Real wood elicits a rugged earthiness: the signature smell, handmade sturdiness, simple elegance. In the age of Pinterest and Houzz, wood isn’t just for contractors anymore. With more and more projects readily available online, everyone is unleashing their inner craftsman, strapping on their tool belts, and working with their hands. Buying lumber seems simple enough – you just buy a piece of wood, right? But if you’ve taken a stroll down the lumber aisle at your favorite home improvement store, you know it’s a complex process.

Roll up your sleeves, because we’re about to hit the lumber aisle.

There are two classifications of wood – Softwoods and Hardwoods.

  •      Hardwoods come from trees like oak, maple, walnut, hickory, and mahogany. They take a longer time to grow, so they cost a bit more. They’re typically used for cabinetry, flooring, or fine woodworking.
  •      Softwood lumber comes from easy-to-grow conifer trees like Southern Yellow Pine, fir, spruce, and cedar. Softwood lumber absorbs and loses moisture much easier than hardwoods, but this is easily prevented by pressure treating. Because Softwoods are grown so quickly, they are a super sustainable source of wood and are usually cheaper than hardwoods. If you’re going to do a home DIY project, you’re likely going to use softwood lumber.

There are three general classifications of Softwood lumber: Yard, Structural, and Shop and Factory.

  •      Yard lumber falls under two categories: common and select. Common lumber is great for utilitarian, construction purposes. Select lumber is graded on appearance, so it’s ideal for natural and painted finished, like a beautiful backyard deck. Select lumber is generally clear of most knots and imperfections.
  •      Structural lumber is primarily used in construction, and is graded by the level of stress it is able to endure. If you’ve bought a 2×4 or a 4×4, you’ve bought structural lumber. Homes and buildings are supported by structural lumber, which is used for important things like framing, studs, joists and planks, beams, and posts. Strong structural lumber is what keeps our homes standing under any condition.
  •      Finally, Shop and Factory lumber is used for non-structural purposes, like doors, ladders, pencils, boxes, and more. It’s sturdy and does its job nicely.

What is Pressure Treating?

Softwoods can be susceptible to rotting from exposure to water, which is why pressure-treated softwood is ideal for projects that will be exposed to the elements. Outdoor projects like picnic tables, swing sets, decks, and mailbox posts are made with pressure-treated lumber. The pressure-treating process is quick and easy. Wood is placed in a sealed tank and all the air is vacuumed out. This causes the wood’s pores to open. A simple preservative enters the tank, and pressure is applied to force it deep into the cellular structure of the wood. Voila, your outdoor project will last for years and years.

Build Something

Now that you have a little bit of information in your tool belt, go forth and build. Whether you have a few minutes, hours, days, weeks, or more (you go!), you should be able to find something to get you started. Check out some ideas here.