In Chris Schwarz Blog, Raw Materials

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Poke around enough old woodworking books and two things will happen. You’ll become a tremendous bore at parties (“Aye, but I could find no mention of the ‘pricker’ tool in Nicholson, so I knew the usage had shifted…¦.”), and you’ll encounter the word “deal” over and over.

What’s deal? It’s easy to get the impression that deal is merely an English word for dimensional pine. But if you dig around, it’s more complex than that. In one early text the author instructs you to build the project using “pine or deal.” Huh?

Let’s hit the books.

In my library, the accounts I dug up agree that deal is a plank of pine or spruce that is 9″ wide. But they disagree on the thickness. According to Bernard E. Jones’s “Practical Woodworker” (10 Speed Press), deal is 9″ wide and no more than 4″ thick. Charles H. Hayward’s “Carpentry for Beginners” agrees that deal is 9″ wide, but says the thickness is between 2″ and 4″. And Paul N. Hasluck’s “The Handyman’s Book” states that deal is 9″ wide and 2-1/2″ thick.

What is also helpful to know is that deal is just one word that English books use to describe standard sizes of wood. According to Hayward, here are the others:

Plank: A piece of wood that is 11″ wide or wider and 2″ to 4″ thick.

Batten: A piece of wood that is 5″ to 8″ wide and 2″ to 4″ thick.

Board: Anything that is more than 4″ wide and less than 2″ thick. This term is usually used with floor boards and tongued-and-grooved boards.

Small bits that are 2″ to 4-1/2″ wide and 2″ to 4″ thick.

Strip: Pieces that are less than 4″ wide and less than 2″ thick.

But that’s not all. There are different kinds of deal. Deal that is Northern pine (Pinus sylvestris) can be called Baltic red deal, Dantzic deal or yellow deal. And Spruce (Picea excelsa) shows up as white deal. And Canadian spruce (Picea nigra) can be called New Brunswick spruce deal.

So there you go. Now you can read the old books and understand that word a little better. And you’ve enhanced your ability to induce ennui at will.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 8 comments
  • Tom Walz

    Interesting list. Thank you.

    I usually see the term scantling used in connection with shipbuilding. There it refers to a length of the ship measured in a particular way.

    Scantlings (pl.) is technically the dimensions of the timbers, beams, etc. that constitute the framework of a ship. The term is often used to refer to the parts themselves as in “The scantling are made and the ship is ready to be built.”

    Tom Walz
    Carbide Processors, Inc.

  • John Clifford

    Chris, I have heard this word before but wasn’t sure what it meant. The late Jim Kingshott used the word in his video on hand planes. When he says the word it sounds like "dill" to my Yankee ears. He’s talking about a piece of wood that appears to be construction grade lumber that he’s working on. So now I know what he meant.


  • Christopher Schwarz


    According to Hayward, stuff that is thinner than 2" can be called by several names, depending on its width.

    "Board" applies to stuff thinner than 2" and more than 4" wide.

    "Strip" applies to stuff thinner than 2" and less than 4" wide.

    Another useful (and I use that word loosely) term is "stripwood."

    Hayward defines stripwood as the really thin stuff that is 1/4" think and up.

    Hope this helps.


  • David

    Chris – Interesting post. Until I read your entry, I’d never heard "deal" referred to as a standard size of softwood lumber. My only familiarity with the term was as a description of a species – red pine from Northern England. Some of us Yanks find the quaint British terms for speices to be somewhat amusing – Deal’s an example (let’s make a deal?), as is Krenov’s term "doussie". I’ve no idea what he means by that other than he uses it as a term for a particular species, but it strikes me as a cute name for a dog…

  • Tom Dugan

    Thanks, Chris. Sadly, this was something I’ve wondered about. Like there aren’t better things to wonder ….

    So there isn’t a standard term for pieces of wood less than 2" thick?

    And whenever I hear Howie Mandel say "Deal or No Deal", do I hit him with a plank, or a batten?

  • Jeremy Kriewaldt

    My copy of Jones, Practical Woodworker, (Waverley 4 vols) is quite confusing on deals. When talking about converting a fir log into "deals" he indicates that 7" x 21/2" is a deal as is 9" x 1/1/4". But the description of market terms says ‘deals [vary] from 9 in wide and from 2 in to 41/2 in thick’.

    One of the big advances that came to Australia in the early 1970s was metrication. With it a whole lot of these confusing traditional terms were replaced, generally with terms that actually measured the wood. The old exception is where the timber has been dressed (ie planed and jointed) where the convention now is to say the rough dimension before planing and indicate whenther it is dressed on two faces or is dressed all round (DAR).

    I thoroughly recommend this – it encourages accoracy in the user and honesty in the merchant (as it can easily be verified by a ruler)and makes it much easier to communicate what it is that you are talking about.

    The historian in me loves the old terms ( thanks for keeping them alive) but the practical woodworker has to agree with the superiority of the mm in actually communicating.

  • Bill T.

    Chris –

    I appreciate your contribution to my reputation as a repository for useless trivia. Ennui inducement, indeed!

    Not only that, but this one provides fodder for awful puns as well. I mean this is BIG DEAL!

  • Neil

    Hey Chris…………love stuff like this. Cost me some shop time this morning digging around, but I found your "deal". It came in either a "red deal" or a "yellow deal" out of Manual of Traditional Wood Carving. Couldn’t give it up, though dig to find a deal.

    The illustration up top is interesting too. Notice how the illustrator alternated the growth rings in the stack. Wonder if he was a woodworker, just drew for clarity or is he/she the individual who communicated "how to" lay up boards.

    Fun stuff!!!


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