Don't Be Intimidated by Lumber Stores


Being a guy means I suffer with a common problem of male ego. We don’t always like to ask for help nor do we like to feel intimidated by what we don’t know.  My first few trips to the lumber yard shopping for quality hardwoods were all about breaking that barrier.


On my first trip I was asked by different employees if I needed some help, but I kindly replied “no thank you” and proceeded to walk around, observe the variety of woods, trying to not to look like I was new.  After 30 minutes of “wandering” I finally swallowed my pride and went up to a guy and asked for help….and help I got!  After that, it got much easier.


Here’s a few tips to keep in mind.


  1. Lumber places have their own vocabulary. (just like visiting a foreign country, once you learn a bit of the lingo things become much less intimidating)
  2. Bring a tape measure 
    (you don't want to look like a total novice do you:)
  3. Write down your measurements
    (information is less overwhelming and easier to process..... it's elementary, but easy to forget)
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask


The biggest obstacle to overcome is the vernacular used. There’s the difference between hardwood and softwood which is primarily defined by the type of tree the wood came from. Softwoods are generally easier to work with (cutting, routing, chiseling) and easier on your tool blades. So as to not insult the purist, I’ll address more details in a later blog.


Then there’s the language used in measuring woods; which branches out as well (like why is a 2 X 4 not 2 inches by 4 inches), however I wanted to limit this blog to the terms Board Foot and Linear Foot.


Linear foot is the more simple of the two: it is simply 12 inches of length regardless of width or thickness.  Example:  A 1” x 4” x 96” board = 8 linear feet (96 divided by 12). A 2” x 10” x 96” board is also 8 linear feet.  Most Big Box stores either charge by the linear foot or they simply group their woods together by size and give you a price per board.


Board Foot is a bit more complicated, but not overwhelming.  A board foot is 12” long by 12” wide by 1 inch thick.  Because lumber stores deal with rough sawn wood, and no 2 boards are alike, they calculate the total volume of a board by multiplying the length (inches), width and thickness and then dividing that total by 144 - this gives you the Board Foot.


Here’s a great website that explains board feet far better than I can; plus they have pictures!


1 comment

  • Callum Palmer

    There is a lot that you need to keep in mind in order to make your trip to the lumber store easier so it is great that the article provides some advice. I particularly like that the article recommends bringing a tape measure and writing down your own measurements. That way you can be absolutely sure that you are getting the lumber that you need for your project.

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