Curious... Question about softwood lumber grades...

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Just replaced the rotted and broken wooden handles of a wheelbarrow with ready-made new ones. In addition, I also replaced two "wedge" shaped wood pieces which go between the handles and the metal 'tub'. In looking for suitable lumber to cut these wedges out of, I assumed it should be hardwood (as opposed to softwood), for strength, durability, etc. I went to the hardwood craft section at HomeDepot, but could not find any hardwood boards of the necessary minimum dimensions (i.e. nothing as large as 2x4). But right in the midst of the hardwood selections, I noticed 4 foot lengths of fir 2x4 which looked and felt much sturdier than the full length fir 2x4s sold in the main lumber aisle.. The price was also about 6 times greater (per lineal foot)!
After probing it a bit with my pocket knife, my reasoned intuition told me that this hardier softwood was probably what the wheelbarrow handles themselves were made of and thus what actually was needed afterall. I brought some home and started work on it. When cutting and drilling, I quickly realized this wood was much thougher and/or harder to cut through than ordinary softwood; reminiscent of some previous experience with oak hardwood. I proceeded to complete the wheelbarrow repairs and the wheelbarrow works just fine now, thank you very much <g>. But what's got me writing about this is my incidental curiosity: Can anybody explain to me how it can be that this softwood board I bought should be so much sturdier than the more commonly used, less expensive boards, composed (apparently) of the very same variety of tree (i.e. Douglas Fir)? Does it have a designation, name or commonly used adjective one can use to specify it by?. Is (or was) this more robust grade of softwood lumber ever used for house framing, like where greater strength/solidity is desired (and lots of money is not)?
Thanx,
Ken
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Perhaps the wood for the wedges was indeed hardwood, and was simply mis-labelled by Home Depot. Alternately, some stealthy shopper may have stuck a fir bar code on a scrap 4 foot length of oak, to get a cheaper price and get out the door without a chance of persecution. In my experience, fir is fir, and it is all relatively soft , but probably fine for a low-stress wedge like you needed.. The kiln dried or pressure treated fir is more resistant to sawing, but should be easily told from hardwood. My wheelbarrow frame is made of a true hardwood, either oak or hickory, I think.
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Ken Moiarty wrote:

Even within the same species of wood there is a great variation in hardness. Lumber grades reflect this. From Number 1 select down to 'common'. Common nowadays is what used to be 'cull' and went mostly to box companies or the scrap pile back when I was a kid. I built a set of racks for my PU about 10 years ago. Found a 2x4 of number 1 select fir for the stakes. Growth rings so tight they were almost too close to count. Paid through the nose for it ($17.00 IIRC) but...
Harry K
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For reasons that I don't entirely understand, pine and fir that grows slowly (As a second generation of trees in a mature forest) is much harder than fast-grown pine in a plantation, where the reverse is true for hardwood.
Doesn't the wheelbarrow section have pre-made replacement handles, anyway?
--Goedn
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If I recall correctly from Hoadley, "Understanding Wood": - for softwoods, slower growth results in harder wood (and I think it's because the earlywood is harder than latewood in evergreens, so you want thin bands of latewood) - for hardwoods, faster growth results in more latewood which is harder (and I recall a series of pictures of a ring-porous wood which demonstrated this phenomenon)
(I'm posting from google groups; I dunno how to force google to quote message text)
- Daniel H
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The less sun the tree gets, the less it grows and the tighter the rings. That's why the best lumber is cut from the North side of a mountain.
--
JerryD(upstateNY)

For reasons that I don\'t entirely understand, pine and fir that
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I beleive you missed the point Jerry. Yes you are correct that a slower-growing tree has tighter rings, however, it is not stronger.
IIRC the explanation to why fast-growing hardwoods are stronger has to do with the proportion early to late wood. Apparently, early wood is stronger than the late wood and wider rings (given the same species) indicate more prolific early growth.
That said, I think tighter grain looks nicer.
Steve Also in upstate NY

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Yes, the wheelbarrow "handles" I used were pre-made replacements. In case I didn't make myself clear... it was the wedge-shaped wood sections (mounted between the handles and the wheelbarrow tub) that I bought the 2x4 wood for.
Ken
BTW, I couldn't buy the replacment handles at my local HomeDepot (or any of its nearby competitors). They used to sell them, this I do recall. But now they only sell the whole wheelbarrow, which would have cost me $129 (CDN). (I had to drive out into the boonies where I was able to buy replacment handles for $30 at a farmer's supply outfit.) Not sure whether to think of this as a "clueless urban consumers market" driven situation, or more cynically as just marketing-strategy aimed at maximizing whole wheelbarrow sales by withholding the obvious, less economically wasteful common-sense alternative. Or probably, as per usual, a little of both... <g>
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Nope, concession to reality. Cheap wheel barrows seldom outlast their handles. I'm sure they would have ordered a set for you, but having a set in inventory for each model they've sold for the past say, ten years would be plainly bad business.
I ended up making new handles for mine, then a couple of friends' who saw mine. Elm makes a great handle.
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The wheelbarrow in question is old, but not at all one of those cheap ones and except for the handles (and associated other wood parts), is far from being worn out in any sense.

No. They said they didn't and wouldn't.

Wooden handles (for this ubiquitous type of wheelbarrow; that is, made to use wooden handles) are standard issue. Parts for alternative models or designs of wheelbarrow (i.e. which don't employ this common issue wooden handle) are another matter. My quote of $129 (CDN) to replace my wheelbarrow is based on what my local HomeDepot charges for a new wooden-handled type wheelbarrow. Essentially, these vendors would have me buy a whole new wooden-handled type wheelbarrow when, in a manner of speaking, all I'd be getting out of my purchase would be the wooden handles (plus a little saved labor)!

Yeah, making my own handles was my "plan B" option. Don't have a lathe, but my nephew who works as an apprentice at a woodworking shop would happily take care of the lathing aspect. Had no idea what kind of wood to use though.

Elm, eh? I'll remember that if I ever find I need to make my own in the future. Thanks.
Ken
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If you plan on cutting your own, check if there are cutting restrictions due to Dutch Elm Disease. Here, we can't cut between April and September.
djb
--
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Maybe you should have contacted the manufacturer.
I bought a wheelbarrow at HD a while back and the tire went flat. After much frustration trying to fix it I emailed the manufacturer to find out what the trick was. Turns out the wheel has a lifetime guarantee. They sent me a new one no charge.
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As a contractor I can tell you Home Depot and Lowe's are by far the last place I "choose" to shop. This problem with the replacements is typical. In my case I now just buy 1" rigid steel pipe and drill holes in them. I am a contractor superintendent and use one on a regular basis and just really learned this trick from others thru the years. As far as wood you can get som hickory or red oak and round the handles with a lathe or something, but that is alot more expensive and time consuming.
Hope It helps, Andy W. Superintendent TLC Diversified

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My grandfather, a thrifty junkyard welder of a farmer, just welded big pipes to all his wheelbarrows. They did not wear out or break.
And if you are using one inch OD pipe, you can get some bicycle or weight training type foam grips. Some of these grips are very rugged and will add to hand comfort.
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I can't address the fir vs. fir issue, however I'll touch a couple related points:
The designation "hardwood" is actually a designation defined by the cell structure of the wood, not hardness. Some "softwoods" are harder than some "hardwoods".
I did some demolition in my bathroom a while back, exposing a wall. The 2x4's with which that wall was constructed would barely take a 16D nail without it (the nail) bending over. They looked like regular 2x4's but felt like iron.
Also, the lumber industry has a term "SPF" (spruce,pine,fir) meaning one of the above, we might know but we don't care. I would not be too confident in home center classification of wood beyond "conifer-flavored wood product".
Steve

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DadOh has it correct. See http://www.diyprojects.info/bb/ftopic14689.html for more info.
I'll quote part. Q: A Softwood is a soft wood and a Hardwood is a hard wood. Right? A: False. A softwood is the wood of a conifer (or a Ginkgo), a hardwood is the wood of a dicot tree. The hardest hardwood is some three times as hard as the hardest softwood, but the hardest softwood is some four times as hard as the softest hardwood. The softest woods in the world are hardwoods.

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Thank you for this link!
:) Ken

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The piece in the hardwood section was probably a "Select" grade or vertical grain ("VG") that had been kiln dried to remove the moisture content and is used for exposed purposes like furniture. Beams under joists in a home (around here at least) have to be Doug Fir #2 or better. They cannot be Hem Fir.
Doug Fir is much stronger than Hem Fir and actually is not really a fir, it is only called one. It is a species all to itself.
Most studs are not Doug Fir they are usually Hem Fir which is which is cheaper and is Western Hemlock or some variety of fir such as Grand Fir, California Red Fir, Noble Fir, White Fir, or Pacific Silver Fir . When you buy Hem Fir it could be any of the above.
CR
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Thanks for the clarification on the "fir" designation... In my original post, I was assuming (I now realize, wrongly) that "fir" necessarily meant, Douglas Fir.
Ken

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Look at a table of maximum bending stresses for various species of lumber. You never know what they will have at HD-sometimes doug fir, sometimes spruce-hemlock, SPF, etc.
You probably picked up a piece of SYP (southern yellow pine) from the staircase area..
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