Lumber is measured in units called board feet, and that's because it comes in random widths and random lengths. 

If you're already confused by this terminology, don't fret. We're here to help. 

That's how hardwood (red oak, walnut, maple, etc.) lumber is sold. And it's also sold in raw form as it was sawn from a log, so each piece is a little different in width and length. Meaning, it hasn't been sawn to a particular size yet, like 1x6 or 2x8. 

The only standard, or uniform, dimension is the thickness. Hardwood lumber is organized and sold by thickness. For example, a pile of 4/4 red oak lumber is all the same thickness (4/4 = approximately 1"), but the widths and lengths are random. Usually from 4" to 10" wide, and 6' to 16' long. 

That's a generality about the widths and length. The real sizes you can expect actually depend on the grade and species of wood. 

But don't worry, if you're a woodworker that means you've got some tools that'll cut wood. If you can cut wood, you're in the right place. You'll be cutting the sizes you need from randomly sized lumber. 

First, get an idea of how much board footage you wish to buy 

Assuming you're working on a specific project (A table? A cabinet? Shelving? A jewelry box? etc. etc. etc.), figuring out board footage goes like this:

  1. Make a list of your project parts. 
  2. Calculate the net board footage of each part
  3. Add it up based on thickness 
  4. Add a waste factor

Check out our blog for a more in-depth explanation:

3 Steps Woodworkers Need to Know for Estimating Board Feet for an Entire Project

Second, understand lumber is a raw material

That means each piece of wood isn't perfect. 

You'll need to get comfortable with cutting around defects like small knots or small cracks here and there. 

Most of the lumber we stock is called "Select & Better" grade, which basically means the best side of each board has at least 83% clear wood. There are a couple of exceptions, though. 

This also means, the actual amount of wood you're going to buy is a little flexible. That's because the size of the boards available will dictate the final amount of board footage you'll buy. For example, if your project requires 10 board feet, your final order might be 11.4 or 12.3 or 10.8 board feet. It just depends. 

Expect some small changes. 

Third, don't worry, there are other ways to buy hardwood lumber

You don't always have to buy randomly sized lumber. Instead, you should check out these, too: