One-and-a-half-by-three-and-a-halfs

05Mar07

Brian and I (more him, less me, given my maternal bluge) are about to embark on one last pre-baby home improvement project. When we redid our upstairs bathroom because of a faulty tub the Christmas before last, we installed a toilet (and a toilet only) in the basement, which was already rough-plumbed, so that we wouldn’t be sans-toilet during the week-long remodeling. The toilet-in-the-middle-of-the-room thing is cool, sure, but when we go to sell this place, we’re guessing it won’t be the draw it would be, say, for us. In addition, we have had to punch three holes in the ridiculously-poorly-engineered drop ceiling we have in the finished side of the basement over the years (to install a heating duct and to find the source of a leak) which would not be a draw even for us. With baby on the way, we thought now would be better than later for making the repairs/improvements. So we’re finally finishing the second bathroom and replacing the drop ceiling.

This has all led me to ponder a very perplexing question. Why are commercial two-by-fours are called two-by-fours, despite being only 1.5″ by 3.5″?

After typing the title for this post, I can suggest that one possible reason is that a more accurate name would be exhausting. However, wisegeek.com provides a more informed explanation of why this is so:

“Indeed, at one point in the milling process, two by fours actually do measure two inches by four inches. This is the measurement of the planks just before they are run through a machine called a planer. A planer uses sharp blades to shave off all of the imperfect edges left behind by the rough sawing process. Commercial lumber mills may have to plane off as much as 1/2 inch of length and width from two by fours to provide a quality product for carpenters, roofers and homeowners.Older boards recovered from 100-year-old homes and other buildings may actually be true two by fours, however. Carpenters routinely planed their own two by fours onsite to create a better fit between individual boards. Sawmills did not always use planers to create perfect two by fours – framers and carpenters were accustomed to working with rough-sawn planks of variable thickness and appearance. Planks were generally cut to standard measurements such as eight by eights, two by eights, two by fours and one by twos. The measuring terms still remain a popular reference, even if the actual dimensions are not entirely accurate.”

So there you have it.

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