Buying hardwood lumber isn’t difficult, but for new woodworkers it can seem a bit intimidating. Just follow these three easy steps and you’ll be driving back to your shop with your first order of wood in no time! And remember, if you have any questions, just ask us. We're happy to help!

If you’re going to talk wood, you've got to know the lingo! Here are a few terms to be familiar with before you buy.

1 Terminology

Quarters--Rough lumber thickness is specified in Quarters. 4/4=1" thick in the rough, 5/4=1-1/4",
6/4=1-1/2", and 8/4=2" thick. (4/4 is pronounced "4-quarter".) The Hardwood Grading Bureau allows 1/4" to be removed from the thickness to allow it to be clean on both faces. So 4/4 will finish at 3/4". 8/4 will finish at 1-3/4".


Board footage--All lumber is sold by the board foot (bf) and
figured by rough thickness. A board foot (bf) is 144 cubic
inches. The formula to calculate board foot is LENGTH  X
WIDTH X HEIGHT in inches / 144. Thus a board that is
96" long x 6.25" wide x 6/4 (1.5") thick would be 6.3 bf.

See the example at right.


FAS--In years gone by lumber was graded FAS (Firsts and
Seconds) meaning the worst face of a board was FAS and

the back was FAS or Better. Today, lumber is not graded

FAS, but actually FAS-1F meaning Firsts and Seconds
One Face. The back could be worse. A FAS-1F board should be 89% clear and usable. Sapwood is not considered a defect.

In addition, you will also see some lumber graded as Select & Better (SEL & BTR), this is basically the same as FAS but it allows for boards to be a min of 4" wide, while FAS is min 6" wide. FAS and SEL & BTR allow knots and defects. The grade is actually specified as the percent of clear material in a board.


Moisture Content--You have probably read articles that say you should check the moisture content before you buy your lumber. If it is not 7% like it should be don't buy it. Kiln dried lumber is dried to a moisture content of 6-7% and then a shot of steam is injected into the kiln to slightly raise the moisture content and stress relieve the lumber. This does help to relieve the majority of the stress. When the lumber leaves the mill and ships to Phoenix, Arizona, it will probably be at 7% MC. When it goes to Florida it will rise to 8.5-9.5% MC. The MC in our lumber is typically 9% depending on the weather. The MC will change from your workshop into your a/c home pretty rapidly. It is not a real issue unless you are working with some air dried lumber that has not dried enough.

Most woodworking plans will include a materials list. Here's a tip. On the materials list, consider the board thickness as the FINISHED thickness. In some cases, like the one shown here, you'll need to allow some extra material for planing. 

2 Planning your project

On the sample to the right, the first board is recommended at 3/4" thick (the red arrow), but the finish thickness of Part D is 3/4". So unless you are buying a board already finished to 3/4", you'll actually need to buy a board at 4/4 (4-quarter) to have material to plane to the finished size.


The same rule applies to the blue arrow. The suggested thickness is 1", but you'll see that the finish thickness for Part H is actually 1". So, you'll want to buy that board at 5/4 for the same reason.


When you head out to your hardwood retailer, just be sure to bring your materials list, a tape measure and your calculator! Then you'll be able to figure up the material you're buying on the spot.

3 Preparing Your Wood

Remember, wood is an organic material, so not every piece is going to be perfect. And that's ok. Small imperfections can be worked out during milling. You may have the time and equipment to mill it yourself, but if not, this is where a shop's services can really help you out. Here's what you need to know:


  • S2S--This is a planing pass, top, and bottom. Usually, after running a 4/4 board S2S, it will come in at a smooth 3/4" thick. But S2S can also take a board down to almost any thickness required. The sides of the board will still be rough and need additional milling to be suitable for gluing.

  • S3S--After running a board S2S, the board is joined on one edge to make straight. This creates three surfaced sides. You'll need to rip the board to your desired width, and possibly add a join edge.

  • S4S--Straight-Line Edge--Just like S3S, then the board is ripped to width on the fourth edge and then jointed for a smooth edge. 


Costs for each service varies, but the savings in your time, labor and equipment to prepare the wood, may be worth it for your project. 

Now that you're ready to buy,

© 2020 BST Designs, Inc. DBA Hardwood Lumber and Millwork

  • Facebook
  • Instagram