Tactics for buying lumber

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Forum topic by Jeremymcon posted 08-05-2016 05:29 PM 1181 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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295 posts in 850 days

08-05-2016 05:29 PM

I am a relatively new woodworker, and have recently completed my first major furniture project – a red oak bathroom cabinet. I posted it here if anyone is interested. Having finished this project and seeing it come out so well, I’m now developing quite a list of projects that I would like to do in the future. I’m currently working on a couple of tables for some family members, but after that I want to make a cherry bookshelf, some outdoor furniture, a fishing net, a jewelry box, maybe eventually a rocking chair, a mobile kitchen island… the list goes on and on. Anyway, I like to buy lumber from local sawyers that I find on craigslist, since their prices are so much better than the nearest large scale mill.

For example, the other week I bought some very air dried cherry lumber for $2/bf! For cherry! I paid $3 for red oak for my most recent project. I didn’t have any plane written up exactly, but I knew I wanted to work with cherry, and I also knew that I didn’t want to pay $6/bf for it when that time came. I even picked up a couple of 8/4 boards from the guy for a bit more per bf.

Then I was thinking about the outdoor furniture I wanted to make, and was looking at this article that lists woods by their decay resistance. I saw a guy on craigslist that had milled and air dried some 8/4 sasafrass which he was selling for $2/bf. He also indicated that he had some beautiful chestnut oak (a type of white oak – pricey at the lumber yard!) in 5/4 and 6/4 for the same price! So my instinct, of course, was to go buy some lumber from him with some outdoor projects in mind, but no actual specific ideas planned.

I ended up just going to each place and purchasing $150 in lumber, because I wasn’t really sure how much I would need, since I wasn’t buying for a specific plan. To my eye, each pile of lumber from each species was easily enough to complete at least one of the projects I thought maybe I’d be using it for, and possibly with a little left over. Now I have a pile of lumber in my basement that is probably about as much as I can comfortably fit in there with all of my personal belongings that are also stored down there, so I’m probably done buying lumber for a while.

What I’m getting at here is, how do most hobbyist woodworkers here buy lumber? Do you only buy exactly what you need when you need it? Or do you buy what you know you’ll be able to use eventually when you find it for a good price? How do you decide how much to buy if you don’t have plans drawn up yet? I’m afraid I may get burned with buying the way I have been, and end up either not using some of the stuff I bought, or needing more of it and kicking myself for not buying more at the time.

21 replies so far

View ScottM's profile


688 posts in 2317 days

#1 posted 08-05-2016 05:59 PM

You’ll soon find out that EVERYONE here is a wood hoarder!! For me, when I see something I like I get it whether I have an immediate use or plan for it or not. Something will come along. Until then it goes in the stack.

Unlike you, and many others, I’m in an area where we just don’t have “local sawyers” or mills where I can get a variety of woods so I have to pick it up when I come across it.

View jmartel's profile


8189 posts in 2320 days

#2 posted 08-05-2016 06:09 PM

I live in Seattle. There’s not really much native wood here that’s good for furniture apart from Maple. So, I have to cruise craigslist and find people getting rid of their stashes when I can. I typically buy whatever I can afford and hoard it all until it’s needed.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View Jon689's profile


1 post in 2144 days

#3 posted 08-05-2016 06:15 PM

Before I owned a sawmill, I used to buy larger quantities of lumber if the price was right. A local mill, long gone out of business, used to sell mill-run cherry for $2/bf and butternut for $1/bf off the stacks. The only rule was that you had to buy from the top down (so if you wanted the boards on the bottom row you had to buy the whole pile!). I found another mill later on that had curly maple for $2/bf, rough and green, but you could buy any boards you wanted. Those stacks usually got picked through pretty quickly, but I always bought 100-200 board feet at a pop. I still have a lot of it.

My opinion is that, if you have the room for it, and the price is unbeatable, buy as much as you can afford, and as much as you can store. I’m not sure just how much I have stashed away for future projects, but I’m guessing it’s over 10,000 board feet of lumber. I can say for certain that I don’t have $10,000 cost in it either.

View muleskinner's profile


905 posts in 2607 days

#4 posted 08-05-2016 06:36 PM

My wife refers to my favorite hardwood store as The Crack House.

Heck, I go there to get something for a particular project and end up buying that plus two or three other species just because I like the looks of them.

-- Visualize whirled peas

View KelleyCrafts's profile


3256 posts in 909 days

#5 posted 08-05-2016 06:44 PM

So what these guys are saying is, that personal stuff also stored in the basement needs to go.

-- Dave - - pen blanks - knife scales - turning tools

View splintergroup's profile


2338 posts in 1393 days

#6 posted 08-05-2016 07:54 PM

True dat ki7hy!

I’m also in an area with limited access (actually only one HW lumber warehouse within 150 mile radius).
Typically I’ll have a project in mind and If I don’t have enough wood on hand, I’ll plan a trip and pick up a few 100 bf. of various woods that I will save for the future. My storage is mostly maxed out, but eventually I’ll make more space and fill it up.

Some call it hoarding, but I think of it more as investing since rarely does the price go down.

View Ocelot's profile


2103 posts in 2808 days

#7 posted 08-05-2016 08:30 PM

Around here, mid-summer on a rainy year is the best time to buy. Farmers are wanting to put up hay, and finally say “let’s get rid of that stack of lumber that your uncle stashed in the barn”. I bought one time what they claimed was 1400bf of “mostly cherry” (there was a little walnut) for $850 delivered. Now, about 1/3 of it is pretty poor, but stil…


View ClammyBallz's profile


449 posts in 1307 days

#8 posted 08-05-2016 08:59 PM

I’m a wood hoarder, I lost count at 5000 board feet. If it’s cheap & good, I’ll buy it when I can. When I’m busy in the winter, I don’t have time to track down wood somewhere.

On a side note, you may want to think twice about storing fresh cut or air dried wood in the basement. Unless it’s kiln dried, there’s a chance the wood might have powder post beetles in it and that’s the last thing you want in your house. Not trying to scare you, but I had three stacks of lumber form three different guys that had PBB in the wood which fortunately I found out when it was in the barn air drying. Unless the wood is already kiln dried, I use my cargo trailer as a solar kiln and cook off any of the bugs before the wood goes in my shop.

View rwe2156's profile


3133 posts in 1651 days

#9 posted 08-06-2016 11:41 AM

I usually develop a cutlist for a project and go 20% over. After a few projects you’ll see what happens.

That being said, if the lumber looks really good, I might buy way over 20% extra.

I try not to keep huge amounts of long boards in stock they just seem to eventually become part of the scenery.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View muleskinner's profile


905 posts in 2607 days

#10 posted 08-06-2016 02:47 PM

You mean you’re supposed to have a project plan THEN buy the wood!? I guess I need to adjust my strategy.

-- Visualize whirled peas

View Steve Peterson's profile

Steve Peterson

392 posts in 3253 days

#11 posted 08-06-2016 08:23 PM

The lumber dealer that I like is about an hour away. I prefer to buy about 50% extra when I am buying for a specific project. This gives me enough buffer to account for selecting pieces with good grain matching. I also try to pick up a few extra boards of various species every time I go there. That way I often have enough pieces laying around for small projects.

-- Steve

View DirtyMike's profile


637 posts in 1072 days

#12 posted 08-07-2016 06:58 AM

I can find moonshine and quality illegal drugs easier than i can find reasonably priced lumber in my area. When i find a good deal on lumber I base my projects off that lumber. So my normal experience is seeing some beautiful walnut slabs for 3 bucks a BF on craigslist, driving an hour to a piss ant sawmill run by a hillbilly who stores his slabs in the weather and doesn’t seal his lumber.

That is the price you pay for not going to a reputable sawmill or lumber dealer I have learned.

View diverlloyd's profile


3166 posts in 2028 days

#13 posted 08-07-2016 02:10 PM

I buy small cut offs from a local furninture manufacturer buy the pallet. I joke I buy by the pound since most of the pallets range from 500-1000lbs. but it all small stuff good for cutting boards and boxes and such for local donations to charity auctions.

View bondogaposis's profile


5043 posts in 2522 days

#14 posted 08-07-2016 06:36 PM

The most important “tactic” is to bring money.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Richard's profile


1922 posts in 2861 days

#15 posted 08-08-2016 04:35 PM

The most important “tactic” is to bring money.

- bondogaposis

Ok , That is why I never buy more than I need at any one time.
In my area San Jose Ca. , Since Sothern Lumber Closed their are only two Hardwood Dealers close by and both of them are only Open during hours that are hard for me to be able to get to them since I work during the hours they are open and have to take time off to get to them. Really wish at least one of them was open more than a couple of hours on Sat. .

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