How "Awful" are the Measurements on S4S Lumber?

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Forum topic by wilschroter posted 01-16-2022 06:58 PM 971 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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209 posts in 1984 days

01-16-2022 06:58 PM

I buy a lot of S4S lumber from my local lumber yard. I run my 2×6’s through my planer and try to clean them up a little bit on my table saw (now looking at a jointer). My question is, how reliable are the dimensions or “squareness” of S4S lumber pieces? Should I just treat all of them like “raw lumber” all the time or is there some general rule of thumb when I can assume I’m getting good pieces or not?

14 replies so far

View Phil32's profile


1752 posts in 1363 days

#1 posted 01-16-2022 08:22 PM

I suspect there are no national standards for lumber tolerances. It would also depend on how finicky the lumber buyer might be, or how the lumber was stored by the dealer. Do they allow customers to select the boards they plan to buy? As with many other products the “standard” is whatever the customers allow.

-- You know, this site doesn't require woodworking skills, but you should know how to write.

View MrRon's profile


6321 posts in 4703 days

#2 posted 01-16-2022 08:54 PM

A true craftsman building furniture would use rough cut lumber milled to his own specifications. He may use S-4-S lumber for some parts that don’t require precision, or he may just use it after milling to his own requirements. S-4-S is usually good enough for the average woodworker. Best way to tell if the S-4-S wood is square and dimensionally correct is to take a caliper with you to the lumber yard and measure that which you want to buy.

View Aj2's profile


4455 posts in 3257 days

#3 posted 01-16-2022 10:00 PM

I hate paying for four sides square lumber. Have you seen how it’s processed?
I prefer Rough it’s cheaper I get to pick through a lift of boards. Plus milling wood it’s a fantastic experience of woodworking.
Good Luck

-- Aj

View wilschroter's profile


209 posts in 1984 days

#4 posted 01-16-2022 10:29 PM

AJ I think the issue is we all kind of have to do it anyway so I was getting a feel for how folks were approaching it.

View dbw's profile


711 posts in 3096 days

#5 posted 01-16-2022 10:35 PM

A true craftsman building furniture would use rough cut lumber milled to his own specifications. He may use S-4-S lumber for some parts that don t require precision, or he may just use it after milling to his own requirements. S-4-S is usually good enough for the average woodworker. Best way to tell if the S-4-S wood is square and dimensionally correct is to take a caliper with you to the lumber yard and measure that which you want to buy.

- MrRon


-- Woodworking is like a vicious cycle. The more tools you buy the more you find to buy.

View pintodeluxe's profile


6543 posts in 4273 days

#6 posted 01-16-2022 10:47 PM

The odd times I end up with S4S lumber, I usually trim both edges anyway. Mostly I buy rough lumber or skip planed on two faces.

If it’s available, and the price is right, there’s nothing wrong with S3S or S4S lumber. It just takes away your ability to start with perfectly flat, square stock. If it’s warped and already planed to thickness, you just have to deal with it.

Best of luck.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View LeeRoyMan's profile


2729 posts in 1186 days

#7 posted 01-16-2022 10:57 PM

As with everything, it depends on what you are making.
Most of what I make, I start with S3S material sized and prepped for what I’m using it for.
Sometimes I buy rough, but not that often. Picking your lumber makes all the difference.
Don’t select warped crooked boards. Select manageable boards.

To me, it’s like outsourcing doors.
I can use the time I would normally be milling wood, for production instead.
There are only so many hours in a year, I prefer to be building product instead of running a mill.
The extra cost of S3S isn’t an issue, it’s incorporated in the clients price.

View gdaveg's profile


512 posts in 661 days

#8 posted 01-17-2022 12:19 PM

I seldom use S4S lumber. Usually the yards I visit have S2S or S3S. That said to get square and flat I usually have to buy thicker and wider and mill the wood. I treat almost all of the wood like raw material after picking the flattest material available.

Currently working on a TV table for our AZ house. I had to make a financial choice for the apron boards, do I
buy 6/4 or 4/4? For the aprons I chose 4/4 and saved the $$ and have to work around the straightness issues.

-- Dave, Vancouver, WA & Tucson, AZ

View Robert's profile


4989 posts in 2940 days

#9 posted 01-17-2022 04:11 PM

All the S4S I’ve ever seen is what I call retail or finished lumber. There shouldn’t be any mill marks and the faces should be square to the edges. And you pay a premium price for it.

S3S, or less commonly S2S is what we normally buy from a commercial supplier. It all depends on the supplier and what their demand is. Mine carries S4S Ponderosa Pine boards, everything else is S3S.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View LesB's profile


3471 posts in 4902 days

#10 posted 01-17-2022 05:30 PM

I’m nor sure what answer you are looking for. You say you buy “a lot” of S4S which indicated you have experience using that type of finished lumber. Then you mention a jointer. Is your question about using a jointer on S4S or how reliable are the dimensions of S4S.
I find S4S pretty reliable if bought from the same source and stack and if I question the straightness of an edge I run it through my table saw just like you indicated you do. If I’m joining boards and question the thickness I run them through the planer. I seldom use the jointer on S4S and for S3S I have one straight side to guide the board through my saw.

-- Les B, Oregon

View pottz's profile


25822 posts in 2444 days

#11 posted 01-17-2022 05:46 PM

i agree with leeroy, i used to buy a lot of rough lumber then plane it myself.i get most of mine now s3s and it’s usually dead on.ive got better things to do that plane wood all day. ill also disagree about not being a true craftsman if i dont mill the boards myself. you dont need to a craftsman to plane lumber. how you wanna spend your time is up to you,id rather be making something.

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

10290 posts in 2041 days

#12 posted 01-18-2022 03:52 AM

When I built my bookcases (70-some dovetailed pine boxes), I found that the S4S C2Select pine from the local lumberyard was fairly reliable. Because of covid, they picked for me, and I only had three boards out of three truckloads that were outright rejects due to warping. They were happy to go grab a new board as we were loading up my pickup. There were some small dimensional differences, but in general, nothing I couldn’t work around by saving the too-wide (or too narrow) boards until I found another to match it in the stack. I think there were also about a half dozen boards (again, out of three truckloads) that were off enough dimensionally or had a waney edge such that I ended up ripping them down to the next size on my bandsaw and then hand-planing them smooth after I got them home. I was pretty happy to find my new lumber supplier in my new home town.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View ajosephg's profile


1908 posts in 5020 days

#13 posted 01-19-2022 02:05 PM

I buy it skip planed and one side edged. I use a Dewalt 735 to achieve desired thickness and cut to width using a table saw. (I sold my jointer several years ago since I hardly ever used it.)

-- Joe

View BlueRidgeDog's profile


918 posts in 1239 days

#14 posted 01-19-2022 02:51 PM

If buying S4S, take a square with you and a nice straight edge. Some boards will be off due to handling, storage etc. There is no diminishing of craftsmanship buying lumber that someone has done the basic prep on. Personally, I avoid S4S as the mills I shop from rarely have dry wood, let alone dimensioned lumber. If my truck is not muddy when I return, I don’t really feel like I have bought lumber!

I will diverge onto a side note here…when you buy at the one man mills, you get the wood with a story. “So, tell me about where you got this tree” I say to a man with my truck mired up in the muck surrounding his portable mill. “A storm dropped it near the Wilkerson property by the river, said his kids climbed in it when they were small” he says, loading planks four at a time while I slosh around with one plank in my hands. “Its not perfect, but it should make something nice” he says as he points out swirling grain wrapping up and around knots, some solid, some loose. Yes, I love going to my favorite hardwood supplier, but I really love the one-off pile of interesting wood at a local mill. I do have the advantage though, living in Virginia as I do. I am a short drive to Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and all the deep forests they contain.

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