Introduction: A Wood Working Primer: the Lumber Yard

Heading over to your local hardwood lumber yard can be slightly intimidating especially if its your first trip. You might see or hear terms that you are not familiar with or have heard but just are not sure exactly sure what they mean. The following Instructable I will attempt to highlight and explain some of those terms.. hope you get something out of this...

Step 1: Types of Wood

Hardwood vs Softwood

This refers to the tree the wood came from, not really the
hardness of the wood..

Softwoods come from coniferous trees with needle like leaves, most are evergreen.

Typical Softwoods include Cedar, Fir, Pine, Cypress

Hardwoods come from deciduous trees with broad leaves

Typical hardwood you will encounter are Oak, Maple, Walnut, Ash and poplar just to name a few

So What category would Balsa fall into? Balsa is a flowering plant so it is also a Hardwood.

Below is a link to a wikipedia page listing wood weather they are hard or soft.

List of wood hard vs soft

Step 2: Parts of a Tree

Now lets understand what the old guy at the lumber yard or mill is talking about when he says " Thats some good looking heartwood right thur."

Pith- is the soft center most portion of a tree

Heartwood- is from the pith to the sapwood usually darker in color

Sapwood- outermost portion of the wood lighter in color and is more likely to rot than heartwood due to the lack of gums and resins and other stuff that heartwood has in it.

Bark and Cambium - is just outer bark and inner bark

Step 3: How Is Rough Sawn Lumber Sized and Priced

Now back to the old grizzly guy with the suspenders at the lumber yard.

What does it mean when he asks if you want four quarter board or three quarter board? and how much board foot?

Well lets start here.

A Board is generally 1" or less thickness of any length or width

A Plank is lumber more than 1" thick any length or width

When you purchase lumber from a mill or a yard that sells rough sawn pieces they're sold by the board foot.

A board foot is a unit of volume for timber that is equal to 144 cubic inches. Think of it as 1"x12"x12"

So what is four quarter or 4/4. 4/4 is the measurement of thickness of the material. So a 4/4 board is 1" thick. A 8/4 plank is 2" thick and would be said eight quarter.

To figure your board foot Multiply width in inches X length in inches X thickness in inches and divide by 144

The pictures above are two charts showing board feet and how general dimensional lumber is sized.

There may also be different prices for say Oak based on grade. lets say 4/4 Oak is listed as per board foot - grade A $5.95, Grade B $4.16 and Grade C $2.90

Grade A is petty much furniture ready its all planed and jointed and pretty

Grade B is less finish work maybe one side has been smoothed

Grade C is just as it came off the mill saw marks and all and is usually about a quarter size bigger than grade A to allow for planing and jointing.

Now when you walk into a lumber yard you can Ask for 8/4 plank of Red oak 12" wide 8' long and know that it is gonna cost you between 46.00 and 95.00 depending on your grade for a total of 16 bdft.


Step 4: Types of Cuts

Lets talk cuts,

Plain-sawing also refered to as flat sawn, bastard sawn: is when a tree is cut from one side to the next one at a time with out turning the log or adjgusting the saw orientation.

Quarter sawing- less common: is when the log is cut into quarters first then the quarters are then cut

Rift sawing- Pretty rare: is when logs are cut radially so the annual rings are nearly 90° to the faces. When rift-sawn, each piece is cut along a radius of the original log, so that the saw cuts at right angles to the tree's growth rings. the most stable out of the three but also produces the most waste

Book matched planks - This is when you cut two pieces of wood and when layed side by side they mirror each other making it look like a open book.

Step 5: Wood Defects and Patterns

When you go to select lumber its good to know what defects to look for. Here are some things to look out for.

Bow - a warp in the board from end to end

Cup- a warp in the face of the board side to side

Crook- warp along the edge line also known as crowned

Twist- multiple bends in the boards

Check- a crack along the woods annual growth rings

Wane- Missing wood or untrimmed bark along the edge or corner of the piece

Step 6: Closing

Hopefully this instructable will help some of you on your first trip to the lumber yard and ease some anxiety. good luck and happy woodworking

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