Lumber lawsuit challenges the size of a 2×4

Anybody who’s ever bought lumber knows that a 2×4 isn’t a 2×4, a 1×6 isn’t a 1×6, and a 4×4 isn’t a 4×4.

“Anybody who’s in the trades or construction knows that,” Tim Stich, a carpentry instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College, tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Lawyers are not in the trade or construction business, however. They’re in the lawsuit business, which is why Menard’s and Home Depot are being sued for deceptive advertising.

A Chicago law firm has filed suits seeking $5 million because 4x4s aren’t being advertised as 3 1/2 x 3 1/2.

Yevgeniy Turin of McGuire Law, the firm filing the suit, says whatever everybody knows isn’t what most people buying lumber know.

“It’s difficult to say that for a reasonable consumer, when they walk into a store and they see a label that says 4 x 4, that that’s simply – quote unquote – a trade name,” Turin said.

A third of the shoppers at a Menard’s didn’t know that the size of lumber isn’t what we commonly refer to them as, the Journal Sentinel said.

The suit says customers are being charged full price while getting 23% less lumber.

The attorney says his clients are several men who bought lumber, got home, and measured it, then called the law firm saying they’d been deceived.

Why is lumber referred to by dimensions that are incorrect? Because, as the woodworking site, The Spruce, notes, nature and physics.

Lumber manufacturers typically cut a tree into dimensional lumber very shortly after the tree is felled. Then, the newly-sawn (but soaking wet) lumber is kiln-dried until it reaches the desired moisture level. As lumber dries, it shrinks (as the moisture in the wood is reduced, the wood cells shrink, particularly across the grain). While the 8′ length won’t change much as the wood dries, the 2″ width and 4″ height (cross-section of the grain) will shrink considerably.

Because of this shrinkage, a typical 2×4 will usually measure out to around 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″. These numbers can vary slightly, but modern lumber manufacturers are pretty adept at delivering consistently-sized supplies of dimensional lumber. This is a very different type of measuring wood when compared to the board foot method used in measuring hardwoods.

There’s history here, as captured by this 1964 document, History of Yard Lumber Size Standards.

  • MrE85

    I’m board of this topic. Wood anyone else agree?

    • I’m too concerned about going against the grain…

      • MrE85

        I pine for the days before comment thread puns, but sometimes you just have to spruce things up.

        • I’m about ready to start deleting…. so….

          • Kassie

            No! I love the puns. It lightens up the comments section and is the only bright part of my otherwise gloomy work day.

          • I’m sure you mean it puts a nice finish on the comments section and really deepens the shine on your work week 🙂

          • Please don’t; the comments add dimension.

        • Rob

          Plankly, my dear, I don’t give a rip.

        • Zachary

          we have to be careful how we frame the puns however, or Bob is going to nail us to the wall.

    • John O.

      #NailedIt

    • X.A. Smith

      I saw what you did there.

      • Rob

        It was pretty plane.

    • RBHolb

      No. You’re barking up the wrong tree.

      • Rob

        Notch sure what you mean…

        • RBHolb

          Never mind. I was just lumbering along.

    • kevins

      You splintered my concentration whit that comment.

    • Gary F

      All fir it.

  • jon

    O’rly?

    I’ll wait to see how this plays out but I think I might have some lawsuits to file based on measurements applied to plumbing fittings… Oh and I just got a bunch of EMT conduit 3/4″ but the OD and ID are both closer to a full inch than 3/4…

    Sure I’ve got no pain and suffering from the conduit, but plumbing fixtures have never caused me anything but pain and suffering! (well except the occasional plumbing functions they provide once they are installed… but finding the right part is always damn near impossible unless you’ve memorized the trade sizes).

    • Gary F

      Electrical and plumbing pipe is measured off the inside diameter. EMT and Schedule 80 will have the same insides and different outsides.

      This is almost as fun as “farm talk” thanks Bob!

      • jon

        Right, but the trade size of pipes still doesn’t match the actual size of pipes.. the fittings suffer from a similar problem, exacerbated by the ID/OD issue difference.

        If a “trade size” was the same as an actual size we wouldn’t have to call it a trade size.

        Go measure some 3/4 EMT, I don’t think your calipers will read 0.75″ for the ID they will more likely read some where around 0.873″ which is the nominal size for 3/4 EMT, but the trade size is still 3/4″

        • Rob

          As long as you make sure to fit a 0.873″ to another 0.873″, it’s all good.

          • Duct tape = the great equalizer.

          • Gary F

            “220, 221 what ever it takes”

          • jon

            Takes 240 now… inflation….

          • Gary F

            Movie reference, you figure it out.

          • lusophone

            That’s my standard reply to any DIY project question.

        • Gary F

          I didn’t know that. I’ll have to check.
          EMT not quite as crucial as fluid pipe, does fluid pipe vary in nominal vs actual for ID’s. So is plastic conduits that way too?

          • jon

            PVC definitely varies… see the sizes here:
            https://formufit.com/pages/pvc-pipe-size-dimensions-chart
            Note that schedule 40 and schedule 80 are the same OD, but the ID changes, means you can use the same fitting for schedule 40 and schedule 80, but the volume you can move through 40 is higher than 80.

            I don’t know much about plumbing pipes (if I did then I wouldn’t have the pain and suffering for the lawsuit!) but I know that if you look up conduit fill charts from the NEC you’ll see different conduit types have different fill rates because of the actual nominal ID of the conduit.

          • Gary F

            This is better than the farm talk we had last week.

            Lets start talking roofing “squares” and “tons” of cooling!

          • jon

            Are roofing squares different than flooring squares? Or do you just need to double them because of the single overlap?

          • Jerry
      • Mike

        Late to the discussion here – but EMT, pipe (pvc or otherwise), and tubing are labeled by their *outside* diameter. 1″ pipe will always have the same OD, whether it’s schedule 40, 80, 160 or XXH. The inside diameter will shrink as the wall thickness of the pipe/tube increases.

  • AL287

    Another frivolous lawsuit makes its way through the courts.

    Where do people come up with these ideas? Were they just board and didn’t have anything better to do?

  • Gary F

    Too many lawyers…..

  • Rob

    Maybe all the stores need to do is include a notice to the effect that “kiln drying causes a small amount of shrinkage.” Your mileage may vary.

    • John O.

      Don’t forget: “Some assembly required.”

  • Jerry

    Remember the old saying “measure twice, don’t file stupid lawsuits”

    I bet these people are surprised by the price of nails too.

    • “You mean a penny nail isn’t a penny?”

      • Gary F

        Who uses penny nails anymore?

        • jon

          Original owner of my house bought 9 penny nails in bulk… used them to secure everything… and that guy knew how to drive a nail…

          Guy after him had a finish nail gun… that he used for everything.

          After pulling out all of their nails, I am completely sold on screws.

          • Gary F

            I just can just think the carpal tunnel, rotator cuff and arthritic arms the old time framers must have had.

          • Jerry

            But they had forearms like Popeye

  • John O.

    //Yevgeniy Turin of McGuire Law….
    Did the Russians use dimension lumber that was actually 2″ x 4″ when they built Putin’s dacha? Just trying to Turin the tables here….

    • Rob

      I’m sure they used whatever the equivalent is in metric terms.

  • lusophone

    I’m just wondering how this discrepancy is factored in to designs for new house construction or remodeling for example. When building code calls for such and such size of framing for a window or door, is there any code infraction to worry about? I would guess not if all these houses and remodels are going forward over the years, but who knows? I think there was some big lawsuit not too long ago about a contractor using insufficient building materials on an apartment building project and they had to redo a bunch of it.

    • The discrepancy holds no structural zoning significance because a 2×4 is a 1 3/4 x 3 3/4 and people who create the codes and build houses know this.

      • seedhub

        1 1/2″ x 3 1/2″, actually.

        But you’re right: all lumber testing (span tables, sound and fire ratings, etc.) reflects the actual, rather than the nominal, size. It’s a non-issue in construction.

    • My guess is that professional builders have known this for years, if not decades, and that it has always been factored into construction or remodeling.

      This isn’t the same thing as incredible shrinking candy bars, i.e. same size packaging but shrinking volume selling for the same price. It bears more similarity to how “quarter-pound” burgers are sold, i.e. pre-cooked weight. Then again, McDs and the others have an asterisk on their menus noting that discrepancy.

      Maybe lumber yards will have to post “pre-kilned dimension” on all their board lumber? 😉

    • Wannabe

      Architects and contractors refer to the nominal size (i.e. 2×4) but all details, codes, testing, etc. are done per the actual size of the wood (i.e., 1 1/2 x 3 1/2).

  • Jeff C.

    “A third of the shoppers at a Menard’s didn’t know that the size of
    lumber isn’t what we commonly refer to them as, the Journal Sentinel
    said.”

    Irrelevant. What percentage of the WOOD SHOPPERS didn’t know?

    Stupid frivolous lawsuit. Yet another thing to make me depressed and angry about today.

    • That was the percentage of the wood shoppers. It’s the DIY crowd.

      • Gary F

        Lots of small independent contractors use Menards. They have no problem with the nominal size of lumber.

        • Rob

          Maybe one of the qualifying questions for the survey was whether the prospective pollee was an independent contractor or not.

          • I’m pretty sure this was not a scientific endeavor.

    • Jerry

      This lawsuit is especially stupid because I don’t know of anybody who buys framing lumber by volume or even area. Now if we were talking about paneling, that would be different.

      • seedhub

        Exactly. The fact that a 2×4 is not actually 2″ x 4″ does not diminish its value for its intended use. All lumber testing (span tables, sound and fire ratings, etc.) reflects the actual, rather than the nominal, size.

    • RBHolb

      I don’t know the exact dimension of a 4×4. Nonetheless, I have known for years that it is less than 4″ by 4″. What a waste of time and money.

  • Bob Sinclair

    After reading the “History of Yard Lumber Size Standards” I now know more than i needed to know about this subject and also blew a half hour of time on this. Thanks Bob.

    • Gary F

      But you won’t be duped by some greedy lawyers and will have more fun at Menards.

      Winning

  • Gary F

    Bob, I’m thinking a post on the markings on a tape measure would be a great topic.

  • Gary F

    “size” “wood”
    Does it really matter?

    • Jerry

      Only if you’re not good at scr(is tackled by the censor)

  • AL287

    This is the best post we’ve had all year!

    Planks! Bob

    • I feel my working life has been a total waste of time.

  • Jay Sieling

    “The attorney says his clients are several men who bought lumber, got home, and measured it, then called the law firm saying they’d been deceived.” Really? who does that? You’d check with a buddy or your knowledgable neighbor who lends you the tools you’re going to use – not call a law firm! sheesh

    • Margaret Cloud

      I suspect that the law firm needs money and thus hired people to make the purchases.

  • James Westbrook

    It might be helpful to learn how to read a tape measure if you go buy a 2×4 and are too ignorant to know the actual size! Sure wouldn’t want these folks to help me with ANY building project!!! Instead of trying to build it yourself – hire someone smart enough to do the job and realize your gifts MUST BE in another area of life!! Some people are wanting to blame their own ignorance on someone else. Few want to take responsibility for their own actions. Sounds like a great lacking in COMMON SENSE. Maybe THEY need to become a lawyer like the one suing so they too can overload the legal system with more crap!!! Like we don’t have enough legitimate ones!!!

  • Margaret Cloud

    I have known about the actual dimensions of lumber for a very long time. Someone I know posted about the lawsuit and I responded that anyone with a brain knows about the actual dimensions. She never knew but I think she is giving me a pass on my comment. Anyway, I went to my local hardware/lumber store – we only have one since we are a small city on an island – and asked about labels. That is when I learned that some local guy last year had an issue about the dimensions and that the store had to explain it to him. Apparently he was in his 30’s. I also discussed the important issue of pipe dimensions – interior versus exterior – and then commented on the grave possibility of lawsuits related to fiberglass insulation not really being 4″ or 6″ thick when compressed. Are we just buying a lot of air? Anyway, at this store there are labels that have a picture of the wood with the actual measurements. I blame the ignorance on a lack of shops classes for high school students.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d8daa9b0f6c4a6b221e1985364b1d88f672eabcded4280d9df198299626bfa36.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a7745041b36d474d9c88f203b7dc79b82c788f3dc8b88046006a7fee325b254b.jpg