There are two kinds of lumber you can use for your next project. Those kinds include rough-cut lumber and dimensional lumber. Your local home improvement store will largely carry dimensional, finished lumber in their inventory, but not rough cut. Rough-sawn lumber is carried more frequently at a lumber yard or a local sawmill. So, what can you expect from each of these types of lumber? Let’s first discover how each one is made.
The lumber you will find at a sawmill or lumber yard will not appear to be desirable at first. As the name suggests, rough-cut lumber is the lumber yielded from a log after the first cut only. After a couple preparation steps, the log is cut into dozens of boards of different sizes. After this, no further processing is done. There is such a market for lumber that is minimally processed because the necessary tools to further prepare a board for a project are residentially sized and largely available to anyone.
Many people prefer to buy rough cut lumber because they are essentially paying for a planking step that is done by a large sawmill, and most woodworkers do not own such equipment. Ultimately, it is the affordability of the lumber that brings this market together. In fact, rough-sawn lumber can be more than three times less expensive than an equivalent size of dimensional lumber. That alone could justify the planer and jointer you’d need to process your rough cut lumber.
When selecting rough cut lumber at a lumber yard or sawmill, there are some tips to make your trip easy and painless. Many boards are cut to 12’ long, and may be tricky to load into a vehicle. Bring a tape measure and hand saw so you can cut boards down to a size that fits into your vehicle. Also, always buy a couple extra boards. These unfinished boards will have knots or checks in them which you will have to remove. Between that and the inevitable board that doesn’t get planed down right, you will thank yourself for getting an extra board and saving yourself a trip back to the lumber yard.
Lastly, you’ll want to keep an eye out for flat sawn vs. quarter sawn lumber. Most boards will be flat sawn, that is, all cuts were parallel on the log. This method yields boards with varying grain patterns, with less texture on boards cut from the outer edges. Occasionally, you will find quarter sawn boards. To make these boards, a log is first quartered, then boards cut from the outside edge inward. This creates an incredibly stable board as each board has a quality grain structure.
There are many applications for rough sawn lumber. Many structural projects that won’t be exposed can use this kind of wood since you will be more worried about the strength properties over the appearance. Unless you are working on a project that would benefit from a textured, rustic appearance, it is best to use rough-cut lumber for structural builds and framework.
If you prefer boards that are ready to use, look no further than your local home improvement store. The dimensional lumber carried there is fully planed, cut to size, and hand-picked for quality. You can be comfortable getting exactly what you need for your project by choosing dimensional lumber. Boards come in all thicknesses, widths, and lengths. They are even sorted by grade if you need a particular finish or are just looking for something structural. Many woodworking enthusiasts love buying dimensional lumber because they can get their material without having to worry about the hassle of picking the right boards.
Dimensional lumber is widely used in appearance projects such as decking, flooring, furniture, and shelving. Dimensional lumber boasts a cleaner finish and guaranteed performance due to the grading system. Aside from appearance projects, dimensional wood is also heavily used in wall framing in houses as well. Builders can rely on the accuracy of dimensional lumber to ensure the wall framing is measured out perfectly and everything goes together smoothly. Since dimensional lumber is already cut to standard size, larger projects may save money and time by not worrying about getting every board planed down to the exact size.
Using this type of wood can be expensive, but can save headaches throughout a project.
When buying wood, keep these tips in mind for selecting the right board for the job. If you are doing an appearance project such as cabinetry or furniture, you can use either A or B Grade lumber. These grades are higher quality in terms of smoothness, grain structure, and knot frequency. For more structural projects such as wall framing, you can be confident in using Grade C or No. 1 Common grade lumber. While not as clean in appearance, wall framing is covered up anyway. Additionally, be cautious when sizing the lumber. The dimensions advertised are typically a nominal size where the board started before planning. Planning will decrease final thickness as it removes material to achieve perfectly square boards. Be aware of the actual dimensions before buying the material you need.
Now that you know the differences between rough cut and dimensional lumber, you can be confident in choosing the right materials for your next job. Whether you need to be budget friendly, or you want to have the perfect board ready to go, you should have confidence in choosing the lumber to get the job done right.
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