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On this question on Engineering.SE a poster calls something 2" thick by 4" wide by 2ft long a "board". He asserts in a comment that "we call 2x4s "boards" here in the midwest of the U.S.". Personally I would probably call it either a "two-by-four" or a "stud". It is possible that in my native British English there isn't a generally accepted term for pieces of timber with a width to thickness ratio less than 4:1.

My research on dictionary.reference.com yields "board" as:

a piece of wood sawed thin, and of considerable length and breadth compared with the thickness

This agrees with my understanding of "board". Clearly a breadth of 4" is not "considerable" compared to a thickness of 2".

Merriam-Webster (the last word in US definitions as far as I understand) gives:

a piece of sawed lumber of little thickness and a length greatly exceeding its width

Although this gives no comparison of the thickness compared to the width, it does say "of little thickness" and doesn't mention that the width must be little. I would therefore interpret this to mean something like a floorboard: say 3/4" by 6" by 25".

Can anybody find any research to back up the poster's assertion that a 2"x4" is termed a board in parts of the US?

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  • Cambridge American English Dictionary seems to agree with you. The key qualities seem to be thin and flat.
    – Michael
    Jan 25, 2017 at 10:31
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    There are very few people in the US (none that are carpenters, I hope) who would refer to a 2x4 as a "beam". The term "beam" implies an horizontal element which is capable of bearing some load, and a 2x4, longer than about 6 feet, is not even capable of bearing a roof load.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 25, 2017 at 13:29
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    The term board defines the object; the term beam implies its function.
    – Davo
    Jan 25, 2017 at 13:30
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    In the US, "board" is simply a piece of wood (or wood-like material) that has been sawn (or formed) into some long rectangular shape, generally of a size easily carried by one or two people. The term does not imply its function, nor demand that the width vs height meet some criterion (other than very thin materials would be "veneer" or some such). A 4x4 is a "board" (though more likely to be called a "post"), as is a 1x12 (though more likely to be called a "plank").
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 25, 2017 at 13:44
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    I'll point out that board feet is the standard way to estimate the price and weight of lumber, including 2x4s.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 8, 2017 at 11:58

5 Answers 5

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+100

Yes, in the US the word board can be used for virtually any piece of timber/lumber, regardless of dimension. I don't know what you would consider "official" when it comes to common usage, but here are some examples from various industry experts:

From Kreg Tools, which makes woodworking "tools for clamping, joining, routing, cutting, measuring, and more":

When you’re buying lumber at a home center, whether it’s in the “outdoor,” “construction,” or “board” aisle, you need to understand that the stated size and the actual size of the boards are generally not the same. That’s because all construction lumber, along with essentially every type of “board” sold in a home center, has a stated or “nominal” thickness and width, and a slightly smaller “actual” thickness and width. For example, a 2x4 board actually measures 11/2" thick x 31/2" wide, as shown in the table below.

The table is headed "COMMON BOARD SIZES" and includes nominal size 2X4.

From BobVila.com's "8 things you can make with 2X4s" (I'm sure Bob didn't write this article himself, but still):

The first thing you need to know about 2x4s: They don’t actually measure two by four! These boards, which you can find in any lumberyard or home improvement store, in lengths from 6 to 12 feet, measure two inches thick and four inches wide in their raw state, but once milled, they come out at 1½ by 3½ inches.

This "Difference Between Lumber and Timber" article takes for granted that "board" is a universally understood, generic term for all kinds of wood used in building:

Timber is the word used to refer to wooden boards in the U.K. and Australia while lumber is the wooden board for the American and Canadian denomination.

From Lee Wallender's "What Is "Dimensional Lumber" and Is It a Redundant Term?" on thespruce.com:

When we say that a board is "nominally" 2 inches by 4 inches, in essence, we are saying we have given a board a certain name, but this name does not reflect the board's physical sense.

I have not found a dictionary definition to support this, but in most cases it appears that board is used as a countable form of lumber—that is, board can be substituted for piece of lumber and boards for pieces of lumber. You can see that usage reflected in the "Lumber Buying Guide" by Lowe's, a big-box hardware store:

Treated lumber is produced for exterior use only and pressure treated for ground or above ground contact. It is resistant to rotting and insect damage. Boards can be painted or stained.

And finally, here is a screenshot from the video linked from that buying guide, "Why is a 2x4 Not 2 by 4? | DIY Basics":

Screenshot of video, showing end of a 2X4 board with larger, "rough cut" dimensions illustrated as a dashed line around it; caption reads "**BOARDS** are **rough cut** at the sawmill to 2 in. x 4 in."

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This is an interesting question, one I hadn't thought of before. I, an American, have some passing experience with woodworking; but not extensive, and I would have called a 2x4 a "board."

To answer your question explicitly, yes, some people call a 2x4 a "board," but "2x4 stud," as you suggest, is more common, as you can see in this Google Ngram of 2x4 board, 2x4 stud searched in the American English corpus.

enter image description here

However, there's probably more to this story, so I decided to look up usage on Home Depot's online catalog. Home Depot is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and has locations across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

A search for "2x4" on Home Depot's website returns only things they call "studs," nothing called "boards." This suggests your intuition is correct.

However, searching for "board" gets you a much wider range of lumber products, including 1x10s, 1x12s, 1x3s, and 2x2s and 2x8s (but not 2x4s). So, for whatever reason, a 2x4 doesn't count as a "board" in Home Depot.

That said, you suggest the width must be "considerable" to the thickness, which isn't supported by Home Depot's classifications: Their "board" catalog includes 2x2s (a 1:1 ratio), as well as 1x2s (the same ratio as a 2x4).


So, to conclude, Americans do sometimes call a 2x4 piece of wood a "board," although they might be more properly referred to as "studs" in technical language.

(I will do more research after work today but wanted to put up my preliminary findings.)

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  • 4
    But Home Despot's web site is hardly the final authority on terminology. A 2x4 is only a "stud" when it's an upright member in wall framing. This is the primary use of 2x4s, but hardly the only use.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 7, 2017 at 17:38
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    A "stud' can be metal, 2x3 wood, 2x6 wood, and occasionally 2x8 wood.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 7, 2017 at 22:46
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    The folks at Home Despot are oriented towards the Saturday DIYer, not the pros. They shop at a different desk where the folks sometimes actually understand what they want.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 8, 2017 at 3:26
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    Your Ngram tells us nothing. 2x4s are often used as studs, so the sequence "2x4 stud" is fairly common. (Examine the references and you'll see that the sequence is pretty much always referring to wall construction.) And, in most contexts where "2x4" is apt to be used, readers know it refers to a piece of lumber, so there's no particular reason to say "2x4 board". (It's a little surprising that that sequence is as popular as reported.)
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 8, 2017 at 3:45
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    Surely everything on Home Depot's web site is written or reviewed by English majors for correctness, so if they call something a board, believe it. Who are you going to trust about lumber, Home Depot or M-W?
    – fixer1234
    Jul 10, 2017 at 21:07
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I would disagree with the definition of beam being a piece of 2x4" timber. Beam is defined as structural timber capable of supporting a floor or roof. A 2x4" piece of timber would be nowhere near strong enough to do this.

As a native Brit I refer to 2x4s as planks and looking up differences between planks and boards, there doesn't seem to be a strong consensus of opinion. You could look at floorboards for example and you can see that by name they are defined as boards, but as single pieces or used differently, they can also be refered to as planks.

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    As a native Brit myself I would say 'plank' and 'board' are both too thin for what's being described. 'Balk' works under some definitions, but others suggest they're much the same as a beam (structural). Perhaps 'piece of timber' is the only description people will universally agree on.
    – Michael
    Jan 25, 2017 at 10:50
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    In the US, "plank" would imply something even thinner than a "board". "Board" is relatively non-specific.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 25, 2017 at 13:30
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    I don't think we have a generally used word in Britain for long pieces of rectangular section timber which have width to thickness ratio less than about 6:1 (a 6" by 1" {150 x 25mm} piece would be a plank or board but anthing thicker would not). If I wanted some timber for fence posts or cupboard frames I'd ask for a length of timber and specify the section. Half the time I'd ask for "2 metres of 75 by 50" or "6ft of 3 by 2" and not even mention timber or the units of the section.
    – BoldBen
    Jan 25, 2017 at 15:57
  • This doesn't answer the question as to whether "a 2"x4" is termed a board in parts of the US".
    – AndyT
    Jul 7, 2017 at 8:31
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I'm neither American nor British, but have experience in working with construction documentation translation into English. And I think, that beam and board are different things. A person calls it board for obvious reasons: it's made of wood while beam is usually steel. Maybe choice of board or beam has to do with material and not with country or dimensions of material?

Edit:
I wouldn't take builders' slang as example of pure English language. Same as any language, I think. Poster could name it any way he likes, and it could be just local dialect of midwest of the U.S, on the east, west, south, north of US it can be anything else.

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    I would definitely not say a beam is usually steel. A beam is sometimes steel, sometimes wood.
    – Michael
    Jan 25, 2017 at 10:52
  • But most of the time it's steel. In 21st century urban area construction. Jan 25, 2017 at 11:00
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    @VladimirMarkiev - As a practising structural engineer, a beam most definitely does not imply steel. Beams are commonly made from steel, concrete and timber. The question is not whether 2"x4" by 2ft timber is a beam (it is), the question is whether it is also a board.
    – AndyT
    Jan 25, 2017 at 12:49
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    @VladimirMarkiev - If someone were to speak of the ridge beam of a house I would assume, lacking further information, that it was wood, since most house construction is "wood frame".
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 9, 2017 at 2:35
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    @VladimirMarkiev - Urban multi-level housing generally does not use ridge beams.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 10, 2017 at 11:55
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Let's say you're a junior carpenter who has been sent on a run to the lumber yard to pick up some nails. As you're getting out of your pickup at the yard, another carp on the job texts you with "While you're there grab six _____", where _____ is either "studs" or "2x4s".

You're not quite sure what he means, so you try to get in touch with him, but he's not answering his phone. So what do you grab?

If he said "studs", and the job involves normal home construction with standard 8-foot ceilings, you'd grab "pre-cut studs" -- 2x4s that are 92-5/8 inches long. (Other lengths are standard for other ceiling heights, of course.)

If he said "2x4s", and, based on the job, there was no obvious reason for something different, you'd grab 8-foot 2x4s, as that is the standard length for 2x framing lumber.

"Stud" has a particular meaning, both in function and in how it contributes to the overall nomenclature for lumber.

"Board" is a very general term, referring to a piece of wood, generally sawn in a rectangular cross-section. There is nothing that prevents a 2x4 from being referred to as a "board", though other terms such as "length", "stick", and "piece" are more apt to be used on the jobsite.

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  • This doesn't answer the question as to whether "a 2"x4" is termed a board in parts of the US".
    – AndyT
    Jul 10, 2017 at 8:15
  • @AndyT - I answered that earlier in a comment: A "board" is a piece of sawn wood.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 10, 2017 at 11:59

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