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Look Out Below: Timber and Other Lumber

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by Allison Gunkel

Lumber is broken down into two categories: rough or finished.

Whenever the word "lumber" or "timber" enters a conversation, a quick image of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe, standing in the middle of a large forest surrounded by felled trees comes to mind. This is not too far from the truth. The term timber is used to describe wood that is processed for use – from the moment the tree falls to the product it becomes. Lumber is used to refer to the boards that are cut from fallen timber.

Rough lumber is raw material often used in furniture making or other items requiring special shaping or cutting. Its availability spreads to many species. Finished lumber (also known as dimensional lumber) is cut and planed to standardized sizes, typically for the construction industry. Dimensional lumber is used widely for many projects from do-it-yourself hobbyists to large construction firms. Many varieties of dimensional lumber are project specific and ensure the best quality for the job:


  • Wood from conifers (pine, spruce, cedar, fir, Douglas fir, larch, hemlock, cypress, redwood, yew)
  • Typically softer than hardwoods, though there are exceptions, including Douglas fir
  • Easy to work and manipulate
  • Used mostly in construction (all-purpose)
  • Common width and depth sizes: 2x4, 2x6, and 4x4
  • Lengths measured separately from width and depth: 6-24 feet (by even numbers)
  • All lengths available for 2x4, 2x6, and 4x4


  • Wood from angiosperms (broad leaved trees with enclosed nuts, like acorns)
  • Higher density and hardness than softwoods
  • Presence of pores within wood helps differentiate from softwoods
  • Greater resistance to decay
  • Greater variation of species (almost 100 times more than softwoods)
  • Largely found in tropical Africa and some parts of Europe and Asia
  • Vast array of uses including construction, furniture, and flooring

Green Lumber

Green lumber is a reference to making lumbering eco-friendly. This industry is slowly gaining speed and increased credibility as it is also referred to as "stewardship forestry," "well-managed forestry," or "long-term forestry." All these titles relate to the same idea: maintaining healthy, vibrant forests by certifying timber/lumber companies that produce lumber in a sustainable way. This includes using local hardwoods rather than depleting tropical woods, salvaging all wood material, and encouraging consumers to only purchase lumber that is labeled as having been certified. Hardwood prices are soaring due to the demand for sustainability and certification can help eliminate that issue. Green lumber is truly about reducing the economical footprint of the lumber industry by allowing the forests to dictate how much wood is harvested, ending the depletion of this natural resource, while providing enough product for the booming industry.

Palmwood is a great example of green lumbering:

  • Also known as "Coconut Lumber"
  • Hardwood from palm trees
  • Ecologically sound source
  • Tested and performs as well as typical hardwoods
  • In contrast to typical hardwoods, palmwood is free from knots and imperfections of branches, growth rings, etc.
  • Has densities of high, medium, and low; each has its own place in construction use.
  • High– good for general structural purposes, pillars, rafters, furniture, window/door frames, and floors
  • Medium– good for walls, ceiling joists, and horizontal studs
  • Low– used for non-load bearing applications such as paneling and trim

Engineered Wood

  • "Composite wood" that is derived from wood products (chips, shavings, defective pieces) that are combined with adhesives
  • Due to being a man-made product, engineered wood can be designed to meet specific performance requirements (ex. large panels can be made from small trees)
  • Often stronger than other natural woods
  • Less issues with humidity/decay
  • Greater expense upfront than natural woods, however there is less need for future maintenance, repairs, and expenditure.

Much lumber is treated with preservatives that protect it from natural elements like insects, fungus, or moisture. This pressure-treated lumber, though common, can be harmful to people and the environment so be cautious when using. When considering any project – from your dream home plan to a relaxing deck, talk to the experts about what lumber will be best to use. This will ensure your hard work entails minimal frustration with maximum results, and your beautiful craftsmanship will be admired for years to come.

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