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Lumber Guide

Lumber comes from timbers that are milled into the shapes and sizes we are familiar with.

What You Want
When you're using wood for light and residential framing, the best characteristics to look for are:

  • Light weight
  • Strong
  • Good thermal insulator
  • Good sound insulator
  • Good electrical insulator
  • Attractive and paintable
  • Workable
  • Relatively inexpensive


Generally, after the wood is milled, it is then seasoned to allow moisture to evaporate. This process helps eliminate the lumber from shrinking and warping. The lumber is seasoned using either an air-dried method or a kiln-dried method.

Air-dried lumber is stacked in layers so that air can circulate between the cut timbers. This process usually takes several months. The seasoning times are subject to atmospheric conditions.

Kiln-dried lumber is dried in a controlled environment. The lumber is stacked in oven-like buildings where the moisture content is reduced in less than a week.

Good Wood
Framing lumber should contain no more than 19% moisture. Lumber sold for framing in the U.S. should bear designations disclosing the approximate moisture content. Typical designation are S-DRY, or KD-19, meaning Surfaced dried at 19% and Kiln-dried at 19% respectively. The lower the moisture content, the stronger the wood.

There are two general categories of lumber: softwoods and hardwoods. The terms hardwood and softwood refer to the type of trees that produce the lumbers.

Examples of softwoods are pine, cedar and spruce. Softwoods are most commonly used in building construction. Builders prefer softwood because it's relatively inexpensive and readily available. Softwood trees produce cones and are known as coniferous trees. Most pressure treated lumber is softwood.

Examples of hardwoods are oak, birch and maple. Hardwoods are generally stronger and more naturally resistant to decay than softwoods. These trees shed their leaves annually (usually during the autumn season) and are known as deciduous trees.

Cedar Softwood fine texture, highly decay resistant, light weight, finishes well chest and closets, shingles, moldings doors and boats.
Fir Softwood coarse texture, relatively heavy, finishes poorly plywood, residential framing
Hemlock Softwood very fine texture, highly decay resistant, light weight, extremely workable construction lumber, plywood, panels
Pine Softwood medium texture, lightweight, minimal shrinkage, extremely workable, not very resistant to decay Residential framing,
Redwood Softwood medium texture, highly decay resistant, heavy, finishes well Boards, joist, post, outdoor furniture
Birch Hardwood medium texture, difficulty to work, finishes well Cabinets, doors, plywood veneer
Cherry Hardwood medium texture, workable, finishes well Cabinets, caskets, plywood veneer
Mahogany Hardwood fine texture, highly decay resistant, heavy, easy to work, finishes well Furniture
Maple Hardwood medium texture, difficulty to work, heavy, finishes well Flooring, furniture
Oak Hardwood open grain, course texture, heavy, finishes well, easy to work Post, flooring, furniture
Walnut Hardwood open grain, fine texture, highly decay resistant, easy to work, finishes well Furniture, cabinets
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