[ ECOLOGICAL ETYMOLOGIST ]
Dear E.E. I’m confused about lumber
sizes. Some boards are labeled “
one-by” (1x) and “two-by” (2x), others are
called “four-quarter” (4/4) and “
eight-quarter” (8/4). Why have two different
sets of terms? And why are none the
actual size they claim to be?
You are not alone in your confusion. A
Chicago law firm is currently representing
consumers who are so upset by this
nomenclature that they’re suing Home
Depot for fraud – to the tune of $5 million
and a whole lot of laughing from those in
the building trades.
So let’s start with the easy part of
your question. Hardwoods are typically
used for furniture, cabinets, and trim,
which all require thin boards and precise
measurement. Sawmills are typically
adjustable in 1/4-inch increments, so a
sawyer’s going to think in terms of two
clicks for a ½-inch board, three clicks for a
¾-inch board, four clicks for a 1-inch board
(2/4, 3/4, 4/4). And when it comes to
the cabinet maker drawing up plans, it’s
easier to do the math with a common
denominator. There’s just no incentive
for anyone to convert to whole numbers.
Architects and the like call measuring
wood this way the “quarter system,”
which makes it sound fancier than it is.
Really it’s just a handy shortcut.
Softwoods, on the other hand, are
typically used for framing structures and
so come in larger sizes. Think 1x, 2x,
4x, and so on. There’s just no need – for
either the sawyer or the builder – to think
in smaller increments. The fact that the
rest of us also think in whole numbers is
just a nice coincidence.
But a modern 4/4 board is actually
13/16 of an inch thick – probably – and
a 2x is actually 1 1/2 inches, and the
reasons for that stretch all
the way back to the 1860s.
I’ll tell you the story next time.
Northern Woodlands’ “Stewardship Story” series is sponsored by the Stifler Family Foundation, in support of forestry
practices that promote healthy and sustainable forests and wildlife habitat.
It’s just like a house. You can let your house go
into disrepair for 20 years, or you can do annual
maintenance at much lower cost.”
Oftentimes, he said, his invasive-pulling work
is able to get people over the hump and posi-
tion them to carry on or hire their kids or their
neighbors who can then do the work. “Since I
don’t use chemicals, landowners can be right
there with me, alongside if they wish for a couple
hours, to pick up on the efficiencies and nuances
of the control work,” he said. “I have no shortage
of business, so there’s certainly no reason for me
to keep secrets.”
Bald described the stewardship outcomes that
he strives for in his work:
“My goal is solid, relevant land stewardship.
There are dozens of ways to define stewardship.
Caring for resources is one way. But my definition
is simple enough: ‘Stewardship equals presence.’
If you come once a year, just to look and not get
dirty, that says a lot about your notion of presence.
Conversely, if you’re there all the time and truly
engaged, that says something different about
Many of his customers share this philosophy.
“My clients, admirably, want their signature on the
land to be etched in sweat rather than synthetic
toxins,” he said.
Despite the focus on eradication that’s at the
core of his work, Bald is hesitant to describe it
in terms of a battle of good versus evil plants in
native ecosystems. Paraphrasing a famous quote
from English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes, he
points out that “it’s a slippery slope when we say
things in the natural world are inherently good
or bad. The reality is, there is no good or bad in
nature. There are only consequences.”
Glenn Rosenholm writes a series called “Profiles in
Conservation” for the US Forest Service, Northeastern
Area, State and Private Forestry.
A large solarizing pad being installed in central Vermont to sterilize the top layer of soil flooded with wild parsnip
seeds. Bottom: Bald uses a weed wrench to uproot Japanese barberry.