Lumber makes up the structure of most houses and will probably play a big part in your remodeling project. For framing (building the skeleton of walls), most of the wood you use will be 2x (two-by) material. When it was sawed to size, the wood was about 2 inches thick. But it lost some of its thickness to shrinkage and planing. So the pieces you buy are actually about 1-1/2 inches thick. Boards for trimwork, nominally 1 inch (1x material), actually measure 3/4 inch thick.
The same size shrinkage holds true with regard to the width of lumber -- the actual dimension is narrower than the stated sizes, which is called the nominal size. The length of lumber is usually accurate. In fact, you may find boards that measure fractionally longer than stated.
For the most part, you will be using 2x4s (1-1/2x3-1/2 inches) and 2x6s (actually 5-1/2 inches wide). Occasionally you may need something wider, such as a 2x8 (7-1/4 inches wide), 2x10 (9-1/4 inches wide), or even 2x12 (11-1/4 inches wide). Widths of 1x boards are the same.
Many home centers have two or more grades of lumber. The grades indicate the relative quality of the wood. The better the grade (#1 vs. #2), the fewer defects the pieces have and the higher the price. Usually you will not need the greater strength that characterizes better grades of lumber, but better grades also are more consistently straight, a desirable quality.
Along with grade, the species of the wood makes a difference in the price. In the Northeast, for instance, lesser grades of 2x4 studs are lumped into a category called SPF, which stands for spruce, pine, and fir. The better studs are Douglas fir or occasionally hemlock. These two species command a higher price because they tend to yield stronger, better-quality wood.
Steel studs match the size of wooden studs and are used for similar situations. They are light and fireproof and are cut with tin snips and attached with screws.Which Grade to Buy?
For most remodeling projects, buying a higher grade of lumber is a waste of money. If you have the opportunity to select each piece of wood, which is usually the case at home centers or lumberyards, you can avoid the worst pieces of the lesser grades and return home with pieces of wood suited to your purposes. High-grade lumber may be worth the extra cost if the wood will remain visible in the finished result.
The grade stamp on a piece of lumber tells you where the wood came from and what grade it received at the mill. The smaller the grade number, the higher the quality of the wood. Instead of a number, 2x4s are often stamped "STUD" to indicate they are suitable for this purpose. "Hem-Fir" means the wood is either hemlock or fir, two equally strong species. "W" means the wood was graded under Western Wood Product Association rules, and "134" is the number assigned to the mill where the wood was processed.Selecting Lumber
Look for defects: Start by looking over each piece for obvious defects. Tight knots are no problem for framing lumber. Reject pieces with knotholes or knots that are loose enough to move with your fingers. Also reject pieces with checks (splits and cracks) and wane (missing corners or edges).
Check for straightness: If a piece seems free of defects, hold it at one end and sight along the edges to see if the piece is straight. A slight warp is OK, but reject boards that are severely bowed or twisted.
Remove hazards: As you handle stock, watch for staples and other metal hardware that may be embedded in the wood, waiting to ambush your saw blade. Although not a reason to reject a good piece of lumber, staples are a hazard. Remove them immediately after purchase.Pro Tip: Buying the right length
Most framing lumber comes in lengths starting at 8 feet and then increasing in 2-foot increments. Keep this in mind as you make your shopping list; you may be able to cut a single long piece into the shorter pieces you need. For example, if you need several 5-foot 2x4s, cut 10-footers into two 5-foot sections rather than cutting down 8-footers and leaving 3-foot-long scraps. Many suppliers stock what they call precut studs. These are 2x4s that are 92-5/8 inches long (just under 8 feet), the right size for 8-foot walls (the top and bottom plates add 4-1/2 inches to the overall wall height, and flooring and ceiling drywall subtract an inch or so).Marking Your Purchases
As you select lumber, note the use of each piece (for example, a wall stud or a bottom plate). As you place each piece on your cart, use a lumber crayon to write on the wood itself exactly what it is for. This prevents the frustration of spending several hours at the lumberyard selecting stock for your project, getting it home, and then needing to sort it all over again.
- Home Design Styles
- Planning Your Remodeling Project
- Building Interior Walls: How to Frame & Build a Wall
- Customizing Walls: How to Customize Interior Walls
- Baseboards: How to Install Baseboard Molding
- Crown Molding: How to Cut & Install Crown Moldings
- Project Ideas
- Woodworking & Carpentry Tools
- Woodworking Tips & Techniques
- Paint & Wood Finishing Secrets