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Forum topic by NoSpace posted 10-23-2017 03:43 AM 1408 views 0 times favorited 39 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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NoSpace

93 posts in 1050 days


10-23-2017 03:43 AM

Curious how others deal with the most vexing part of buying wood: lumber yard staff counting up board feet. It’s not rocket science, but it’s on the more abstract end of consumer level math and the average person on the street just isn’t used to thinking mathematically. I myself use an excel spreadsheet just to be sure (something these lumber yards, which tend to be pretty old school, haven’t discovered yet, apparently).

I’ve only been buying hardwood at lumber yards for about 3 years now, and so I probably have less than ten trips under my belt, but most of those purchases—unless I’m buying a pre-marked slab of hobby wood—somehow involve me worrying about the calculation of board feet by the staff. In fact, I’ve in the past selected pieces of a certain dimension simply because it looks easy to count. There’s not a huge amount of money on the line for me given I’m typically working on smaller projects, and so there’s a humorous side to watching a person who sucks at math wave a baton around and write up a ridiculous bill, but at the same time, I don’t like being charged double and I’m not the confrontational type so often I’ve just let it go if I don’t think it’s off by too much. I imagine serious woodworkers who rely on making that profit margin could wind up pretty frustrated.

I entered my fourth lumber yard a couple days ago after moving to check out the lumber scene in my area and picked up a hefty maple board and a small strip of walnut and a small strip of rosewood. When I got to check out, this guy walks up and pulls out a tape and a baton and goes to work, and he just looks utterly confused. Measurements aside, one would think it would give pause that the skinny strip of rosewood came up to 4 board feet, nearly what he’d counted, 6 bf, for the hefty maple board. It was obviously so far off that I stopped another worker, and then he, the original guy, and the foremen all head to the foreman shack and have a big conference for several minutes. They return with a verdict that cut my bill in nearly half. I didn’t say anything, but why don’t they have some online calculator pulled up or use a spreadsheet? they could save gobs of time and frustration.

In another incident, I have this young kid making a mess of 12/4 walnut slab count—kid had a great attitude and I wasn’t mad or anything—and the owner stepped in on that one before I said anything. But at the same time, the owner’s wife is waving the baton over my other boards and she wasn’t doing much better. I questioned her, and you know, she’d been doing it for years and years obviously, but she comes up with some explanation for her method that makes no sense whatsoever to me. I’m doing my internal calculations and she was a really cool lady and I just didn’t have it in my to push it given I didn’t think it would be that much off. At home I measured exactly and overpaid by about 30$ maybe, which isn’t the end of the world for 3-4 trips a year, but still. I told myself after that incident, I’d bring my laptop and show them exactly what the count is prior to them measuring (and I realize the have rounding rules etc. but that doesn’t account for the discrepancies), but then life went off the rails a bit and I didn’t buy wood again for about a year—the incident from a few days ago.

On the one hand, I want to pay what’s fair, but I don’t want to be a total jerk either by dragging out a spreadsheet and lecturing over a typically < $100 purchase. curious what others do.


39 replies so far

View Andybb's profile

Andybb

523 posts in 413 days


#1 posted 10-23-2017 04:26 AM

I too have about the same level of experience as you in buying and pricing hardwood and am just as confused on the fly. Board feet, linear feet etc.

What I usually do is call ahead or get a general idea of what I’m about to spend before I leave the house using an app or web page then head out to the lumber yard.

I just trust that they are honest. The woodworking community is relatively small. There would be all sorts of negative Google comments and reviews if they were not being honest and truthful IMO. I think that if I had an experience like yours I’d shop somewhere else. Could be that the guy was genuinely inexperienced. The woodworkers in your area can tell you where to shop.

-- Andybb

View Rich's profile

Rich

1853 posts in 399 days


#2 posted 10-23-2017 04:31 AM

I have the Construction Master app on my iPhone and calculate each board before I head up to pay. Not that multiplying length x width x thickness in inches and dividing by 144 is difficult, but most of the boards are 8, 10 or 12 feet long and the CM app deals with units nicely.

The guys at my local yard, Woodworker’s Source, know their stuff, and are quite generous when it comes to measuring. The ticket total usually comes in below my estimate, but it’s still a good idea to have a ballpark idea in case there is a mix up.

If I had to deal with clueless people frequently, I’d probably consider carrying a pad of Post Its and a pencil and mark each board’s dimensions and BF before I went to pay.

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

View Ripper70's profile

Ripper70

540 posts in 718 days


#3 posted 10-23-2017 05:56 AM

There are a few board foot calculators available for the iPhone and, I’m guessing, Android as well. Pretty straightforward and simple to use.

-- "You know, I'm such a great driver, it's incomprehensible that they took my license away." --Vince Ricardo

View Rich's profile

Rich

1853 posts in 399 days


#4 posted 10-23-2017 08:04 AM

Also, if high-tech isn’t your thing:

https://www.popularwoodworking.com/woodworking-blogs/the-lumber-rule

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

View JayT's profile

JayT

5438 posts in 2021 days


#5 posted 10-23-2017 10:53 AM

Board feet measurement can be a problem. Some of the guys that are really good employees because they are good at other aspects of customer service and lumberyard duties just can’t wrap their minds around the necessary math. If a lumberyard knows that, why not come up with a way to avoid the hassle?

The hardware stores where I work sell some hardwood. Our solution is that when lumber comes in, one person who knows what they are doing marks each board with the board foot amount, price per and total cost for the board as it is being sorted and stacked. Because it’s being done all at once when the lumber is being handled anyways, it actually takes less time than to do it when a customer is purchasing and may be waited on by someone who isn’t good at calculations. It’s also just good customer service. The customer is able to get in and out faster and leaves no question what they are buying because they can see it before deciding to purchase.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View Redoak49's profile

Redoak49

2848 posts in 1798 days


#6 posted 10-23-2017 11:18 AM

I tend to go to a place I trust for being fair. Not only are measurements important but also the number, kind and severity of defects. Just give me a fair deal..

View WDHLT15's profile

WDHLT15

1686 posts in 2286 days


#7 posted 10-23-2017 12:10 PM

I sell a lot of hardwood lumber. Many of my customers are confused by board feet. I have to explain it a lot. It is simply a square foot of surface area one inch thick as you guys know. However, looking at a 9” board 11 feet long for example, the amount of surface square feet is not obvious, and for some, hard to envision.

-- Danny Located in Perry, GA. Forester. Wood-Mizer LT40HD35 Sawmill. Nyle L53 Dehumidification Kiln. hamsleyhardwood.com

View NoSpace's profile

NoSpace

93 posts in 1050 days


#8 posted 10-23-2017 12:58 PM

Andybb-”I just trust that they are honest. The woodworking community is relatively small. There would be all sorts of negative Google comments and reviews if they were not being honest and truthful IMO”

It’s not so much about honesty but a skill that may be hard for the average otherwise hardworking employee to incorporate (JayT’s comment), combined with an old-school manner of doing business (that weird measuring stick that aids in calculation I call a baton) where old habits die hard. as WDH points out, customers are just as confused so it may be something like the blind following the blind. Perhaps the guy with the experience shows up for bigger buyers and less of an issue, but I’ve seen the problem in enough places now that I’m guessing it exists just about everywhere so yeah, I’m really curious why there aren’t complaints or what others experiences have been.

WDHLT15-”I sell a lot of hardwood lumber. Many of my customers are confused by board feet. I have to explain it a lot.”

Sure—but what about your employees? :)

The last guy who rang me up at this new store I went to the other day (who would have charged me double) figured it out with a pencil and notepad. I’m pretty good at math and I wouldn’t even try that. How does your staff tally up the final count for the customer?

View jonah's profile

jonah

1374 posts in 3108 days


#9 posted 10-23-2017 01:32 PM

I have to say that across the half dozen hardwood suppliers I’ve been to, I’ve never had this experience. Most people rightly multiply length, width, and if necessary, thickness, then divide by 144.

I have a good idea about how many board feet the boards I select are, since that’s a relatively easy in-your-head calculation.

If anyone ever tried to overcharge me I’d most certainly say something. I’d start politely, but if I felt like it was not an honest mistake, I’d walk out.

View Madmark2's profile

Madmark2

365 posts in 398 days


#10 posted 10-23-2017 01:57 PM

Remember that you’re buying the full rough cut blank, not the trim size. You need to calculate with the full nominal size, not the reduced size. A 2×4 is 1-1/2 by 3-1/2 but you pay for the full 2×4. Now 4” is 1/3 bf / ft, times 2 for the thickness means every lineal foot is 2/3 bf. But if you use the final 1-1/2×3-1/2 dimensions every lf is .4375 bf instead of 2/3 bf (.666 bf) so right there the actual cost is 1/3 more than your estimate using a ruler.

Hope this helps.

M

View Rich's profile

Rich

1853 posts in 399 days


#11 posted 10-23-2017 02:09 PM


Remember that you re buying the full rough cut blank, not the trim size. You need to calculate with the full nominal size, not the reduced size. A 2×4 is 1-1/2 by 3-1/2 but you pay for the full 2×4. Now 4” is 1/3 bf / ft, times 2 for the thickness means every lineal foot is 2/3 bf. But if you use the final 1-1/2×3-1/2 dimensions every lf is .4375 bf instead of 2/3 bf (.666 bf) so right there the actual cost is 1/3 more than your estimate using a ruler.

Hope this helps.

M

- Madmark2

That’s nonsense. Since when are 2 by 4s sold by the board foot?

Like Jonah and I said, length times width times thickness (all in inches) divided by 144. That’s it. The closest thing to your explanation is that S2S is based on rough size. A 4/4 board is considered 1” thick for BF calculations even if it’s been surfaced down to 7/8” or 13/16”.

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

View alittleoff's profile

alittleoff

434 posts in 1086 days


#12 posted 10-23-2017 03:04 PM

I’ve bought lumber a few times and about everyone measures the board correct except for thickness. Most all will figure the board at 1 in. Even if its a half inch thick. I don’t mind it if its 3/4 ”, but I think they should cut it at half in. What do you think?
Gerald

View bondogaposis's profile

bondogaposis

4425 posts in 2161 days


#13 posted 10-23-2017 03:12 PM

Boy, it is really simple math, I don’t see how anyone that works in the lumber business, shouldn’t be able to master it with a simple hand held calculator and a tape measure. It is L x W x T in inches /144 =bf. On 4/4 stock you can ignore the thickness. I guess I’m lucky in that the guys I buy from know their stuff.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Carloz's profile

Carloz

857 posts in 401 days


#14 posted 10-23-2017 05:20 PM

I am too shy when it comes to arguing with people, who have much better experience than I including counting the lumber. But I wonder how it is possible do do quick a measurement of 100 bf of lumber from one side only, then counting the boards and putting some number on the invoice. Almost all boards have different width on the opposite ends and some of them are usually few feet shorter than the rest. So if it were me I at least would measure the width in the middle and also measured all odd length. But apparently they know better.

View William Shelley's profile

William Shelley

465 posts in 1279 days


#15 posted 10-23-2017 07:11 PM

Where I am, the two hardwood distributors I’ve visited both mark each board with a 3 letter code or abbreviation of the wood species, and the number of board feet. They round to the nearest half-board-foot. Sometimes, boards with significant issues, like a split in the end longer than a foot, or a really large knot, will be circled or marked with chalk and they subtract that from the marked board footage, which is nice.

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

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