I have a project that needs smaller lumber, 1x4s, 1x3s, and 2x2s. This project is rough carpentry just a garage shelf. I have built one example of this shelf already. I did it over a year ago and I did not pay much attention when selecting materials. I have no idea what it cost or what I used! I want to be more careful this time.

When I look at the websites of the big-box stores to estimate my costs I see three types listed for this lumber and the approximate cost for an 8' length:

  • firring strips, $2
  • select grade, $10
  • pressure treated, $4

Why is there such a variation in price?

How can I tell which grade to get?

I assume that the select grade is straighter or has fewer defects. I expect the firring grade to be very rough and probably warped. Would the pressure treated be a compromise between cost and straightness?

  • 1
    Are you tied to the idea of using 1x4s for the shelving? If not, I'd price it against 3/4" plywood. Based on the diagram you're looking at $350 in select 1x4s - you can buy 6 or 7 sheets of birch plywood for that.
    – Comintern
    Apr 17, 2014 at 23:14
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    There is still another grade of material that is commonly used to do what you are looking for. One big box store calls it common 1X3, it costs about $5/pc. It is also called #2 pine or SPF. Firring strips are a lower quality version of the same material. Aside from that I have done shelves just as Comintern has suggested. and did it cheaper and better. Though for material usage you may need to adjust the depth of the shelves to minimize waste with plywood.
    – Jack
    Apr 17, 2014 at 23:35
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    Just a note on the linked to plans. Drywall screws are for attaching drywall to studs, and should not be used for attaching wood to wood. Use 1 1/2" wood screws, or 1 1/2" deck screws instead. If the shelves are in a basement or garage, I'd lean towards deck screws, but wouldn't pay a premium for them over wood screws. Since you're working with smaller lumber, I'd also drill pilot holes to avoid splitting.
    – Tester101
    Apr 18, 2014 at 9:57
  • this pdf might be helpful. The American Softwood Lumber Standard (PDF) might also be useful. Lowes also has a good Lumber Buying Guide Look for the stamp, that will tell you the truth about the lumber.
    – Tester101
    Apr 18, 2014 at 10:17

2 Answers 2


There are a whole lot more types of boards than that! Even at the big box stores.

Furring strips come in limited sizes and are not meant to be structural or seen.

Pressure treated boards have a chemical applied to them under pressure that helps presserve the wood against moisture and insects. It's generally used outdoors or in direct contact with concrete otherwise it's not recommended to use pressure treated lumber. The appearance, quality and sizes match other framing lumber used for studs, juists, etc. It would be cheaper to use non-pressure treated lumber.

The better wood to use are appearance grade boards. They'll either indicate they are "appearance" grade or described as S4S (surfaced 4 sides). These will have a smooth surface on all 4 sides. They come in a variety of different sizes and species. The cheapest price is for something the box stores call "whitewood" which is whatever light colored wood they can get the cheapest at that time. Pine, spruce, fir, etc. I think Home Depot might be calling them "common boards" now.

The select grade boards are also appearance grade S4S boards but usually of better quality with fewer knots, hence the higher price. Not necessary for a garage cabinets.

That design you linked to looks like it would be expensive to build. If you want to save money and don't care about appearance you can save money by using a different design that uses 2x4's and 3/4" plywood for the shelves.

  • 2
    Pressure treated wood no longer contains elements of arsenic and is used and is rated to be used in pretty much any indoor situation. Do you need to use pressure treated wood indoors? Not most of the time but if you watch Holmes on Homes he does entire basements in PT wood.
    – DMoore
    Apr 18, 2014 at 4:36
  • I'm very happy with the design. Built one already and its rock solid. I'm just trying to make smarter materials selection this time around.
    – Freiheit
    Apr 18, 2014 at 13:41
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    @DMoore pressure treated wood is recommended against for indoor use depending on the situation. Even without the arsenic compounds, it still is not recommended for places where it could possibly come into contact with clothes or food, and should not be installed unless dried. It is also recommended against because the detritus from working with the wood (especially sanding) needs to be cleaned up carefully as well. Apr 22, 2017 at 16:45

Pressure treated are made for outdoor use and basically don't need to be painted to be protected from the elements. Otherwise when wood gets wet, rot sets in. Pressure treated wood is what you would see used as landscaping timbers, for example. As far as select vs furring goes, you're generally correct, but the more important part is the strength - select is much stronger, Furring strips typically aren't used to hold any sort of load, whereas select pieces could.

  • Can you quantify how much of a difference in load capacity there would be?
    – Freiheit
    Apr 17, 2014 at 19:44
  • Furring strips are typically made from wood that is going to be hidden. In other words, it's neither structural nor designed to take a finish well.
    – DA01
    Apr 18, 2014 at 0:58
  • Nobody should ever use furring strips in any sort of structural capacity, they're just meant as a surface to create points to attach other structural members.
    – Aaron
    Apr 18, 2014 at 16:26

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