Methods for calculating and preparing wood for projects?

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Forum topic by jbzehr posted 01-27-2011 06:01 PM 2344 views 1 time favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View jbzehr's profile


12 posts in 3201 days

01-27-2011 06:01 PM

I am fairly new to woodworking as a profession. Most of my projects are built-ins and furniture. I buy rough lumber by the board ft (random widths) as needed for the project. I do not have a lot of room for storage. Sometimes I have it surfaced by the lumber mill to 13/16” and have one straight edge done. I then do the final surfacing myself. When calculating the amount of wood needed for a particular project I add 30% to my total needed. When I near the end of the project, I typically need more. I don’t know if I am wasting wood, just not adding enough, or maybe I need to do all the surfacing myself to get the most out of each board. It seems like wood is wasted, especially longer boards, because some are bowed or twisted coming from the mill. Money vs. Time: It is very inexpensive for the lumber mill to do it S3S but, it takes a long time to flatten boards, especially for larger projects.

What are your methods?
Do you have it surfaced and/or straight edged by the lumber mill?
Do you flatten and plane the lumber yourself?
How much extra do you add?
When you were “young” in your woodworking experience did you had similar questions?

9 replies so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3999 days

#1 posted 01-27-2011 07:17 PM

I will buy only rough lumber and prefer to mill it myself. I have the tools and the time to mill it and I am just plain cheap. I dislike paying someone else to do something that I can do. But I am not a pro so my time does not cost me anything.

As far as buying lumber goes, I will generally purchase at least 100 bf whenever I am tackling a project. I have to drive about an hour to get to my supplier so I always get plenty extra just to make sure that I am not going to run out. Plus this gives me some inventory to start the next project. (My wife seems to think that it is her mission in life to keep me busy and adds to my project list faster than I can knock them off). My lumber rack will hold about 200 bf. I also make use of the attic when I run across a deal to good to pass up and do not have room in my shop.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View nate22's profile


475 posts in 3053 days

#2 posted 01-27-2011 07:27 PM

That is a very good question jbzehr. For me unless it’s hardwoods I don’t have it surfaced or milled. I don’t flatten or plane the lumber either. For every project I add a extra $30 to the cost of the lumber. This will cover you if prices go up. Because they do fluecuate all the time. Least were I live they do. And for the last question I am also young and ask those questions and I have been doing it for about 5 years now.
And for the method of figureing how much you need is pretty easy. I am sure there are a lot of ways to do it but I do it this way. I figure how many inches I need for each size of lumber then I figure out how many feet I need then I figure out how many boards I need then of that size.
Here is a example:

Say you need 500 inches of 2×4’s you would take 500 divided by 12 and that gives you 41.67 feet.
Then you would take 42 divided by 8 and that gives you 5.25 and thats how many boards you need.
and you always round up when figuring it so you don’t cut yourself short. so it came out to 5.25 boards so in this case you would get six boards. You will have a little left over but you can use it on another project. So your not really wasting your money. I am sure there are better ways but thats how I do it.

If you don’t understand my example just email me.

-- Gracie's wooden signs. Middlebury, In.

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3351 days

#3 posted 01-27-2011 07:27 PM

I’m not a pro (heck. I’m barely a hobbyist !), but I like Scott’s approach.

If you think there’s even a chance that you’ll use the leftovers on another project, fairly soon (months ? Years ?), AND you have the room … there’s NOT too much downside to buying plenty of extra for your project. I’ve been keeping an eye out for any source of cheap, decent lumber, and am slowly building up my “stash.” Nothing better than simply heading out to the shop, reviewing your inventory, and deciding what you want to build.

I always say … it reminds me of cooking. Do I want to run to the store for EVERY meal, or would I enjoy just checking out the pantry and the refrigerator, and then deciding what to make ? For me, the latter is much more appealing.

I also have NO problems with milling the lumber myself—particularly since I have almost always had to mill the S4S that I’ve bought, in the past. It might get a bit of a twist or a warp, as it sits on their racks, or … maybe … they just don’t do a great job.

If your source truly does a nice job of surfacing, then it shouldn’t be TOO awfully tough for you to put a price on your time, and determine whether it’s better to pay for it than it is to do it yourself.

I think your question is a very good one—no matter what stage you’re at.

-- -- Neil

View Greedo's profile


473 posts in 3138 days

#4 posted 01-27-2011 07:44 PM

i once had wood milled at the yard, it was a project for the yard. so they offered to, but i won’t do that again! i had to rejoint all the edges because none were square! and there were thick lines everywhere on the wood left by huge dents in their planer blades.
so i do everything myself now.

about the wood quantity. for me it depends on the price and use. if it’s a cheap species that i use alot like pine, i will buy large quantities in advance. if it’s a special wood or expensive then i will buy just enough for the project, meaning at least 30% more than estimated, and usually 50% more is safer.

View Maveric777's profile


2693 posts in 3254 days

#5 posted 01-27-2011 08:06 PM

I have nothing to add because I am simply horrible at the very same thing. Just wanted to chime in and say thanks for asking the question. I am going to keep an eye on this thread so I can try and learn some tricks myself.

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3336 days

#6 posted 01-27-2011 08:31 PM

For me, I have yet to find a good wood source for rough stuff…probably from the fact that I don’t have a whole ton of time to find it. So now, I only estimate the amount I need for a project, which are generally small enough to make a cutting diagram.

For my on-going kitchen remodel, I just buy stuff at the BBS as needed.

I have budgeted this year in preparation for a wood-gloat situation…and if that happens I’ll be sitting pretty.

I also have 40 acres of property with mostly oak trees and would love to start milling some of that…but that’s something I’m not quite able to do yet!

-- jay,

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 3951 days

#7 posted 01-27-2011 08:38 PM

I buy rough lumber and mill it myself. I usually buy extra lumber that I use a lot of. Especially if I get a good deal and better price break. I store the rough lumber in my basement and bring it up as I need it.

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View canadianchips's profile


2611 posts in 3174 days

#8 posted 01-27-2011 09:59 PM

When I started doing this. “Back Then” we made all of our mouldings and cabinet trim. Baseboards and Window trim was about all that was available to me. I always had to buy more than I needed, I used 30% as a safe calculation. especially Oak and Ash. I would buy 1×8 x 12 s4S. I would then cut it into widths I needed. The costly part was : 1. Knots, warping, splitting so not always used what I bought. 2. Second cost was the router bits needed ! Shapers were out of my price range, I didn,t think I had enough work to warrant buying one. (Hindsight says I should have). Later when the lumber yards started stocking the hardwood mouldings I thought I was in heaven ! Today I still do make some of my mouldings, but that is usually if I want something totally different than you can buy. I now count my time, material (wastage) utility bill to run the machine, replaement cost of buying the machines. When you count all that, it really is cheaper to just buy a few you need !

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3462 days

#9 posted 01-28-2011 04:49 AM

jbzehr, I think you’ve asked some very good questions and I’m not sure I will be much help, but here’s how I’ve dealt with it over the years. I feel adding 30% to the total bd. footage when you figure the lumber needed for a partictular project should be plenty. If you’re running short before the project is finished, you have one of two problems. Either you are under estimating the total amount of lumber needed or you’re not getting very good yeild from your lumber. What does your scrap pile look like when you’re finished with the project? lol. I used to buy all my lumber in the rough, but realized that if I was doing a project that required 100 bd ft or more, I was spending a lot of time pushing lumber through the planer, trying to flatten lumber, straight edging, changing planer knives and cleaning up. It was really hard to add all those hours to the price of a project to a customer. All that being said, I also learned there is a huge difference in where you buy your lumber and having them surface it for you. I tried a number of different hardwood suppliers before I found one that I could get quality lumber and service. They are not the cheapest, but for over twenty years, they have always given me great quality lumber and their service is great. I have them survace it for me but I don’t have them straight line it for me. That I will do myself. That is where the biggest waste of lumber comes into play as far as I’m concerned. If you are buying your hardwood in 8’, 10’ or 12’ lengths then for them to straight line a full length of lumber they can end up taking one heck of a lot of lumber off one side to get a straight line down a 12’ board. Very seldom do I need a 12’ length of anything, so I will cross cut my length a little oversize and then straight line. Example: If I’m doing face frames that are 34” long, then I will cross cut @ 36” and straight line from there. I’ll do my final dimensioning from there. If the board is curved, you will have a lot less wasted lumber getting a straight line on 36” vs. a 12’ board. I get very little lumber that’s bowed much, but if I do, again, I will work on shorter pieces from that lumber. I’ve also learned over the years, that I can spend a lot of time flattening a board and as soon as I rip it on the table saw, I find out that it is stress warped and ripping it will cause it to warp again. Over time, you will be able to find your suppliers and you will be able to pretty much look at a project and know how much you will need. Like the others have said, if you use a lot of the same species of lumber, then it’s easier to buy more then you need. Most hardwood suppliers will have a price break @ 100bd ft, 200bd ft, etc., so it you think you may need 75bd ft. of lumber for a project, it will be almost as cheap to buy 100 bd. ft, especially if it saves you an extra trip to the lumber supplier. BTW, my hardwood supplier is 4 1/2 hours from my shop….......I have suppliers closer, but they don’t have the selection, quality or service to match, so I plan my trips carefully and have been dealing with them for over 20 years. I like hand selecting my lumber, but I still have them surface it to 13/16ths for me.

-- John @

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