Choose the correct lumber for your job
With so many choices, it can be hard to nail down the right wood for your renovation or construction project. We asked our experts to break down the choices, explain the grades and offer tips on choosing the right lumber for your job.
“When we look at exterior projects, it is usually one of three products: pressure treated lumber; a natural wood product like cedar or redwood; or construction lumber,” says John Schwager, a lumber merchant with Home Depot, Atlanta, Georgia.
“Cedar and redwood are very popular because they have the natural beauty of wood. They have a lot of character and are naturally resistant to things like rot, decay and insects. They’re great for fences, decks, outdoor furniture, outdoor play sets and garden planters,” Schwager explains. “If you are going to build a house or garage, or remodel – a room addition or complete basement – then, construction lumber is a good category.”
Licensed contractor Jason Cameron, host of DIY Network’s Desperate Landscapes, says it pays to do your research first. “If you are framing a wall, a home improvement store will have plenty of 2 x 4s – typically southern yellow pine, labelled SYP. If it’s a supporting wall, you are going with stronger options like Douglas fir with a tighter grain. Outdoors you can’t just use untreated lumber. It’s not going to hold up. It’s not going to weather. You need treated lumber,” says Cameron, adding that the wood grain makes a difference, too.
“Look for knots that are at least three feet apart – a No. 1 grade. Measure the knots to verify they are more than 7/8 in. but less than 1.5 in., and not loose. No. 1 grade knots are smaller, tighter and further apart. Then you have No. 2 grade – more knots – and finally, No. 3 grade, the lowest grade, has knots up to 2.5 in. with imperfections.”
When it comes to costs, Schwager says softwood construction lumber and hardwoods vary widely in price, based on size, grade and species. Typical exterior deck products begin around 50 cents US per linear foot for pressure treated wood, and can be as high at $2.50 US/linear foot for the best composite product.
Three Popular Wood Choices
Source: Home Depot
Available in either closed or open grains, hardwood choices include red oak, maple, poplar, mixed grain fir and birch. Hardwood lumber is suitable for a variety of projects such as furniture, cabinetry, flooring and decorative mouldings.
Harvested mainly for construction projects, softwoods include western red cedar and white woods like SPF – spruce, pine and fir. Featuring a closed grain (less likely to absorb water), a softwood’s grain is determined by the size and amount of pores in a tree – straighter grain means stronger wood.
Pressure Treated Lumber
Designed for long-term performance in outdoor projects, pressure treated lumber is an economical option for deck or fence construction. Pressure treated lumber includes a preservative which offers resistance against fungal and insect decay and protection from damage due to moisture exposure. Note: protect the cut ends of boards when using this type of lumber. All cuts and holes should be brush-coated with an end-preservative before the wood is installed.