Buying Lumber: Tips, Tricks & Advice To Help You Shop Like A Pro

Buying Lumber

When you’re buying lumber for your next woodworking project you need to make sure that you know what you’re asking for. Here are some tips and tricks to help you to shop like a professional the next time you head out to buy boards.

Where To Buy Lumber

The first step in buying lumber is to know where to get it in the first place. Although you can find lumber in a regular DIY or home center, going to a lumber yard is often a better prospect. You’ll have a much wider choice of boards to pick from and their range will be more varied than anything you’ll find in a home center. While home centers tend to focus primarily on pine and construction lumber, lumber yards will also have hardwoods that are suited to making furniture and you may also be able to find a good selection of reclaimed woods.

The Basics

Types of Wood

Construction projects require softwoods like pine, cedar, spruce, fir or larch, however if you’re making furniture you’ll need hardwoods like mahogany, oak, walnut, birch, ash, cherry or maple. Make sure you choose the right type for your project.

Board Sizes

If you’ve never been to the lumber yard before you’ll probably be confused by all the different types and sizes of wood available. From 2 inch width right up to 12 inches in width and with lengths as long as 12’ you’ll find everything you need here. Remember when you’re buying that the measurements that are listed for each board aren’t actually accurate. For example, a 1” x 4” x 8’ board actually measures 0.75” x 3.5” x 8’.

As a rule of thumb, if it says that the board is 1” it will actually be 0.75”. If the stated number is 2” or bigger, subtract 1/2 “ from the measurement. Usually, the length is accurate.

One of the greatest complaints that woodworkers have is that today’s boards are narrower than they used to be. In the past, boards which were 30 inches in width and above were easy to find. This allowed woodworkers to make all kinds of big pieces with uninterrupted and beautiful figures.

Unfortunately, these days, such large boards are rare and are highly prized. If you find them, they are at a premium since the majority of boards are 6 inches to 12 inches in width.

Be Aware Of Green Wood

Green wood is wood which is freshly cut and not dried. Remember if you buy green wood that it could well shift as it warps over time since it will dry out. Although warping isn’t too much of an issue if you’re using a thick 1 x 1 board, if you’re using a 2 by it’s a much bigger deal. Remember that a short width board will warp more than a longer width one.

Finding Quality Boards

If you’re working on a project where a perfect finish is essential you need to make sure that you’re choosing high quality wood. Avoid any wood which is bowed, cracked, chipped or which has visible knots as it will be harder to work with and will produce a less professional result. This is especially the case if you’re making furniture as you need flawless wood.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Is Lumber Sold?

Wood is sold in several standard thicknesses which are in quarter inch increments (or quarters). If you need a board which is 1” thick you’re asking for a four quarter. There are also 5/4, 6/4 and 8/4 too. You’ll find that lumber will be sold in board feet units. 1 board foot measures 12” x 12” x 1”. When calculating board feet, multiply the board’s width by its length by its thickness then divide the total by 144.

Can Buying Bowed Boards Save You Money?

Yes! If you’re working on a woodworking project which doesn’t require absolute perfection, you can save money by choosing a board which is chipped, cracked or bowed. Perfect boards will be a lot more expensive but if they aren’t strictly essential for the needs of your project you can usually get a discount on a piece which is damaged.

Rough Or Dressed Wood?

There are two main options when buying wood from a lumber yard. You can choose from either dressed or rough boards. Rough lumber has come straight from the sawmill and has an uneven and rough surface with the marks from cutting at the sawmill still being visible. Dressed wood has been through the planer for smoothness. A board which is an S2S designation has been surfaces on 2 parallel sides. An S4S designated board is surfaces on all of its sides. This means that you’ll lose some thickness so if you need more flexibility in terms of thickness get your lumber rough. Rough lumber is also cheaper than lumber which has been finished.

What About Cut Offs?

If you’re wanting to make something small and don’t need a large amount of high quality lumber it’s worth going through the cut-offs pile. The cut-off pile will be made up of the bits that have been cut off by other buyers so that they can fit their boards into their car or truck and then left behind. Great wood can be found at discounted prices in this pile and it is ideal for making small projects. If you need really high quality wood for your particular project, look in the premium lumber section. You’ll find here all of the boards which are exceptionally high quality either in terms of color or figure.

What’s Next

Follow these tips when you’re buying lumber and you’ll find that you feel less out of your depth while making your purchase. A lumber yard is the best choice when purchasing wood for your next woodworking project since you can ask more specific questions and receive more knowledgeable answers from the experts in the field. You’ll also have a much greater choice of wood types and sizes to pick from.

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