Choosing Wood

Choosing the best wood species for your project goes a long way toward ensuring success. Different species naturally lend themselves better to Uie types of machining required for a project, as well as the overall look. For example, project parts that incorporate decorative edge profiles may be easier to shape using soft wood, but ultimately harder, more straight-grained wood will stand up better over time. Cost and local availability are also Important determining factors. If you're building outdoors, cedar is generally an inexpensive wood choice in the Uppsr Midwest, but on the West Coast redwood is typically more economical, and in the South you'll likely save money by building with cypress. When choosing wood, pay particular attention to the tone of the wood when a finish is applied. To get a good idea what the finished color will be, simply dampen a small section of a planed board with mineral spirits or rubbing alcohol.


Clear topcoat

MAPLE is a light-colored hardwood with straight, tight grain. Hardness makes it durable, but somewhat difficult to work, inexpensive to moderate. Species shown is hard maple.

CHERRY has a deep, reddish brown color when finished (color varies greatly between heart wood and sapwood). ft is hard and tends to be brittle. Occasionally splotchy when finished. Moderate to expensive. Species shown is bla^k cherry. _i___


Clear topcoat


ASH is a readily available, inexpensive hardwood. Its color and grain are not distinguishing, but It can be finished to replicate more expensive hardwoods.


Clear topcoat

PINE Is a very general species term used to refer to most coniferous Softwood. It ranges from white to yellow according to species. Generally easy to work with strong grain patterns, inexpensive to moderate. Species shown is ponderosa pine.

Clear topcoat

RED OAK is one of the more inexpensive and prevalent wood species In today's marketplace. Has dramatic grain figure and warm red color, Fairly easy to work.



WHITE OAK is a versatile hardwood with a distinctive appearance. Used extensively in furniture-building, as well as In boatbuilding. It Is moderate in price (quarter-sawn tends to be higher cost). Moderate workability.

Choosing Wood 19

Reading softwood grade stamps

ALL CONSTRUCTION LUMBER sold In the US. bears an industry grading stamp such as the Western Wood Products Association (WWP) stamp shown above. Nominal softwood lumber is graded similarly, but usually the stamp doesn't show. Here's how to decipher grade stamps:

12 identifies the mil.This can be letters Or numbers.

l&BTR This Is the grade of iumber, In this case #1

Common and better, an exceDent furniture grade.

WWp The grading association that graded the board, in this case the Western Wood Products Association.

S-DRY The condition of seasoning at the time of surfac ing, in this case dry, or seasoned iumber below 19% moisture content. If the stamp read KD-15, it would denote kiln-dried lumber with a maximum of 15% moisture content. Product stamped S-GRN stands for unseasoned (green) lumber containing more than 19% moisture content.

DOUG FlR-L Indicates the wood species, In this case, Douglas fir.

Softwood lumber sizes

Slide your measuring tape across a 2 x 4 and you'll discover that it doesn't actually measure two inches by four inches. In fact, it. will bo Vti-m. shy in both directions. In its rough state, when the lumber was originally ripped into studs, this same piece was in fact a true: 2 x 4. But after drying it shrank a little. Then it was surfaced (planed) on all four faces, and it shrank a little more.

When you buy standard softwood lumber at your home center, surfaced and jointed on all faces and edges, the industry sells it to you in finished dimensions, but still describes it in nominal dimensions—the yize it was before milling.

A piece of softwood lumber with a nominal l-in. thickness is generally referred to as a board, while nominal 2-in.-thick softwood is called framing stock (as in studs, joists and rafters), or dimension lumber. The chart below lists nominal and dimension lumber .sizes for the stock you'll find in home centers.

Softwood lumber is graded by strength and appearance as well as moisture content. For woodworking applications, the three common grades to know are Select, Finish and Common (fioe the chart, below left). While boards in the Common grade categories may contain some blemishes and knots, Select, and Finish grades are clear or nearly-clear of defects. Be aware, however, that boards within any grade may exhibit some degree of natural distortion (capping, bowing, twisting), so it's important to examine each board carefully by sighting along its length and width before you buy.

Softwood Lumber Grades


Grading criteria

B Select and BTtt

Highest quality lumber with little or no defects or blemishes. Nominal sizes may be limited.

C Select

Some smaii defects or blemishes permissible, but still largely clear and of high quality.

□ Select

One board face usually defect-free.

Superior Finish

Highest grade finish lumber with only maior defects.

Prime Finish

High quality with some defects and blemishes.

No. 1 Common

Highest grade of knotty lumber; usually available by special-order.

No. 2 Common

Pronounced knots and larger blemishes permissible.

Nominal vs. dimension

softwood lumber sizes






3/4X 2VS


3/4X 3M>




3Ax 7Vft

lx 10


lx 12

3/»x llVi

Dimension lumber sizes


lVzxl Vi




Wz x

2 x e

lVi x


ll/2 X 7Vü

2 x 10

lVz x 9V*

2x 12

\Vz x 11V4

Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

THIS book is one of the series of Handbooks on industrial subjects being published by the Popular Mechanics Company. Like Popular Mechanics Magazine, and like the other books in this series, it is written so you can understand it. The purpose of Popular Mechanics Handbooks is to supply a growing demand for high-class, up-to-date and accurate text-books, suitable for home study as well as for class use, on all mechanical subjects. The textand illustrations, in each instance, have been prepared expressly for this series by well known experts, and revised by the editor of Popular Mechanics.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment