Does this fall within the realm of reasonable/expected "premium" S4S lumber quality?

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Forum topic by Xanen posted 09-20-2021 04:36 PM 753 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 29 days

09-20-2021 04:36 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question walnut maple cherry

I’m a new woodworker with relatively limited tooling. My focus is primarily on working with hand tools and I do not own a jointer nor planer. On most of my past projects, I’ve done all dimensioning/milling by hand. In an effort to save some time (which I don’t have a ton of), I went ahead and ordered a bunch of Swaner S4S hardwood (Maple, Walnut, Cherry) from Home Depot for some upcoming projects. Several of the boards have what appear to me to be significant defects. However, given my lack of experience, I don’t know if they would fall into the range of what’s to be reasonably expected or if I should seek reimbursement/replacement. For example, here’s a photo of one of the 1”x6”-8’ maple boards:

The cherry boards seem to have a very large amount of what I believe to be gum lines/pockets:
. It’s not just a visual quality, they are significant divots in the surface. They are much more present on one side than the other.

One of the cherry boards is also extremely bowed. While annoying given that it’s already S4S, that seems within the realm of reasonable expectation:

The walnut is quite nice, with the exception of a few knots on this board:

Pretty much all of the boards have visible and palpable planer/roller marks.
My question to the experienced folks here: Do you consider this to be reasonable/expected quality? Should I reach out to customer support regarding any of these (perceived) issues? If I’m paying the significantly extra $ for S4S, “premium” quality lumber, I had a (perhaps unreasonable) expectation for what I would receive. Thoughts?
Thanks in advance for taking the time to read and respond!

9 replies so far

View therealSteveN's profile


8828 posts in 1814 days

#1 posted 09-20-2021 05:17 PM

I don’t see defects the same as a lot of people do. I see character marks.

That top pic is some wonderful Curly Maple, and it has an Ambrosia streak you seem to be highlighting with the tape. Many people would pay a lot for that, however if you feel it’s a defect a lot of furniture companies would agree, they want very bland, NON Figured, or marked lumber for their makings.

When selecting Cherry I always head to the “gummy” pile first.

Plus I’ll add as many tight knots as possible, but my favorite thing to say when seeing a nice project with what many call flawed wood is, Embrace the imperfections, they will make your piece look all the more hand made, and add character.

On S4S that just means surfaced 4 sides, doesn’t mean cleaned and polished. The expectation is you do the final finishing. To me it’s bark is gone now, your turn to make it flat and smooth.

All that said, if you think it’s flawed, you should tell your seller, if you bought online make sure to always read the descriptions of what you are expected to get, especially the fine print. I imagine it’s explained.

Here is a downloadable NHLA lumber grading brochure or I call it the bible of wood laws. It makes what is and isn’t acceptable less murky. A lot of your concerns are acceptable though.

Generally unless you pay for truck freight shipping, most lumber cannot be shipped by Fed Ex, and UPS simply due to length regulation. In order to be FAS lumber a length of either 6 or usually 8’ needs to be there, and mostly you only get that shipped on a semi, so $$$$$$$$$$ To get the lengths the other shippers need, it’s far to short to qualify. This makes buying LOCAL and being able to get true FAS lumber you pick as being possible, and probably would be the best choice.

-- Think safe, be safe

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

7227 posts in 3733 days

#2 posted 09-20-2021 05:30 PM

As to what you’re calling defects, I fall in line with what SteveN said…those would be treasured in my shop. But what’s more important is what you think….is those don’t meet your expectations then it’s time to talk to HD. Given the prices they charge for S4S, you deserve exactly what you want. The milling marks would be more of a concern to me, often that would is barely 3/4” which doesn’t give you a lot of wiggle room to remove them. The first walnut pic is the only one I can see the mill marks in, and those are pretty much what I would call normal for their wood.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View JAAune's profile


2033 posts in 3556 days

#3 posted 09-20-2021 05:31 PM

Premium is not an actual grade. Just sounds like a marketing term. You’d need to know the actual grade to know if you got what you paid for.

The link below is a quick primer on how wood is graded. I suspect Home Depot sold you “select and better” and called it “premium” because they thought that term sounded better.

Hardwood Grading

That’s a very basic primer. It gets a little more complicated in practice. Different species get different rules and wider boards are allowed to have more defects than narrow boards.

Defect-free wood is sold as “clear” so always expect defects when buying anything else. “Select” is supposed to have more than 80% usable lumber. That’s why many woodworkers use the 20% rule when ordering. Always buy 20% more board feet than needed for the job.

Pitch pockets are common in cherry. The commercially-graded lumber we buy has smaller and fewer pitch pockets than the lumber we get from the local sawmill but they’re to be expected.

Walnut will have more knots than other species. “Select and better” in walnut seems to have twice as many knots as the maple and cherry we buy. Clear walnut gets expensive.

-- See my work at

View controlfreak's profile


2876 posts in 841 days

#4 posted 09-20-2021 05:41 PM

I had no idea that you could buy that kind of hardwood at HD. Anyway there is a rule of thumb, that I don’t know, that says buy something like 25% more than what you need to account for this type of thing. Just remember that every project has a back and a bottom except for a door.

View controlfreak's profile


2876 posts in 841 days

#5 posted 09-20-2021 05:45 PM

A rare tidbit, A family connection in the hardwood business came up with a CAT scan or MRI type of rig that could grade an entire stack of lumber saving the need to manually sort through each board to grade it. This was many years ago and I have no idea if it worked out for him.

View SMP's profile


4816 posts in 1145 days

#6 posted 09-20-2021 06:14 PM

I had no idea that you could buy that kind of hardwood at HD. Anyway there is a rule of thumb, that I don t know, that says buy something like 25% more than what you need to account for this type of thing. Just remember that every project has a back and a bottom except for a door.

- controlfreak

The wholesaler by my house kind of touts their s4s as only having around 20% waste vs 30% waste if you buy their rough lumber. They are assuming a cabinet shop is going to cut off large knots and have to make a cut list around “defects”, whereas us hobbyists can use them in certain ways or even highlight them.

View splintergroup's profile


5848 posts in 2462 days

#7 posted 09-20-2021 06:30 PM

Yep, lumber grading really only covers the defect interval (mainly knots) and minimum widths. Really nothing considers warps and bows.

For shipping, if you can get the mill to cut so all pieces are (just) under 6’, there is a big price break.

View Madmark2's profile


3093 posts in 1828 days

#8 posted 09-20-2021 06:35 PM

Planer marks are normal. Is why we scrape and/or sand. A “lunchbox” planer will leave them too.

Knots are a fact of life unless you specifically ordered “clear” (no defects). Even “premium” (which has been said, is not a real grade) will have some knots. Depending on what specie you want, more or less knots are allowed. Generally 95% yield is acceptable. Additionally most small defects or single knots can be cut around, used on a hidden piece, or featured.

The gum lines in cherry are found in most all cherry and are part of the natural figuring. Same with the bark pocket in the tiger maple. Don’t find defects, find beauty.

Some specific choices are mutually exclusive, clear and knotty, or live edge but not variegated. Wood is a living thing, it’s “defects” show how it’s life was lived. If you want uniformity, use & paint MDF.

HD or any big box is not where to buy lumber, it’s expensive and you get whatever is next in the stack. You want better lumber? don’t order online. Visit the yard and select your own. If you must, call and speak to the yardman and explain what you want. A good yard (where you’re a regular customer), will select as you ask. I told my yardman I was making a certain sized top and that I like variegated and he sent me this:

Hand picked for me by Craftsmen Supply in Tampa (they ship, talk to Alan & say MadMark referred you.)

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

View Xanen's profile


2 posts in 29 days

#9 posted 09-21-2021 06:10 AM

Perfect! Thank you for all the detailed responses. This is exactly the information I was looking for.

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