Hardwood Lumber Sizes and Buying Guides

While nominal dimensions are widely used for selling softwoods, some retailers have extended the practice to hardwood boards as well. Your local home center probably stocks a few species of hardwoods, like oak, maple and cherry. These boards generally are planed to ¾ inch thick, jointed flat on the edges and cut to standard widths and lengths.

Within the lumber industry, lumber of this sort is categorized as “S4S”, which stands for Surfaced Four Sides. All of this surface preparation at the mill translates to higher prices for you, but it may make the most sense to buy S4S lumber if you don’t own a thickness planer or jointer to prepare board surfaces yourself.

To find specialty or thicker hardwoods, you’ll need to shop at a traditional lumberyard. A good lumberyard will offer a wide selection of hardwoods in random widths and in an assortment of thicknesses and grades. In addition to S4S, you’ll find S2S lumber (planed smooth on two faces but the edges are rough), and roughsawn boards that are simply cut from the log, dried and shipped to the lumberyard.

Because of their diverse uses, hardwoods are offered in a much larger variety of thicknesses than standard 1x and 2x softwoods. This has let to the quartering system for determining lumber thickness, which allows you to buy hardwoods in ¼ inch thickness increments from ¼ inch on up.

Most yards offer popular hardwood species in three, four, five, six, eight, ten and even twelve quarter thicknesses (which read as ¾, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 8/4, 10/4 and 12/4 on the label at the rack).

These correspond to rough (pre-planed) thicknesses of ¾ inch, 1 inch, 1 ¼ inch, 1 ½ inch, 2 inch, 2 ½ inch and 3 inch.


If the extent of your hardwood needs amounts to only an occasional project, buy S4S boards at the yard. They’ll come planed on both faces and jointed flat on both edges, ready for cutting into project parts. 

If you have access to a jointer, consider buying S2S lumber, which still has rough edges but the faces are planed smooth. The most economical hardwood comes roughsawn to the lumberyard and will require you to do all of the surface preparation yourself. Some lumberyard will plane your stock for a nominal fee, if you don’t own a planer.


Hardwood lumber is graded using a different classification system than softwoods. Grades are based on the percentage of clear face cuts that can be made around a board’s defects knots, splits, pitch pockets, and so forth. From highest grade (clearest) to lowest (most allowable defects). The grades are:

Grade                             Percentage of Clear Cuts

FAS (Firsts & Seconds)                       83 1/3%

Select                                                 83 1/3%

No. 1 Common                                   66 1/3%

No. 2A & 2B Common                       50%

No. 3A Common                                33 1/3%

No. 3B Common                                25%

Choose the lumber grade that best suits the needs of your project parts and your budget. It could be that a Common grade will provide all the knot-free lumber you need at a significant savings over FAS.

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The Ultimate Guide Buying Hardwood Lumber

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Understanding the terms, and lingo of buying hardwood lumber. I go over how to buy hardwoods in rough sawn, S4S, surfaced lumber, s2sr1e. Buying hardwood for beginners.

What is Flatsawn, Plainsawn, Quartersawn, Riftsawn? What is a boardfoot? How to buy lumber by the boardfoot. Calculating boardfeet. How to stack lumber. What is a Boule? What does Flitch Cut mean? What is figured wood? What does Curly Maple look like? American Lacewood? Crotch figure. Etc.

How To Buy Lumber & Plywood At A Hardwood Dealer

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In this video I explain all you need to know to understand the world of hardwood lumber when going to a hardwood lumber yard or dealer to pick out your hardwoods or plywood for your next project.

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