Bad wood, New work bench, Note to self
Comments 4

Note to self #3

One of these days I will learn to stay away from the pine lumber sold at the home center. I am talking about the 1x stuff which has become some pretty horrible lumber (as opposed to 2x material which is very handy for some projects).

I spent about 45 minutes in Lowes this past Friday buying material for the torsion box beams used on my workbench project. I really searched for the right material to fit my needs at this point. The beams are going to be six feet long and the sides are to be three inches deep (see the plans in this post). Buying a full sheet of plywood would leave too much waste, so I turned to dimensioned stock for the sides. After looking at alder, poplar, select pine and the really bad “Top Choice” lumber, this is what I settled on…

Stain grade – really? This pine panel seemed perfect for my project.

This pine panel was six feet long (no waste in length), was straight and flat. Since I am making a workbench, straight, flat wood is critical. But this is also pine and I held out hopes that the two panels I bought would stay that way and not warp (BTW – this is not stain grade lumber; way too many defects in this material for it to be stain grade).

After one cut. This strip of wood instantly warps.

My first cut from this panel was a three inch strip. I could tell I was going to have a problem before I completed the cut. I could see the saw kerf close up indicating that warping was occurring. If you look carefully down the length of lumber in the photo above, the wood crooks and twists – not acceptable for this project (one of the reasons I am replacing my current workbench is that the top has always had a twist in it). The box beams for my workbench must be flat.

The big irritation is that I should have seen this coming. This certainly isn’t the first time I have used this material. I had a similar problem with the face frame stiles on the massive bookcase. The problem created by this warping lumber is that I had to re-think the material to be used on my workbench and what made the most sense for me. Plus, I had to stop my project; I was through woodworking for the day. Note to self: stop using this material!

I have to give Lowes credit. I purchased two of these pine panels and was able to return both of them, including the one I cut. Money is tight right now and I simply can’t just use the cut material on a future project. So, thank you Lowes (it is normal policy at Lowes for no credit on cut lumber). I purchased a sheet of birch plywood which is what I should have purchased in the first place. With some luck, I will be able to do some woodworking before work tomorrow.


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  1. Hi! So, I'm trying to figure out what exactly is the definition of “stain grade lumber”? If we are milling our own logs, how do we know if a piece is stain grade? and what is the difference between that and paint grade? Thanks!

  2. First, thanks for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment.

    “Stain grade” material is ultimately be left up to the consumer. What I don't like may be acceptable to someone else.

    In the case of this board, it had too many defects, poor knots, sap pockets etc., to be stained.

    Milling your own boards is, of course, different than going down to Lowes and buying a glued-up panel.

    Milling your own boards could mean searching for a live edge or other characteristics. But in this case you are often starting with what you know to be a prized log.

    Lowes rarely has prized boards. 🙂

  3. Thanks! I appreciate the speedy reply. I have a friend with a sawmill and he was talking about milling stain grade vs paint grade lumber and I wanted to understand what he was talking about without having to ask him! So, basically, he mainly mills ponderosa pine. When he refers to stain grade he's talking about good solid pieces that have few small knots? would that be the same as “clear” wood? and he talks about furniture grade which I understand to be very clear wood. Is stain grade a step below that and something that may be used more for flooring? Sorry to hassle you, but you seem very knowledgeable and I'm interested to understand the differences.

  4. Clear wood is literally no knots. It is clear of defects and some knots are considered defects – loose knots or knots where part of it has been ripped away during milling. Also knots which contain bark are not good.

    Small, tight knots however are not necessarily considered defects. I have made plenty of pieces with knots which can enhance the rustic look of a piece.

    Stain grade should be better quality because it has to be such to be stained and look good.

    Paint grade would be a lower quality. It has defects which are able to be successfully covered by paint. Finger jointed boards are considered paint grade (Google that for more).

    Furniture grade is often very clear wood as you mention, consistent in color. I would be OK with some knots in it.

    Hope that helps.

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