Buying Timber – Unit Conversion

by | Mar 8, 2013 | 16 comments

I recently wrote about the daunting world of buying hardwoods and in that post I made a point of focusing on what your requirements might be. Today I’d like to start on the subject of pricing and I’m going to keep it concise because there’s just one useful equation that I’d like to mention; this is boring to read but may prove a handy reference.

If you’re buying a small amount of hand picked boards then the seller will be able to work out the exact prices for you but if they don’t know the specific boards you’ll be purchasing a seller will generally provide you with a price by the cube. In the UK timber is sold by the dimensions used at its origin so European timbers are priced by a cubic metre whilst American timbers are by the cubic foot etc.
To be able to compare your prices between one species or seller to another you’ll find it helpful to convert your quoted prices all to the same unit of measurement.

The bottom lump was over 30″ wide!


1 cubic metre = 35.315 cubic foot (rounded up)

If a company quotes a price of £30.00 per cubic foot then we can work out that this is the same as £1059.45 per cubic metre: 30 x 35.315 = £1059.45 per cubic metre

If your going from metric to imperial then you will just divide instead e.g  £830.00 per cubic metre is the same as £23.50 per cubic foot:  830 divided by 35.315 = £23.50 per cubic foot

Another useful way to use this is if you want to convert the volume of timber and this works in a similar way; 12 cubic feet converts to 0.34 cubic metres: 12 divided by 35.315 = 0.34 cubic metres


This will probably seem rather simple and rather dull but I wanted to cover this before I go in to more details about how I estimate timber quantities and prices before we commit to an order.

If you haven’t yet read the other post on buying hardwoods then you can find it here.

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  1. Benjamin

    Hello, I have mostly seen boards being sold at the board-foot and not cubic foot here in America (I am in Canada though, but still). A board-foot being a square foot (12inches wide by a foot long, 8 board-feet being 12 inches wide 8 feet long etc).


    • Helen

      Thanks Benjamin, this conversion is generally going to be relevant in the UK where we can’t seem to let go of the inch despite moving to metric! I’ve always worked in metric but Richard refuses to use it so I now work between each. In the UK we can be used to seeing both – some plywood still gets listed as 8’ x 4’ x 12mm & especially with timber so I wanted to cover this before moving on to the next post. Next time I will be touching on the board-foot as well as the cube to give some relevance to everyone.

      • Brian Johnston

        I worked through the change from Imperial to Metric in the building industry and, although the industry had very specific guide lines on terminology and measurement, buying over the counter produced some bizarre results. One that sticks in my mind is visiting a local timber merchant and having my bill presented in “Metric Feet”; in this case meaning in 300mm increments, rather than 304mm!

        The other difficulty was in the use of nominal dimensions. For instance, a 2″x4″ timber was a sawn timber which within the British Standard was about + or – 1/8th of an inch. When this was machined up the mills had to set their machines to allow for 2″ being an actual 1 7/8″ and allowing a planning allowance of 1/8th of an inch meant an ex-2″ x 4″ wrought timber would come out at 1/4″ undersize each way. This still seems to hold true today if you are buying prepared timber; a 25 x 50mm planed timber will be nearer to 20 x 45mm

        It seems to me that the American system of measurement is also much the same, but with even larger allowances for dressing.

    • michael

      Benjamin, don’t forget the 1″ thick a board 12″ wide 2″ thick and 8″ long would be 16Bft

  2. Ken

    Thanks Helen, after reading that I’m thinking Its me that must be simple. 😉

  3. Mark

    Quite often the essentials do seem dull. However, if you don’t know it/can’t remember it, it isnt simple. Thanks Helen, I look forward to the next installment.
    Regards, Mark.

  4. Paul Chapman

    Thanks Helen, that’s very helpful.

  5. Sylvain

    As far as I understand
    When in Europe you buy 38mm X 89mm it is 38mmX89mm (1.5″X3.5″)and the volume in cubic meter has to be a real volume.
    In USA when you ask for 2″X4″ you only receive 1.5″ × 3.5″ but the BoardFoot is calculated with 2″X4″.
    So you can not simply take a boardfoot as being 12″X12″X1″ and make the conversion in cubic meter.

    • Helen

      Thanks Sylvain, that’s really helpful and will be something I’ll have to consider in my next post. As I mentioned to Benjamin, I think the conversion is only relevant over here in the UK because other countries tend to know which measurement system they want! What would be interesting to know is if timber is ever listed in metric in the US or in imperial in mainland Europe? For example if you bought American timbers in Europe is it listed in imperial over metric as it is in England?

      • Brian Eve

        Hi Helen,

        In Germany (at least in Munich) it is easy to get American Walnut, American Cherry, and some other lumber from North America. It is always priced in cubic meters. This drives me up the wall because I think in board feet, and I am always surprised when the bill comes up. I feel like I have no idea how to estimate how much two oak boards are going to be when the price is 1400 Euros per cubic meter.

        • Stav

          Hi Brian, I’m having the same problem over in Hessen, does my head in


  6. George Bridgeman

    (Posting this here as well as the other page Helen linked to as it’s pertinent to both):

    I’m looking at getting a quantity of English oak for myself and also to sell onto other woodworkers in the UK at cost price so have been doing a lot of conversions lately. I just wanted to share something on here as it doesn’t seem common knowledge. Google can do most of the unit conversions for you if you know what to enter. Put these into Google and you’ll see what I mean:
    1m^3 in ft^3
    1m^3 in board feet
    10ft^3 in board feet


  7. Dennis

    I am interested in buying a whole tree trunk but can’t determine how to work out what it would be if cubed.Is there an easy way, say girth x length etc??

  8. Jay

    Recently I purchased 30 cubic meter of softwood logs from europe and imported it to india. I calculated the price in the standard conversion which is 1 cubic meter = 35.315 cubic feet as in india they sell the wood logs in cubic feet. So what I calculated was 30 * 35.315 = 1059 cubic feet, but when the conatiner reached in india and sold it to my customer the cubic feet changed it to 800 cubic feet when they measured it. Is there any difference in the conversion of cubic meter to cubic feet in different countries? Please help me sort out this situation.

  9. ifereimi

    Anyway if a company give me an offer to buy Class A hardwood timber for$2oo cubic metre than if i have 234573.00 cubic metre.Approximately how can be that calculated.?? thanx ..!! fere.

  10. QS Tajudeen

    Good morning, my name is Tajudeen. Please i have a challenge in converting my rate for wood, for example, assuming i build up a rate for 2” x 3” x 12” and is coming to =N= 400 naira per meter, how can i convert this rate to cubic meter. Please kindly guide.
    Awaits your quick response.


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