pieces of lumber stacked nicely


Originally contributed by Jeff Butler • last updated 1/21/2021

If you’ve ever built anything using wood, you may be familiar with phrases like “pressure treated lumber” and “green lumber,” or maybe even “rough cut lumber” or “rough sawn lumber.” You may have even been to a “lumber yard.” But what does the term “lumber” mean and how is it different from “wood” and “timber”?


In North America, the word lumber most often refers to some form of processed wood, typically available in boards, planks, or beams. There are also standardized lumber sizes and lumber grades established to determine which type of lumber is suitable for a specific project. Various types of lumber are used in different construction projects, home renovations, and furniture projects. Lumber is produced in both hardwoods and softwoods. Outside of North America, the term “timber” is used to describe relatively the same thing, and the term “lumber” takes on a different meaning.

Some Things To Know About Lumber Before You Buy It

Lumber is a fantastic construction material to work with if you’ve got the right wood for the job. Here are a couple of things you should consider before you tap into your project budget:

  • Lumber is typically graded according to the surface of the wood and the number of visible knots. Utility grade is the roughest and most affordable, and is mostly used for framing. FAS (Firsts And Seconds), Clear grade, or Grade #1 is the highest quality with no visible knots or minor blemishes.
  • Hardwood and softwood lumber have different grading systems and different uses. Softwoods are typically used in construction projects and hardwoods are used more for furniture and high-end flooring and finishes.