Before You Visit a Lumber Yard…

When you’re taking on a DIY home repair or woodworking project, deciding to visit a lumber yard can be intimidating.

While most of us have experience visiting a more traditional big box store (like Home Depot or Lowe’s), these stores have natural limitations. Though they’re great for being a one-stop shop, they do tend to lose points when you need an expert opinion or lots of selection.

Still, jumping into the lumber yard experience isn’t without its questions. So today, we’re answering some frequently asked questions about first visits to a lumber yard. 

For more on what you should expect, some fundamental wood facts, and what you can ask the experts at a lumber yard like Johnson Lumber, read on.

Engineered Lumber
A selection of Johnson Lumber’s engineered lumber

Visit a Lumber Yard with Specialists

If you’ve ever had to run up and down the aisles at a big box store looking for help, you already have an idea how different a lumber yard will be. Instead of searching for someone who might know what you’re talking about, you’ll have an entire staff with experience and ideas at your disposal. 

From choosing the right kind of wood for your project, to making decisions based on your budget, lumber yard specialists guide you to a successful final project.

What should I expect to see in terms of wood selection?

man choosing wood while on a visit to a Lumber Yard

Your local lumber yard deals almost exclusively in wood and wood-related projects. Because of that, you’ll have access to a wider selection of wood types that are appropriate for a range of projects. This can include large-scale construction and framing to smaller woodworking and furniture-making.

If I visit a lumber yard, will I pay more?

Not at all. A lumber yard specializes in wood, meaning they are also well-versed enough to be able to purchase it from suppliers at fair prices. 

If you are searching for rarer or higher-quality wood to work with, it’s much likelier that a lumber yard will have it in store. In that case, you might pay more, but it also comes with a much higher standard. 

Are lumber yards able to help me with custom cuts for my project?

While big box stores can help you cut wood to a certain length or width, you’ll be able to request more specific cuts at lumber yards.

For any level of customization beyond that, though, a lumber yard like Johnson Lumber will be much more capable of helping. 

Is the wood at a lumber yard cared for differently than at a big box store?

To generalize, there are two ways wood is handled at any big box store or lumber yard. One is by the customers, and the other is by the staff.

At a lumber yard, the customers are likely seeking out specific pieces and qualities. Likewise, with a more intentional audience, the wood is often treated a bit better.

As far as the staff, they work exclusively with wood and wood products in a space and environment that’s dedicated to preserving lumber.

How are boards measured at a lumber yard?

While most of us have heard about 2x4s, it’s important to dive into the actual measurement of how wood is cut at the sawmill.

There are  a few standard thicknesses, each based on 1/4″ increments. 

As an example, a board’s thickness could be 4/4, or four quarter, and that would be one inch (4 x ¼”). Five quarter (5/4, or 1 ¼”), six quarter (6/4, or 1 ½”), and eight quarter (8/4, or 2”) are other possibilities, too.

What’s the difference between rough finished and surfaced/planed/dressed finishes?

Lumber yards often offer wood that isn’t as finished as the smooth wood you might find at a big box store. This is to provide you with more flexibility in your projects.

Rough lumber is wood that has been cut down to size with a circular saw, but hasn’t received any other sanding or finishing work.

Planed lumber, also known as dressed or surfaced lumber, has been cut down to size and then passed through a planer to remove its rough outer layer. It is often more expensive since extra work has been involved in the production.

What’s the difference between hardwoods and softwoods?

Hardwoods come from deciduous trees, including mahogany, oak, birch, and walnut.

Softwoods come from evergreen conifer trees, including pine, cedar, fir, and spruce.

What is the meaning behind the different grades for hardwoods?

Lumbers are graded based on the number of defects in a board. Starting with the highest grade of FAS (Firsts and Seconds), they are followed by Select, No. 1 Common, and No. 2 Common.

Grades4, Anne Arundel County, Johnson Lumber

What is the meaning behind the different grades for softwoods?

Softwoods are considered under two categories. Dimensional or construction labor is graded on strength. The grades are No. 1 (Construction), No. 2 (Standard), No. 3 (Utility), No. 4 and No. 5

Appearance and remanufacture lumber, which make up the raw material for other products, are graded on looks. Grades start at Finish, then Select. t, each with letters A, B, C, and D as subgrades.

Planning Your First Visit to a Lumber Yard

We hope this helped give you a sense of what to expect when you come out to a lumber yard

At Johnson Lumber, we’re here to help, whether this is your first project or your 40th, and we’ll happily answer any questions you may have.

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