How to Buy Rough Cut Lumber

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Calculator

Buying rough-cut lumber can be a profitable experience if you know some of the trade terms used in the practice. Every piece of rough-cut lumber is cut and sold by the board foot. One board foot is 1 inch thick by 12 inches wide and 12 inches long. Rough-cut lumber is also measured by its true size. An example of dimensional-size lumber is a 2-by-4. If you measure a store-purchased 2-by-4 with a ruler, you will see that the board actually measures 1½ inches by 3½ inches.

Find a reputable sawmill or wood dealer. These folks can be found by word of mouth and good references. Call the place of business ahead of time to see what they have in stock. You can also get a good idea of how they do business from a phone conversation.

Inspect the stock they have on hand. Is the material air-dried or kiln dried? Kiln-dried rough-cut lumber should cost more because of the process. The kiln will kill the eggs of insects in the lumber because of the high temperature. Air-dried lumber may be prone to pest problems as it is dried outdoors. Ask the operator when the lumber was cut and how long it has been sitting in the lumberyard.

Ask how the wood was stacked after it was cut. The wood should have been sticker-stacked soon after cutting. Sticker-stacking wood is the method for air- and kiln-dried lumber. The individual boards are stacked on 1-inch-by-1-inch sticks. The sticks are laid in such a way as to create gaps between the boards. This allows air movement around the wet lumber and keeps mold growth from occurring.

Calculate the overall board footage by measuring the end width and thickness from the stack. You can then measure the overall length of the stack for the final tally. For instance, the stack of boards are all made up of 1-inch-thick boards but vary in 6-inch and 8-inch-wide boards. There may be 20 6-inch boards and 30 8-inch boards. All the boards are 8 feet in length.

Calculate the width board footage first. In the case of the 6-inch wide boards, divide 6 inches by 12 inches, which equals .5 feet. Multiply the 8-foot length by the .5-foot width, this will equal the board footage of 4 board feet for all of the 1-inch-by 6-inch-by-8-foot-long boards.

Figuring the 8-inch wide boards is done the same way. Divide 8 inches into 12 inches, which equals .67 feet. Multiply .67 by 8 feet; this equals 5.36 board feet for each board.

Multiply each board by the appropriate width. Twenty boards times 4 board feet equals 80 board feet. Thirty boards times 5.36 board feet equals 160.8 board feet. Combine the two and the entire stack of rough-cut lumber equals 240.8 board feet. The operator is charging 50 cents a board foot, so the price of the stack would be $120.40.


  • Operators love to talk about their operation. Take your time and get to know them as they can be a wealth of information.
    Be prepared to offer cash. This will go a long way in talking price with anyone.