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Lumber Buying Tips and Tricks (page 1 of 2)

Learn about the different types of wood and what to look for when buying wood.

Excerpted from Do It Yourself Home Improvement

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Lumber is essential in US homebuilding and remodeling. Even a solid masonry house may have a large proportion of wood elements, including rafters and joists, and the studs in a stud wall. In addition to these, there are decorative aspects: doors, moldings, and stairways. These pages deal with the different types of lumber used in homes, the properties of different woods, and sourcing sustainable lumber.

Hardwood and Softwood

Hardwood is usually harvested from deciduous trees (ones that shed their leaves), and softwood from coniferous trees (which bear cones). Hardwoods take longer to grow, and are more resilient than softwoods, so they are considered to be higher-quality woods. Because of this, they are more expensive. This does not mean that softwood is a less effective building material — indeed, it makes up the bulk of all lumber used in the home. It is used planed on all four sides in structural components such as wall studs, and planed for moldings such as baseboards. Some of the more common hardwoods and softwoods used in house construction and decoration are detailed below.

Courtesy of © 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited


A traditional building material, oak is common in many homes. "Green" (newly harvested) oak is still sometimes used to make timber frames for houses; when green, it is still soft, so is more easily cut and shaped. As it dries, oak acquires a hardness more like concrete than like wood, making it a very strong construction material. In addition to structural elements, oak can also be used for decorative elements to provide a high-quality finish.

Uses include: Structure of many houses, decorative beams, kitchens, veneer on kitchen units, flooring, decorative carpentry such as baseboard and architrave

A straight-grained hardwood with a fine, even texture. American beech is light or reddish brown in color, while European beech is a lighter, yellowish brown color.

Uses include: Kitchen counters, floors (veneer), decorative moldings such as quadrant, scotia, etc.

Teak is a dark hardwood, sometimes used in finish carpentry to provide a high-quality finish.

Uses include: Staircases, garden and indoor furniture

Resilient and easily worked, Idigbo is also very reasonably priced for a hardwood

Uses include: Woodworking

More commonly associated with furniture than with house construction

Uses include: Furniture, paneling in period properties

A highly decorative hardwood with a light, attractive appearance and hardwearing characteristics. American black walnut A coarse, dark hardwood used in some aspects of interior carpentry.

Uses include: Flooring, cabinets, stair parts, veneers
Kitchens, veneers


One of the most commonly used woods. Some species of pine can contain more orange or red streaks.

Uses include: Rough carpentry, finish carpentry

Cedar of Lebanon
Another light-colored softwood. Often used in interior carpentry.

Uses include: Rough carpentry, finish carpentry

Western red cedar
Has a red-tinged appearance. Used mainly for exterior applications.

Uses include: Paneling, shingles, decking

Douglas fir
Has a definite reddish brown tinge, and is commonly used in plywood.

Uses include: Construction, decking, flooring

A light, nonresinous wood.

Uses include: Doors, windows, framing

Characteristics of Wood

In addition to choosing a type of lumber, think about other qualities it needs. These are not mutually exclusive; a piece of lumber can be both seasoned and treated, for example.

Seasoned Wood
Wood has a high moisture content when it is first cut, and needs to dry out ("season") before being used. When you buy wood, it will often still have a relatively high moisture content. Wood can distort during the drying process. To overcome this, store it horizontally, above ground level, and supported evenly along its length. Before using lumber, leave it to acclimate for a few days in the environment where it will be used. Most suppliers produce kiln-dried lumber, on which seasoning has been accelerated and the wood artificially dried. Using kiln-dried wood can prevent problems later.

Treated Wood
Lumber for finish carpentry such as baseboards does not need to be treated. Rough carpentry (e.g., rafters or a stud wall) needs treated wood. Pressure-treated wood is usually tanalized (impregnated with a preservative, shown here), and has a green or brown tint. It can be placed in contact with outside surfaces, such as soil, where there is a high risk of damp attack or insect infestation. All wood, however well treated, will break down eventually, but the degree to which it has been treated will influence its working life span.

Tantalized Wood is Infused with Preservative

Courtesy of DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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Excerpted from Do It Yourself Home Improvement

© Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009