Finished Project Worth Less Than Rough Wood?

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Blog entry by miles125 posted 01-04-2009 05:12 PM 2561 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’ve spent some time over the holidays in consignment and resale shops. Theres a troubling trend i’m noticing. Chances are you can buy a fine hardwood table, desk, stool or various and sundry other items for less than you can buy the same amount of lumber to build it with.

Somethings not right here. Are we at a point where the most economical source of wood is to tear a finished table apart? I’m serious. I saw a Teak carving that was out of a chunk approx 3” x 4” x 8” tall for 4 bucks. You couldn’t find a chunk of rough Teak for that price. A table with 3” x 3” quarter sawn oak legs AND a top for 30 bucks? All things i saw associated with wood were ridiculously cheap.

The near future may be in woodworkers tearing furniture apart and milling the lumber from it to sell for a profit…...So somebody else can build a piece of furniture worth less than the sum of its wood????

I’m not sure what to make of all this but it sure isn’t comforting. I’m sure over saturation of imports isn’t helping the situation any. That, and woodworkers are notoriously bad at applying value to their work.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

15 comments so far

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3990 days

#1 posted 01-04-2009 05:15 PM

scary and troubling

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View CedarFreakCarl's profile


594 posts in 4082 days

#2 posted 01-04-2009 05:39 PM

You’re right Miles and the terrible thing is I think it’s going to get worse.

-- Carl Rast, Pelion, SC

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4355 days

#3 posted 01-04-2009 05:39 PM

I think we (as quality craftsman) are benefiting (and suffering) from the throwaway culture that all the cheap imports (and everything else) has bestowed on us. Sure it’s cheaper to replace things than repair them… but I have hope that the global economy of late, will bring us back to proper values. Waste not, want not. buy the best we can afford, reduce & reuse (before we eventually) recycle.
Maybe we, as good lumberjocks and stewards of the planet for our grandchildren, can snag all those trashed tables, desks and such, and give them new lives, ones that might get handed down for generations rather than end up in the landfill.
And if we can fill our homes with quality stuff, our friends and families will take note, and we can reduce the amount of the worthless “you build it” furniture from the MalWart and the like.
So much good wood in those broken old chairs and stuff, (clearer & tighter grained than the big box tree farmed stuff) worth so much more than the sum of their parts.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View rhett's profile


742 posts in 3695 days

#4 posted 01-04-2009 05:58 PM

All too often the case, unfortunately. The bigger problem is non-woodworkers who see these underpriced wood pieces and then think we are trying to take them for a ride when we price things accordingly.

Ofcourse, when your buying an entire cargo ship worth of wood, you probably get a pretty good price per bdf.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

View Rogue's profile


260 posts in 3498 days

#5 posted 01-04-2009 06:17 PM

I am an avid consigner. I’ve been showing artwork and woodworking in galleries and gift shops for years. There is one thing I have learned and that is to get a good price for your item you must imbue it with more than just the wood for it’s construction. There can’t be any loyalties or staunch adheirance to tradition if the design dosn’t demand it. If you want to make an amazingly designed butcher block top with intricate glue ups and exotic woods, go for it. But if the butcher blocks design is more about a unique or ineresting stand and the top isn’t really the focus of the piece, buy a prefab top or as you say buy a cheapo block and stand and remove the top for you project. Its all hard maple weather you glue it up or a factory worker glues it up. Spend your time on the design and the details of that stand. That’s what really sells your piece.

-- Rogue

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3492 days

#6 posted 01-04-2009 06:19 PM

being new to woodworking, my only (previous) basis for the value of wood was prebuilt furniture like that you describe finding. needless to say i was astonished at the actual cost of lumber, even rough unsurfaced stock. really puts things in perspective.

the same applies to a lot of other raw materials though – my wife has started doing some sewing & fabric work, and you can buy finished clothing and linens/drapes/etc for less than the cost of the fabric. crazy.

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3809 posts in 4050 days

#7 posted 01-04-2009 06:20 PM

I think you will pretty much find that with everything.
Cars come to mind.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2821 posts in 3618 days

#8 posted 01-04-2009 07:00 PM

So we talk about the material and it’s expense compared to a finished product. But nobody mentions the fact that even if you found free material the cost of your labor would be far more then $30 if you built that same table. It would have to take you 30 minutes to build the entire table for it to be worth it.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View Ekim's profile


17 posts in 3482 days

#9 posted 01-04-2009 07:09 PM

There are always hobbyists and beginners willing to sell their work below cost because either they don’t know the actual cost or they want the thrill of selling something and feeling appreciated. If you are doing this as a business it makes it tough to compete at times.

-- mike,

View Praki's profile


199 posts in 4025 days

#10 posted 01-04-2009 07:23 PM

I think imports are cheaper because both material and labor are way cheaper in the countries they are sourced in. In many countries, someone making the equivalent of two of three hundred dollars a month can live quite well there. A few thousand dollars literally puts them in the Nouveau riche category. The economic advantage that ensures from this disparity of costs between the countries is what is driving our businesses to outsource everything possible.

I did an informal search for Teak lumber prices in India (disclaimer: as you all know, lumber prices vary a lot and information on the net is not always trustworthy). It looks like the teak price is somewhere between $2.2 to $3.70 per board foot (I used 1 USD = 45 Indian Rupee conversion rate and further divided the price by 12 to convert cubic board foot to board foot). The prices I have seen here for teak have been higher than than $18/bdft. I also looked for furniture prices and found this store on . The prices for what appears to be fine carved teak furniture is insane.

Just thought you might find this interesting.

-- Praki, Aspiring Woodworker

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4034 days

#11 posted 01-04-2009 07:40 PM

The diamond industry comes to mind as the ultimate in preventing just this sort of merchandise devaluation. They’re very careful about how much product is released into the market. Plus they do a helluva job at maintaining perceptions of rarity and value (whether factual or not) about a frickin ROCK found in the ground.

I suppose us woodworkers attempt some of this strategy when we’re careful what type of venue our work might end up in. Apparently we’re fighting a losing battle.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View David A. P.'s profile

David A. P.

28 posts in 3592 days

#12 posted 01-04-2009 07:59 PM

One of the (few) silver linings in this situation is that it’s fairly easy to score some good lumber—dimensioned, even—from things other people throw out or give away. Of course, that requires adding time and effort for disassembly to the process of construction, not to mention some creativity in fitting pre-shaped pieces into a new work, but everything’s a tradeoff in one way or another. I imagine rework will get more attractive over time, rather than less.

-- David A. P. -- Ars Arboris ("Art of the Tree") --

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4153 days

#13 posted 01-04-2009 11:28 PM

This is the case for products in general; ever compare the cost of the bolts and metal in a product to buying it fully assembled? The costs of manufacture are way way overshadowed by the costs of managing the shipment and inventory control of smaller volumes.

As the U.S. economy crashes this may change, our labor may no longer be so outrageously high relative to the rest of the world, but even so don’t underestimate the reduction of cost that comes from Pier 1 being able to move a few million of that statue vs Woodcraft being able to sell a few thousand blocks of teak.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14173 posts in 4011 days

#14 posted 01-05-2009 07:34 AM

About ten years ago, we lived in Memphis, I fell into a glory hole of rough sawn 8/4 and 6/4 Honduran mahogany at a salvage company… bought close to 1000 bft at 1.25 a bft.

Made several pieces from the lumber and set up a booth at a southern crafts store. Sold a few pieces real cheap, so was not especially happy with my craft booth,.... I expanded to ebay sales.
My first ebay auction sales were small Stickley reproduction lamp tables. Sold a few, but never made much more then a couple bucks an hour, barely covering the cost of the lumber.

Almost gave up selling on ebay … until one day I auctioned a box of mahogany shorts on there. It hit me. Mahogany sold for far more then my finished work. ... with very little labor involved. Much more. Eventually I started the auctions at 5 bucks a board ft and sold the wood easily. Prices I got ran all the way up to 25 bucks a bft. I cut 8 ft long boards in thirds and made a killing ( at least it felt good >grin<) It was fun. I sold board after board making 4 to 10 times profit on my good wood buy. Sold almost all of it that way.

Along the way I made woodworking projects and sold what I could. ... clocks, small tables, book ends, shelves, candle sticks, butcher blocks ... anything …and finally stumbled on to frames. Frames sold pretty good, especially with old mounted prints and the like and at decent prices . see below an example of my earliest pieces.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 3470 days

#15 posted 01-05-2009 12:41 PM

Welcome to the international furniture business miles. living and working in asia in this trade I see it first hand. First i can say without fear of being sued that that wood aint legit. Most teak is illegaly sourced from burma using companies based in nations that did not sign the trade embargoes against the military gov there. The carving is not done in factories its done peicework in villages all over asia by families from grandfather on down so no overheads, no wages, no age limits on the workers etc and thats just the start. I know a guy in the arms trade and the furniture business is almost as dirty, amd thats not an exageration.Sadly the guy who walks in the shop door will buy it because its so cheap which just continues the process, so I say dont even buy it for the wood. If you do YOU are now part of the problem. I think i will post more on this subject as it is fascinating how it all works.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

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