Lumber Dimensions: Nominal vs Actual

If you’re shopping for lumber, you may have noticed that many boards provide an initial size, such as 2’’ x 4’’, and then a second measurement, called “actual dimensions”. What are actual dimensions and how can this impact your next project? 

Nominal vs Actual Dimensions

When traditional wood lumber is cut, it is then dried and resurfaced to make it smooth.

The nominal size of a board is the size prior to being dried and resurfaced. This is the size that is advertised, for example, 2’’ x 2’’. The wood shrinks and a small amount is removed to enhance the look of the board. This combination makes a board slightly smaller than what is advertised and that size is the actual dimensions. 

Some years ago, lawsuits were filed against lumber manufacturers, alleging that the boards being sold were undersized. One specific lawsuit, filed in the state of Illinois, stated “lumber products that were falsely advertised and labeled as having product dimensions that were not the actual dimensions of the products sold” and that “unbeknownst to consumers, the product dimensions advertised by [the store] are not the actual dimensions of the products being advertised.”

These lawsuits resulted in lumber including actual dimensions on each board. 

Does Plastic Lumber Have Nominal and Actual Dimensions? 

Yes. The plastic lumber available in the Plastic Lumber Yard online store does include both nominal and actual dimensions. 

Some grades of plastic lumber have nominal and actual dimensions that are equal, meaning that buyers get more products for their money when compared to wood boards. 

Why Is It Important To Know The Actual Dimensions Of A Board? 

Here are a few reasons why it’s important to know the actual dimensions of plastic lumber. 

  • Ensure that you have enough lumber for your project. If you don’t account for the difference between the nominal size and the actual size, you may end up with too much or too little lumber.
  • Ensure that your project fits together properly. If you’re working on a project that requires precise measurements, you need to know the actual dimensions of the lumber so that you can cut it to the correct size.
  • Select the right type of lumber for your project. Some types of lumber are more dimensionally stable than others. This means that they are less likely to shrink or warp over time. If you know the actual dimensions of the lumber, you can choose the right type of lumber for your project.
  • Ensure that your project is structurally sound. If you’re building a structure that needs to be strong, you need to use lumber that is the correct size. Knowing the actual dimensions of the lumber will help you to ensure that your project is structurally sound.

Purchase Plastic Wood Boards For Your Project

If you have questions about the size, grade, or strength of any of our lumber, don’t hesitate to contact our experienced team. We can help you select the best option for your project. Call (610) 277-3900 or email for more information.