Lumber Buying Guide
Guide to Buying Lumber & Building Supplies in Bonnyville
July 10, 2019

Planning a building project is exciting and fun, but when you walk into a lumberyard, it can be overwhelming. If you're looking for building supplies in Bonnyville, we've created this lumber buying guide to help you understand how to find the right wood for your next project.

Buying a piece of wood shouldn't be that hard, right? Unfortunately, when it comes to buying lumber, there are a lot of choices to make. We understand that it can be confusing. There's the type of wood, the type of board and size, the grade, and more to consider. Finding the right building supplies in Bonnyville shouldn't be a headache. The following guide has been broken down into categories, to help you find exactly the information you need.

Lumber Sizing

The way lumber is sized can sometimes throw people off, because what's listed on the label isn't necessarily the size of the finished board when measured. Boards are usually labelled as a number "by" another number. For example, 2 x 4 or 4 x 4. The first number represents the thickness of the board, and the second number represents the width of the board. A 2 x 4 would be two inches thick and four inches wide.

Except, if you measure that board you'll find it won't be a full two inches by four inches. This is because the wood is cut into these sizes shortly after the tree has fallen, when there's still a lot of moisture in the wood. By the time the wood makes it to the lumberyard, it has dried, and shrunk. So that 2 x 4 will actually become more like one and a half by three and a half- approximately. Keep this size difference in mind when planning your project.

Hardwood vs. Softwood

Lumber is generally classified into two types: hardwood and softwood. Each type has its own best uses and practices. Here are some general guidelines and information about each type:


  • Usually more expensive because it takes longer to grow than softwoods
  • Best for furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and specialty woodworking
  • Includes woods from hickory, oak, mahogany, maple and walnut trees
  • Will not dent if you press your fingernail into the board


  • Grows faster than hardwood, so it's generally less expensive
  • Best for DIY projects for construction
  • Includes wood from cedar, pine, spruce and fir trees
  • If you press your fingernail into softwood, it will dent
  • To be used outdoors, softwood must be pressure treated

Hardwood Classification and Grades

The National Lumber Grades Authority oversees the grading system of hardwoods in Canada. Grades are assigned based on the number of defects on a board. A lower grade board can still be perfectly acceptable, depending on how it's used. The grades are as follows:

First and Seconds (FAS): 83% defect free on it's best side and at least 6 x 8 inches.

Select (Sel): 83% defect free on it's best side and at least 4 x 6 inches.

#1 Common (#1 Com): 66% defect free on it's best side and at least 3 x 4 inches.

#2 Common (#2 Com): 50 % defect free on it's best side and at least 3 x 4 inches.

Softwood Classification and Grades

Softwood grades are also regulated by the National Lumber Grades Authority. Because there are several types of softwood and each has its own grading standard, it can get quite complicated. Generally, softwood is divided by categories, dimensional lumber, which is graded on strength and most often used in construction, and appearance boards, which are used for woodworking projects, and are graded on defects and appearance.

Pressure Treated Softwood

Outside projects, such as decks, swing sets, and picnic tables, require pressure treated wood. This is because softwood is susceptible to rotting from moisture, fungus, and the elements, if it's not treated properly.

Pressure treated wood has been treated with a preservative chemical. Because the chemicals used are classified as a pesticide, care should be taken when handling pressure treated wood. Wear gloves, or wash hands after handling, and never burn in a campfire or woodstove, as the fumes could be dangerous.


A popular choice for construction projects, like flooring, roofing, and siding. Plywood is a great, inexpensive option. It's made by layering thin pieces of wood together at a 90 degree angle. Because of its layered construction, plywood is very strong and can span great distances without bending. Even if it does crack, it usually doesn't crack all the way through.

Only one side of plywood is nice and smooth, the back will be rough. Keep this in mind when planning projects, and be sure the smooth side is installed on any visible portion of your project.

Plywood can be made from hardwood, softwood, or a combination. Although, most plywood for home construction is made of softwood, because it is less expensive.

The Lumber Stamp

Information about the wood in a lumberyard can be found on the lumber stamp, which is usually located on the end of the board. The stamp will contain abbreviations of the lumber classification, its grade, moisture content, and the type of tree it came from.

How to Spot Lumber Defects

Don't rely on the grading system only to select the right board. Inspect each piece of wood, for any cracks, splits, bows, or knots. Depending on your project, some defects may not be a big issue. For example, some people like knots, as they give the wood character, but it can make the board difficult to work with. Loose knots can also fall out, affecting the integrity of the board. Splits or cracks can affect the board's strength, so keep an eye out for these kinds of defects.

How to Select Straight Boards

Once you've decided on the type of lumber you need, you'll want to examine the board to be sure it's straight. A warped board will cause difficulty during your project. To check if a board is straight, hold it to your nose and look down the length of the board. You should be able to see if it follows a straight line towards the end, rather than a curve. Rotate the board and examine from each side.

How to Properly Store Boards to Minimize Damage

You've put all this effort into choosing the perfect board, don't let it become warped from improper storage at home. Here are some tips for board storage to ensure your wood will stay in perfect condition until it's used.

  • Store in a dry location
  • Lay flat on the floor, or on shelves that fully support the length of the board, so there is no bending or warping.
  • If they must be stored on the ground, use two or three pieces of discarded wood (wood you aren't planning on using for your project) to prop the boards off the wet ground.
  • Propping boards against a wall can cause them to bow. Flat on the floor, or fully supported by discard boards on the ground, is a better option.

Still Need Help?

Now that you understand how wood is classified, it should be a little easier to find what you need for your next project. However, we understand that you may still have questions or concerns. Contact us to discuss your needs with our building supply and lumber experts today.

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