Why is a Two-by-Four Called a Two-by Four?
Why is a two-by-four called a “two-by-four” if it’s not two inches by four inches?
Well, when a piece of lumber is first cut from the log, the board after that rough cut actually does have the approximate width and depth (the nominal dimensions) by which the piece will be referred to from then on.
At that point, a two-by-four is, in fact, about two inches by four inches.
The next step in the production process is to either air-dry or kiln-dry the green lumber, in order to reduce the moisture content of the wood.
This causes the lumber to shrink as it loses its moisture volume, reducing its actual dimensions. This is done to ensure that when the lumber is finished and sold its dimensions will be stable, and it won’t shrink significantly after somebody uses it.
After being dried, the pieces of lumber are planed, smoothed, and have their corners rounded.
This reduces the actual dimensions even further, as well as allowing the producer to be certain that the final product has the dimensions required by industry standards.
In the case of a two-by-four, that’s 1.5” x 3.5”).
To learn more, see our page with the American Softwood Lumber Standard.