How to Order Lumber at the Hardware Store

To the average homeowner, or new handyman, the price boards at a hardware store can seem intimidating.  There is a vast array of sizes and types of lumber available!  If you want to sound like a real handyman, you need to know how to ask for the lumber you need for your project.

Lumber Length

Lumber will start at 6 feet in length and some yards stock product as long as 20 feet in more popular types of lumber.  Lengths go in 2 foot increments unless it’s a specialty board.

A good example is the “stud” length 2X4 boards that are actually shorter than 8 feet long so that when used to frame a wall, the entire wall measures 8 feet from floor to ceiling to allow efficient drywall hanging.

Lumber Width

Most common lumber starts at 2 inches wide and goes up to 12 inches wide in 2 inch increments. 

Nominal vs. Actual Dimensions

Framing lumber uses “nominal” dimensions.  This means boards measure less than they are called by name.  There can be some variations between batches and mills as well.

Types of Lumber

Lumber is graded for quality with a #2 and a letter B being better than a #3 or letter C.  Less desirable ratings could indicate more knots, or even voids and pieces of bark still attached.

Green lumber is cut wet and, as it dries, it will shrink and warp.  Kiln dried lumber is dried and then cut to reduce the shrinking and twisting as the board dries.

Pressure treated lumber has holes punched in it and chemicals forced in with high pressure.  The chemicals allow it to withstand ground contact and moisture without rotting.  Because of the chemicals, most people do not use this for garden beds or deck boards.

Cedar and Redwood are also rot resistant due to their natural tannins in the wood.  Cedar is most commonly used for decking, fencing, and raised garden beds but cannot be used for structural purposes.

You need to use fasteners and screws approved for use with pressure treated and cedar lumber to prevent corrosion.


                This list should get you through ordering any basic lumber like a pro!  Now, you need to study up on fasteners, masonry, and don’t forget your decorative touches!

2 thoughts on “How to Order Lumber at the Hardware Store

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  1. I looked into building a raised garden bed this summer and found that cedar boards where too expensive but dont want to use treated woods. Is there any happy mediums? Things that have the rot protection of ceder but lack the chemicals of treated wood?


    1. I have a great happy medium! You can make your garden bed out of regular Douglas fir birds and cover the inside of the wood with plastic sheeting. Make sure not to put plastic on the bottom or they will retain water. While you still won’t get the long lifespan of a cedar bed (Doug fir is not rot resistant) you will get a decent lifespan at a fraction of the price. You could extend that lifespan even more by painting or staining the outside of the garden beds since it won’t touch your food.


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