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Why are 2“x4”'s really 1.5“x3.5”?

Just by looking at a 2 by 4 plank I can tell that it is neither 2in × 4in or 2cm × 4cm. What are its real dimensions? and why?

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Thanks for the link @Niall –  Web_Designer Jun 6 '11 at 16:48
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marked as duplicate by Tester101, ChrisF Nov 23 '11 at 12:19

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A dimensional 2x4 is 1.5 inches x 3.5 inches. The reason being, 2x4 describes the rough dimensions before the boards are milled down to their "dimensional" (flat/even) size. So you start with a rough 2"x4" board that might be somewhat warped, crooked, rough, etc.. then it is passed through the mill, where it is planed/cut down to the final smooth/flat/hopefully not warped 1.5"x3.5"

Note that this applies to soft woods like pine. For hard woods, you typically talk in terms of the number of sides that have been Surfaced, and there is less material taken off. A 2x4 oak board that has been surfaced on all 4 sides, for example, ends up being 1 3/4" x 3 3/4"

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Excellent, Thanks! –  Web_Designer Jun 6 '11 at 16:47
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The answer depends on where you are. A milled 2x4 is 48 x 98 mm in Europe and 38 x 89 mm in the United States. The unmilled dimensions are almost the same: 50 x 100 mm in Europe and 50.8 mm x 101.6 mm in the United States. Details

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