Nominal Lumber Knowledge
I don’t know exactly when I learned that a 2×4 isn’t 2″ x 4″, but I’m quite sure it was well before I joined the staff of Popular Woodworking. I studied English literature and journalism in college, and took one shop class in grade school that covered little more than basic turning – no construction.
When I was a kid, I was busy playing soccer and bugging my mom to let me take riding lessons, not building stuff. And neither of my parents built stuff, either (though I recall hearing some cursing during a DIY tiling job). My grandfather built stuff, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I ever joined him in the shop.
Yet I knew as a kid that “2×4” was a nominal measure (though I wouldn’t have at the time used that term), not the actual width and thickness of the stick in question. And just look at a 2×4 – it is clearly not 2″ x 4″.
Commercial construction lumber hasn’t matched its nominal S2S size when dry since 1906, according to the 1964 the Forest Products Laboratory “History of Lumber Sizes” report. And the current standards have been around since before I was born – they were proposed in that same report.
Rain is wet. Everybody poops. A 2×4 isn’t 2″ x 4″.
My house was built just before construction lumber began shrinking; the interior framing is 2″ x 4″ (some of it with axe marks in evidence). For my renovation project I at times need to match it; I have to cut my own studs out of thicker and wider material. I can’t just run down to the home center and buy it. This causes me inconvenience, costs me a bit and slows my progress. It causes some people to call a lawyer.
It seems ignorance has become an acceptable excuse. (See: Coffee is hot.)
All three of the large home center companies in the United States have now been sued for the size of their wood, and while two of those suits are recent and pending, Lowe’s has already had to pony up.
In 2004, a Marin County California superior court judge directed the company to pay a $1.6 million settlement for inaccurate description of building materials. Lowe’s has since updated its signage to indicate both the product name (2×4) and actual dimensions (11⁄2” x 31⁄2“).
Home Depot and Menard’s didn’t heed that judgment.
In June of this year, suits were filed against those two companies; plaintiffs are asking for $5 million in each case. The suit against Menard’s alleges the “defendant has received significant profits from its false marketing and sale of its dimensional lumber products.” Home Depot faces accusations of being “false and misleading.”
Both of these accusations are, I suppose course, arguably true – but it has been more than a century since a 2×4 was 2″ x 4″. So in effect, the plaintiffs have filed lawsuits for failing to properly inform themselves before making a purchase…or perhaps because they were a bit short of dough.
If you’re unfamiliar with lumber and can’t be bothered to learn enough about it to know what you’re buying, take up fishing instead. But don’t tell any fish tales; those could land you in court. PWM