When Size Does Actually Matter

So, I just received my shipment of wood to build the chicken coop and garden boxes. My order was for 48 units of 1x4x12 pine. What I got were units of 1×3.5×12 pine. A difference of half an inch width down every board. So my very carefully calculated and sketched out, and measured project will now be TWO FULL INCHES short on every side.

I’m not a carpenter, but I’m a pretty consummate crafter…half an inch of board foot by 48 units is a huge difference over the space of two projects.

BUT INSTEAD OF BEING PISSED… the first thing I did was double over laughing in the driveway, standing in the rain where the pallets had been delivered because— I now have proof PROOF of men lying to me about the size of their wood. I should be irritated, but this gift is priceless. PRICELESS!! I even have pictures!!

I don’t generally have an eye for visual measurements. (seen plenty of 4” references during online dating whether I wanted to or not). But something looked weird. I think the most priceless part of this wonderful fodder for future jokes is this new photo I will now send back to all unsolicited dick pics with a caption…”I know your tricks.”


In case you’re like me and didn’t know in the building industry, a sticker on the wood rack that says 1X4 ACTUALLY means 1X3.5”. Because I took the sticker and label at face value, accepting the callout of the product dimensions as fact – I didn’t think to ask if it’s an “ish”.

So I called the lumber supply company and asked the lady, “Is the 4” wide plank supposed to be an actual 4”?”

She sighed, “Oh, well, that’s a philosophical question… let me get you in touch with the right person.”

A philosophical question. Either you match the label accurately, or you don’t.

The lumber guy got on the phone and I asked the same question to which he replied, “No. It’s 3.5” because once it’s sanded down and edged, it loses half an inch.”

I see. The men propositioning me at the bar have been sanding and polishing, evidently. All this time, I never knew that’s why their measurement claims are off. You learn something new every day.

“So, is this common knowledge? Or is it knowledge only available in the lumber and building industry?”

Industry insider term values are useless to the layman. We laymen, and beginners rely on accurate labelling as we don’t have insider knowledge yet.

“Well, most people know you’re not really getting the full four inches.”

I paused to keep from laughing….

“So, let me clarify. Say, a contractor would know, but the average person doing their first large project, who’s heard the mantra “measure twice cut once” a million times or more—might not know it makes no sense to measure twice unless you know you’re getting a shorter than advertised board…? Correct?”

“We call it 1×4 because that’s raw plank, and we don’t sell it that way, we sell finished board. Before it’s finished, it’s 4” and when we sell it, it’s 3.5”. I’m sorry I didn’t take the order, I might have been able to tell you.”

“So, the sticker and the rack label both say 1×4 but what comes is 3.5, and everyone else already knows this. Thanks for clarifying. It wouldn’t have made a difference who took the order, there’s no way they would have known to clarify that the label on the product is inaccurate. I took it at face value, and planned accordingly. I’m used to working in precision crafting down to the centimeters and millimeters, I would never have thought to ask.”

“Yeah…Most people know if they want a true 1×4 they have to buy a 1×6 which actually comes as a 1×5.5 then they have to cut it down to the correct size.”

Moral of the story:

Fuck the hardware store labels and tags.

Buy bigger than you need and THEN measure twice, cut once, and waste a lot of wood in the process. This explains a lot of overbudget, miscalculation, poor project management plans, and waste I’ve encountered around the building industry.

Mystery solved, and mind blown. I now understand why size matters. I also understand why there’s so much miscommunication and intimidation for people to start on their own projects, especially new or expensive projects. I now understand why there are waste wood piles at the home of every builder I know.

Standing in the rain laughing at the wood stack—suddenly so many things made sense. I can’t believe I’m only just now learning this.

From now on, for honesty, I think hardware stores should mitigate their inch discrepancies in wood by saying “ish” at the end of their measurements. Four inches-ish. I’d accept that. Even plan accordingly. If a guy at the bar gave me an “ish”, I’d appreciate his honesty. I’d reply with saying, “That’s wonderful, I’m 30-ish, and between a size 12-20ish, somewhere thereabouts…I mean, philosophically speaking.”

And let that be a lesson for you today. I’ll be forty(ish) this summer – and it’s the first time I’ve ever encountered this apparently well-known fact of the building industry.



Author: Athena

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