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What Is a Board Foot?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 April 2014
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The board foot is a unit of volume measurement used in reference to lumber in the United States and Canada. Other nations use different measuring system for their lumber and timber. The board foot consists of a piece of wood which is one foot square by one inch (about 2,360 cubic centimeters). The board foot applies to rough or unfinished lumber, not to dimension lumber which has been finished and planed, and will therefore be slightly smaller.

Understanding units of measurement used with lumber can be difficult because of the fact that wood shrinks as it is processed. As a result, the actual measurement can differ from the stated measurement. In the case of a board foot, it is important to remember that the measurement is applied before the lumber is finished.

This term is often turned into the acronym FBM, which stands for "foot, board measure." As a method of shorthand, if measurements start to climb up into the thousands of board feet, an M is added to the acronym, as in 19 MFBM, which means “19 thousand board feet.” Another M turns the measurement into millions: 3 MMFBM is three million board feet.

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One common application of the board foot measurement is in assessing the value of a tree or a stand of trees. Calculations can be used to determine how many board feet will be harvested, which in turn determines the value of the stand. It is not uncommon for the value of a single large tree to also be expressed in board feet, in part so that the person selling the tree knows how much lumber was extracted from the tree, and thus, how much she or he is owed.

The value of timber is determined by more factors than the board feet that can be extracted. The quality of the wood is also important. X amount of board feet from a single tree tends to be more valuable than the same amount from multiple trees. This is in part because if the wood comes from a single tree, very large boards and sheets can be cut from it. It's also because the wood may be denser and of higher quality as a result of the age of the tree.

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amsden2000
Post 2

@Jacques6 - I was planning on build a bookshelf, so I checked out this article. I know that a lot of parents let their kids make the mistakes to teach them how to learn on their own, but wood working is a hard thing to undo if there's an error. I would definitely explain that to my kid before they started building. It sounds like your mom helped you fix it, which was nice.

I was designing my bookshelf to be two and a half feet tall exactly so that it would fit under a table -- it's good to know that I'll have to make it a little taller. I had no idea that the wood shrank. I'll have to buy another board now.

Jacques6
Post 1

I remember the first time I built a shelf. My parents have always done a lot of wood working -- they made it look really easy -- so I wanted to try my hand at building a book shelf.

I insisted that my parents didn't help -- I wanted to do it all on my own. I picked out the wood and the nails on my own and I started building it in the garage on my own.

It came out so crooked, it couldn't stand. I was in my teens and was very upset at the results. I asked mom why it came out so bad and she told me about how wood shrinks. We took it back apart and she helped me fix it.

If anyone else lets their kids build something, be kind and tell them that the wood shrank!

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