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Size Up Lumber for Your Beehive

Here's all you need in order to size up and purchase lumber for building your beehive. For example, most everyone has heard of a two-by-four. It’s the lumber used to frame a house. And that’s how you’d order it at the lumberyard: “I need a two-by-four.” But did you know that it doesn’t measure 2 inches by 4 inches? It actually measures 1 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches.

However, when the board is first rough-sawn from the log, it is a true 2x4. By the time it’s dried and planed, it becomes the finished 1 1/2 inch by 3 1/2 inch size.

Nominal dimensions refer to lumber before it’s dried and planed to size at a lumber mill. You use nominal dimensions when you order wood. Dimensional lumber is the product that leaves the mill after drying and planing. These are the actual dimensions that you have to work with.

In building plans, the materials lists refer to the nominal dimensions (how you order your materials), and the cut lists refer to the actual dimensional size (what you have to work with).

The table lists the nominal and dimensional measurements for various sizes of lumber.

Nominal Dimensions versus Actual Dimensions
Nominal Dimensions (How You Order Lumber) Dimensional Lumber Size (What You Have to Work with)
5/4 x 6 (decking) 1” x 5 1/2”
1 x 3 3/4” x 2 1/2”
1 x 4 3/4” x 3 1/2”
1 x 5 3/4” x 4 1/2”
1 x 6 3/4” x 5 1/2”
1 x 8 3/4” x 7 1/2”
1 x 10 3/4” x 9 1/2”
1 x 12 3/4” x 11 1/2”
5/4 x 3 1” x 2 1/2”
2 x 3 1 1/2” x 2 1/2”
2 x 4 1 1/2” x 3 1/2”
2 x 6 1 1/2” x 5 1/2”
4 x 4 3 1/2” x 3 1/2”

There are many kinds of plywood out there. True plywood is made up of multiple thin layers of laminated wood veneers, each oriented at a 90-degree angle to the previous layer. This results in a product that resists warping and is incredibly strong.

But note that any plywood meant for interior use won’t last long in your bee yard. After a few rains or snowstorms, the layers that make up the plywood quickly peel apart like an onion. Here are the two types of plywood you might use in your beehive:

  • Exterior plywood: The plywood specified for bottom boards and some other applications that are exposed to weather is either 3/4 inch or 3/8 inch exterior grade plywood. Exterior plywood uses water-resistant glue to adhere its layers together. Don’t use anything other than this for exterior applications.

  • Lauan plywood: A number of the plans might specify using 1/4 inch lauan plywood. The name lauan comes from trees found in the Philippines but has become a generic term in the United States for any imported tropical plywood. It’s a lightweight product that’s easy to work with and readily available.

    Lauan plywood is sometimes specified for those interior applications that are not exposed to the weather (such as inner covers and crown boards).

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