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Lumber Buying Basics

Whether you buy from a chain store, specialty or contractor’s yard or by mail, keep a few basic rules of thumb in mind when shopping for project lumber:

  1. Develop A Realistic Shopping List: Base your list on a clear understanding of common lumber proportions and grades. Make a preliminary visit to your lumberyard, acquire a catalog, or call the city desk before leaving home to verify that dimensions and species you need are available. Know ahead of time what compromises you can make to your cutting and shopping lists, if what you need isn’t available in the right size or species.
  2. Consider using less-expensive woods like polar or pine in hidden areas of your project: Woodworkers have used “secondary” woods for centuries in fine furniture and cabinetry, saving premium lumber for prominent project parts like face frames, doors, drawer fronts and tabletops. Don’t underestimate the versatility, economy and structural benefits of using sheet goods like plywood and particleboard over solid wood.
  3. Factor in about 30% waste: As you become more practiced in estimating, you’ll be able to reduce this percentage somewhat. If you are just getting started as a woodworker, buy more lumber than what you’ll need for a project. Save your receipt and return what you don’t use. Published plans occasionally have errors in shopping and cutting lists that will require you to have more material on hand. If you buy lumber roughsawn, you may not discover an unsightly blemish or pitch pocket until after you plane it, resulting in less usable lumber than you initially planned. And be honest about your own “fudge factor.” One miscalculated cut late on a Saturday afternoon might put an end to your woodworking for the weekend if your lumberyard isn’t open on Sundays.
  4. Comparison shop before you buy. Once you are sure of your project requirements, check how the prices vary among suppliers. Yards may offer discounts on slightly damaged lumber or overstocks, especially at inventory time.
  5. Plan for how you’ll safely transport large materials home, especially sheet goods. If the yard offers delivery, take advantage of the service especially if your only other option is to tie several unwieldly sheets of plywood to the roof of the family sedan. Some yards will cut your lumber into more manageable proportions for free, or for a modest charge. If you go this route, double-check your cutting list so you can decide ahead of time what can be sized down without compromising your project needs.

YouTube Video Tip: Hit the gear button to speed up the playback to watch the video faster.

Lumber Buying Guide: Wood for Woodworking & Construction Wood 

This lumber buying guide helps you select which type of lumber to use for a project. There are options such as construction wood for structural needs such as joists as well as wood for woodworking.

Buying Lumber Directly from the Sawmill – Money Saving Hacks for Woodworking

In this video, we look at the advantages and disadvantages of buying wood directly from the sawmill. Buying lumber directly from a mill is not something everyone can do, even if you have sawmills in your vicinity, but it is available for many woodworkers and for those who belong to clubs and associations, it’s even possible to get together and do “group purchases”.

Not all mills will sell to the general public, Often the large saw mills are wholesale only, but many of medium and smaller independent mills are happy to sell smaller quantities of wood.

How to Buy Lumber According to Grade

Learn how to purchase lumber according to grade. A WoodWorkers Guild of America (WWGOA) original video.

Framing Lumber Options

Associate John Schwager highlights our line of framing lumber options versus lumber from a local lumberyard. He points out the difference in quality, species of the wood (douglas fir versus spruce) and a lower price. Watch to see the differences.

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