Hardwood Lumber 101 - Why Board Feet

When the hardwood lumber measurement standard was established by the National Hardwood Lumber Association, (NHLA), they based in on board feet. But why?

The way we understand it, unlike softwoods which are primarily used in the construction trade where most items have to be created in standard sizes, hardwood lumber had a history of being used to make items such as flooring, cabinetry, furniture and other specialty items where woodworkers needed materials in all different dimensions to make their finished product.  Likewise, from the hardwood sawmills perspective, the sawyer would generally look to maximize the value of the hardwood log. This meant that they would often saw each log differently and cut boards of varying widths and thicknesses rather that one specific sizeThis is what created the norm of developing hardwood lumber in random widths and lengths. It was because of this practice that the NHLA set the primary unit of measuring hardwoods to be a board foot.

Anyone familiar with the industry is not surprised by the board foot measurement and how it is calculated. However, those new to the industry might be. So a basic way to think of a board foot is to think of it as a measurement of volume. It is a piece of lumber that is the equivalent of 1 square foot, (12” X 12”), and 1 inch thick.

Board Foot (BF) = 1 foot long X 1 foot wide X 1 inch thick.

But hardwood lumber is really not sold that way. Hardwood boards come in all shapes and sizes so a formula to use can use to help you calculate it would be:

Board Footage =


width in inches x length in feet x thickness in inches




or -


width in inches x length in inches x thickness in inches




With that in mind, it helps you understand why all of these measurements are equal to one board foot.hardwood lumber board feet image

  • 4/4 X 12" x 12"
  • 6/4 X   4” X 24”
  • 8/4 X   6" x 12"

Luckily, today we don’t have to manually calculate board feet. There are plenty of tools and resources available to help us do that.  A few of them can be found online below.

If you have any questions on hardwood lumber board footage contact your Baillie Group representative for more information.

Tony C.
the Baillie Group
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Hardwood Lumber Resources

University of Missouri Board Foot Calculator

DIY Gear Reviews board foot calculator

AHEC – Hardwood Lumber Measurement

NHLA Hardwood Rules Card