3 Steps You Should Use to Figure Out Board Feet for a Woodworking Project

Here Are the Basics Every Woodworker Should Learn

In an ideal world, you wouldn’t buy lumber for a project – instead you’d sort and pick from a stockpile of wood you’ve accumulated in your shop or shed, and then maybe buy a little bit to fill in here and there. But not everyone is fortunate enough to have the space (or the pleasantly supportive better half) required to store a couple hundred board feet of lumber.

If you must buy material according to the needs of each project, know this: figuring out how much board footage to get is an exercise in estimation. You have to do a little math and a little guessing, and the result is just an approximation. “This project is going to require about 11 board feet.”

1. Start with a Project Idea, Plan or Sketch

Your plan can be as simple as a napkin sketch or as sophisticated as a SketchUp or magazine plan, or anything in between. It should essentially answer the question: what’s the overall size of this project?

You just need to have a concept of the general size. Then you can step your way into the details. Once you know, for example, that you want to make an end table about 20″ square (or whatever) you’ll be able to determine the size of its parts, and therefore how much wood it’s going to require . . . and ultimately how deep into your budget you’ll need to dive.

If you start with a sketch or “napkin plan”, it will probably start out crude, awkward, or kind of embarrassing. That’s okay, it’s just a draft. You’ll revise and refine things as you get your hands wrapped around the project. A plan from a magazine or book will have a lot of the heavy lifting done for you.

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