Nominal Lumber Sizes Land Home Depot And Menards In Hot Water

Hard times indeed must have fallen upon the lawyers of the American mid-west, for news reaches us of a possible class-action lawsuit filed in Chicago that stretches the bounds of what people in more gainful employment might consider actionable. It seems our legal eagles have a concern over the insufficient dimensions of their wood, and this in turn has caused them to apply for a class action against Home Depot and Menards with respect to their use of so-called nominal sizing in the sale of lumber.

If you have ever bought commercial lumber you will no doubt understand where this is going. The sawmill takes a piece of green wood straight from the forest, and cuts it to a particular size. It is then seasoned, either left to dry out and mature in the open air or placed in a kiln to achieve the same effect at a more rapid pace. This renders it into the workable lumber you expect to use, but causes a shrinkage of the wood that since it depends on variables such as moisture can not be accurately quantified. Thus a piece of wood cut by the sawmill at 4 inches square could produce a piece of seasoned lumber somewhere near 3.5 inches square. It would thus be sold as having only a nominal size of 4 inches This has been the case as long as commercial lumber has been produced, we’d guess for something in the region of a couple of centuries, and is thus unlikely to be a surprise to anyone in the market for lumber.

So, back to the prospective lawsuit. Once the hoots of laughter from the entire lumber, building, and woodworking industries have died down, is their contention that a customer being sold a material of dimension 3.5 inches as 4 inches is being defrauded a valid one? We are not lawyers here at Hackaday, but we’d expect the long-established nature of nominal lumber sizing to present a tough obstacle to their claim, as well as the existence of other nominally sized products in the building industry such as rolled steel joists. Is it uncharitable of us to characterise the whole escapade as a frivolous fishing exercise with the sole purpose of securing cash payouts? Probably not, and we hope the judges in front of whom this is likely to land agree with us.

If you have any thoughts on this case, especially if you have a legal background, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Sawn lumber image: By Bureau of Land Management (Oregon_BLM_Forestry_10) [CC BY 2.0].

175 thoughts on “Nominal Lumber Sizes Land Home Depot And Menards In Hot Water

    1. Hilarious, but scary.. Technically, these dumbasses have a legitimate complaint. However ridiculous it is. This is one time I hope the big box store’s team of attorneys destroys those idiots….

    1. Not that there’s any point to a lawsuit over this, but Ian is correct, and in my own lifetime the difference in sizes of say a common 2×4 – and even the matching nails – has been enough that you can’t use old and new together without some serious re-figuring. Did the physics of wood shrinkage change? No. Did a 4×8 piece of plywood lose height or width? No, but thickness is lower…using of course already-cured and sawn laminations. If you want to really experience this, try using some real 2×4’s salvaged from an old ice house, 100 year or so old…they don’t fit anything and seem like major beams compared to current stuff. Now in a lot of cases the current stuff could be a little thinner than the old for similar strength, and most purveyors of wood will either let me select the straight and low-knot stuff, or do it for me if I ask in a savvy manner (there’s a whole vocabulary to this game).
      It would still make a lot of lives easier if they’d just say the size – but that would be embarrassing as all those 1/32s and 1/64ths cheating would show as both complex and what it is – cheating.
      The writer obviously fell for some lumber industry spin here.
      Good reporting might also note pricing vs timing and natural disasters, deliberate capacity reduction to keep prices up and so on.

      1. I’m guessing this is the crux of the problem. Nominal sizing has been around for a long time, but nominal sizing today is smaller than even 20 years ago. This is due to cost cutting.

        If the initial boards weren’t 2×4 before drying and finishing, the argument for nominal sizing gets thrown out. Given any advances in the proccess, it’s hard to imagine they’re somehow getting less wood out of the same boards.

      2. It doesn’t even have to be 100 years old. My grandma’s house is a mere 50 years old and the lumber in the house is a legitimate 2×4 inches. Not only that but it’s as hard and sturdy as can be. You’ll break blades trying to cut it.

        I think it’s a legitimate lawsuit since something as reasonable as trying to find 3/4 inch plywood is now nearly impossible and working in 16ths is a major pain in the butt when constructing anything of large dimensions.

        1. It’s a pain in small dimensions, too. I do woodwork at a local day camp, which involves designing projects and cutting blanks. I no longer make assumptions about the width or thickness of stock when I set up the fence on my table saw to cut parts which need to fit together – I use actual pieces of wood.

      3. My understanding was that much of this stems from the fact that in the “good old days” lumber came from much older trees including slower growing species. That old growth mostly got cut down, today it’s rare and most of it is protected (and rightly so, it’s rare now). Today’s lumber is cut from the much younger trees that grew in the old ones’ place with the same land getting re-cut every 10 to 20 years or so.

        This necessitates the use of faster growing and thus softer wood. Nobody can make a business waiting 100 years or more for a product to grow! These trees grow quicker because they packs less density into their volume. That’s why we get softer wood and also more shrinkage as it dries. There just isn’t as much “stuff” in that wood.

        That is a combination of what I have been told and what I have deduced from what I have been told. Maybe it’s wrong. Any takers?

        Of course.. if you really do need harder wood they do have pills for that!

    2. I disagree. At one time a 2×4 was really 2″ x 4″…anyone renovating an old house will see that was the case. The new 1.5×3.5 standard is based on cost cutting and the desire to maximize profit by supplying the bare minimum nominal materials as possible. It’s no different than buying bacon at the grocery store. Up until a year ago packages were 500grams. Now they are all 375gram packages for almost the same price. People grumble at first, than accept it and continue buying as “this is the new normal”.

      I used to have an amazing lumberyard here in town run buy half a dozen geriatrics. If you asked for a 2×4 they gave you a real 2″x4″ board. They were expensive overall but they had the best selection and best quality wood around. Their “select grade pine” was better than “clear pine” at any other lumber mill. Home Despot wood is garbage in comparison. Unfortunately the mill burnt down about 10 years ago and we lost a fantastic supplier of quality wood.

      1. The issue is bigger than a nominal 2×4. 3/4″ ply is not actually 3/4″ and their 4/4″ lumber and 5/4″ lumber is not actually 1″ and 1 1/4″ as it should be. If you live in an old house and you have been around for a while you know a 2×4 in your old house is really 2×4 but one at the store is no longer rough sawn and is 1 1/2 x 3 1/2. You have to add an additional thickness strip and move on down the road or go somewhere that produces rough sawn lumber.

        The bigger issue to me are the lies about 3/4″ plywood that is actually some slightly smaller size (possibly metric) or lumber specified in 4ths of an inch that is not that count of 4ths but some random nominal size. This is *not* some “we have been doing it for years” industry standard. This is a mis-labeling of a product.

      2. That’s because many old houses were built with rough-sawn 2x4s which are 2″ by 4″. 2x4s sold in hardware stores are finished 4 sides and that reduces their dimensions to 1.5″ x 3.5″. This is not a recent development, it has been this way since I was a kid (call it 40 years ago) and well before that.

        1. @jdoeg, you haven’t been using lumber yard 2×4’s much. Most of the stock over the last 15 years I get from Menards still has the saw marks on the faces. They are sawing the boards thin and barely planing anything, only enough to get them on the pallets in some sort of even layering.

      1. The way it was explained to me in woodshop, very little of the shrinkage is due to drying. It is all those sawcuts and final thickness planing being taken into account. The idea being that if you could split an entire tree into lumber, all 2x4s would be 2 by 4 inches, all 1x12s would be 1 by 12 inches, etc. But they can’t do that. Someone has to pay for the entire tree, and it is always the customer. Like “free” pizza delivery, nothing is really free.

        That’s the story I was told. Of course, they could still be making them actually 2 by 4 inches and price them to pay for the reduced number of pieces they would get out of each tree.

      1. Q: What’s the difference between a dead skunk in the road and a dead lawyer in the road?
        A: There are skid marks leading up to the skunk

        Q: What’s the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?
        A: One is a scum-sucking bottom-feeding lowlife and the other’s a fish

  1. How is this a hack anyway? Any why these 2 business, they are merely middlemen, they don’t cut wood from forest, that is a different company’s job. Then there’s many other lumber yards who also sells wood with the same “size discrepancy” as those 2.

    I doubt the lawyers have any real legal ground for this, the woods were always cut to original size and then dried out before sale for many decades. 1.75 by 3.5 doesn’t sound the same way like a 2×4.

      1. That is what they were, long ago, but in rough dimension– the surfaces were not smooth. My house is entirely of rough, true 2X4, 2X6, and 2X8 lumber. The nominal sizing is based on expected removal from the rough to make smooth and consistent dimension surface, and is a standard. At a given moisture level, the dimension will be within the specified range. This is what they are failing at.

    1. When I was a little one in highschool was taught this little gem. Unfinished is 2×4. Finished is 1 3/4 x 3 3/4. Then I was then taught this was the current method. It has changed several times. That it is down 1/2 inch each way is not surprising. They probably cut 1 3/4 x 3 3/4 then finish it which is the remaining 1/4 on each side. For every 7 boards you get an extra one direction and 14 in the other direction. If those boards are green unfinished then yeah they have a case. There should be very little shrinkage 1/4th at most. 1/2 inch would be most unusual.

      1. 1 1/2″ by 3 1/2″ was established by a committee in 1961.

        From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumber

        “Early standards called for green rough lumber to be of full nominal dimension when dry. However, the dimensions have diminished over time. In 1910, a typical finished 1-inch (25 mm) board was 13⁄16 in (21 mm). In 1928, that was reduced by 4%, and yet again by 4% in 1956. In 1961, at a meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Committee on Grade Simplification and Standardization agreed to what is now the current U.S. standard: in part, the dressed size of a 1-inch (nominal) board was fixed at  3⁄4 inch; while the dressed size of 2 inch (nominal) lumber was reduced from  1 5⁄8 inch to the current  1 1⁄2 inch”

        1. People need to read this reply carefully. Then go buy a 2×4, section of a piece of it a few inches long and then go compare it to a 2×4 from yore.
          In other breaking news, 1 lb coffee cans now only filled with about 11 oz’s coffee, and coffee isn’t the only commodity being downsized like this. 1-gal jugs of bleach are now 3/4-gal jugs, etc.
          Worst of all, inflation ensures that no matter how much sizes and quantities are actually reduced, prices go up anyway and not just in nominal dollars. In short, it’s a racket and the end user/consumer is getting the short end of the stick and it’s getting shorter.

          1. Coffee, bleach, and other items like this are NOT sold by “nominal” sizes. Nominal literally means “in name”. Its the same as standard pipe sizes. A 1/8″ sched. 40 pipe does NOT have a 1/8″ ID (actually bigger due to improvements in metallurgy allowing the pipe that way back when had a 1/8″ bore to now have a larger bore with the same OD). The can your coffee comes in might be the same volume as before, but if it only contains 11oz of coffee, it had better say 11oz (or less) on the label, or that is textbook fraud. Same for your bleach. However, it is very clear that the sizes of lumber are nominal, not dimensional. It doesn’t matter how big they were before, they are 2x4s in name alone. That is why this lawsuit is going to get thrown out.

      1. sometimes it is a good thing that there isn’t an ingredient in the product as implied by the name, for instance take the word sandwich. Though sometimes on a windy day on the beach some of them do have the taste and crunchiness of sand.

        Also baby oil is a good example…

  2. Are the lumber mills actually cutting the green wood to the full 4×4? If the mills are cutting the green wood to 3.8×3.8, then yes, that would be fraud.

    1. It’s not fraud as it’s listed as part of the grade from the American Lumber Standards Committy. The final dressed size is a true standard and is strictly adhered to. I don’t have my ALSC grade interpretations at home, but this is a set size that is cause for loss of grade due to sizing issues.

      If a piece of lumber is sawn to make a KIln Dried piece, it will be sawn at the full dimension to ensure there is enough wood to compensate for shrinkage during kilning and dressing/planing.

      If a piece is going to be sold as green, then the mill will typically saw it between 1/4″ to 5/16″ over nominal (depending on mill and customer requirements).

      The only thing I can think of that would warrant a lawsuit is if Home Depot or Menards allowed the sale of undersized lumber. Grade rules for a #2 stick allow for up to 1/8″ full length as long as there is a “Hit” (surfaced wood) at least once ever 4′. Since the lawsuit only references the actual vs nominal dimension its clearly not the case. That lawsuit would be against the providing mill and not Home Depot.

      Europe, Asia, and Australia have all adopted lumber products that have their nominal and actual size match. A lawsuit won’t change things in America. If someone is that determined to get this changed, a better route would be to lobby the ALSC. Good luck with that, as the majority of the members are owners of mills……

      1. “American Lumber Standards Committy[sic]”

        So they’re a self appointed and self regulated, oh so official sounding crock of shit?

        Hey, my industry has a committee setup to rip people off. WEW LAD!

    2. Not fraud for two reasons.
      1) It is a name, “threebytwo” is a piece of wood roughly 2.75×1.75 but not truly specified for size.
      2) What the sawmill cuts it to is not relevant under any circumstances, they may (for example) measure the moisture content before cutting and can then calculate how much it will shrink within quite a tight tolerance.

    3. Now we’re getting there, the sawmil is cutting a center line, that means the 2″scale is not 2″s, it’s 2″s plus half the thickness of the blade, back in 1961 blades were thicker and sat was greater, modern saws have much thinner blades with less set which results in a thinner kerf and a smoother finish, which would mean that you could reduce the sawn size and still end up with the same size of finished timber as before and get more of it, which is probably what they’re doing

  3. I think that it goes back past my birth when a “2 x 4″ actually measured 2″ x 4″. (I’m 78) The delivered size has been shrinking for a long time, and somehow, the building industry has endured. I know a few carpenters who somehow managed to stay in business and find work in spite of the ‘shrinking’ wood.

    Fortunately, a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood still measures 48″ x 96”. But, be patient. Someone will figure out a way to ‘shrink’ the shelf (or bin) product and still call them “four by eight” sheets, and be able to fall back on ‘the good old days’, and
    say they are just indicating “Nominal Size” or “Historic Size”, etc.

    1. They have already played that game. Now you buy a sheet of 11/32(formerly 3/8),15/32 (formerly 1/2) and 23/32(formerly 3/4). There’s also their “tri-ply” underlayment:

      Tri-PLY Underlayment (Common: 1/4 in. x 4 ft. x 4 ft.; Actual: 0.196 in. x 47.75 in. x 48 in.)

    2. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumber

      “Early standards called for green rough lumber to be of full nominal dimension when dry. However, the dimensions have diminished over time. In 1910, a typical finished 1-inch (25 mm) board was 13⁄16 in (21 mm). In 1928, that was reduced by 4%, and yet again by 4% in 1956. In 1961, at a meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Committee on Grade Simplification and Standardization agreed to what is now the current U.S. standard: in part, the dressed size of a 1-inch (nominal) board was fixed at  3⁄4 inch; while the dressed size of 2 inch (nominal) lumber was reduced from  1 5⁄8 inch to the current  1 1⁄2 inch.”

  4. PS

    I forgot one other phrase often used in various types of construction materials: “Trade Size”. The idea here being the sellers can claim that most of their goods are purchased by ‘the industry’ and that ‘the industry’ understands what the various designations actually mean.

    1. Soon divorce settlements​ will revolve around normalized inches…
      But seriously though. In my experience, here in South Africa where measurements are based on a common base 10 numbering system, when you buy 76mm you get 76mm +/- 1mm

  5. I work in the lumber department of one of these big box stores (not Home Depot of Menards), and while some of the less informed customers may not realize that a 2X4 is not actually 2″ by 4″, the actual size is printed on our tags. If that is not enough, all the lumber associates know about the difference in size, and we are all willing to measure the board if you have any questions. Suing over such a well known quirk of the building trade is ludicrous, and represents what I dislike about layers. Will they next sue over 8d nails not being sold 100 for 8 cents?

    1. I suspect that’s only a ‘quirk of the building trade’ in the US.

      The UK has ‘weights and measures’ laws which make it an offence to sell ‘short measures’ or, in certain cases, any quantity other than that legally mandated.

      eg. selling a pack of 100 nails which only contains 90.

      These are enforced by trading standards who can, and do, prosecute people for it on a fairly regular basis.

      The rest of Europe is much the same and like the UK, has been since long before the advent of the European Union.

      1. The US has those sorts of laws, bureaucracies, and trading standards too. But this isn’t like saying “A size 8 dress is whatever size we say it is” – if you buy an 8-foot-long two-by-four board in the US, the dimensions will be basically the same everywhere, with the wood being the nominal size that represents 2″x4″ green wood, trimmed and dried, and the 8 foot length being within a millimeter or so of 8′.

        This case is even more annoying, because they were suing about 4x4s (which are about 3.5×3.5), which means that they supposedly knew they needed a certain strength of board, which means they were supposedly skilled enough in the trade to know the standard sizes of a 4×4.

  6. So how much dimensional tolerance should one plan for when designing things like homes? (Actually curious) Clearly you aren’t designing for a 2×4 to be 2″ x 4″, but you also can’t say that it’s just “some measurement less than 2″ by some measurement less than 4″” and actually make a house that way.

    Put another way, I want to model a tiny house in SolidWorks before I build it. I’m used to designing parts that get milled on CNC machines and parts that have well controlled tolerances. Is there a real value I should use for a 2×4 that I can expect to be reasonably close to the actual wood I can buy at Home Depot? Thanks!

    1. Since you’ve only gotten the usual browbeating replies from non-contributing zeros, here are a few resources that I’ve had the pleasure to reference:

      0. Residential Construction Performance Guidelines (see page 19, for example) https://builderbooks.com/media/flippingbook/pdf/rcpg_4e__contractor/r/c/rcpg_4th_ed-contractor_final4.pdf

      1. The Handbook of Construction Tolerances (this book helps you adhere to various construction specifications, but details nearly every construction component and their tolerances in the overall structure.

      As you can see from checking those out, the dimensions and tolerances for each component matter, but you also have a tolerance stackup for the whole building (RCPG mentions, for example, 1/4in per 10ft). You basically have to consider that at the scale of even a tiny house, even the best lumber is imperfect. If I were you, I would identify a long-time supplier of high quality kiln-dried lumber, go measure a few sticks, and use that in your design. A place like Home Depot might switch suppliers on the weekly, which complicates your work. Wet lumber will also complicate your work. Have fun.

    2. 1 1/2″ by 3 1/2″ is an industry standard set by the Committee on Grade Simplification and Standardization in 1961.

      Have somebody qualified look over your design to be safe. If you do not know the size of nominal lumber there are probably a lot of things you are missing about house design.

      1. Thanks for your concern everyone, I am interested in building a tiny house (like, the 100sqft variety) in my backyard and that as more of a learning exercise. As for the “if you have to ask” thing, I’m in very early, may-never-actually-do-it planning stages. That said, I’m an engineer and I am used to quickly educating myself on the design requirements of a task and then making it work. I read and search and ask questions until I am able to do the thing.

        1. i really like that you said “may-never-actually-do-it” because this is in fact the obvious fact influencing everyone who poo-pooed your post.

          if you build it, you will build it crappy. if you’re really an engineer who frequently works outside of his expertise, you know that they only path to doing a good job is to do a bad job first, and no amount of prior research will save you from this hazard of being the jack of all trades.

          and we all jump on you with such confidence because we can relate to you, not because we look down on you. though i think some of us might be confused about this. :)

          that said, i’ve found that people who want to build a 3D virtual model of their house before even going to a lumber yard and feeling up the stock are generally not going to follow through. if you really got your rocks off putting splinters in your hands and sawdust in your lungs, you’d be doing things in a different order.

    3. Home designer here.

      Generally floor layouts are rounded off to the nearest half inch. When drawing walls, wall thicknesses are drawn to stud surface, and drywall or cladding is ignored or drawn separately, or drawn elsewhere in detail plans. These are to be framing plans, after all. Interior walls are generally drawn at 3.5″ (2×4 construction), and exterior walls are drawn at 5.5″ thickness (2×6 construction).

      So if you draw all your walls at those thicknesses in your CAD program, it should be OK. That being said, consult an expert. There’s a big unwritten list of tricks of the trade that makes construction of such drawings simpler and easier. Sometimes an inch here or there can mean a lot in construction cost, especially if it makes things line up and quicker to build. There’s also building code to consider.

      Feel free to ask me any other design questions.

      :)

      1. Build your floor deck to the frame measurements and all of the exterior sheeting is floating resulting in wall creep. This is where the exterior sheeting and siding weight causes the nails to pull out and because the sheeting is not sitting on anything it creeps down.
        I have never seen a floor plan drawing, after building over 300 structures, that showed stud measurements other than saying 2×4 or 2×6 thick walls.
        Most Architects assume if you are using their plans you understand how to read them.

        1. You are correct they are labeled 2×4 or 2×6. However if you go into the CAD drawing or measure from a printout, you will see the architect has drawn them at 3.5 or 5.5 inches. If you have a lot of parallel walls in a building, that .5 discrepancy can add up to a big issue.

          When adding dimensions to a floor plan, you would expect a lot of measurements that have a half inch in them. Usually you don’t. This is because the draftsman has been very careful about which stud face he is measuring to, or is measuring to center line, etc.

          You won’t actually see many half inch measurements for instance 3′-9½” because the draftsman will pick the other face of the wall to measure to, so you’ll see 3′-6″ in this case. Difference being one stud width.

          Designers go to great pains to include and account for the half inch discrepancy, and careful examination will show that this is true.

          If you see a drawing full of measurements that have a half inch in them, this is considered very sloppy drafting, as there are ways to measure so they cancel each other out. There are many extra steps in design to make things as clear and readable to the contractor, and this is one of them. Trust me when I say those half inch discrepancy discrepancies are there and accounted for one way or another.

    4. You have not built anything real yet have you? Even if you bought 3×6 board and cut them down to 2x4s they would not be 2″x”4″. It all depends on how many decimal places you go. Homes are not high precision machines and do not have to be. That is why you use things like drywall to cover walls and spackle. It is also why you have siding and stucco on the outside of a home. That is also why a cabinet maker and a carpenter are two different professions.
      Yes, you design your home with 2x4s not being 2×4 inches but 1.5 by 3.5.
      Before you build anything I suggest you watch this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTwq-qUnr9I&list=PLDYh81z-RhxgCk1qJD6AJktVHZH7-BLSR
      I have to say that I find the idea very interesting.
      I am going to build a shed/workshop and I plan on using the perfect wall system but with all metal studs

    5. Well, a third dimension not discussed here is the standard length of a 2 x 4. That is 8 feet long (96 inches). If you are using them for roughing out interior walls (wall studs), you need to cut them shorter because of the base and sill boards that will also be needed for construction, ending up with an 8′ tall wall. If you don’t want to go thru the hassle of cutting dozens or hundreds of 2 x 4s, you can purchase precuts that are 92.5 inches long. As the difference in length of a precut and standard length is 3.5 inches, one will note that difference is equal to the combined thickness of the base and sill boards, and will total 8 feet (96 inches). So there is a standard with modern construction lumber.

    1. The steel we get in is exactly the right weight, and I’m sure yours is too. The issue is that you are measuring sheet thickness at the edges. The rollers that make the sheet bow ever so slightly, so you get a thicker area in the middle and a thinner area along the edges. American steel has the same problem.

      1. Steel is essentially sold by weight. The shape can vary quite a bit especially at the edges, but it’s very easy for customers to tell they’re not being cheated on the amount of matter they’ve bought. Wood is a lot more variable so the scale isn’t such a reliable truth revealer.

  7. It gets trickier though. Generally finished lumber is now .5″ smaller than rough lumber. The final dimensions of a 2×4 have changed over the years. And with lumber 8″ and up, the large dimension becomes .75 of an inch shorter, instead of the (expected?) .5″. Truthfully, it would not bother me if they called them what they were. It would make peoples lives easier.

    Think about it this way, buying a piece of dimensional lumber that is say 12 on the long side is like buying a computer that has 12 gigs of ram, 11.25 real and .75 virtual.

  8. This is sort of like the sizes of hard disks (except completely in reverse).

    So is Wikipedia going to come up with new units for lumber that are about 20% or so smaller than real inches? Let’s call them Lumber Inches, or short: Lunches.

    Next time I go to Home Depot to buy a couple of 4×6 inch pieces of wood, I’ll have to order 4×6 lunches.

  9. As far as I can tell the issue is that HD/Menards do not list it in the signage up-front.

    See: http://www.homedepot.com/p/2-in-x-4-in-x-96-in-Premium-Kiln-Dried-Whitewood-Stud-161640/202091220 vs https://www.lowes.com/pd/Common-2-in-x-4-in-x-8-ft-Actual-1-5-in-x-3-5-in-x-8-ft-Stud/1000074211

    I’ve done plenty of work and I’d be upset if I bought a 2×4 that DIDN’T measure 1.5×3.5″ or very close to — because that’s what I am expecting and that is how I have measured things. I have never bought a piece of lumber that wasn’t very, very close to 1.5×3.5 — I’ve never seen wild variation between 1.5 and 2 inches. It is always 1.5″/3.5″ within at least 0.1″ (I have to admit I’ve never put calipers on a bunch of lumber, though…)

    However, if I knew nothing about the subject, which many new-to-DIYers probably don’t, I would _very_ much assume that a sign that advertises ‘2in x 4in’ lumber should measure 2 inches by 4 inches. In my opinion it is not an unreasonable expectation for lumber sellers — especially ones that sell directly off the shelf to the ‘public’ as opposed to mainly builders/contractors — to list the exact dimensions (i.e. 1.5×3.5) directly on their signage in addition to the common name, and HD/Menards do not, while other retail stores do. I don’t think this is an unreasonable lawsuit by any means.

    1. From your HD link….

      Product overview: “Common: 2 in. x 4 in. x 8 ft.; Actual: 1.5 in. x 3.5 in. x 96 in.”.

      And in the product specifications:
      Actual product Length (ft.)
      8
      Nominal Product Length (ft.)
      8
      Actual product thickness (in.)
      1.5
      Nominal Product Thickness (in.)
      2
      Actual product width (in.)
      3.5
      Nominal product width (in.)
      4
      Nominal Product H x W (In.)
      2×4

    1. If the retailers after WW1 had joined together and insisted that finished, dry, yard lumber could be no smaller than 1/6″ in both directions from nominal, and rough had to be exact measure – then that’s what the mills would’ve had to produce or they wouldn’t have any buyers.

      The short version of that document comes down to the mills wanted to pack as much nominal board feet of lumber on a railcar as they could, without finishing the boards down too thin for being usable for building houses. The retailers were more concerned with consistency than accuracy. They didn’t care what the mills produced as long as it was strong enough and everyone was making the same sizes.

      Nobody in the industry cared they were creating a huge PITA for anyone doing work on older building made with true dimension lumber, finished or rough.

      1. This is far less annoying than measuring steel, aluminum, and wire in gauges that are all different, and having bolts sizes based on an arbitrary numbering scheme, and having to deal with fractional, letter, and numerical sized drill bits, along with the occasional decimal.

        1. Back in the 80s, I had a house that was built in the early 1930s. Plumbing is So Much Fun! Especially when everything changed in the 1940s, and threaded parts that are nominally the same dimensions don’t really quite fit together tightly, so after I turned a slow drip into a fast drip, it took a LOT more work to turn it back into a slow drip again. (That’s not even counting the drainage side of the bathtub – which was lead, soldered onto the tub end and pipes and bent to fit into the space it needed to fit in, and which fortunately didn’t leak.)

    1. I could care less about millimeters, I just wish things were sold by their thickness, not by gauge. Metal work becomes very difficult when you have to look up a chart to see where on another chart you should look for what letter, number, fractional, or decimal size drill bit you need to tap a hole.

    2. It’s not a millimeters vs. inch argument. It’s reel size vs some strange arbitrary measure roughly proportional to size. Wood size, screw gauge, wire gauge…
      Seriously, if i need to screw a “1 in. x 6 in.” wood board on a “2 in. x 4 in.” stud, what fracking screw gauge I need to use ?

  10. This article is an interesting coincidence, because I’m currently suing Menards and Home Depot for emotional distress based on their assertion that 92 5/8″ is “stud length”.

  11. As a general contractor who has been watching this for a while I believe that the sourced article is incorrect. The suit I have heard of is HD selling (for example) 2×4 lumber that is smaller than the 1 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches expected. The issue is less the shorting of material and more the impact it has on the resulting strength of finished construction. The code books and charts assume dimensional lumber of a certain size and, regrettably, those books and charts are what we have to build from and expect to be inspected on. (It doesn’t help that they mix up the stock and it is an extra step to make sure all your lumber is the size you were expecting)

  12. I believe, after reading what I could of the particulars, that the issue isn’t that the lumber is not the nominal dimension, bu that is doesn’t meet the standard for the nominal dimension. I would not be surprised if this is the case, as cut to nominal can’t be done green as there will be additional shrinkage. The rough material must be at the dry moisture first (certainly less than 20%, really in the 12% range for most construction lumber).

  13. Okay, guys, this is how it works (source: my dad was a saw mill foreman and saw mill maintenance foreman since graduating high school ’till the age of ~50). The 2″ x 4″ dimension is the size of the rough cut lumber. There is a curing process, but it does not cause the wood to shrink as much as the article would lead you to believe. If the moisture lost caused a 4″ width of wood to shrink 0.5″ the coefficient of of expansion due to drying would be -0.125 in/in (that’s delta_L / L). Yes, moisture cause wood to expand and contract, but 1/8″ per inch is a bit extreme to account for the dimensional inaccuracy. Also, calculated for loosing 0.5″ over a length of 2″ is a whopping -0.25 in/in. That’s just unbelievable. But that’s okay if you are suspicious at this point, because it isn’t true.

    So, back to my story. Rough cut lumber has a very rough surface texture (hence the name, get it? It is like a joke, but it isn’t!). Band saws in saw mills work like your home shop band saw, but the throat of each tooth is about 1.5″ deep (and carbide tipped, just for some interesting trivia). If you look at the band from the teeth to the back side they are around 18″ deep (in the direction of the cut). The kerf is around 1/4″. The point I’m trying to lead to is the saw that does the initial cuts is not what you’d think of as a fine wood working tool, and the surface finish is awful after the wood goes through the band saw. You will never see this at your building supply, and if you did you’d reject it.

    Having said that, one might inquire, why are the 2×4’s at the building supply so smooth? And for that matter, why do I get charged for 0.5″ of wood I don’t get? Enter the planer. It is industry practice to leave 0.25″ of material per face for finishing. Some of you elite wood working types might actually own a planer. It probably has one cutting blade mounted on a single rotating head. And I bet you’re proud of how good it makes a piece of wood look (I’m not knocking it, a consumer grade planer does bring out the best in a piece of lumber). I’m not trying to be demeaning, but you have the toy version of what the saw mill uses to make the 2×4’s look nice and smooth. Saw mills use a rough planer for structural lumber. Typically they have at least four heads, and as many as eight. They will have between 4 and 16 blades per head. A 2×4 will be finished on all sides in one pass through the planer. The radius on the corners is put on by the planer in the same operation. You can spot 2×4’s run through a poorly set up planer if the whole bundle has a step adjacent to the radius, or by the slightly wavy surface perpendicular to the long axis of the board (another interesting bit of trivia). Now for those of you following closely: yes, the saw mill’s rough planer does remove a whopping 0.25″ (or ~6.4mm) or wood *in one pass* on each face. Those planers are beastly machines. At this point I wish I knew the feed rate, but I don’t. However, I will tell you they are fast, a rhythm of 10 seconds/ board seems right from the time I saw one run.

    So, now is the time I laugh at the lawyers. Recall from the previous paragraph the words “industry practice.” Every saw mill produces 2×4’s that measure 1.5″ x 3.5″ and that’s just the way the world works (at least in the part of the world that contains the United States. Other parts of the world may measure their lumber in SI units, and I don’t know how lumber is specified there). This suit has no chance of sticking because building suppliers can order lumber from any saw mill they choose, and if they order finished 2×4’s they will get the same size lumber that was sold at the stores against which the suit was filed. It is my opinion that the lawyers filing the suit should have to sort a few cords of “real” (read: rough cut) 2×4’s, without gloves, as a penance for filing frivolous suits (and not doing their research). Oh, by the way, the punishment part is related to how many splinters they’ll get in their precious little hands.

    1. Ironically, like the author, you jump in on the side of the mills, while posting a very good explanation of exactly how those mills rip people off. That you don’t see how your own explanation confirms the scam only confirms your preconceived bias.

      Simple facts, from you:
      – Mills rough cut lumber to 2″x4″ with pretty good accuracy and consistency
      – Mills finish plane the rough lumber quite accurately and consistently to 1.5″x”3.5″
      – these numbers are consistent across the industry, from the mom and pop mills to the multi-national conglomerates

      So from you own facts we know that
      – Mills, all of them, are capable or producing lumber that is consistently accurate in _finished_ dimension
      – in order to do so they must have a good understanding of the losses due to both shrinkage and processing
      – therefore these same mills are perfectly capable of producing lumber that is consistently accurate to any dimension they choose.
      – therefore mills are perfectly capable of producing finished 2″x4″ lumber that is actually very close to 2″x4″
      – therefore mills and the rest of the supply chain from the mill to the retail outlet are intentionally complicit in selling a product that they are misrepresenting the dimensions of and lying about the reasons (ie calling it losses due to shrinkage and processing).
      – If the industry actually had any intention of being honest, they would either
      A) relabel the product to reflect the correct, accurate, and consistent 1.5″x3.5″ dimensions
      or
      B) adjust the manufacturing process such that the final products dimensions are 2″x4″

      Oh, and unlike the author and half the commenters here, I, like you, grew up around this industry. I know that the mills know all about this situation and are fully capable of fixing it with either solution A) or B) above.
      I also know that for years a friend of ours that owned a lumber company used to harvest wood from our land and process it specially for us such that the final, finished lumber had actual dimensions of 2″x4″ simply by cutting it a little larger in the first place.

      Yes, everyone hates lawyers. Yes there are frivolous lawsuits plaguing the world. No, this is not one of them. An entire industry is knowingly and willingly creating and selling consumers a product that is fraudulently labelled. A situation that they could fix quickly and simply but have not. That’s wrong.

      1. That is not how it works. That is not how it works at all. Kill drying is not the same as air drying. Kill drying drives the intra-cellular moisture out. And kill dried wood does not swell and shrink like air dried wood, despite what Norm and the rest of the weekend warriors say. Kill drying goes down to around 8% moisture, which air drying can not do. Plywood veneer goes through huge long ovens, and again until it passes a moisture test, before being glued up. Veneer for plywood has to be very dry to prevent steam explosions in the hot-press lamination stage.

        In most (all?) of the US, construction has to use kill dried lumber to destroy the spores of root-rot and other diseases and prevent them from being transported. Stock for 2×12, 2×4, etc. is rough cut and kill dried, or dried in wider pieces and goes through a rip saw after drying (a gang of circular saw blades at the appropriate spacing), then a 4 side planer. At the “dry chain” from the planer it is graded and stacked for delivery. Thinner wood like 1×4 or something angled, like coving, will also go though a resaw (giant band saw) before planing in a “sticker”.

        The exception is pressure treated lumber. No one knows where that water soaked junk comes from.

      2. It seems you have misinterpreted some of my intent. I don’t have the time to compose the reply I want to post, but but in the mean time this will have to suffice.

        1. My original post was intended to defend the building supply store’s position. I believe they are the real victim here.

        2. I neither condoned nor condemned the saw mill’s practice of finishing lumber and to a size different than the trade name. I understand that leading off with ‘being the son of someone that worked at a saw mill for a long time’ may have put an expectation in the reader’s view that I’m saying what they do is right; note that I never said any such thing. I simply explained what they do to produce the item for sale at a building supply store, and furthermore explained that *every saw mill does it*. Remember that point, it will be important later.

        3. I didn’t say that I agree with the practice of selling a product with a name that is understood to be technically incorrect by both the producer and the tradesmen who consume the vast majority of the product (that would be carpenters and building contractors).

        4. I suppose my closing line could be misconstrued by anyone but a lawyer (who is used to literal reading), but notice that I said “the lawyers filing the suit” and not “all lawyers” or just “lawyers” (which would include both the category “lawyers filing the suit” and “all lawyers”). I am sure that there exist a group of people who are both lawyers and understand the carpentry trade. To put this bluntly: I do not believe that a lawyer that is also a carpenter would file a class action law suit against a building supply for misrepresenting the dimension of a an item that is commonly understood to have its dimensions misrepresented in the first place. See item (2).

        5. In response to [TheRegnirps.] below who says “That’s not how it works at all”. You are right, there is a ripping saw, or to use the term from my original post ‘the big band saw,’ and a gang saw. As soon as I read your post I remembered dad mentioning both. I never said I fully understand the intricacies of the entire process (I didn’t work there, I just heard a lot about it over the years and visited a few times), but I have more insight (that I wanted to share) into the reason why a 2×4 doesn’t measure 2″ x 4″. The reason I composed my post at all is because the article stated:

        [This renders it into the workable lumber you expect to use, but causes a shrinkage of the wood that since it depends on variables such as moisture can not be accurately quantified. Thus a piece of wood cut by the sawmill at 4 inches square could produce a piece of seasoned lumber somewhere near 3.5 inches square.]

        and this is absolutely not the case. Read my first paragraph closely, and you will understand the point of my post is that a 2×4 isn’t undersized because it shrank while drying. Furthermore any interested parties can perform a simple experiment to prove it. If moisture loss causes a 0.5″ dimensional inaccuracy, then adding moisture should reverse the process. Drop a cut of 2×4 into water and allow it to become saturated. Let me know if it expands by 0.5″ in all directions.

        1. I was mostly concerned about the sequence, as in aside from rough cut, drying comes first. Kill drying for softer woods like meranti and fir or hemlock is 24 hours or more at 10 degrees above boiling. The steam that is generated is mostly kept in the kill to help cook the moisture out of the wood cells. Air drying furniture sized sticks in a heated room for 100 years might get close, or fire hardening if done repeatedly. I would like to know if you can get kill dried wood to expand. My brother ran the kills at a mahogany and alder mill and he never leaves wiggle room for humidity effects in his cabinet making when using kill dried stock.

          As [Zagrot] quotes, the text implies that sawn lumber for construction is green or has some mysterious ability to shrink and grow. Imagine a house made from such a material :-)

    2. All true.. Today, S4S (Surfaced 4 Sides) is skipped over when customers read the sign.
      Rough cut to 2 x 4, S4S to final size. It’s just the way it’s been done.
      Building codes have change somewhat over the year as well.,
      My house, cica 1955, has a toilet 11 inches from the side wall. Today a toilet needs 12 inches to pass inspection.
      I guess we all are getting fatter..

  14. Lawyer. Can’t really comment on the merits. I know next to nothing about woodworking. But it’s sad to see you go straight to stereotype, especially in the context of class-action suits. They are contentious and imperfect but often do deliver justice, if not in a case then because of the threat they represent. In a country where corporations can finance bigger lobbies (see, e.g., right to repair), they serve as a needed protection for everyday citizens and consumers.

    I believe all editors and publications​ have social responsibility, and by parroting this shallow view of the legal system, you are doing a disservice to your readers. A bit like sharing misinformation on electrical safety. What you say matters.

    1. All the lawyers involved in this action are worthy of nothing but derision. The sizing of the lumber in these stores is bog standard and has been for my 50 years on this earth. Only someone with no clue whatsoever could think this suit is anything but a massive waste of time and money.

      1. Many things have been going on for a long time, does not necessarily means they are right. Slavery existed for centuries, by your argument it ahould have kept going. The boards sgould be sold by their actual measurements not by some cooked up thing.

    2. I will respect any lawyer that takes a class action lawsuit and does not become filthy rich when they win it. AKA the payout for the lawyer is less than 10,000 times the payout for each of the claimants.
      For example grew up in Vero Beach Florida and a lot of my friend’s parents work for Piper Aircraft. A pilot of a Piper 1970 SuperCub had modified his aircraft to mount a camera in the front seat. He as flying from the back seat and hit a van on takeoff striking his head on the camera mount. They sued because the plane did not have adequate vision to fly from the back seat and did not have shoulder straps which were not required by the FAA untile years later in light aircraft. FAA did instruct owners to install them but this owner did not.
      They won $25,000,000 from Piper. Soon hundreds of employees of Piper were no longer working. Lots of them had to drop out of college.
      You do realize that Lawyers do not care about justice. If you get a client that is a crook you do not care about justice you just care about getting them off. If you have a client that is suing you just care about getting the most money for them and by extension for you. Tell me the justice of getting a big pile of cash from a company for an accident involving a plane that meets all federal requirements at the time it was manufactured, modified by the pilot, and then flow into the side of a van!
      BTW the end result of these kinds of lawsuits is that almost no light aircraft are made any longer in the US. The age of the fleet is going up and up. And many middle-class people that built those planes lost their jobs.
      Even if you want to take the example of the tobacco law suites as some bright and shining example of justice. The lawyers got rich, the tobacco companies are still making money selling tobacco, people are still dying of lung cancer.
      Some lawyers may care about justice but overall vast majority care about getting rich and winning. They need to stop pretending that they actually care about justice or actually care about it. AKA not creating class action lawsuits over the fact that a 2×4 is not 2″x4″ but is now and has been 1.5 x 3.5 for the last 50 years or so.
      My dream is some judge allows this case to go on and on and at the very end does a summary judgment for the defendants and awards all court costs to them so the lawyers filed this case have a multimillion-dollar bill to pay. It will not happen but a guy can dream.

      1. BAH, that mebibytes et al nonsense is all a conspiracy between the scamming HD industry and the “wipe everything created by generations before us from the face of the Earth” millennials. The day computers operate at the hardware level on base 10 instead of base 2 they can start talking about this nonsense, until then they can STFU.

  15. Many suits reported as “frivolous”, such as the infamous McDonalds Coffee case, turn out to be well founded but badly reported (propaganda from powerful businesses maybe?). Earlier comments imply that the lumber is not meeting the industry standard which would be a very real issue. Closer to hacker home is not so much a legal issue, more the usual misleading marketing issue. That is screen sizes are described as “nominal”, where a 32 inch nominal screen is really 31.5 inches. They round up probably to make more money, but the screen size should be at least the size advertised for the description not to mislead. Similar to wood sizes, the IEC standard for a gigabyte is 10^9 and not 2^30 probably because of industry power (nobody will notice that they “only” have 10^9 bytes of storage?). There are so many marketing lies because society seems to have agreed that it is OK to mislead (con?) someone so long as you don’t make a provably untrue statement. Even that standard seems to have gone away lately in many places.

    As an aside, how about a blog entry titled ” The top five secret Arduino and Pi clickbait techniques you must not miss”.

    1. No, the IEC standard for GB is 10^9 bytes because we’ve been using metric prefixes for decimal powers *much* longer than we’ve been abusing them for binary powers. New prefixes had to be invented to remove the ambiguity, and it would have been utter madness to assign the new prefixes to decimal powers, when the old prefixes were used exclusively for decimal powers for centuries, and still were used exclusively in every field except computer storage.

      As for hard drive manufacturers — if binary prefixes were smaller rather than larger, they’d have been using binary prefixes all along, and would have happily switched prefixes to keep using them.

  16. In origin, I can buy the story of the wood being cut to 2×4 inches and then left to dry/shrink.

    But now they know they can sell 3.8″ as 4″, they can save more than 5% raw materials by aiming for 3.7″. And once that is established even more can be gained by aiming for 3.6″… etc etc.

    The end result is that a 5 megapixel webcam has only a 0.25 mpixel sensor.

  17. Suppose they win their lawsuit and get real 2″ by 4″ beams from the lumber market. That means you Americans will need 1/8 more woods to support production of the resized beams. Meaning you will need to import more woods from canada (because you don’t cut enough wood for your own commercial needs). But your president just raised the taxes on canadian woods. As a result you guys won’t save a cent with the resized wood. Actually it could even cost you more…

    1. Let the free market win. We don’t need to systematically lie to support industry. The price goes up, and the demand goes down. Easy.

      Maybe we’ll even repeal the ICC standards that have been adopted, and allow tiny homes to be constructed again, in every state.

    2. If they win, they will get a cash amount for the difference in the amount of lumber and the industry lie might be ended in a somewhat inconvenient manner, most likely by going to metric rather than fractional inches, such as 38mm X 90mm along with a note that the tolerance may be 2mm.

      As an aside, and of course my Googlefu is failing, there was an early statistician who was buying bread and got the notion to weigh it. While there was some variation, the average was well under the advertised weight. He took his data and method before the Court and they agreed and ordered the math guy to be paid and the bakery to stop shorting the customers. Then the statistician kept weighing the loaves he bought and noted they were just slightly over the advertised weight. He suspected the baker was carefully weighed the loaves and setting aside just for him, but was still shorting the rest of the customers, based on the knowledge that the produced loaves could not be as exactly made as the ones he was getting. The baker lost that case as well.

      There’s also a structural component – a 2 inch thick piece is nearly twice the stiffness as a 1.5 inch thick piece. By cutting 25% from the one dimension they cut the strength in that direction by 50%

  18. Just silly… a “2×4” has been 1 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches since I was a kid in the fifties. Only idiots who couldn’t tell which end of a hammer did what would consider this a valid complaint.

  19. I expected some technical project behind this item, but it appears only to be an item+comments about complaining about idiots complaining about something that has a very long history and various good reasons to be like that.

    What will be next, technical items on a website called lawsuit.com ?
    Hackaday, please keep it technical, please keep it fun, please keep it informative so I could learn something useful from it. Because this articles does not contribute anything positive to the (still) good name “hackaday”.

    1. I would argue that this article is relatively technical, but the writers preposition is untenable. Just because “It’s just the way we do things”, doesn’t make it right. With todays’ scientific management, it’s entirely possible to deliver a true 2×4 99.5% of the time. Whether or not that’s what we need, that’s for the judge to decide.

      I fully support calling a spade, a spade. and nominal sizes should be replaced with true sizes. It makes the math soooo much easier, for those that aren’t in on the scheme.

    2. It pertains to materials used by Hackaday readers, so it’s on message even if Not A Hack. We have a careful mix here, and intentionally cover a small percentage of these kinds of stories.

  20. does it really matter what people used to do or how it was always done?

    a lot of people seem to think that that alone justifies what is unnecessarily complicated, yes i know it is simple, that people manage to overcomplicate it anyway is all the more impressive.

    i don’t think i have seen any finished lumber here that wasn’t dimensional, you get the measurement on the label, whether that is due to my choice of yard or type of wood i dont know, i have seen plenty of unfinished rougher lumber but the measurements are labelled as approximate or a range to begin with.

  21. Dlscaimer: all of my ‘lawyer jokes’ come from lawyers; I like lawyers; a large portion of my fellow graduates are lawyers.

    The medical-research industry is considering using lawyers instead of white rats for research. Why?–

    1) much larger supply;
    2) there are some things a white rat won’t do;
    3) lab workers sometimes get upset when a white rat dies.

  22. Only in the USA can the “industry” keep deceiving people with fake measurements like this, becaus ‘that’s what we’ve been doing’. ANY other decent country would tell you that things have to be sold by their actual sizes. If it is not 4″ it should not be called that way, period.

    1. It’s weighted before it’s cooked – because it’s a, usually frozen, factory produced product, whose water-content is entirely under the manufacturer’s control! Dimensional lumber is entirely under the manufacturers control too (that’s why planars were invented) but the bullshit pretext justifies the increased profits.

  23. I look forward to a victory in this law suit, I want that 1/2 of lumber I was shorted out of and don’t stop there I want the 1/4 inch piece of lumber I was shorted on all the 1 by I have bought,don’t stop with 2 x 4’s go after 2 x6 2x 8 2×10 2×12 4×4 6×6 5/4 deck boards

    1. Yes, it would. The industry would just make up a plausible excuse for the shortage, as they are currently doing.

      I’ve worked with nominal 2×4’s, and true 2×4’s, as a hobby carpenter. you can only get true 2×4’s from a local, pecker-wood sawyer. The rules and regs state that a true 2×4 aren’t “code” for building purposes, because they miss the magical bureaucrat stamp. The truth is, even accounting for usual defects, they are much more rigid than commercial lumber. In my opinion, this industry-sponsored bullshit must stop.

  24. I work as an industrial electrician in the German woodworking industry, we have microcontroller-controlled processes for 30 years so that the wood fits the millimeter precisely after the controlled drying.

    In Germany we give 4mm for sawing, so it is perfect after drying,

      1. In some cases it is also smaller as in America .. it is a natural product with its own deviations. There are also price differences in qualities such as timber, planed and raw squared timber.

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