Lumber 101

When purchasing wood, in most cases, as a homeowner/DYIer/weekend warrior, you aren’t going be an expert on lumber. However, a brief overview will go a long way in helping you make an informed decision about the material you buy. After what seemed to be the millionth phone call from someone disappointed about the quality of lumber a contractor bought somewhere else and used on their fence, deck, or house siding, we decided to dedicate this section as an educational tool for our potential customers. Our hope is that you will better understand the differences in the quality of lumber we offer compared to what is commonly sold, so you will be more informed when it comes down to ultimately making your purchase. A small, incremental difference in cost may give you a substantial benefit in the appearance and longevity of your project. We have broken down these differences into the 4 most common concerns we have received:

Redwood heartwood vs redwood sapwood (and other redwood grade concerns)

Finger jointed lumber vs redwood or cedar siding

Pressure treated Douglas Fir vs. Pressure treated Hemlock Fir

Fence board quality differences


Heartwood vs Sapwood

It’s very important to know the difference between sapwood and heartwood. Many people think they are one and the same. The difference could be the matter of your project lasting 25 years or longer, or 25 months or less.

Typically, heartwood redwood has been sold in lumber yards and has given redwood an outstanding reputation amongst builders for both interior and exterior applications. Unfortunately, almost all of the big box stores and a number of our competitors carry a number of sapwood redwood products at their locations. Easily distinguishable by it’s white color, sapwood (especially in wet weather) can begin to rot out or be attacked by pests in as quickly as five or six months.



When purchasing your redwood lumber, make sure to ask for an all heart product. Unfortunately, many uninformed homeowners ask their contractors simply for a redwood fence, deck, or siding, and what they receive is a cheap, inferior product. Fortunately for you at The Lumber Baron, you won’t have to worry about sapwood lumber. We won’t sell a product we don’t believe in, and therefore offer only all heart redwood lumber, in five different grades.

Another common complaint we hear, has to do with redwood sapwood vs heartwood grades. Asking for clear redwood lumber won’t get you a clear all heart product. What you’ll receive will have no knots but will be a mixture of both of red heartwood and white sapwood. Recently we supplied the clear all heart lumber for a massive 2,000+ square foot deck in Hillsborough. Unfortunately for the customers, after just 2 short years, they were replacing their clear redwood deck. Upset with the mixed red and white appearance, and the extensive shrinkage between the boards, these customer’s learned the hard way how important specifying clear heartwood is.


Finger Jointed vs whole Redwood and Cedar Siding



You should also be weary of pre-primed finger jointed products. Using a pre-primed finger jointed product can also lead to big problems (see failed siding picture). For siding applications, you are far better off using solid, heartwood lumber products with a proven, solid reputation like redwood or cedar. It may cost you a little more in the beginning but you’ll have a lot less problems down the road. Buy the best, it’s the cheapest in the long run!

Fence Board Qualities




...or that?

…or that?

Although it may not seem like much, a ¼” makes a big difference in the quality a fence board. Aside from lower grades, the big box stores and a number of our competitors carry redwood fence boards that are both thinner and narrower than the boards we carry. A full ¾”+ thick x 5 ¾” or 7 ¾” wide, our fence boards are made to last. The flimsier your lumber is, the more prone the material is to warping, splitting, and cupping, all of which will dramatically affect the look of your fence and lead to its failure. Milled at 5/8” thick x 5 ½” or 7 ½” wide, you will also need more boards to cover the fence you are building.



Pressure Treated Doug Fir vs Hem (Hemlock) Fir

Installed Hem Fir Post

Think all pressure treated fir is the same? Think again. Most big box stores carry Pressure Treated Hem or Hemlock Fir, a species of fir more prone to splitting, warping and even twisting (see above photo) They buy the material at far lower prices, put a steep markup on it, and sell the Hem Fir for only a fraction below what we sell our pressure treated Doug Fir for, taking advantage of the average DYIers thought that all Pressure Treated material is the same. At The Lumber Baron we carry only Pressure Treated Douglas Fir, more stable and less prone to the quality issues common to it’s Hemlock counter part.



Other frequently asked questions:

How do I remove black marks I see on my lumber?

Unfortunately, black marks are a pretty common occurrence on redwood, especially during the wet winter months. It’s a chemical reaction that occurs when the tannins in the redwood come in contact with metal and water. Fortunately, there is a very easy remedy. To remove black mill and banding marks from freshly milled Redwood, apply oxalic acid mixed in very hot water. Scrub with a bristle brush and rinse off with cold water after about 5 minutes. The results are dramatic (see below). We sell a small container for $10 here at our yard.




Where do I buy nice redwood, western cedar, or reclaimed lumber in the Bay Area?

Well, here at The Lumber Baron of course! =) Having specialized in high-quality lumber and been in business since 1988, we buy only from the best mills and are very particular about the lumber we reclaim.  We consistently offer the highest quality, widest selection, and lowest prices in the Bay Area.

Unlike other lumber yards, The Lumber Baron offers five grades of premium all-heart redwood to satisfy the highest standards for any budget.  Building a redwood deck or fence? Residing your home? Make a trellis or arbor? We stock over twenty-five different sizes of redwood, surfaced and rough, in both unseasoned and kiln dried lumber. A complete list of our inventory can be found on our products page.

From 2×6 redwood decking, to 12×18 recycled redwood beams, we have the material to satisfy all your redwood building needs.  We are happy to custom mill to any unusual dimension or redwood pattern.

Green building is very important to us and the health of our planet.  To serve your Green Building lumber needs, we offer a number of different reclaimed, salvaged and recycled redwood, cedar and Doug Fir lumber products.  We also offer FSC certified tropical hardwoods Angelim, Garapa, Cumaru and Tigerwood.  The redwood we stock is from generational mills who cut at sustainable rates, in order to ensure they have something to pass down to future generations.  All the #2 and btr Western Red Cedar we sell is 100% PEFC Certified.

I don’t have a truck, what do I do?

Don’t worry, we deliver our lumber products throughout the Bay Area and beyond.

Does Redwood require Sealers?

Although Redwood has the highest decay and weather resistance of any commercially available softwood, its appearance and longevity can often be enhanced by use of penetrating oil sealers, especially in sites with high sun exposure.

Left untreated, redwood weathers to a dark “driftwood” grey only when exposed to rain. In sheltered locations, where oxidization is not subject to “rinsing” precipitation, redwood typically weathers to a dark brown.

The proud owner of a new deck invariably wants to preserve its “just-installed” appearance. In practice this is virtually impossible: even with annual application of a transparent sealer, redwood will eventually turn grey.

Redwood sealers can, however, provide several non-cosmetic benefits: water repellents slow down the seasoning process, fungicides reduce the growth of decay organisms, and UV inhibitors help prevent the breakdown of wood fibers by sunlight.

When Do I Apply Redwood Sealers?

Wait two to four weeks in good weather before applying a penetrating oil sealer to unseasoned redwood. If oil sealers are applied to very wet redwood, the oil will not penetrate, and may puddle. If allowed to congeal, puddled oil sealers become tacky and very difficult to remove.  Kiln Dried redwood can be sealed right away.

Sealer Application

All sealers penetrate farther in dry wood. After installation of green or unseasoned redwood, wait four to six weeks to reduce surface moisture. Green redwood two-by material may require up to two years to fully dry.



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