Rethinking the Simple 2×4

Outfeed TableOne of the luxuries of being a woodworking magazine editor is that I get my hands on “good” wood on a pretty regular basis. Clear, straight cherry and maple are often “on deck” for projects in our magazine. Recently, I built a couple of Arts & Crafts bookcases from some nice quartersawn white oak for our first “Small Shop Journal” project (February 2013 print issue). And, without spilling the beans prematurely, I just finished a project that I built from some extraordinary ribbon stripe mahogany for our June issue. It was too wide to fit my jointer … what a problem to have, right?!

Last fall, when I needed a few 2x4s for a home improvement project I was working on, I went to Lowe’s to pick them up. There, at the top of the pile, were a few of the clearest, straightest 2x4s I’ve ever seen. Some were even quartersawn — and for a woodworker that’s pretty mind-blowing when you consider how absolutely green, checked and awful so much of the construction lumber seems to be these days. It’s a wonder it even passes inspection on the way to market.

So I bought 10 of these beauties, for no real purpose besides not wanting to imagine them ending up in wall, hidden away forever. I suppose it was a bit greedy of me, but I couldn’t help myself.

Well, one of those shop projects I’ve had on my “to do” list for a spell has been a simple work table that I could put behind my cabinet saw to use for outfeed support. The saw is close enough to my planer that I figured it would serve the second purpose of staging stock as I surfaced it. Simple enough. Who can’t use another little table?

One Saturday afternoon I drew up a plan for my little shop table, and then it occurred to me that I really didn’t have any “good” stock I could use for the framework. After all, surely I must have leftover hardwood laying around from some project or other that would do the trick. I went out to the shop and, rummaging for the lumber, actually moved those nice 2x4s out of the way to keep searching.

Then the Homer Simpson moment hit me: “Duh, use the 2x4s, Chris. Why not?”

Well, here’s the back-of-my-mind reason: They’re JUST 2x4s.

Shop Cart CADI should be ashamed not to have thought of them right away. They turned out to be the perfect choice for this little project. I glued them up into leg blanks, cut some mortises and whipped this table together the very next day. The top is actually a simple project we shared some time ago in an online router technique. If you didn’t see it then, click here for a link to it.

Now, there’s not really a moral to this little story. But the experience has reminded me that there can still be some diamonds in the rough of what you can find in the home center lumber racks. And, even a few “lowly” 2x4s can turn out to be something pretty nice in the end. My little table will remind me of this every time I have cause to move it around the shop. I might even cruise the racks at the big boxes now and again, just to see what might be hiding there. You never know.

Speaking of which, if you’ve made some projects from “ordinary” construction lumber that your particularly proud of, leave a comment and tell us about them. Maybe we can start a 2×4 renaissance.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, senior editor


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About Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall has been writing for Woodworker's Journal as a contributing editor and field editor since 2001. Prior to that, he spent five years developing home improvement and woodworking books. He's written five of them and has served as a contributing writer on many more. A wood and tool junkie since childhood, Chris thoroughly enjoys building projects and reviewing woodworking tools for the Journal. When he's not assembling new machinery, sawing parts, taking photos or crunching text for an upcoming story, he enjoys spending time with his family and a houseful of pets at their home in rural Ohio.

4 thoughts on “Rethinking the Simple 2×4

  1. I have been using 2 X lumber for some time. Here in Alberta, Canada, where a lot of Spruce lumber is produced, I have been buying 2 X 4′s, 2X 6′s 2 X 8′s and even 2 X 10′s and 12′s, and after drying for some time in the shop – some as long as a year, I have re-sawn them, planed them, and used them as “fine wood”. After all, guitar makes have used quarter-sawn spruce to make the bodies of guitars and violins throughout history, so why not use it for furniture? The only comment I must make is that it is not dry enough to make furniture from when you pick it up at the lumber yard. Careful selection or clear pieces and patience is all that is required.

  2. Chris,
    I hope you used Gorilla Glue or the like for the glue up. My experience in the big box stores is the delivery process is so fast, the wood was standing in the forest last week.

    My neighbor replaced his fence with a new plastic one and I grabbed the painted and peeling lumber. In the west, we build non-functional fences to outline our property. Really! Below the rough peeling paint I found some aged, gorgeous redwood. Removed the nails, and ran them for a few passes through the planer, and wow what fun it was to work with this wood. Play house, gardener’s table, outdoor tool storage and fuel support/shelter…and I still have more left over. What a lucky find. Mike

  3. I have had good and bad experiences with Box-store 2x lumber.

    I have found that if I put the lumber through a planer and jointer, then leave it over a few days because of time constraints, the boards end up warped and twisted. Because of that experience, I usually try to avoid delays and get the assembly done as quickly as possible.

  4. I had the same experience at Lowe’s one time. I actually bought the lumber because I needed 2×4′s but later, as I was looking at them and realizing how nice they were, I decided to buy more 2×4′s for my framing project to spare the nice ones from being stuck in a wall. They sat around in my shop a couple of years (which I think helped dry them further). I ripped, jointed, and planed some of it into square legs and 3/4″ aprons to build a sink stand for my new shop utility sink. I tend to use utility projects like this to practice techniques for furniture projects, so it has tapered legs and radius aprons and a lower shelf. The wood hasn’t shrunk or warped and it looks like a decent piece of furniture. I was quite pleased with the results and the price was right for a utility sink stand!!

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