rough wood

Rough Cut Lumber Explored: 5 Hidden Treasures in Its Raw Beauty

In the woodworking space, the question of rough cut lumber poses several unique and complex concerns.

While rough wood is far from the only type of woodworking cut, it today remains one of the most common, frequently purchased, and beneficial lumber cuts you can find on the market. 

This guide will use Simplewoodworker’s comprehensive experience (20 years plus) in woodworking (for construction, artistic, and millwork projects) to explain the pros and cons of rough lumber and when it makes sense to use it for a project.

So read on!

What Is Rough Cut Lumber?

First,  the biggie: What’s rough cut lumber, and how do you identify it?

Rough lumber (also known as rough sawn wood) is, above all, untreated. Untreated lumber hasn’t had preservative chemicals added to it, which provides advantages like cost, thickness, and, studies have shown, added moisture.

rough cut lumber

Guide to Rough Sawn Lumber

Now that we know the gist of rough sawn lumber, let’s take a look at its strengths and weaknesses, potential use cases, and overall cost and affordability:

5 Main Advantages of Rough Lumber

The most major and overarching benefit of rough wood is the added choice it offers. 

In our view, there are 4 main reasons for the extra choices and customization woodworkers encounter with this wood:

  1. Price. On average, rough cut lumber offers a substantially lower price tag than treated wood. This frees up room in the budget for more personalized choices in tools, wood finish, paint, etc. 
  2. Strength. Rough-sawn wood provides a stronger material to work with, opening up opportunities for more ambitious, load-bearing furniture, decorative outdoor structures, and home improvement projects.
  3. Added thickness. A thicker cut gives you more raw lumber to use in your projects. More raw materials = Way more project choices in the future.
  4. Aesthetics. Many woodworkers (including yours truly!) prefer the look and feel of this lumber. This can be a lifesaver if you’re mainly using woodworking for art and carvings, because a better-looking wood usually leads to more flexibility in custom designs.

Speaking of choices: If you’re trying to find woodworking tools suited for rough lumber, KERYE Mini Hand Saw tools may be a useful investment.

rough lumber
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Drawbacks of Rough Wood

Of course, if we only talked about the benefits of rough cut lumber, we wouldn’t be giving you the whole picture!

There are some large and unavoidable downsides to buying rough wood. As you’ll see, each of these weaknesses boils down to plain inconvenience:

  • Fewer sellers. Generally, customers can only find rough sawn lumber at sawmills, rather than ordinary hardware stores. Obviously, having to scour a lumber mill to buy your timber supply is enormously less convenient for a construction project.
  • Extra work. Most woodworkers will want to flatten the wood after purchase, which requires a bit of added labor! We’re subscribers to the principle of working smarter, not harder, so this is a major source of woodworking inconvenience.
  • Increased moisture. Due to the lack of treatment, rough wood cuts have a higher moisture percentage than treated and smoothened timber. Added precautions for reducing moisture-related rot and decay is a huge convenience detractor.

So, there’s a clear tradeoff here: Rough wood offers more choice and freedom than treated, conventionally cut lumber, but at the cost of a less efficient and convenient workflow.

Note: Some of these drawbacks can be mitigated quite effectively. If you want to reduce moisture-accelerated rot, for instance, protective finishes like Minwax’s fast drying polyurethane oil can get the job done.

When to Use Rough Cut Lumber

Even though we know the basic pros and cons of rough cut lumber, that still leaves open the question of what real-world situations woodworkers should opt to use this type of wood.

As a rule, we’d say there are three main use cases for rough-sawn wood:

  1. Low-budget projects. On account of its undeniable price advantage, rough lumber is a no-brainer for tight-budget woodworking.
  2. Bulk lumber purchases. Don’t have a specific project in mind, but just want to add some lumber to your storage? With its versatility, rough-sawn timber is a smart choice.
  3. Natural-looking construction. Its natural, untampered aesthetic makes this wood type a pleasant option for more rustic-feeling construction.

How about a real-world example? 

A few years ago, I wanted to build a treehouse for my daughter. After getting frustrated with the unnatural looking color and texture of treated wood (not to mention the hefty prices!), I gave rough wood a shot. 

Instantly, I was impressed with the seamless, rustic look and also the fact that the low cost gave me plenty of extra material for future projects, like a home cabinet set, a bookshelf, and a lovely bird carving.

Is It Cheaper to Buy Rough Cut Lumber?

rough sawn cedar
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We talked about price as an advantage of rough lumber, but does that always hold true?

Though the price of any wood cut will always come down to factors like type of lumber, amount of wood, and supplier, we do see a broad trend of rough cut lumber costing significantly less than treated competitors.

For example, as of the date of this post, Green Leaf Forestry lists the rough sawn lumber price of a 1×2” cut of 4’ long pine & aspen piece as $1.45. 

Depending on which mill you purchase from, this cost can be as much as $1 less per board foot. 

As you can imagine, if you like to buy in bulk, this could be a huge overall price reduction!

How Much Does Rough Cut 2×4 Cost?

Let’s say you want to buy a simple 2×4 rough cut of wood. What sort of pricing can you expect?

Typically, we’d suggest preparing for an approximate price of $0.7 per board foot, which would add up to $3.73 for an 8’ board cut. 

Check out how FineWoodworking – Shows How to Buy Rough Lumber

Final Thoughts

Rough-sawn lumber packs itself with numerous advantages, including price, thickness, and strength. My  team and close associates in the woodworking community can strongly vouch for each of these exemplary qualities.

However, my hard-fought struggles with the inconvenience, high moisture content, and proneness to decay with rough lumber keep me from suggesting it for most projects.

Just remember: Rough cut lumber is often a strong, versatile woodworking bargain, but its selling points don’t come without some downsides!

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

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