Softwood Lumber: What is it?

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Softwood lumber is graded based on use, size, and finish. Softwoods like pine and fir are used for construction and come in sizes between 2-16 inches thick. Nominal dimensions differ from actual dimensions. In the US, lumber is graded based on whether it’s planed or untreated. Russia is the world’s leading timber exporter.

In American English, the term lumber refers to lumber that has undergone some amount of preparation for use. In British English, this would be called lumber. There are several ways to grade lumber. Softwood lumber, used in contrast to hardwood lumber, is one such type.
Softwood lumber comes from softwoods, which are primarily pine and fir. Most coniferous trees are evergreen, except larch, bald cypress, and tamarack. Typical sources of softwood lumber include trees such as cedars, firs, hemlocks, pines, and redwoods. In timber classification, aspen, a hardwood, is ranked with softwoods, meaning it can be used for the same purposes.

In 2008, Russia was the world’s leading timber exporter, producing 40% of the world’s exported softwood and hardwood logs. However, many countries not only produce but also export softwood timber, including Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Honduras, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay , Republic of South Africa, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, USA and Venezuela.

Softwood timber is generally graded in three different ways, although the systems used in different countries differ. First, it is classified according to use and rated for its strength and stress-resisting qualities. Secondly, it is classified according to its size. This, of course, varies according to the unit of measure used in the venue. Thirdly, it is classified by finish. Here, too, different names can be used.

In the United States, softwood lumber is usually used in the construction of houses and other buildings or reclaimed for use in other products. Building lumber can be appearance lumber, stress graded, or unstressed graded. Each piece of lumber is stamped with its grade, which comes with the understanding that the lumber will be used as-is, not remolded before use.

Size classifications for softwood lumber in the United States are done by inches and feet. Softwood lumber is usually produced in lengths that are multiples of two feet (about 6 meters) and are usually between two and 16 inches (about 40.5 to 1.5 centimeters) thick. There is a difference between dimensions used to refer to lumber, called nominal dimensions and actual dimensions. A so-called “two by four” actually has dimensions of 3.5 by 38 inches (89 by 89 millimeters). Lumber with a nominal thickness of less than two inches (about five centimeters) is called planks.

Third, in the United States, softwood lumber is graded based on whether its surface has been planed or shaped; or untreated, that is, if it remains raw. If it has been planed on all sides and is ready to use, sanded on all four sides, then it can be called S4S for short.

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