Monday, March 21, 2011

Lumber Gloat

Woodworking can be an expensive hobby.  Tools, classes, and raw materials all cost money.  Anybody who thinks they are going to build furniture cheaper than Ikea is kidding themselves.  As hobbyist woodworker, the only place I can compete is on quality.  My furniture will be nicer, stronger, survive longer, and the design will be customized to my needs.

Even though woodworking can be expensive, every once in a while you get a good deal.  This is when it's time for a gloat post - like this one!

I saw an ad on Craigslist last week for some kiln-dried lumber.  A few phone calls and a two hour drive later, and I was looking at tens of thousands of board feet of lumber being sold off by a now-closed flooring mill.  Here is a picture from my cell phone of the mountains of lumber.

Need 10,000 BF of Eastern White Pine?  Here it is.
Most of the available stock was Eastern White Pine, since this mill was in the far western part of North Carolina.  Lots of pine forests up that way.  There were other species available though including Ash, Red and White Oak, Maple, and even a few exotics like Ipe and Purple Heart.

My choice was Walnut, though.  I have been designing some desks for our home office, and they will look great made of a nice Walnut.  The seller had some 4/4 walnut that was graded #1 Common, which means there are more defects allowed than the nicer FAS grade.  For my purposes, this stuff will be just fine.

Street price in the Atlanta area for 4/4 FAS Walnut is around $7 per BF for hobbyist quantities.  Even though the Craigslist lumber was a lower grade than FAS, the price was much lower also.  At $2 per Board foot, I took all that my truck could carry.  This is what 500 Board Feet of walnut look like.

There was a mix of 8ft and 6ft boards.
My shop project this weekend was to clean off my lumber rack and reload it with the walnut.  Over the years I have hoarded a mixed collection of MDF, plywood, and pine scraps.  Most of the stuff on the rack was left over from house projects, so there were 2 ft sections of crown molding and other things I would never really need.

After a purge of useless scraps, I made sure that the rack was level and ready for the Walnut.  You can see in the picture below that my longer boards are stored over the top of my plywood cart.  Details on the plywood cart are available at this post on the blog.

Lumber storage area of the shop.  Who needs a window anyway?
I stored as much as I could on the rack.  The walnut is literally stacked to the rafters.  Even so, I could only fit about 120 Board Feet on the rack.  The rest of the walnut is in my neighbor's garage.  He's a woodworker also, and we're splitting the load.

Stacked as high as it would go, I could store only 120 Board Feet
After this adventure, it looks like anything I build from now on will be made of Walnut!

Ever get a good deal?  Want to gloat about it?  Let's hear about it in the comments.


Jeff Branch said...

I have an opportunity at some cypress at $1.00 per board foot. Not much is left though. I better go ahead and buy it up.

What a haul!!! Never made anything from walnut. I had already decided that for my next "nice" project I would think about walnut. Yours looks tasty - makes me want some.

Nice job.

Eric said...

Great score.
I befriended a nice guy who is the clean up man for a high end cabinet shop and I have had the good fortune to obtain a BUNCH of wood for free.
It would have been way too much money for me to buy on my budget.
That walnut you got will make beautiful projects.

Shannon said...

You really should be thankful you have a truck so you could bring home that much lumber. I came into a deal like that in an almost identical situation but could only fit about 100 feet in my hatchback. Great score. One note about the quality. If you read the FAS grading rules closely you will be surprised at how unnecessary that quality really is for most furniture applications. Even though the NHLA grading structure was originally designed for furniture makers back when furniture consumed all the lumber, it has morphed a bit over time to accommodate different industry needs like flooring. Oftentimes a flooring company's Common is much closer to FAS. For that matter, I think most furniture makers would be thrilled with Common as we tend to embrace "defects" more readily. Finally, grading really goes out the window when you talk about Walnut specifically because the tree is naturally prone to more defects. I think that we woodworkers tend to think we have to have FAS quality and it is usually overkill.

David Scott said...

You lucky dog. I am so envious of you. I am going to have to check on craigslist more often when I need wood.

Good luck on future projects.

Aaron said...

Thanks for all the comments guys. I have been smiling like a madman thinking of all the possibilities for this lumber.

Jeff, the cypress would be good for outdoor projects like chairs which are also on my radar. Go get it!

Eric, free is a great deal. It's amazing what businesses will throw out, while a home woodworker can make some great projects with someone else's "scrap".

Shannon, thanks for confirming what I was hoping to hear. :) I had a dim memory of an article in one of the magazines a few years ago talking about using #1 Common vs FAS and being able to save overall, even with more waste. You are also right on the money about the defects - some of the best looking boards in the stack had a prominent "feature" of some kind.

David, you might want to look into an e-mail alert system for Craigslist. The one I use is at, and I have a search for "lumber" set up. I get an e-mail whenever somebody lists lumber, and that's how I was able to jump on this deal. It also works great for tools, such as "bandsaw" or "lathe".

Cyrus said...

I met a guy on craigslist who cuts his own lumber. He was a really nice old man. I went to visit his house and he lived basically off the grid. He had barns full of various lumber. I filled up my SUV and I wished I had a trailer. He would go rooting thru the piles of wood, pull out a wide board, 6,8 or 10 feet long and say "you can have this one" or "this one is $5" Not per board foot or anything. My wife said "where are you going to put all of that?" I still have more problems with storage than finding wood. The guy continues to post on craigslist. Great prices for alder, walnut, maple, or oak. What a find and super nice guy. He built his whole house, barn, etc all from lumber he made! I love meeting woodworkers in the community who are also passionate about the craft.

Nice job with the walnut. I love working with walnut!

Vic Hubbard said...

Aaron, I am SO jealous. I'm oozing green stuff out of every orifice! NICE HAUL!!!

Aaron said...

Vic, yuck! I think you should see a doctor about that! :)

spokeshave said...

how much weight can those brackets hold?

Aaron said...

Spokeshave, so far so good! The brackets are pretty beefy, so I'm more worried that the bolts will pull out of the cinderblock wall. Of course, if there is any failure it all comes crashing down on top of my 1957 Buick. The joys of a tiny shop!