Two-by-fours are usually not really 2-by-4—right here’s why

There’s a whole subgenre of American humor derived from fastidiously putting the punchline into the query itself. For instance, the reply to the legendary not-joke “Who’s buried at Grant’s Tomb?” is, fairly clearly, “Grant.”

You’d be forgiven, then, for answering the query “What size is a 2-by-4?” with “2 inches by 4 inches.” Nevertheless it seems, you’d be answering this explicit riddle improper. Two-by-fours are literally 1.5-by-3.5s. The identical is true for many different wooden cuts, that are all systematically smaller than their names would counsel. Right here’s why.

“Two by four is a colloquialism,” says Mark Stephens, the vp of Woodworkers Supply, an Arizona-based firm. The phrase 2-by-4 “rolls off your tongue a helluva lot easier” than the reality, he says. However the origins of the 2-by-Four are extra difficult than an old-timey lumberjack deciding to spherical up.

To create a beam or plank of wooden, one should begin by chopping down a tree. “And then you cut that tree up into chunks” referred to as cants, in line with Stephens. “[A tree] is round, but saws cut straight,” Stephens continues. “A cant is the biggest piece you can get out of a log.”

These cants, simply moments in the past a part of a dwelling tree, are moist. And moist wooden—referred to as “green lumber”—is susceptible to bending and warping. It’s additionally possible stuffed with bugs. So lumber producers season their wooden. A typical planks is air dried on website, lower up into boards and dried once more. Generally, towards the tip of the method, the fabric is run via a wooden kiln. Softwoods like pine, which is widespread for beams and planks, are baked under 240 levels.

This drying impact isn’t everlasting. Wooden is hygroscopic, so it adjusts its inside moisture to match the exterior moisture of its setting. However, Stephens says, “drying gets a lot of those problems out of the way.” By dashing up the method, producers lower down the time it takes to show a tree right into a plank. What’s extra, by accelerating a bit of wooden’s pure warping course of, the lumber trade can cope with any inconsistencies earlier than it will get to you, the patron. Moreover, heating helps to take away bugs and different detritus.

By the drying course of, the boards naturally shrink, as moisture leaves the beams. The actual shrinkage, nonetheless, comes when the “rough-sawn material” is distributed to a planer, which rubs the floor of the wooden down into the graceful shapes you should buy at a ironmongery store. With out the tough edges, what went in as a 2-by-Four planks of rough-sawn wooden is now a tongue-tripping 1.5-by-3.5, having misplaced roughly ¼-inch on all sides to the planer and drying processes. “Once upon a time, 2-by-4s really were 2 inches by 4 inches,” Stephens says. However lately, the blocks are smaller, prettier, and hopefully a bit of extra environmentally resilient by the point they’re up on the market.

The two-by-Four moniker is definitely a misnomer, however the implications are negligible. Whereas our fashionable lexicon hasn’t caught up (and doubtless by no means will), the laws regulating wooden definitely has.

Again within the 1920s, then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover started pushing for the primary American wooden sizing laws. Beforehand, wooden sizes have been decided regionally, so the mishmash of guidelines meant a builder won’t be buying the identical size plank if one batch got here from Maine, one other from Minnesota. However Hoover’s requirements have been enacted practically a century in the past and refined over the intervening a long time. Plus, it is definitely in one of the best curiosity of huge corporations like Residence Depot and Lowe’s to take care of requirements throughout all of their shops.

So do not fret. The following bundle of 2-by-4s you decide up within the ironmongery store are sure to be the very same dimension: 1.5-by-3.5 inches.

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