Carpenter measuring lumber at workbench.


Originally contributed by • last updated 3/16/2021

Ono Kosuki

Whether you’re thinking about some custom furniture or you’re building a new privacy fence, few other construction materials can compare to wood. If you’ve ever built anything using wood before, you may be familiar with phrases like pressure treated and green or maybe even rough cut or rough sawn. Depending on the project, wood can go by many names. In addition to being identified as a species, with some common examples being pine and oak, wood is also commonly referred to as both timber and lumber. But, are there differences between the terms?


In North America, the word lumber most often refers to some form of processed wood. It is typically available in boards, planks, or beams. There are also standardized sizes and grades established to determine which pieces are most suitable for a specific project. Various types of wood are used in different construction projects, home renovations, and furniture projects, and can be referred to as lumber. These boards, planks, and beams are produced in both hardwoods and softwoods. Outside of North America, the term timber is used to describe relatively the same thing, while the standard North American term takes on a different meaning, referring more directly to unprocessed wood.

What Is The Best Lumber For My Project?

Lumber is a fantastic construction material to work with, especially if you’ve got the right wood for the job. It’s easy to cut and size, fasten together, and attach other materials to it. It’s also relatively inexpensive compared to other materials, including some composites. Here are a couple of things you should consider before you tap into your project budget, spending all your money on materials:

  • 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.