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MARCH 2017
HOW TO: Buy the Best Boards
Buying boards shouldn’t be one of the most challenging parts of a project. But if you’re not familiar with how lumber is sized, the purchasing process can be anything but easy. That’s because the size you see isn’t really what you get. This month we’ll share tips  to help you get the best wood possible.
Nominal vs. Actual Size
When you look at the labels on boards, you’ll see simple sizes like “1x6” or “2x6.” That’s the nominal size of the board, which describes the board’s dimensions before it was machined to finished size. The finished size, known as the actual dimension, will be slightly smaller in thickness and width. For example, a 2x4 board actually measure 1½" thick x 3½" wide.

If you are using a project plan, like the ones on, the materials list may say to buy a 1x4 (the nominal size), but the dimensions in the plan will base everything on that board’s actual size — 3/4" x 3½" in this case.

If you are drawing your own project plan, make sure that you use the actual dimensions for all of the boards. If you accidentally design your project using the nominal dimensions, it may not go together as you had planned.
Thickness, Width, and Length
When building projects, you also need to understand how boards are described in terms of thickness, width, and length. That’s because a project plan may actually call for a board that’s as wide as, or wider than it is long. Just be sure to remember:
  • Length is measured in line with the grain 
  • Width is measured across the grain 
  • Thickness is measured on the edge of the board
Common Defects
Once you understand board sizing, you’ll be ready to purchase what you need for your projects. But don’t think you can purchase just any boards off the lumber rack and get exactly what you need. Boards tend to bow, warp, and twist. So you need to examine each board to make sure it’s flat and straight. To do this, hold the board out, and look along the length of the board. Look at the edge first to check for twisting and bowing. Then look at the face to see if the board is bowed or crooked.
Side Table
Barn Door Bookcase
Bathroom Vanity
Paper Roll Dispenser
Modern Bench
Mantel Clock
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