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Article: Lumber Dimension Guide

Lumber Dimension Guide

Using dimensional lumber from the hardware store is a great, easy way to make DIY shelves. It comes in a variety of wood species, is easy to find, and the store will likely cut it to the desired length (meaning you can make shelves without any power tools!). However, there is a lot of confusion with how the sizing is labeled. We'd like to clear that up for you with our lumber dimension guide! 

Lumber Dimension Guide: Nominal vs. Actual Sizes

Nominal sizes (what it's called at the local hardware store, such a 2" x 4") is the size of the board before it's been planed at the mill. 

The actual size refers to the final dimensions after this process. For example, a common 2"x 4" is really about 1.5" x 3.5." This is important since the actual dimensions are needed when choosing shelf brackets and planning a project. 

Here are a few charts to make this easy:

Standard Lumber: 1 by board



1 x 2

3/4 x 1 1/2

1 x 3

3/4 x 2 1/2

1 x 4

3/4 x 3 1/2

1 x 6

3/4 x 5 1/2

1 x 8

3/4 x 7 1/4

1 x 10

3/4 x 9 1/4

1 x 12

3/4 x 11 1/4


Standard Lumber: 2 by board




2 x 2

1 1/2 x 1 1/2

2 x 3

1 1/2 x 2 1/2

2 x 4

1 1/2 x 3 1/2

2 x 6

1 1/2 x 5 1/2

2 x 8

1 1/2 x 7 1/4

2 x 10

1 1/2 x 9 1/4

2 x 12

1 1/2 x 11 1/4


 dimensional lumber



Remember, this lumber dimension guide only applies to dimensional, common lumber found at hardware stores or lumber yards.

However, custom shelf boards or those pre-made (such as those sold online at West Elm, Amazon, World Market, etc. will display final measurements).  Hopefully this provides some clarity in using dimensional lumber for making shelves!

For more information, check out our How to Make Shelving Guide with step by step instructions in choosing the correct brackets for your project. 


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