Lumber 101


A majority of people who purchase redwood or cedar do not know a great deal about the material they are looking at. To help you make a more informed decision about the material you use, we have put together some of the most common questions and concerns. The idea is to give you some basic information which will affect the quality and durability of your wood projects.

Heartwood and Sapwood

Heartwood comes from the center of a tree, while sapwood is found on the outer part of the tree. Because heartwood is the oldest part of the tree, the growth rings have been compressed, forming a harder, more durable wood. Building with reclaimed lumber means using lumber that was taken from the heart of old growth trees, giving it a richer color and texture as well as more resistance to pests, decay, and cracking.

Finger Jointed and Whole Lumber

Building with whole lumber is preferable to using finger jointed material. Finger-jointed material is processed to allow the use of more of the tree. While whole wood will maintain its integrity for many years, finger jointed products may begin to show separation, warping or other deformities fairly quickly. Unfortunately, many of the big box lumber companies will disguise finger jointed product by applying a factory primer which hides the joints under a coat of paint.

Size Matters

Another trick used by the big lumber companies is to sell thinner material for fences or sell lower grades of lumber. Both of these can save you money during the initial purchase but will end up costing more in the long run. Thicker reclaimed cedar slats, as an example, are more resistant to warping, and have fewer defects which could cause separation or other problems.

Lumber Grades

All lumber is assigned a grade or quality identifier. Clear heart lumber tends to be the strongest and most durable and can be identified by the lack of knots and blemishes as well as a denser grain structure. Lesser grades of lumber will have more knots, ranging from knots visible on only one side and widely spaced to large knots found fairly close together. Refer to our lumber grades page for more detailed information.

Douglas Fir Vs Hemlock Fir

When purchasing fir, make sure you are getting Douglas fir. Some companies will sell pressure treated hemlock fir as a substitute for Douglas fir, but there is a great deal of difference in quality. Douglas fir is denser and more durable than hemlock, which means a better, longer lasting finished project.

There is a lot more to know about lumber, but these tips will allow you make better decisions. If you are interested in learning more, we encourage you to talk to a member of our staff and let us show you the differences between the different types and grades of lumber. Our goal is for you to be satisfied with your finished project, and selecting the right lumber is crucial for getting the best results.

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