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The Difference Between Rough Sawn Lumber & S4S Lumber

If you’re new to woodworking, you might be surprised at the dizzying array of different types of lumber that are available. There are various cuts, several species of trees, different types of plywood, and so much more.

One thing we’ve noticed is that people who are new to the woodworking game can get caught up on the difference between rough sawn (sometimes called rough cut) and S4S lumber. So we decided to make this simple resource explaining the differences! We’re going to cover all the bases: What S4S lumber is, what rough sawn lumber is, and the different circumstances in which you’ll want to use each. Let’s get to work!

What is S4S lumber?

Surfacing is the art of planing boards so that the surfaces of that board are smooth and uniform. The term SXS tells you how many of the sides of a board have been pre-surfaced, where the first S stands for surfaced and the second stands for sides. As such, S2S means surfaced 2 sides, S3S means surfaced 3 sides, and S4S means surfaced 4 sides - the maximum number of sides on a rectangle.

That means S4S lumber is completely pre-surfaced for you - you won’t need to plane the surfaces or rip any edges.

What is rough-cut lumber?

Rough-cut lumber is exactly the opposite of S4S lumber - it has not been planed or ripped. As such, it has all of the rugged characteristics of natural wood. This type of lumber is next to impossible to find unless you visit a specialty wood shop like our lumber store in Ottawa.

There are a number of advantages to rough-cut lumber, but the biggest one may be its variable thickness. While S4S lumber is often planed to ¾” thickness, rough-cut lumber can be found in a wide variety of different thicknesses.

Should I use S4S or rough-cut lumber?

That’s up to you - each type of lumber has its advantages. Let’s take a brief look at the advantages of each.

S4S lumber is the least labour intensive type of lumber, as everything is pre-surfaced for you. That’s perfect for woodworkers who don’t have a planer or jointer, and for those who just want to save themselves time.

Rough-cut lumber, on the other hand, is much more versatile than S4S lumber, as you can prepare it to whatever thickness you desire. It has a more rustic quality, which makes it great for projects like outdoor furniture or creating exposed, log cabin-style wooden beams. Rough-cut lumber is also less expensive, as the woodshop doesn’t have to charge for the labour of pre-surfacing the wood.

Both rough cut and S4S lumber have their uses - which one you’ll buy depends heavily on the nature of your project, the equipment you have available, and how much work you want to put into surfacing the wood yourself.

We have a wide variety of both rough cut and S4S lumber available - take a look at our stock. We’re sure to have something that’s perfect for your next project!
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