Buying Lumber

Today I want to cover the first and, to newbies, most intimidating step of framing a basement.  Buying lumber!   If you've done this before then just skip right past this article.

But if you're like I was, this was sort of a stumbling block. I had a lot of questions and the books that I had did not cover this basic but important basement finishing step.

Parking & The (lumber) Cart

When I was just starting to play around with framing a wall I bought all of my lumber at Home Depot.   The lumber is usually on the side of the store with the covered area that's for loading material onto your vehicle.  Park near that side so you don't have to push the lumber across the parking lot.  You are probably used to parking near the flowers and yard stuff but now you're going big time, park near the wood!

You need to get one of the big metal carts that have the side rails.  Despite their unlimited supply of WD-40 Home Depot seems to have no desire to fix the extremely loud wheels on these carts.   So when you start pushing it around don't be nervous, just make a crap load of loud noise.  BTW, I don't have a preference really, Home Depot, Lowes, whatever. Price, quality and convenience are key.  Home Depot was close to my house so that's where I went.  I really liked our local lumber yard as well but they had really limited hours and were slow. (Sorry Tart Lumber)

Lumber Sizes for Framing a Basement

What you need to buy are 2x4s.  You may also hear terms like "dimensional lumber" or "studs".    Technically it's not quite 2 inches by 4 inches, it's a little less, so if you brought your measuring tape it will not measure exactly at 2x4.

Most likely you want 8 foot 2x4s, but measure your basement before you go.   Measure from the floor to the underside of the ceiling joist.  Keep in mind you'll be putting your studs in between a top and bottom plate so that reduces the length by 3 inches.   If your basement ceiling height is only 7 feet you might save a bit by getting 92.6 inch studs if they have them.

Usual they list stud length by the inch so you may not see a sign for "8 feet" . (8 feet is  96 inches) Make sure you check the length because they have slightly shorter ones and sometimes people put them back on the wrong pile and you don't notice.

I was stuck for awhile thinking that I could buy lumber that fit my ceiling exactly, without cutting.  This would make framing my basement much easier.  I had an eight foot basement ceiling so couldn’t I just buy 8 foot 2x4s and avoid cutting?

Sign showing the price of wood studsSounds stupid but when you're a total basement framing newbie, it's not!  I measured the ceiling at various places and it's all slightly different.  You will have to cut each stud individually, so just get them long enough to reach the ceiling with a bit extra.

For the bottom plate "the piece of wood that will be touching the basement concrete" you will need pressure treated wood, more on that below, but pressure treated wood will be in a different pile and maybe a different isle.  It's like the black sheep of wood.

Make Sure its Straight

Check each piece for straightness and bowing.  Pickup each piece and look down the length of it to see if it's straight.  Also check to see that it's not warped.  Ideally you want a perfect rectangle.   The ones that are loose on the top of the pile are typically bad, people have been checking theirs and putting the bad ones back on the top, so you may have to move a few first to get to a fresh section of the pile.

It's very hard to find perfectly straight studs.  For basement wall framing though you can get buy with using some that are slightly off but the straighter the better, it's worth the time to go through them.   (I found that the straightest lumber came when they would deliver it, more on that below) Here's a picture of a bowed stud, do not buy this kind.

Securing Lumber to Your Vehicle

framing a basement-lumber cartYou probably want to buy around 40 pieces,  that will get you started with framing a couple of walls for your basement and that's probably the most you can fit in a SUV or van without really tearing it up.

I actually started with 20, just to make sure they fit on my car. At first I tried to count how many studs I would need in total, don't bother, wait until you've built a few basement walls and get a sense for estimating, just go out and get some.

2x4's are fairly easy to tie on to the top of a an SUV or mini-van.  Home Depot and Lowes have free tie-down string at the store.  Look for an orange metal box (blue for Lowes) in the hall-way past the checkout area.

There's also a little razor thing built into the cart for cutting the string.  I didn't find that cutter right away and looked like a total idiot trying to slice it with my keys.  I kid you not, a 5 year old kid showed me where it was.  Humbling for sure, but I learned something new.

I wish I had a magic formula for tying lumber to a vehicle but I kind of just winged it.  Take your time, make sure it's tight.  The last thing you want is for lumber to fall off and cause an accident.  Plan on it taking about 15 minutes to load and tie onto the car.  Plan on another 20 minutes or so (especially your first time) to pick out and buy the lumber.  Drive slower than normal, especially around turns.  Try to take a less traveled road home if possible, really try to avoid major highways.

Pressure Treated Wood

The bottom plate of any basement wall must be framed with pressured treated wood.  Pressure treated wood can stand up to some exposure to water.  Hopefully you will read my basement waterproofing articles and never have to test that theory, but it's code almost everywhere to use pressure treated.   Remember, this is bottom plate only!  It won't hurt anything if you use pressure treated in other places but it's more expensive to buy.

When I was finishing my basement it helped a ton to buy 12 or 16 foot lengths of pressure treated lumber, instead of 8.  You don't have to but it's helpful.  16 feet is usually the longest they sell and from my experience it's about as long as you can safely secure to the top of a Honda Pilot.  The longer length let's you set the bottom plate of a long wall with have to re-plumb it.  (If you have no idea what I just said, don't worry, I'm working on a post for that topic).

Lumber Delivery for Basement Framing

Once I got the hang of framing basement walls and estimating how much wood I would need for the whole basement I called a few places and got information on lumber delivery.  You usually have to pay between $50 and $75 bucks but you also get a little bit better price per board.   The best part is that you don't have to haul it in your car or go pick out boards.  The ones I got delivered where all very straight with only a couple of bad ones.

Free Lumber

freecycle logoWhen framing a basement you can also look at sources for free or reduced price lumber.  I found a guy in my neighborhood through who was giving away about 30 8' studs and several pieces of very nice sheet lumber.  Craigslist is also an option.

Just be sure to take a friend or at least let someone know where you're going.  You're very likely going to volunteer to go down into the basement of a complete and total stranger.  I don't want comments on this blog, like, "I used freecycle to get free lumber and now I don't have a leg."

Storing Lumber

Get the lumber inside the basement  as soon as you can.  Technically it's fine if gets wet or sits outside covered but it will hold it's shape better by being in a climate controlled area.

basement finishing jasonWow!  Epic post about lumber selection and transportation.  I guess there was a lot to say.  You probably still will have some questions - feel free to ping me or the group via the comments section below.

Take a picture of your lumber pile or your fully loaded car with lumber on it and send it in!  Oh, and if think you have the world's stupidest question, submit it anyway, we were all newbies at one point or another - I promise I won't laugh.

Cheers - Jason

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Questions and Comments

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment.

  1. Richard says

    Great site! I finished a basement, one house ago, and I learned a lot just by trial and error. You give great explanations and give little bits of information that others simply assume wrongly that people know. Thank you.

    • says

      Hey Richard - thanks for visiting the site. I completely agree, a single small tip that you would never find in a formal book or video can save you hours of work and frustration. The key is really getting that tip from someone who understands where your thought process is. - Jason

  2. Yvonne Choe says

    Hi Jason,

    Did you do all the cutting in your basement? I'm debating whether to cut inside or outside. I'm leaning towards inside for convenience but am worried the furnace will blow it all over the house, no matter how hard I try to contain it...

    • says

      Yvonne - Great question. I did my cutting inside. I had a similar concern. I framed the HVAC room first, then hung some old sheets to blog the saw dust until the drywall stage. I checked the filter more often and for the most part it was clean. Cutting outside would really require a lot of extra walking and setup time, I would highly recommend finding a good inside location. - Jason

  3. says

    I'm impressed, I must say. Rarely do I encounter a blog that's both educative and
    amusing, and without a doubt, you've hit the nail on the head. The problem is something not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I'm very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something regarding this.

  4. Isayas says

    Dear Jason,
    I am planning to finish my basement by myself. When I was googling for how-to-do information I came across this site. I am amazed by your way of writing. Very simple and yet very informative.
    Thank you.

    • says

      Thanks Isayas! I always tell people I meet that there are two kinds of people in the world. People like Isayas, who are awesome and people not like Isayas, who are not awesome.

      Cheers - Jason

  5. Jameka says

    Thanks for you blog I have been toying with the idea of attempting to frame my basement myself or hire someone it gives me hope that I can't try this myself!

    • says

      Jameka - Thanks for commenting. You can absolutely do it. We tend to lose site sometimes of own abilities - just because we don't do it professionally or because we haven't tried it before - we think it's going to be impossible. But it's not. It's just been awhile since you've challenged yourself to do something outside of your comfort zone. Finishing your own basement is much more than just a renovation project - it's also a self-improvement project. Good luck! You CAN do it. - Jason

  6. Tom says

    In my area(loudoun) there are a lot of new home construction. When my house was being built the builders had a large dumpster with scrap wood/building material and one day I saw the contractors come back and pull leftover wood out of them. I assume for personal or for side jobs. Do you think it's worth the hassle doing that.


    • says

      Hey Tom - Ummmmm, yes! Especially if they're tossing perfectly good 2x4s in there. I got about 50 2x4s off of free-cycle for my project. One mans trash is another mans treasure, get on in there man! - Jason

  7. Ray L says

    Jason, I have a couple questions. First insulating a basement, better to use spray foam then vapor or rigid R 45 (I think) then vapor barrier. Second egress windows. Are they easy to do on your own. It says it will cost $1500- $2000 doing it yourself vs $6000-$8000 getting a professional to do it. Hope to heat back from you.

  8. Chip says

    Hi and thanks for the site!

    I have a question, can I store my lumber in my basement a few pieces at a time? I'm not financially ready to invest in all the tools necessary so I was going to shop around and find sales, etc. Its easy to store tools and the like but can I store lumber? My basement is dry and I have plenty of room, can I store lumber on the floor for future use? Seems like a dumb question...



    • says

      Hey Chip - Great question actually. I wouldn't plan on storing lumber for more than a month or so. It's not that you couldn't do it, but more than likely it will start to warp. Even in a perfectly humidity it's difficult to keep the woods moisture the same. My advice would be to save up until you have enough to buy enough lumber for framing a whole room. Then buy it, use it and repeat. I have some lumber stored, it looks ok, it will just be more difficult to work with than something brand new. - Jason

  9. Brad says

    Hi Jason,

    I am in the process of framing my basement. The previous owner had some carpet remnants covering the floor and I thought nothing of it. When I removed the carpet, I discovered that my floor is all plywood suspended by steel beams. There is about 2 feet between the floor and the ground and it looks as though there is a vapor barrier of some sort along with a sub floor fan. This whole time I was planning on bolting the bottom plate to concrete, but alas, there is no concrete. What is the best way to secure the bottom plate to plywood? Also, will I still need to build floating walls since I am not attaching them to concrete?

  10. Rebecca says

    Hi! We have a walk-out basement, so there are portions of a wall that are concrete low and framing with insulation/moisture barrier above the concrete section. Do we need to frame in front of this mix of wall structures to get it right? Thanks for your awesome site - it makes me think about giving my husband the green light to just get going and then do permits etc. I'm the nerd holding up the project :)

    • says

      Oh Rebecca... why would you hold up your husband from his destiny. Yes, his destiny! This man is ready to become a super-man, he's ready to concur a new chapter, give him that green light! Then, duck and cover.

      Yes, you'll need to frame in front of all that. So when the wall is done you wouldn't see any bump-out, just a regular flat wall. Sucks cause it seems like you lose a little space, but that's the best option.

      Good luck! You guys can totally do it. Just take it step by step, have patience and know that you're capable of doing just about anything you really want to do.


    • says

      Rough, rough guessimate - 120. Depends on number of openings, etc. But at 16" on center, 8' ceilings, I'd give you a rough estimate of 120. - Jason

  11. Matt says

    If I have a 9' ceiling, what do I need to do differently? Buy 9' 2x4's instead of 8'?
    Great site, it's been a huge help in building my confidence to tackle this project. I just hope the 9' ceilings don't over complicate it

    • says

      Yes. Hi Matt. You just need to buy the longer studs. Look for them in the same aisle, but in a different stack. You can totally do it! - Jason

    • says

      Hi Matt - You'll just need treated lumber for the bottom plate. The rest of the lumber can be untreated. The bottom plate is the wood stud that rests flat on the floor, it's the bottom plank of your framed wall. - Jason

  12. Chad says

    Hey Jason just bought my house and 1st project I wanna get into is my basement. I have been throwing the idea around here at work about ideas and the maintenence man mentioned if it's a basement be would use steel framing. A little bit more expensive. But good idea or not?

    • says

      Good question Chad, one which I get quite a lot here. My preference is still wood framing. A majority of builders and basement finishing pros still use wood framing.

      I prefer it because it's easier to work with and easier to hang things from down the road. That being said, steel or aluminum isn't a bad choice. It just wouldn't be my choice.

      When it comes to framing with metal I won't be much help to you. It's a completely different process in terms of how you cut and fasten the studs and plates. Even the electrical work is going to be slightly different.

      My advice, stick with the majority.

      Good luck! - Jason

  13. Pam says

    Do you have any comments about using fingerjointed wood for the window casings and baseboards in our basement? Is there less expansion/contraction with finger jointed wood compared to solid wood? Thanks!

  14. Chris says

    What about 2x3 lumber? I have read a lot about using 2x3 studs 24" on center for basement walls to save conserve lumber and save money. I used it in my basement at my old townhouse, but was wondering what other people thought. I mean, they aren't load-beating walls.

    • says

      Hi Chris - In most areas 2x3 lumber is perfectly acceptable. I've heard of quite a few people using it for basement framing. Double check the code for you specific area though - sometimes they still want 2x4. - Jason

  15. Raj says

    Stumbled upon your website while researching whether it is worthwhile to finish the basement without hiring contractors. Your in-depth articles convinced me to do it by myself. Thanks!

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