Regardless of your interest in woodworking, you need wood. While you could just go out and blindly buy lumber, you will save yourself a lot of headache by familiarizing yourself with the wood-buying process. A skilled woodworker is familiar with the terms and differences in how wood is graded, cut and sized. This guide is written so beginners can start woodworking with less hiccups.
Boards are graded by their number and prevalence of flaws, as determined by National Hardwood Lumber Association standards. “First” grade possesses little to no defects. “Second” grades possess one knot or other surface-level flaw and tend to be placed in the same section as firsts, known as “FAS;” they are just as suitable boards as first-grades. “Select” grade has more defects than second-grade but most of these can be cut away. “Common” grade is split into four sub-grades (#1, #2, #3a and #3b) and has the most defects.
Plain, Rift or Quarter?
- Plain-sawn: The most common of pieces, plain-sawn boards’ growth rings are 30-° against their face with a wavy, circular grain.
- Rift-sawn: Rift-sawn growth rings are between 30° and 60° against the face, with a straight grain. Rift-sawn is superior to plain-sawn and is commensurately priced.
- Quarter-sawn: The growth rings on these boards are 60+° from the face with a straight, flaky or ribbon-like grain. While quarter-sawn boards are the priciest and most stable, they are found among only a handful of wood types.
Even after distinguishing between hardwoods and softwoods, not all woods are equally suited to the same projects.
- Oak is among the most common building materials, with pliable “green oak” finding use in house frames. Oak’s iconic hardness comes from drying out.
- Beech is a straight-grained wood notable for its texture. Beech’s coloration varies by species: American beech appears light to ruddy brown, European beech is more like Dijon mustard. Beech is an excellent for decorations and accents.
- Idigbo is a durable yet pliable hardwood that offers an interesting name, a modest price tag and plenty of crafting options.
- Maple is a hardwood is ideal for projects intended to be decorative or eye-catching.
- American black walnut is a rough, dark hardwood most commonly used in kitchens and veneers.
- Pine is a common softwood that varies between orange and red coloration.
- Douglas fir has a puce coloration that makes it ideal for decks and floors. It is also common to plywood.
- Hemlock is a light wood that lacks resin, commonly used for doors and frames.
It is perfectly fine to buy boards that are slightly knotted, split, cracked and so on; you will just have to spend time removing them while cutting. If you want to check a board’s straightness, position one end on a flat surface and hold the other to your eye; abandon it if its ends are uneven.
Dimension or Footage?
“Dimensional” wood is smoothed along all sides, cut to exacting dimensions and sold by linear footage. Boards sold by footage are not guaranteed to be smoothed on all sides and only one edge may be squared off. A board foot is 1″ thick, known as “4/4,” by 1 foot wide and 1 foot long.
To calculate how many board feet can be gleaned from a piece, multiply the length in feet by its width and then its thickness in inches. Divide the total by 12.