How To Buy Hardwood Lumber

As a DIY'er, buying hardwood lumber can sometimes be a challenging experience. Here are some helpful tips for you to use on your next trip to Eco Relics.

Domestic and Exotic HardwoodsWhether you view woodworking as an art or a craft, or it’s your profession, your finished project begins with a really great piece of wood. As a DIY’er, or even a professional, buying hardwood lumber can sometimes be challenging. You really have to think about a lot of details such as the grade, or the way it’s sized, or even the cut.

In this post, we’ll talk about some of the things you’ll need to know to help you pick out and purchase your hardwood lumber.


Wood grades refer to the number and severity of the defects in a board. The following list generally explains the different wood grades, according to the National Hardwood Lumber Association (or NHLA for short). A more detailed explanation ca be found here: Grading Hardwood Lumber.

Firsts: Very few, if any, noticeable defects.

Seconds: The occasional knot or other surface defect. Firsts and seconds are often grouped together and referred to as FAS (firsts and seconds). These are the grades that you will want for fine furniture building.

Selects: A few more defects, but nothing so big or frequent that it can’t be cut out. Probably should not use this grade for fine furniture, because it can and will add more work to the process.

Four grades of Common (#1, #2, #3a, #3b): Generally speaking, too many defects to use for fine furniture. (Although many craftsmen are building rustic furniture using Live Edge Slab Lumber.)

Lumber Thickness

1″ boards are referred to as 4/4 (stated as “four quarter”). Rough 4/4 will be anywhere from 13/16″ to 1″ thick. If the board is pre-milled, you can expect it to be close to 3/4″.

2″ boards are referred to as 8/4 (stated as “eight quarter”). Rough 8/4 will be anywhere from 1 13/16 to 2″ thick. If the board is pre-milled, you can expect it to be close to 1 3/4″.

If you don’t have a planer, talk to one of our craftsmen in Custom Woodshop and they can help you out with that.

One thing to keep in mind when purchasing hardwood lumber, is that no matter what the actual thickness is, you’ll be charged at the max rate being 1″ thick for 4/4 stock and 2″ thick for 8/4 stock.

Board Feet

Board Feet (BF) is a unit of volume we use to measure hardwoods. Because hardwood lumber comes in so many lengths, widths and thicknesses, it’s much easier to express their quantity in a unit of volume instead of some sort of linear measurement. Here’s the basic formula:

Length x Width x Thickness / 144 = BF.

Helpful tip:  Keep a pocket calculator or smart phone with a calculator app handy.

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