Buying wood or do you “source” it?

Our upcoming stool series uses cherry for the build. You may want to be ready and have it in stock for after we finish the current series building the dining table.DSC_0022

Where do you buy your wood from is a frequently asked, daily question at the workshop. It’s not always an easy question for us Brits being as we used up all of our own natural resources centuries ago building ships to protect the Empire from the tyranny by which the empire was built. We had used up our own supplies of every naturally occurring thing and then shamefully went elsewhere to use up the resources belonging to and being taken care of by others. Then, when plundering was done, we rewarded the mighty warriors with monstrous houses and even castles like this one and DSC_0010enclosed lands with walls, fences and hedges to keep working country people out. What was once common land for common people to work became private land for the privileged. This legalised class robbery denied the commoners a place to live and work with their families and so the workers once living peacefully and in harmony on the no-longer-available common land accumulated in the nearby cities and industrial towns and subsequently prisons and workhouses were filled with people arrested as vagrants. Without a home and job a new resource of free labour was created to further feed the consumerist essentiality of the Industrial Revolution. Under the Vagrancy Act and with returning military personal no longer finding work or a home too, workers became ten a penny. Industrialism of course has always needfully created consumerism and a perfect marriage called eDSC_0073conomy gave birth to the ever expanding seaways of the earth. Global economy became the need of every country on the globe. Actually, Brits no longer say where do you buy your wood from, as they did when I left the UK to live in the USA in 1987. They say where do you “source” your wood from. So, where do I source my wood from?

In the UK we have a strange system where importers parcel up smaller bundles of wood into a certain size and they then supply other smaller companies called distributors dotted about in regions who need their cut and that raises the price. Within that system there are other smaller companies willing to sell small amounts and it’s here that we Brits at least can end up paying £6 per board foot for common American red oak. In the scheme of things it may not be cost prohibitive when making our own pieces, but to sell on our work it can mean our prices are too high for our customers.DSC_0342

You the consumer then get parcelled off to one of those distributors usually depending on the size of your order. Well, that was until the internet and global distribution came along. Now it is actually much easier than it was before because you can buy directly from smaller importers like I do or indeed you can buy via eBay too , which I do from time to time successfully also.DSC_0009 Some small suppliers are growing businesses by buying hardwoods from mainland Europe. Currently I stock oak from Poland and France and then I have walnut, ash, cherry, elm, beech and sycamore too. All originating in Europe. I don’t stock too much, enough fro the coming year or two. The company I buy from in Thirsk in Yorkshire is called Scawton Saw Mill, www.scawtonsawmill.co.uk (telephone number 01845 597733) and they will ship a single board or a cubic metre or two anywhere in the country, but they work with a shipper and have wood delivered in three to four days.

24 thoughts on “Buying wood or do you “source” it?”

  1. Wow, I’ve had a project of my own in the back of my mind for over a year now, which will need a large amount of cherry. Now you are going to get everyone else buying it, and push up the price! Just as when you blog about doing up one of the old tools and how good they are, and the price goes sky high on eBay.
    Oh well, I’ll just have to wait a year more until the price returns to normal. 😉

    Meanwhile, thanks for the pointer to a good supplier – I’ve found it very hard over the years to find anyone willing to sell small quantities of hardwoods and ended up using Paranha Pine for many projects, simply because the local builders merchants keep it in window board form, and it’s not expensive. Seriously, thanks Paul. It’s good to know.

  2. I see that Scawton Sawmill lists “Chestnut”. Here in the USA, the chestnut blight had a devastating on the American chestnut trees,practically wiping them out. Too bad, it was a very useful wood. I’m guessing that your chestnut trees are resistant to the fungus.

  3. neuse river sailor

    Paul, you have lived in the U.S. and know the situation over here. We still have ample forests and wood is easily available and relatively inexpensive. I was able to buy 100 board feet of rough-sawn Eastern Red Cedar – a beautiful, easily worked wood – for $1.50/bd ft (the equivalent of about a pound/bd ft) recently, and oak, maple, cypress, walnut are all available at decent prices. But even so, at our hobbyist shop, we use just as much free wood as purchased. When we started the shop we both agreed that we would sell nothing, so the less we spend on wood the more we can build to give away. We are not craftsmen but we try to build things that are sturdier and more attractive than the low-end pressboard items that the recipients of our work could afford to buy. As far as free wood goes, we were able to obtain some true 2×8 boards of yellow pine, 100 years old and studded with nails, but still solid, from a shed being demolished in an older district of town. Also, masses of offcuts of cedar and cypress paneling left over from renovation projects. And from the die shop of the plant where I work, endless supplies of baltic birch die board offcuts, even some whole sheets. It seems like every time I go to the shop, my partner Joe has some new wood that he has picked up at the dump or off the side of the road. And when the neighbor had a big Leyland Cypress cut down, I picked up the 30 inch cuts and took them to the shop, where we split them out for building boxes. So, after way too many words, all I can say is we are blessed with a plenitude of wood for building here in America.

  4. Living here in America one must find a local sawyer to obtain varieties of wood that corporate lumber yards do not carry or charge way too much for. Trees however are more than plentiful in the USA (storm damaged alone). I made the wise decision (after six years of saving) to purchase a one man sawmill that I have operated for my own use since 2009 and occasionally for others upon request.

    My advice to those seeking timber at least here in the States is to find a small mill owner willing to cut small quantities or even a single log. Mill off cuts usually have plenty of use able wood for smaller projects and are what I use mine for. These should cost next to nothing as they usually become firewood. Of course this is green lumber and must be seasoned before use.

    The power companies regularly cut roadside trees and limbs leaving all manner of wood that can be picked up free. Just get there before the chipper truck arrives and it gets removed.

    Paul mentioned in other posts utilizing old furniture. Junk stores are also loaded with old bedsteads, bookshelves, tables, etc. many are oak, mahogany, maple and cherry. How much for that damaged bench??? Get out and bargain.

  5. The cheapest way to get wood here (Finland) is to have your own forest to take it from. Alternatively finding a local sawmill and buying rough sawn lumber from them, which you then resaw and plane yourself, this is the main way most professional woodworkers go here in Finland.

    The quality of wood in the big box stores is often abysmal and caters to peoples ignorance, in addition to being more expensive.

    As for oak and cherry, I have never used them, they don’t grow this far north and costs are prohibitive. I believe it was 1300 euros to 2000 euros for planks of oak, priced per cubmic meter.

    Arctic birch thus becomes the main choice of wood for furniture here. I’ve never had the luck to stumble on old furniture and such made from rare woods either. At least not for pennies.

  6. We are a little spoilt in some regards in Western Australia. Native hardwood , mostly jarrah can be found thrown away in many places. Wide boards do come up, but predominantly rough sawn construction grade- now in some cases better than current standard and most certainly older and thoroughly air dried are common. Wandoo, karri and marri also put in a showing . If lucky some sheoak or blackbutt may be found. Of course all these species can be purchased from various suppliers but in terms of the big box stores the prices are extortionate, good for quality radiata pine though. Council verge pickups for general waste can be an excellent source too, both in old furniture and surplus material from renovations etc. If willing to drive for a few hours small sawmills still operate in various country locations as well. It helps to have capable machinery to speed up the processing although I have done quite a large volume with some basic power and hand tools. Our native timbers can be quite dirty with the dust which is another reason I tend to use dust extraction wherever possible. I do like the oregon, cedar and various pines that show up in the older joinery on renovation work, really nice to work with.

  7. Around here wood grows on trees. Oh wait that’s money that grows on trees… I think. Something like that.

  8. Frank Manello

    How much cherry will the next project require? What thickness? Is there a cutting list available yet?

  9. Ahh the joy of Metric and Imperial measurements. Am I working this out right?

    http://www.scawtonsawmill.co.uk/european-cherry—5cuft-x-27mm-621-p.asp

    5cuft (cubic feet?) 27mm, by 7inches, by 2,500mm, or 1 inch, by 7 inches, by 100 inches. Or 0.09feet by 0.58 feet by 8.33 feet, or 0.43 cuft per board, so roughly 11.5 boards at £145, so £12.69 per board? Which seems not too bad a price (About the same as a piece of pine from B&Q!), assuming my maths is accurate!

    It does get annoying that for smaller quantities it’s a “call for a quote” thing. I may just be introvert, but I’d rather dig details out on the web then place an order once I know what’s what.

    Thanks for the link though Paul, it’s always nice to have a recommended place to look.

    1. A board foot is a US description for per square foot and 1″ thick. Rough-sawn this thickness may be 27mm or more thick. When it’s planed to a nominal thickness by the supplier it usually ends up somewhere between 3/4″ and 7/8″. The board foot price of one foot of say a 1″ x 8″ will be 3/4″ of a board foot so to end up with a board foot of 1″ x 8″you will receive an 18″ long piece. For a board foot of 1″ x 6″ you will receive 24″. Double these thicknesses and and you end up with half the length to get the same board footage.

    2. Elliott Trent

      Hey buddy,

      I found that the easiest way to visualise a cuft is basically one cubic foot is a inch thick board, 12 inches wide and 12feet long. I tend to work in imperial/metric simulataneously! So one cubic foot is essentially an inch thick board, 3.6m long and 300mm wide. (so if cut into 12 pieces it would measure 1ftx1ftx1ft

      Hope this helps, this method certainly helped me,

      Elliott

  10. You pretty much sum up primitive capital accumulation in a just a few sentences.

  11. Lukasz Budzynski

    Hello Paul!

    It’s interesting to read, that You “source” your oak from Poland. That’s where I’m from. What is your source? Are You satisfied with the material? Do You buy directly or use a British retailer?

    Kindest regards,
    Lukasz.

  12. Elliott Trent

    Hey buddy,

    I found that the easiest way to visualise a cuft is basically one cubic foot is a inch thick board, 12 inches wide and 12feet long. I tend to work in imperial/metric simulataneously! So one cubic foot is essentially an inch thick board, 3.6m long and 300mm wide. (so if cut into 12 pieces it would measure 1ftx1ftx1ft

    Hope this helps, this method certainly helped me,

    Elliott

  13. I quite often find good timber in skips?? Recently was delighted when builder doing a loft conversion threw out really good close grain knot free 6″ x 1.5″ ex roof rafters, planes up beautifully
    Also threw out off cuts of 9″ softwood skirting board……this I used to make my version of Paul’s clock……I say my version, it’s actually a key cabinet …hinged door raised and fielded panel
    Cost…..nothing
    Some time ago 10 lengths Mahogany 8″ x 1″ x 7′- 0″………..today discarded solid oak furniture

    All good fun ..John

    1. Just to forewarn everyone here in the UK, it is illegal to remove stuff from skips (dumpster US) without expressed permission from the hirer or the skip owner. Sorry to put a downer on this but I know of people who ended up with a criminal record for theft doing it.

  14. Thanks for that Paul I always ask, infact in the case of the loft conversion the builders used to leave stuff beside and the oak furniture owner gave me a hand to sort though skip and load it into my car……saying you are welcome to come for more the skip will be here all week…………I totally agree with you, ask first and always say please with a smile, then a thank you.

  15. In the western suburbs of Chicago there is a fellow who has a house (literally) full of rough sawn, nicely stickered wood. It’s mainly walnut, but he also has some other hardwoods, including Osage Orange. I forget the price per board foot, but the Walnut is MUCH less expensive than dimensional wood. I found him on Craig’s List, of all places. He’s a super-nice fellow. If anyone is interested I’ll dig out his business card.

  16. Paul,

    Would love to hear your thoughts on using “new” vs reclaimed wood.

    Thanks,
    Fergus

  17. Bhawya Sharma

    I really appreciate your content. There are some interesting points in this article.

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