Well, we all have had some different experiences going to hardwood dealers I am sure. I have heard horrible stories of the angry forklift driver, the sales person that feels you are wasting their time, and the sales clerk who makes you feel stupid because you don’t know everything about wood. But let me tell you there are some really nice places out there that really help you out, even if you are just a small guy.
First, some tips for the new hardwood shopper.
So, lets hit each of these points one by one.
When you go take money. Now this might seem somewhat obvious, but some people just want to show up and check things out, or look around. This is also known as, wasting someone else’s time so you can drool over wood. Don’t do this, it might make for a bad experience. Take some money with you and plan on buying something. Know what you are looking for before you walk in and have alternatives if you find out the prices are higher than you thought or they just don’t have what you are looking for.
Knowing the differences in board thickness is quite simple. Boards are measured in quarters of an inch. So, 4/4 is 1 inch, 6/4 is 1 ½ inches etc…. Now this is the part that will confuse you. You see a piece of Walnut on the rack, it says 4/4 but you measure it and it is 13/16. That is because it is S4S, meaning surfaced four sides. It has been planed and jointed into a nice board from 4/4 stock, you will pay for it as if it were 4/4 stock, though it is now less then 4/4 thick. It may save you time depending on your project, or it could be a waste of money if you could buy rough lumber and plane it yourself. Skip planing is another form of lumber you will find. I happen to like skip planed boards myself because it shows the grain of the wood without the over planing needed to make it S4S. Skip planing just means they run the board over a planer a couple of times to show the grain but not enough to remove all of the rough surface. So you still need to do some planing, but in the end it will save you money and you can see what you are getting. Now rough sawn lumber is just as the name suggests, straight off the saw at the mill. It is hard to see the grain in a rough sawn board, so take a block plane and ask if you can take a few shavings so you can see the grain. The nice part about rough sawn lumber is that it is cheaper, you can get it in wider and thicker sizes, and it’s cheaper. Did I mention it’s cheaper? Best way to go if you can get wood this way, but not always available.
Now that you have selected that nice board, how much is it going to cost you? Well, lets say that piece of Walnut is $8 a board foot. The board is 1” x 10” x 14’(or 168”). You can figure board feet out with this equation: Just make sure all measurements are in INCHES
thickness x width x length
Now that you know the board is 11.67 board feet, you can go buy that $93.36 + tax board.
So, now that you have purchased your wood, how are you going to get it home? This is why you bring tie down straps, twine, red flags, staple gun, and a hand saw. If you can take the board home in one chunk that is always best, but you may have to just cut it there on the spot. This is why having a plan for the wood is so important. It would be horrible to buy a 14’ piece of Wenge and have to cut it down to fit in your rig, to then decide later it would have made a great table top, but because you cut it haphazardly in a parking lot it is now too short. With that said, make sure you drive a vehicle there that is big enough to transport your wood home. You never know what you might buy or what lengths they sell wood at, always be prepared.
I recently went to a new hardwood dealer that deals in very large quantities. The reason for my switch is simple, money. The larger the hardwood dealer is the less their products cost. Smaller hardwood dealers buy their products from these distributors and mark the prices up for you and me. So, in essence I am just cutting out the middleman. The place I went to the other day is one of a few large distribution centers up and down the west coast. Now, when I first showed up and saw the pallets full of Mahogany (both Genuine and African), Cherry, Walnut, Purple Heart, Wenge, Bubinga, and Teak I thought, wow that’s a lot of wood. This place had tons of molding (which I expected), tons of cabinet plywood in different cores (which I also expected), but it also had tons of hardwood stock in many different thicknesses and widths. Best of all, it is one of the only places I have found large quantities of quality Sugar Pine. So now that I have told you about the crazy amounts of wood lets talk about the experience.
When I first walked into the large warehouse I didn’t see anyone except someone on the far end next to a forklift. Within one minute the manager was out on the floor talking with me. Now, a tip for the anyone new or old, when you first go to a dealer please tell them this is the first time you have ever been there, the experience will be a lot better. I told him it was the first time I had been there and he took me right in his office. He asked me a few questions about my business etc.… and then gave me tons of literature and information about their business and their products. As someone who not only works on furniture, but spends time working on homes and doing finish carpentry, this was super helpful. The most important information that I learned is that I could call him, ask for any wood in any size, and he could get it for me, and most of the time within 24-48hrs. That is priceless. The best part of the experience was purchasing two 16 foot pieces of Sugar Pine and a nice piece of Purple Heart for a lot less than I would have spent anywhere else.
I hope that some of the little tips that I have shared with you will help you out when going to a hardwood dealer for the first time. I know that many people that have been at this for a while do not need this information and most of this is for the newer woodworkers. I still find it valuable information when you go and check out a new place for the first time to remember all the little things. Like don’t forget your handsaw so you don’t have to drive home with 16 foot pieces of Sugar Pine strapped to the top of your SUV. Not the best of days. But, I did get it all home and nobody got hurt. OK, I got a Purple Heart splinter in my thumb, but I think I will live.