanted, and they basically told me to take a hike (apparently, they deal in construction dimensions and stay away from the “frufru stuff” as he called it).

Appreciate your help, and I look forward to getting involved here!

-- ~ Dan, North Carolina,

6 replies so far

View hjt's profile


835 posts in 3160 days

#1 posted 06-29-2012 02:16 AM

I looked this up for you. The lunber you buy at the big box and most lumber yards is called “Dimensional Lumber. Below explains why a 2x is not a 2X.

This dimensional measuring method is probably the most recognized by the average person. We see this type of measuring method used in almost all “Do-It-Yourself” type stores that sell lumber, or any place selling lumber for construction purposes. We recognize such “sizes” as 2×4, 2×6, 4×4, 1×2, etc. This measurement refers to the thickness and width of the lumber. In reality, these measurements are not a true measurement of the lumber thickness or width. The true measurement of a 2×4 is actually about 1.5×3.5. When the board is first rough sawn from the log, it is a true 2×4, but the drying process and planning of the board reduce it to the finished 1.5×3.5 size. The lumber is then sold as a “2×4” because the cost of the drying and machining are figured in…it is also much easier to refer to a board as a “2×4”, rather than a “1.5×3.5”.

If you buy “rough cuts” you will get an actual 2×4, but you will most likely have to plan it down. In my area I have a local lumber store and when I buy special wood from him it comes in exact. He then runs it through is big planner for me. Rouch cut is also known as the “Quarters” Sizing Method.

Hope this helps.

-- Harold

View WDHLT15's profile


1747 posts in 2498 days

#2 posted 06-29-2012 02:28 AM

You probably have heard the terms, “4/4, 6/4, 8/4, etc”. Four quarter lumber is 1” thick rough before planing to final size. In hardwoods, you add 1/4” to the desired finished dimension to come up with the rough dimension.

In softwood construction lumber, a “2×4” is actually 1 1/2” x 3 1/2”, but it is not rough cut, but has been planed. Even then, it is not really a 2×4. I know that it is confusing.

-- Danny Located in Perry, GA. Forester. Wood-Mizer LT40HD35 Sawmill. Nyle L53 Dehumidification Kiln.

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3090 days

#3 posted 06-29-2012 02:36 AM

A typical lumberyard won’t carry much in the way of high quality wood or plywood, They’re after the construction market – not cabinet and furniture makers.

Around here, Home Depot carries a decent grade of dimensioned Red Oak and Poplar.

For other hardwoods and cabinet grade plywood, you need to find a store that services cabinet and furniture makers. They will probably sell their hardwoods as S3S (surfaced on three sides with one “wild edge) in thicknesses ranging from 4/4 – 8/4 (~1” – ~2” thick)

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View Scsmith42's profile


125 posts in 2698 days

#4 posted 06-29-2012 03:35 AM

Dan, you have quite a few lumber suppliers near you in NC that would love your business. In no particular order:

Graham, NC: The Hardwood store. Retail establishment with a great selection of hardwoods and exotics.
Mooresville, The Moulding Source. Great supply of the basics.

Both probably within an hour’s drive.

A little further out is Wall Lumber in Mayodan, a GREAT supplier of all types of wood.

Also, I’m located about 2 hours east of you with all of the quartersawn oak that you’d ever need.


-- Scott, North Carolina,

View Dan Corbin's profile

Dan Corbin

57 posts in 2184 days

#5 posted 06-29-2012 01:27 PM

That all makes sense now! Thank you all for helping me understand. I’ve been so frustrated working with wood when I design a piece using 1” thick wood and the stuff I get ends up being only 3/4” thick. Nothing works out right when every thickness is missing a quarter inch!

I work with steel from 7:00-3:30, Monday-Friday; when I specify metal to be 1” thick, it comes in plus/minus 0.050”. And it’s not unheard of for me to specify a machined surface that is plus/minus 0.002” (half a sheet of paper). Working with wood is a whole new mindset…. Ironically, one thing that both mediums have in common is bowing of material!

One of the things that I would like to get into is finishing of wood (planing, sanding, etc), so getting just rough cut lumber is exactly what I want. There’s a cabinet shop a few tenths of a mile from where I work that some people have suggested that I might try, but I really like the options Scsmith42 mentioned—and I know where I’m going for my oak. I also noticed in another thread an online source that I might check out. Thanks all!

-- ~ Dan, North Carolina,

View Sylvain's profile


708 posts in 2521 days

#6 posted 06-29-2012 02:04 PM

”That all makes sense now!”

I would say it makes sense with the point of view of the lumberyard but it does not make sense with the point of view of the customer.

Imagine that in the steel business they would give you a number representing the number of tons of iron ore needed to produce the piece of steel you are buying.

For me it is just contempt for the buyer.

have a look here:

The US electric wire guauge system is another of those silly system where the point of view of the manufacturer is used while it has no relation with any calculation the electrician might have to do.
”This gauge system originated in the number of drawing operations used to produce a given gauge of wire. Very fine wire (for example, 30 gauge) required more passes through the drawing dies than did 0 gauge wire.”

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn

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