A little intimidated by the lumber aisle? Try these tricks.

If you’re new to DIY, right after you buy your first round of tools, the next thing you’ll be buying is the lumber you’ll be cutting up to make a bench or raised garden bed or mailbox. Here are a few tips to making the lumber buying process easier.


Whatever your project, you need to figure out how many pieces of lumber you’ll need and what their dimensions are. With the exception of “five-quarter” deck boards which are five-quarters of an inch think—1 1/4-inches—most material is either “one-by” or “two-by”. Which nets out to ¾-inch thick or 1 ½-inches thick.

If you’re doing something new like adding a gate to a fence that doesn’t have one make sure to buy a few extra pieces of material. Reason is, if you make a mistake or didn’t figure enough you have a piece right there and can keep going rather than full-stop and then head back out to the lumber yard. It’s easier to return extras and keep going. However, think about the next person who may buy that board. Store it straight and keep it clean. It’s a return, not a rental.

Bring a Tape Measure.

When you go to buy your lumber bring a tape measure. You may realize something you hadn’t before or, as often happens, the decal is missing on the lumber you want and if you can’t tell by eye, you can’t tell. Just measure it.

Lift By The Center.

If you’re alone, lift boards by the center, or what we call the “balance point”. They’re easier to control and to place on the cart.

Pick Straight.

The straightest boards are the ones that have been undisturbed in the pile. The loose wood on top? Who knows? Store employees or customers seem to just toss them around instead of stacking them correctly like sane human beings. At home, stack straight and neatly.

Retainer Bars.

In home centers, there are bars chained to the lumber racks and set in a hole. They are invariably in the way and they’re removable. Surely there’s some reason for them to be there, but I always take them out to remove wood and place it on my cart.

Transportation Plan.

Know before you go how you’re going to secure the load. If you’ve borrowed a truck or are using a roof rack or whatever it is, be sure you have ratchet straps or know the proper knots—learn my favorites here—to keep that load safely in place all the way home.

(Images via Shutterstock)