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How To Calculate A Board Foot: Buying Lumber by the Board Foot

Updated on November 21, 2015

What Is A Board Foot?

Calculating Board Feet: When shopping for lumber, it helps to understand how the sell price is calculated. Most lumber yards and hardwood suppliers sell their stock using a unit of measure known as the board foot.

While many seasoned woodworkers are familiar with calculating board feet, the Board Foot pricing methodology may be a little confusing for those who are just entering the hobby or looking to build the occasional weekend project. Here's how it works: a piece of wood that is 12" long x 12" wide x 1" thick = 1 board foot (one foot square by one inch thick equals one board foot). A piece of stock that is 24" long x 6" wide x 1" thick also equals one board foot. Same with a 12"L x 6"W x 2" thick board.

Home Centers often sell lumber by the linear foot. Determining the price of a board sold by the linear foot is easier; simply multiply the price per linear foot by the length of the board.

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How To Calculate Board Feet

Length x Width x Thickness, Divided by 144

Use the following formula to to calculate the cost of lumber that is sold by the board foot:

Multiple the length x width x thickness of the board, and then divide the total by 144.

For example: A board that is 96" long x 6" wide x 1" thick = 576

576 divided by 144 = 4 board feet

“Each plank…can have only one ideal use. The woodworker must find this ideal use and create an object of utility to man, and if nature smiles, an object of lasting beauty.”

— George Nakashima (1905-1990), woodworker, author of “The Soul of a Tree”

Tips for Buying Lumber by the Board Foot

Prepare a cutting list before heading off to the lumberyard or home center. A cutting list is used to determine how many boards are needed by length and width for the project. Use the cutting list as a guide to purchase the right number of boards, plus a little extra for waste and for correcting any mistakes.

Bring a Measuring Tape with you to the lumber yard or home center.

Take the time to sort through the stack of boards, looking for the best boards in the correct widths and approximate lengths. Select the best quality boards, even if the straightest and flattest boards with the finer grain lines, less knots or imperfections are the narrowest boards.

Pay close attention to the grain and color of each board, and choose boards with a similar appearance for edge gluing narrow color matched boards into wider panels.

Allow newly purchased lumber to acclimate for a few days in the workshop before beginning the project. Wood naturally expands and contracts based on the moisture content where it is stored. Allowing the wood to acclimate to the shop environment will reduce the movement of the wood after it is milled into finished shapes and dimensions.

Where do you buy lumber for your woodworking projects?

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To Calculate a Board Foot of Lumber:

Multiple the Length x Width x Thickness of the board, and then divide the total by 144.

Calculating Board Feet Measurements - by WoodWorkers Guild of America

Board Foot Calculators

Calculated Industries 4065 Construction Master Pro Advanced Construction Math Feet-inch-Fraction Calculator for Contractors, Estimators, Builders, Framers, Remodelers, Renovators and Carpenters
Calculated Industries 4065 Construction Master Pro Advanced Construction Math Feet-inch-Fraction Calculator for Contractors, Estimators, Builders, Framers, Remodelers, Renovators and Carpenters
The Construction Master Pro sets the industry standard for advanced construction-math calculators. Offering powerful built-in solutions and expanded preference settings, it's perfect for completing layouts, bids, and estimates as well as helping to save time and money by helping you figure out the right amount of needed materials.

Using Salvaged Wood for DIY Projects

Reclaiming old pallets for free salvaged lumber
Reclaiming old pallets for free salvaged lumber

Using Reclaimed Lumber

As the cost of lumber continues rise, many woodworkers and hobbyists are looking for alternative sources of wood for their projects. Once you start looking, finding reclaimed wood is relatively easy but it can take some time and effort to convert an old board into useable lumber. The old wood must be cleaned, metal screws and nails removed, and any split or damaged sections cut away.

Though salvaged lumber is not suitable for every project, using reclaimed wood is a great way to stretch your woodworking budget, keeps good wood out of the landfill, and the character of aged wood makes for interesting DIY projects.

Pallets are a good source of materials that is often suitable for making into a DIY projects, but be selective and don't waste your time with stained, dirty or broken pieces. Look for pallets from companies with shipments from other countries - pallets are made from local lumber, and wood that might be common in one country can be desirable in another.

How To Make A Push Stick

Make A Push Stick in Minutes

A push stick is an essential accessory for woodworking, and keeps your fingers safely away from spinning blades and bits while cutting or shaping wood. Used primarily with a table saw, a push stick also makes milling lumber safer when used with a router table, jointer or bandsaw. Besides keeping fingers away from the blade, a well designed push stick adds stability and accuracy to milling procedures.

Push sticks are cheap and easy to make from small pieces of quality plywood. A push stick needs a notch to hold the work piece while guiding it through the blade or cutter, and it should feel comfortable in your hand. After trying many different variations, this push stick design provides good control of the work piece while guiding it through the blade and it can also help to prevent kick back. Make extras, since the design of the push stick allows for contact with the blade.

For Your Woodworking Shop

The Amazing SawStop Table Saw - The Blade Stops On Contact

The SawStop table saws unique brake design detects hand or finger contact with the saw blade within milliseconds, instantly stopping and retracting the blade, helping to avoid serious injury.

SAWSTOP 10-Inch Contractor Saw, 1.75-HP, 36-Inch Professional T-Glide Fence System (CNS175-TGP236)
SAWSTOP 10-Inch Contractor Saw, 1.75-HP, 36-Inch Professional T-Glide Fence System (CNS175-TGP236)
The SawStop Contractor Saw offers versatility and safety in the shop and stability and mobility on the jobsite. It delivers the performance you need with the peace of mind only SawStops patented safety system can provide.

Tell Us About Your Woodworking Projects -- And Where You Get Your Lumber

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you! This info could come in very handy for me! I usually buy wood to make my canvas frames from Lowes or Menards, but now that we moved to the boonies, I bought from the local lumberyard which doesn't have the wood just sitting there with the prices nearby. Now I won't feel completely lost! You tricked me on the 2nd quiz, throwing that linear foot question in there!*Blessed*

    • SellClean profile image


      8 years ago

      The Stop Saw is really cool!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      On a return trip to bless this great tutorial by the board foot! I don't see my comment from when I was here before but I remember that you impressed me once again. Must have been one of those buggy days for guest books. You just seem to have the habit of doing everything to perfect specifications!


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