B A R E L Y B A D  W E B  S I T E  

     Back to Fun Pix list    

  This is one of several Fun Pix resulting from my experiences with Habitat For Humanity.
  KANSAS CITY (MO)    HEARTLAND (KS)               
  NEW   Construction How-To articles


Select Studs

selectstuds.jpg (10,110 bytes) 04032003 371 x 97

This is a small part of a full-page ad in the April 3, 2003, edition of The Kansas City Star for Lowe's.


Lowe's is advertising stud-length lumber at $1.97 apiece.  (We experienced carpenters just call them "sticks.")  The pieces of lumber are said to be 2 feet by 4 feet by 96 inches and made of SPF.  And they're said to be select studs.

Note to reader:  In construction terms, a stud is a vertical piece of lumber that, along with its mates to the right and left, forms the skeleton of a wall.  "Two by four" studs are typically spaced 16 inches apart, and they're nailed top and bottom to longer pieces of 2 by 4 (called plate) that run horizontally.  The purposes of the resulting stud wall are (1) to provide a place to install the sheathing such as plywood on the outside, (2) to provide a place to install the wall surface such as Sheetrock on the inside, and (3) mainly to support the weight of the roof and any other floors above.

It's the line just above the bullets -- 2' x 4' x 96" SPF Stud -- that intrigued me, so I called the Lowe's nearest me.  Here are the four conversations I had.


Me:  These studs for $1.97 each, are they really 2 feet by 4 feet?

Colin (in the lumber department):  That might be a typo.  I think it should be inches.

Note to reader:  If Colin's uncertainty proved to be unjustified, just one of these select studs would contain 64 cubic feet of lumber and weigh roughly as much as over one red Miata.  That's enough wood to make over 225 standard-length (92-5/8 inches) studs, enough for a wall 300 feet long.  All for $1.97.

Me:  And these studs are really 96 inches long?

Colin:  Well, studs are 92-5/8 inches.

Me:  So why does the ad say 96 inches?

Colin:  Isn't that close enough?


Next I spoke to Jeremiah in the lumber department.

Jeremiah:  No, they're not 2 feet by 4 feet.  Or if there is we don't sell it.  The studs actually measure out to 2 inches by 4 inches.

Note to reader:  The studs most certainly do not "actually measure out to 2 inches by 4 inches."  What everyone calls a "two by four" is actually 1-1/2 inches thick by 3-1/2 inches wide.  Decades ago a two by four was cut so that when dried and sold it actually did measure 2 inches by 4 inches, but such lumber was not finished, it was what is called "rough-cut."  When builders demanded sticks with smooth faces, lumber mills started with actual 2 by 4s and sanded off a quarter-inch from each of the two faces and each of the two edges, and the result, of course, is a stick that measures 1-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 inches.  These pieces of lumber are graded S4S, which means "surfaced four sides."  Nowadays mills start with a smaller piece, but after sanding it's still 1-1/2 by 3-1/2 inches actual.

You literally cannot find an actual 2 by 4 at any lumber yard, so if you want to see one you'll need to examine older buildings.  Here's what to look for: (1) It'll have a rough rather than smooth finish, and you'll probably be able to see the arcs made by the cuts of the ginormous circular saw; (2)  the four corners formed at the intersection of an edge and a face are not slightly rounded off; and (3) it will actually measure out to -- guess what? -- 2 inches by 4 inches.

Me:  So if I were to measure the edge and the face with a tape measure, they'd be exactly 2 inches by 4 inches?

Jeremiah (confidently):  Yep.  That's what "two by four" means.

Me:  OK, what does that "SPF" mean?

Jeremiah (after a pause):  Standard pine.


Then I talked to a Dennis, also a lumberman.

Dennis:  I'm measuring one now, and it's 1-3/4 inches by 3-3/4 inches.

Note to reader, in case you didn't read the previous Note to reader: Dennis should not be trusted to read a tape measure to within a quarter of an inch, which seems like a significant disadvantage to the customers of a guy who works in the lumber department.  Furthermore, no one familiar with studs would even bother to measure a two by four because, as I say, they're always 1-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 inches.

A lot depends on studs and all other dimensional lumber being the right size, and if a lumber yard did sell two by fours that measured 1-3/4 inches by 3-3/4 inches, it would be besieged within hours by a mob of angry carpenters wielding framing hammers.

Me:  What does "SPF" mean?

Dennis:  Sanded pine finish.


Finally I spoke to Shawn, also in the lumber department.

Shawn:  I'm measuring now, and these are 1-5/8 inches by 3-1/2 inches.

Me:  Now, what does "SPF" stand for?

Shawn (without hesitation):  Superior fir.

Note to reader:  "SPF" here does not stand for "Standard pine" or "Sanded pine finish" or "Superior fir" (or, for that matter, "Sun Protection Factor").  It stands for "Spruce Pine Fir," because as it turns out studs and plate can safely be made of any of those three types of tree and still cut and nail and even look the same.

Last damn note to reader:  I have been unable to determine exactly why a standard stud is 92-5/8 inches long.  If you know, please .


Update of February 15, 2004: Apparently Lowe's isn't the only large, well-known home improvement center and lumberyard to offer grossly oversized studs.  I don't have any funny questions and answers about this one.

I will add that a few minutes after I took my photos of this sign the kindly manager of this Home Depot store accosted me to ask why.  When I asked why he wanted to know, he said photography was a "violation of corporate policy."  My first thought was that it wasn't a violation of my policy, but what I said was that I thought the sign was funny.  He went to take a look, and when he returned he had no idea why I thought the sign was funny, and he never asked.  (This lack of curiosity, which I've encountered in many similar situations, is utterly inexplicable to me.)

Anyway, if you managed a store that sold 37 budillion feet of lumber each year, wouldn't you know, and care about, the difference between feet and inches?



Update of September 15, 2007: Today a Habitat guy and I picked up over a hundred sticks of lumber from this Home Depot in midtown Kansas City, some of which were the very 2 X 6 studs referred to at left.  But, unlike what the sign says, they were not, of course, 92 inches long.  Sheesh.



Above you saw examples of four pretend experts, people who confidently told me something about wood and distances that was just simply false.  Below is a transcript of correspondence initiated by another pretend expert, Andrew James.  Not only does Mr. James get it wrong, he gets a little bit upset when I point it out to him.  You will see he lapses into vulgarity, which I have bowdlerized for you.
-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew James [mailto:andyjames@centurytel.net]
Sent: Monday, May 22, 2006 8:47 PM
Subject: Why studs are 92 5/8" long

You probably wrote the article three years ago, but who knows -- maybe you still want to know.

The goal is to get a wall that's 8' tall, since that's how tall one sheet of drywall is (or two sheets of drywall stacked on their sides). There's a stud that's lying down on its width and running the length of the wall -- that's 1 1/2" thick. There's another in the same orientation serving as a top plate, then another. That's a total of 3 1/2" of lumber. Add that to the 92 5/8" stud and you get ... well, 96 1/8". The extra 1/8" ensures that the drywall won't get squeezed by being fit in so tightly -- there's 1/16" wiggle room on either side.

And that's that.

Andy James
Seattle, WA
On May 23, 2006, at 5:06 AM, Johnny wrote:

1 1/2" times 3 is 4 1/2", not 3 1/2".

And that's that.

Wanna' try again?


-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew James [mailto:andyjames@centurytel.net]
Sent: Tuesday, May 23, 2006 11:31 AM
To: Johnny
Subject: Re: Why studs are 92 5/8" long

Forgot the flooring, which typically takes 3/4" to 1'.
I very sincerely apologize for my mistake.

Enjoy yourself, jacka**.


On May 24, 2006, at 6:15 AM, Johnny wrote:


Let's see here.

(1) Drywall sheets are always fitted as closely as possible to one another, with no "1/16th" wiggle room on either side."  You don't offer an explanation why you're the only person in the world who thinks this.

(2) You can't add any better than my 10-year-old.

(3) You forgot the flooring.

(4) The flooring does not, as you say, typically take 3/4" to 1 foot, or even 3/4" to 1 inch.  I've been to Seattle, and houses there have ceilings just like everywhere else.

(5) You refer to "a stud lying down."  That's not a stud, which is by definition always positioned vertically.  The pieces "lying down," as you say, are called plate (as I specifically stated on that page, no less), and they always start out much longer, typically 12 to 16 feet.

(6) And you went out of your way to demonstrate your ignorance to me and the rest of the world.  (Yes, to answer your question, I will be posting your replies on that [this very] page.)

(6) Then, out of the blue, you call ME a jacka**.

I very sincerely thank you for the entertainment you've provided, and I hope you write back to provide more.

And that's that.



Here's how it is:

I'm not a carpenter. I'm not in the building industry. I've built a few things, but I'm not a professional. I never claimed to be.

Indeed I did get some terms wrong and did make some errors. They were errors that came of writing quickly (I have a job and a kid) and not having the terminology entirely fixed in my brain. I thought you wanted the general idea, but I found out that you want technicalities to pounce on.

You asked on your website for help with a question -- "please let me know," you wrote. If you meant that you wanted someone to write so you could nail them to the wall so you can "win" for your audience, again, please put that on your page.

In most parts of the world, when you ask for help, and someone takes the time to sit down and write a reply, thank them for trying and then move on.

A confrontational reply? A promise of a big talk-radio-style entertainment of humiliating them over errors in math and terminology? That makes you a jackass.

You need to recognize the difference between jabbing authority and picking on those who offer to help. If I were an industry professional, or the help at a store, or IN ANY WAY claiming a sort of authority, you'd be within your rights to make (what will no doubt be utter) comedic gold out of kicking me around. As it is, I invite to you research the world in which people write such replies as, "I think there might be some inaccuracies in your description, but I do thank you for your help."

Good luck to you,


In this last pathetic missive Mr. James cries out for mercy.  He admits to some of the false information he supplied to me, he still refuses to admit to all of it, and he justifies the failures he does admit to by saying he was "just trying to help."  Imagine if anyone'd believed him!  It's hard not to wonder whether people like him do this all the time.

On Amazon.com there's a feature where you can ask questions about a product and anyone can answer.  It is astonishing to me how many people answer by bothering to say, "I don't know."


Above you saw examples of five pretend experts, people who confidently told me something about wood and distances that was just simply false.  Below is a transcript of correspondence initiated by another pretend expert, Robert Latham.  Not only does Mr. Latham get it wrong, he gets a little bit upset when I point it out to him.  You will see he lapses into vulgarity, which I have bowdlerized for you.
From: Robert Latham [mailto:blatham489@gmail.com]
Sent: Friday, September 28, 2007 4:02 PM

For someone who seems so sure of himself about lumber dimensions, surprised you don't seem to know why studs are shorter than their nominal length.

It is so that after placing the stud between two top plates and one bottom plate, a standard 8' (96") sheet of drywall will just cover the top 3/8" of the bottom plate, leaving 1 1/8" of space for flooring (3/4" for hardwood, roughly an 1" for tile, etc.).

Leave the poor saps at Home Depot alone. They're only a notch or two above fast food workers for cris' sakes.

To: Robert Latham
Sent: Saturday, September 29, 2007 8:51 AM

You did most of the math right but you made a couple of mistakes.  First, except in closets and other small areas, rock is applied horizontally, not vertically.  Second, and more important, you completely forgot about the thickness of the ceiling rock, which is typically 5/8 inch, which leaves only 4/8 inch at the bottom, not 9/8.

Still, thanks for trying.


From: Robert Latham [mailto:blatham489@gmail.com]
Sent: Saturday, September 29, 2007 9:04 AM

Look dip*hit, sorry you're so insecure. But 48x2 still equals 96. And you're off on the 5/8 also. An additional 1/8" (that would be 5/8-4/8 = 1/8) of sheetrock would still leave a full 8/8 (9/8 -1/8 = 8/8).

Maybe you aren't even qualified to work at Home Depot and you're just jealous.

Don't bother responding, I'm blocking your address. Have a good life.

To: Robert Latham
Sent: Tuesday, October 2, 2007 5:51 AM

Dear Mr. Latham,

I did not say 48 X 2 is not 96, I said you made a mistake in thinking Sheetrock is typically installed vertically.  I was trying to help you in case you found yourself hanging rock without adequate supervision and didn't know which way it went.

And you are now twice wrong in your calculations.  You admit you made an outright error, but you admit to only 1/8 inch whereas it is, just as I said, exactly 1/2 inch.  You can see an Excel 2000 spreadsheet explaining the setup in detail by clicking the white Habitat logo at the top right of that page.

Still, thanks for trying again.



In his second missive Mr. Latham rather vehemently commits the logical fallacy called The Straw Man Argument.  In such a fallacy the respondent argues successfully against a statement his opponent never made, the implication being that his opponent's actual statement is thus disproved.  Bob is knocking down a straw man that he himself, not I, erected.  If Bob did this unintentionally, which I think he did, it is merely a logical fallacy whose conclusion cannot be relied on, and it demonstrates his illogical thinking.  His conclusion that any of my math is wrong because 48 X 2 = 96, when expressed that way, is obviously unjustified.

If he committed the fallacy on purpose, it's not only still a fallacy, it's also a lie.  It's a lie I caught, this time, but it's all too easy to be fooled by this logical fallacy and dozens of others.  At least for me.  And you never want to be fooled.


Above you saw examples of six pretend experts, people who confidently told me something about wood and distances that was just simply false.  Below is a transcript of correspondence initiated by yet another pretend expert, Rich Merewit.  Not only does Mr. Merewit get it wrong, he too gets a little bit upset when I point it out to him.  You will see he too lapses into vulgarity, which I have also bowdlerized.

Rich Merewit, now an anagram of his real name, tells me his boss at the construction company where he worked discovered this very email thread on this very page by Googling Merewit's real name.  Shortly thereafter the boss put this thread up on a screen at a company meeting to demonstrate how not to be a good employee, and then he fired Merewit.  At one point Merewit threatened to sue me.

From: Rich Merewit
Sent: Friday, October 26, 2007 11:53 AM

A typical stud is 92-5/8" long because if you add the 2 top plates and the one bottom plate (4-1/2") equals an eight foot ceiling.

How long have you been in the business?  This is simple framing info you learn when you start.

-- Rich Merewit, Construction Project Manager

From: Johnny
Sent: Friday, October 26, 2007 4:45 PM

92-5/8 + 4-1/2 is 97-1/8, not 8 feet.  How long have you been doing math?  This is simple addition that you learn in 6th grade.

-- Johnny

From: Rich Merewit
Sent: Friday, October 26, 2007 5:44 PM

The exact measurement of an eight foot wall is not eight foot a** hole.  Add in 5/8" sheetrock now what do you have dip *hit.

You have been in construction how long?

-- Rich Merewit, Construction Project Manager

From: Johnny
Sent: Saturday, October 27, 2007 6:35 AM

92-5/8 + 4-1/2 - 5/8 is 96-1/2, not 8 feet, so you're still wrong, but you're getting closer.

This time you forgot about the half-inch of clearance needed for the flooring.  The ceiling rock must be installed first so that the top wall rock can support its edges.  And the top wall rock must be installed second so that the 1/2-inch gap you forgot about is at the bottom.  You can see a graphic explanation by clicking, on that page only, the white Habitat For Humanity logo at the top right.

And to answer your question, I've erected framing and installed Sheetrock in dozens of houses over the last ten years, and for the last seven or so I've also been explaining to others how to do it.  And now I've explained some of it to you.

-- Johnny



I don't mind it when people point out errors I've made.  Indeed, I very much want you to point out errors I've made, on any page of this site, in any way whatsoever.  While I appreciate, of course, the e-mails and guestbook messages that congratulate or encourage me, the ones that are most valuable are the ones showing where I might have gone wrong, whether in facts or in logic.  Not only do I really, really want you to tell me about such problems, I even want to know whether I've made relatively insignificant mistakes such as in spelling or punctuation.

But when you are dead wrong twice in a row with regard to a straightforward fact about which you claim to be an expert and you call me ugly names for no reason -- now that's priceless.

A similar example is here; search for "Dmitry."


Update of November 6, 2011: This part of a full-page ad for Strasser's Hardware appeared in today's Kansas City Star.  It shows for sale a 36-foot step-ladder.

Such a ladder, if it even exists, will allow you, if you have the courage to climb it, to work on the bottom plates of the fifth story of a building.  I'm not saying there isn't such a thing, but I am saying it will cost you a lot more than $29.99.

The photo obviously shows a 6' ladder, not a 36' ladder.  You know it's six feet because you can count the rungs, which on almost all step-ladders and extension ladders are exactly one foot apart.  You can read more than you thought there was to know about how to use ladders safely and efficiently here.

Strasser's is the store of choice if you want the widest selection of anything you could ever expect would be found in any hardware store, which I estimate to be unrivaled within a couple hundred miles easy.



B A R E L Y B A D  W E B  S I T E  

     Back to Fun Pix list