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A board foot is a common measurement for rough lumber. While a square foot is a deformity that makes it very difficult to walk. (I’m just kidding.) Square feet measure surface area, which is great for some materials. But wood comes in different thicknesses, and the mills want to get paid more for a 2-inch thick board than they would for a 1-inch thick one. So, someone invented the board foot, which measures volume. One board foot is equal to one square foot of board surface, as long as that board is only an inch thick. If it’s two inches thick, it’s two board feet, and so on. Now, you may ask, why do we need board feet when we already had cubic feet to calculate volume? To that I would say, you ask too many questions.
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That does sound a little funny, since we were taught in school to convert a fraction like 6/4 to 1 ½. And that’s really what those figures mean. A 6/4 board is an inch and a half thick, 4/4 is an inch thick, and so on. Of course, these are rough measurements. I believe the official standard for a 4/4 board is at least 13/16” thick, it doesn’t have to be a full 1”. But that depends on the mill. Some mills make them thicker, others a bit thinner. So, why don’t we just say 1”, 1 ½” and so on? Because woodworking is a very old craft, full of traditions. In this case, the numbering system goes back to the old saw mill days. The mill was set up so that the operator could pull a handle to adjust the thickness of the boards he wished to cut. One pull of the handle was ¼-inch. So, boards were measured by the pulls of the handle 4-quarter, 5-quarter and so on.
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