Top Tips for Working with 2×4’s: Selecting Boards, Plus Tips for Cutting, Drilling, and Ripping

In case you missed the announcement and challenge yesterday, this week on Remodelaholic is all about building with 2x4s and other structural lumber. It often gets a bad rap as being plain or boring, but with some creativity and a few tricks and tips under your belt, 2x4s and their companions along the lumber aisle can become some amazing and budget-friendly projects (like our arbor and the others shared yesterday).

Our amazing contributor Corey from Sawdust 2 Stitches is a pro at making one board go a long way, so we asked her to share her best tips for working with 2x4s (and other 2x lumber), from selecting a good 2×4 for a project, to building with 2x4s, to cutting down 2x4s into smaller boards. So here’s Corey with her best 2×4 tips, and if you’re ready to keep learning and building, check out the other 2x4andMore posts here, and be sure to subscribe by email or RSS and follow along over on Facebook and Instagram with #2x4andMore so you won’t miss any of these new tutorials!

Best Tips for Working with 2x4s

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Tip #1: Take your time selecting 2×4 boards

When working with 2×4’s  the MOST important tip I can give you is to take your time selecting your boards!  You will save yourself so much time and frustration if you select good boards!  Believe me a slightly crooked board can make an entire build a little wonky. And when you’re building something from 2x4s (like this bed frame with a ton of underbed storage), you do not want wonky. 

So,  how do you select a good board ? Well  typically you will “sight” a board.  “Sighting” is essentially  holding one end of the board at eye level , and looking down the length of the board. It makes it easy to detect irregularities. Still not sure exactly what you are looking for?  Well continue reading and I will explain some of the most common  issues you will have with 2×4’s. 

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Tip #2: How to detect bowing boards

 Bowing is a bend across the face length of a board.  It is easy to identify by looking down the length of the board at eye level (sighting). If you aren’t confident in your eyeing skills, you can always lay the board down on a flat surface, if  the board touches the ground the entire length of the board, you can rest assured that it probably  is not bowing. 
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Tip #3: Watch for crooking boards

Crooking is very  similar to bowing,  except that it takes place along the edge of the board.  Again, I suggest holding one end of the board at eye height, and looking down the board. BUT if you are still nervous about making the call,  you can always lay the board on it’s side (the 1.5″ side).  If the board touches all the way down the length of the board  you can safely assume it is not “crooking”. Top Tips For Working With 2x4's By Sawdust2stitches For 5

Tip #4: Watch for twisting boards

Twisting, I feel is pretty self-explanatory.  The board twists!  Some are more noticeable than others,  but laying it on the floor makes them very easy to spot. Top Tips For Working With 2x4's By Sawdust2stitches For 4

Tip 5: Check your boards for defects 

Once you have selectively picked your  boards, you are  almost done!  Before I load them in my lumber cart, I give them a once over looking for aesthetic defects.  Depending on the project this may not be as necessary.  For instance if you are making  some garage storage you may not need to be as picky. However, let’s say you are making a table top; you probably  do not want a huge chunk missing from the edge. 

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Working with 2x 4′ s

Tip #6:  A good saw blade makes all the difference

When working with wood blade can make a huge difference.  It doesn’t have to be top of the line, but a  dull blade can cause extra work in the long run.  Believe me there are blades for every application, but the one I typically  keep on my miter saw is a high tooth count, cross cut blade.   The higher number of teeth the less tear out you will have.  (Tear out is little wood frays visible in the image below.) 

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Tip #7: When using screws, pre-drill. 

Ok,  so you have your boards picked out, and they are cut to size… next up building.  As with MOST  2×4 builds,  it will probably  require screws as a fastener.  Over the years I have realized it is worth taking the time to pre-drill.  Not sure what pre-drilling is? No worries,  pre-drilling is  using a small drill bit in the location you would like to place a screw.  By pre-drilling, it actually  removes some wood, so that when you drill in your screw your board will not split! 

 You can do this with JUST  a small drill bit, but I like to take it one step further. I like to use a bit called a “countersink bit”.  A counter sink bit will hollow out a small upside down triangle in the board.  This will  give the head of the screw  to sit flush with  face of the board, and will help prevent the board from splitting. 


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You can use a both a drill bit and a countersink bit separately OR you can use a 2-in-1 bit that does both. ( I kind of dig this option myself) 

Top Tips For Working With 2x4's

  Pre-drilling isn’t ALWAYS necessary,  but I absolutely always suggest doing it when you are placing a screw close to the ends of a board,  for example when joining boards together. Top Tips For Working With 2x4's For 6

Tip #8: How to use a Kreg Jig on 2x4s

If you aren’t a fan of pre-drilling, or you are working on a project in which you don’t want your fasteners exposed, then you using a Kreg Jig is an excellent option.  They are fairly  straight forward,  just make sure you set it for a 1 1/2″ board, and use 2 1/2″ screws!  Anything less and the integrity of the joint will be compromised. 
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Using 2×4 for other size boards

Tip#9: Rip a 2×4 down to a 2×3 

I feel like selecting a decent 2×4 can be cake walk compared to finding smaller standard size boards.  So, when it comes to using 2×3 boards (like in thisconvertible table aka conver-table I built), I usually  prefer to mill my own! It’s is pretty simple to do.  All you need is a table saw.  (As I said before a nice sharp blade can make the process a lot smoother, literally.) 

When I rip down my  boards I typically  prefer to cut  a little bit of each side of the board in order to create a nice squared/straight board.  It isn’t necessary, but  I like the look of it. And PS: You can also rip down other sizes of boards, like I did with this dessert carrier and this decorative window frame

One thing to remember when  ripping down a board;  your saw blade is typically  1/8″ wide. So factor that into your cuts. 
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If you are a visual learner,  here you go! 2017 05 31 11.10.41

 Then again, if you don’t care about squared edges,  just go ahead  and just rip off of one side. 

Tip#10: Rip a 2×4 down to a 2×2 (or two)

Same principle applies for milling your own 2×2 boards. Normally  I just set my  table saw fence to 1 1/2″ and I am able to produce (2)  2×2 boards out of a single 2×4 board.  Nice huh !? 
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Well folks, there you have it.  My words of wisdom for working with 2×4 boards. Seriously, once you get the hang of working with them, they are seriously awesome to work with!  They are cheap, and sturdy as all get out when building!  

 Take Luck, 
Corey  Top Tips For Working With 2x4's For 1

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Corey is the voice and grunt labor behind Sawdust 2 Stitches, she freely professes, that she has a problem... She CANNOT leave well enough alone.
She can typically be found hunched over a sewing machine and/or covered in sawdust. All in the effort to create a perfect balance of aesthetics and practicality in her home.

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  1. Links to some of the suggested products would be great! 🙂 Was just thinking I should replace my miter blade saw and would love to see your recommended products. 🙂