Ask a manager of of a hardwood distribution yard anything

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Forum topic by lumberyardguy posted 05-10-2015 05:20 PM 2962 views 2 times favorited 47 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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6 posts in 1350 days

05-10-2015 05:20 PM

Topic tags/keywords: resource tip lumberyard

This is my first post here; I just started getting into basic woodworking and have been browsing for a while, and figured it might be fun to start this thread.

I work as a sales and warehouse manager for one of the larger wholesale hardwood lumber distributors on the West Coast.

We sell material to hundreds of cabinet shops & casework companies (commercial and one-man), retail lumberyards, furniture manufacturers, fine-furniture makers, and the occasional do-it-yourselfers walking in to grab a few boards.

I’ve been in the industry for nearly a decade.

I figured I’d try to offer my services first, since I’ll probably be asking you guys for help in the future.

So, if you’ve ever been curious about the distribution aspect of the hardwood you use, ask away!

47 replies so far

View nailbanger2's profile


1041 posts in 3381 days

#1 posted 05-10-2015 05:40 PM

That’s a great offer, and thanks. Being on the east coast (Fla.), I imagine your answers may not be pertinent to me, but I’ve got one anyway. What have you heard about Walnut coming from the mid Atlantic states lately? Pest concerns, specifically.

-- Wish I were Norm's Nephew

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6 posts in 1350 days

#2 posted 05-15-2015 08:28 AM

We haven’t had any pest issues with our Walnut.

All of our Walnut comes from Missouri, Ohio, and Indiana.

I can tell you that prices have skyrocketed and quality has dropped within the last year significantly as the export market has increased dramatically. Any lack of good Walnut in the states is due to increasing export markets, not bugs, as far as I am aware of.

We used to get containers from a vendor in IN; you couldn’t find a single hint of sapwood in that entire container; it would sell for $5-$7 a board foot a year or two ago.

Now you will find maybe 1-2 all-heart faces with a full sap-back out of every dozen boards of FAS Walnut that we sell in the $9-$12 a board foot range.

Also, lengths are very hard to come by right now. We are getting 60%-70% 7’-8’ packs in our Walnut containers and having to pay a premium for 9’ and longer.

If you’re buying Walnut in the rough, opt for any “wide” sorts your vendor may have. I’ve noticed these are generally cheaper than the “superior” and “clear” grades, and have much better heart content and nicer grain cathedral than their expensive counterparts.

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2330 days

#3 posted 05-15-2015 09:28 AM

Thanks for the offer. I’ll take you up on it if you don’t mind.

How do lumberyard folks react if someone wants to come in and browse and just get a few boards?

I ask because I did this once in a lumberyard in the Portland, Oregon area and it was made fairly clear they weren’t used to an average joe looking for individual boards. (On the other hand one of the guys there was incredibly nice and sold me three very nice boards). I never get more than a handful of boards and can’t buy by the pallet.

Secondly, do you know of any kind of shortage of aromatic cedar? The place where I get my aromatic cedar (Crosscut Hardwoods. They’re good folks) didn’t have any in for a long time. And once they did get some the price doubled or tripled. This was for the same grade of cedar (common) as before.


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6 posts in 1350 days

#4 posted 05-15-2015 10:03 AM

That can get tricky. We always try to be very accommodating with everyone, even the hobbyists getting a piece or two. However, there is a limit.

Most of of our will-call business is cabinet guys coming in and buying truckloads of plywood and pulling some solid stock for face frames.

A smaller chunk is professional woodworks (most are really nice, some can be horrible to deal with; they will bang you on price, and proceed to go out and cream your stock).

The remaining 10% is small timers.

When someone walks in that I don’t know and doesn’t have an account and says “I was looking for some rough lumber, can I pick out a couple pieces of Walnut?”

I say sure! What grade? These are the prices on this, that, etc.

50% of the time, the gentleman will go into the yard with his pick ticket, and the warehouseman will bring the unit of lumber down that has boards that meet his specs. He will go through a course or two for 5-10 minutes and pick out 50-60 board feet of lumber. He will get a tally, come back in, and pay for it after re-stacking his lumber and thanking the warehouseman.

He gets charged a standard retail price (15% higher than wholesale, generally), he pays, tells me how nice my Walnut is, and leaves.

These are the will-calls we love. Nice, friendly, people that know what they are doing; a nice, mutual business transaction.

However, the other 50% of the time, we get a bad customer. He will tie you up at the sales counter for 15 minutes asking what 4/4 means how much it would cost to send $100 worth of material to a mill to have it surfaced, etc. He will then go out in the warehouse and tie up a warehouseman for an hour, asking him to bring down three separate units of lumber because he doesn’t know what he is looking for.

He will then proceed to turn over 500 feet of material, pull out two pieces, and then come back in and ask you questions for another 20 minutes about how much we charge to truck it to a mill for him again, and if we can deliver it to his house.

If you walk up to a sales counter and the gentleman is off putting, it is because he is attempting to evaluate if you are the first type of customer or the second.

Sometimes we get so far in the hole with people who don’t know what they are doing that we end up losing a lot of money on all the wasted labor, fuel, and paper that a non-professional can generate due to his idiocy. That’s why lumber folks are wary of people they are unfamiliar with.

If you can, try to establish a relationship with your favorite lumberyard. Ask them to set you up as a COD account in the system, be nice, and don’t make a mess of their day or their warehouse. You’ll get better pricing and better service if you’re a nice, friendly, loyal customer, even if you’re only spending a few grand a year.

In regards to Aromatic Cedar—our cost has actually gone down this year by $0.15/BF from the cost it had the last 3 years; and it is readily available for shipment from our mills as far as I’m aware.

Did you pull through their stock? We don’t allow people to get their hands anywhere near our common grades, as one guy pulling through a unit of #1 COM & BTR Aromatic Cedar can really throw off the unit, since people will generally pull all the “& BTR” out. If you did, they might have increased their margin a bit to account for some of the outs on the last pull.

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225 posts in 2410 days

#5 posted 05-15-2015 11:23 AM

As General Manager of a similar workplace, all I can say about the above statement is WOW…..

-- Randy - "I dont make mistakes, I make design change opportunities"

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32086 posts in 3104 days

#6 posted 05-15-2015 12:10 PM

I like to say welcome to Lumberjocks and that sure is a nice offer. I wish that you were in the Atlanta area. We used to be in the architectural molding business and also sold hardwood lumber. My brother still sells it but he only stocks the main species and he sells molding also but no longer runs the molding. He contracts with a number of small molding plants. We lost our molding plant about 2-1/2 years ago because of a fire. Nice to have you aboard.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2607 days

#7 posted 05-15-2015 12:33 PM

Here’s a simple question…does it annoy you when a small-time customer comes in an orders 2 or 3 sheets of plywood? Because that’s me.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15810 posts in 2856 days

#8 posted 05-15-2015 12:43 PM

As General Manager of a similar workplace, all I can say about the above statement is WOW…..

- knotheadswoodshed

What statement are you ‘Wow’-ing? And what’s the meaning of the wow?

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

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225 posts in 2410 days

#9 posted 05-15-2015 01:21 PM

I am referring to the statement right above my previous post and it is a “wow” of disbelief.
I think BinghamtonEd got it.
According to that statement, 50% of his customers are “idiots” that waste his time.
My apologies if I misread it

-- Randy - "I dont make mistakes, I make design change opportunities"

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2607 days

#10 posted 05-15-2015 01:37 PM

I think BinghamtonEd got it.

Nah, my question wasn’t in response to anyone’s previous comments. It was an honest question. I have a local hardwood place that I used to frequent, but no longer do as I buy 95% of all of my lumber rough-cut from locals. I used to love going to the hardwood place, but paying $6-7 per board foot S2S for cherry, or $3.50 for soft maple doesn’t make sense now that I have a jointer/planer and I can get it all for $1 or less per board foot, albeit maybe not FAS, and surface it myself.

Now I’m building cabinets and need a couple sheets of 1/4” MDF-core maple plywood, and I’m wondering what the opinion is of the dealer when someone walks in and orders a couple sheets of that. I mean, not that it’s going to change my decision either way, I need the plywood, and they’re the only place I know that can provide it…

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View DavidTTU's profile


143 posts in 1873 days

#11 posted 05-15-2015 01:55 PM

I find this post highly valuable. Thanks Lumberyardguy. Please continue being honest, I believe this is a conversation a lot of us can learn from.

-- -David -- Lubbock, TX

View Oosik's profile


126 posts in 1921 days

#12 posted 05-15-2015 02:28 PM

I think he meant 50% of the 10%?

So as someone that rarely goes to the lumberyard due to time. Any advice on how to learn the lingo and work with the lumberyard to get the best board for the best price?

I know the yards want to make a buck and we want to get the best bang for our buck. What advice would you provide to a lumberyard neophyte as to achieve this and not annoy the staff?

View jmartel's profile


8279 posts in 2387 days

#13 posted 05-15-2015 02:45 PM

I’ve never dealt with a yard that would have to have someone pull down wood for you to look through before you bought it. The yards I’ve gone to have always been, you go out there and pick your own stuff, put it back, and bring it up to the front to pay. A couple had a requirement to have safety glasses and had a rolling ladder as they stored the lumber horizontally, the one I use now (crosscut as previously mentioned) stored them vertically so no ladder needed.

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

View BroncoBrian's profile


875 posts in 2196 days

#14 posted 05-15-2015 04:04 PM

I figured I d try to offer my services first, since I ll probably be asking you guys for help in the future.

- lumberyardguy

Great thread. You might see this live a long life at the top of the list. Thanks.

Question: Does a lumber yard want to buy stock from an individual?

I have access to a barn that is almost all American Chestnut built in 1810. The wood would be older than our country and obviously very hard to find. If I truck back a lot of this stuff, is there value to sell it or trade for milling service? I understand the rick of nails in reclaimed lumber. Rare product and high quality. Just curious what I might expect.


-- A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2330 days

#15 posted 05-15-2015 04:31 PM

Thanks for the reply. I must say I find your second type of small time customer repugnant. I can’t imagine acting so rudely to the staff.

The experience I had was a kind of weird. Both staff members were polite and one of them was very, very helpful. Bless him. I certainly didn’t try to haggle with them on price.

But the manager fellow didn’t seem to know what to do with me. Perhaps he was concerned I would mess up his pallets or bring one down upon my head.

Regardless I’ve been reluctant to go back because I don’t want to annoy the staff with my small time purchases (we’re talking like two or three boards here). But they had lovely jarrah. I wouldn’t have asked a staff member to go through the stacks/pallets for me.

As far as the aromatic cedar at Cross Cut goes all they have ever had was common grade and the price is posted right there. One of the gentlemen there had said they had to send back a shipment because of low quality. I got the impression they were having supply issues.

I did notice that the name had changed slightly. Instead of just “Aromatic cedar #1 common” it was called something like that “Aromatic cedar #1 common Tenn.” I assumed that stood for Tennessee, but I could easily be wrong.

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