There are several easy ways to get wood for your projects. Whether you need specialized board types, have a strict budget limit, or want to take the middleman out of the equation and buy wholesale, there are plenty of options. I am going to provide you the information you need to stock your shop with quality wood.
If you have been wondering how to buy wood for woodworking, then you have probably found the staggering number of sellers available online and locally. It might seem overwhelming, but I will explain where to look first.
The primary options for purchasing wood include hardwood stores, home improvement retailers, woodworking supply and hobby stores, and wholesale distributors. You can also cut down your own wood from the local land.
I will also provide you with 10 of the best places I have found which have good wood. Keep reading to see what these are.
The internet has been able to connect suppliers and customers from all over the globe. If you need exotic Australian Cypress or Brazilian Walnut, you can find a store in your neighborhood that carries that species or order it special.
In addition, there are thousands of websites dedicated to connected wood mills with buyers. They provide a straightforward way to find affordable wood that can be shipped right to your doorstep.
It might be easier for anyone who has a thriving local woodworking community to find competitive prices around where they live without having to worry about extra shipping costs. There are plenty of online sites for people in smaller cities to choose from with a wide variety of prices and various wood qualities to choose from.
Bulk wood buying is probably best done wholesale, but for smaller woodworking projects, you will not have to worry about that and can simply look for a seller that provides the type of wood you need for prices that fit within your budget.
I have narrowed it down to a convenient guide of the ten best ways to buy materials and how to recognize quality products. There are other pages that can explain the best woods for certain projects, so we will not be covering that in this guide.
However, I give short explanations for the different types, cuts, and wood grades that you can expect to see being carried by the resources we will be mentioning.
Types of Wood You Can Buy
Before we can talk about how to buy wood for woodworking, there are a few things you will want to be familiar with, including which kinds of boards and cuts are available.
There can sometimes be an immense amount of information in product descriptions, which can make it harder to tell if it is what you are looking for or not. Being at least passingly familiar with the types of boards, cuts, and grading systems can make it easier to locate what you want.
It is essential to know the difference between board types so that if you choose to do your shopping online, you will understand what the descriptions mean in terms of the product you would receive. These can be made out of hardwood or softwood. Hardwood refers to deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the fall, while softwoods are generally evergreen.
Did you know Pine can be referred to as Whitewood. See my detailed review of Whitewood here.
Plywood is made through layering wood together to create a board. The “plies” are cuts of wood veneer, and each layer is turned at 90 degrees to the one below and stuck together using resin or composite fibers. All of this means that the finished piece of plywood is sturdy and capable of handling quite a bit of weight. Standard sizing is 4′ x 8′ or 5′ x 5′, and they are mostly used for siding, surfaces, and paneling.
Softwood or Hardwood Boards
When most people think of boards, this is what pops up in their mind. They are usually sold by the linear foot and come in standard 1″ ×4″ or 2″ ×4″ dimensions with sizing that can go up to 1″ x 10″ and beyond.
They come in two main types: nominal (e.g., rough and unfinished) and dimensional (e.g., sawn, planed, and smoothed). These can be used for almost any wood related project. They are made from every type of tree imaginable and are both strong and versatile.
Pressure Treated Lumber
Pressure-treated boards are great for outdoor projects like fences, decks, and furniture. They are made through a process that forces preservative chemicals and water deep into the wood fibers to strengthen the board and give it some degree of weatherproofing. There are pressure-treated lumber options for above ground and those that will have direct ground contact.
Common Cuts of Wood
Wood cuts are determined by what way the grain is moving on the top of the board. The three main ones are plain, rift, and quarter. Most of the boards you will purchase will specify which cut they are, and each one has advantages and disadvantages.
This may also be called “flat sawn” or “rip sawn” in product descriptions, and it means that the grain is parallel across the face of the board. It is one of the strongest cuts and is cheapest to make for factories, so it is the one you will see most often in stores.
Rift sawn takes more time and produces more waste, which means that it can be more expensive but is ideal for projects where you want linear grain. It is created by milling perpendicular to the growth rings on the lumber.
This method produces higher quality boards, and the appearance shows the tree age rings at a 60 to 90-degree angle. It does not produce the same smooth appearance as the rift sawn boards, but they are stronger than plain sawn.
Determining the Right Wood For Your Projects
Now that you can identify the various cuts, it is time to get familiar with how to figure out what size and wood grade you will need. Some of the most common woods for woodworking include pine, cherry, redwood, cedar, and maple. They come in various sizes and grades for you to choose from when you are shopping online or in-person.
Most building blueprints for specific woodworking will give the sizing requirements to use when shopping for materials. However, if you are making something based on your own design or without instructions, then you will want to determine the best sizes for your project.
There are some great tutorials online that go over how to figure out the best wood size, but you will want to go slightly larger if you are buying boards that have not been planed. If you intend to do woodturning, then a smaller offcut may be enough.
Keep in mind that nominal (e.g., rough cut) 2×4 is going to “shrink” when it is dressed down, and that will shave off approximately half an inch from each side. This means that when figuring out the size, you want to take that into account in addition to the natural amount of shrinkage wood experiences over time as it dries. You can find out more by researching the various wood types and their characteristics.
In the next section are the 10 best ways to buy your wood, and they include everything from high-quality materials provided by retailers to second-hand wood recycled from pallets or other items. Keep quality in mind when you choose which of these will be right for you and your project. At the end of this article, there are a few useful tips for figuring out wood grading systems and recognizing defects so you can avoid wasting money.
The good news is that amassing cheap boards and other wood sources is going to make it possible for you to work on all kinds of projects without sacrificing more expensive wood, so even if you primarily want to create beautiful, finished pieces, it can be useful to have some remnants around for trying out new tools or looks.
10 Best Ways to Buy Wood For Woodworking
Now I get to the core answer of how to buy wood for woodworking. Below we have listed ten possibilities you can choose from for finding the perfect wood for your shop.
I have already covered quite a few explanations regarding what types, sizes, and cuts are available but be aware that not all suppliers will have every one of them, so you may need to purchase from several different places if you have a wide variety of material requirements.
1. Local Woodworking Shops and Stores
You can reach out to your local woodworking shops and supply stores to see what they have available. In addition, networking with other hobbyists and professional woodworkers in your area is a great way to find some of the most affordable wood buying options your city has to offer. Most locally based woodworking resources are going to be owned by people who are passionate about the topic, so you can often find more information at “mom and pop” stores than you would at larger retailers even if the on-site collection of wood is not as robust.
You can find these stores by looking online, in the phone book, or in local listings. Many communities also include smaller shops in their newsletters. The downside of shopping at a smaller store near you is that they may have a more limited selection, and the prices will likely be higher than what you would find at Lowe’s or online.
2. Home Improvement Stores and Retailers
A popular place to get wood for smaller projects is home improvement or large retail stores with a home improvement section. A few popular ones are Lowe’s and Home Depot. They have a large number of lumber options with various sizes, gradings, and other features to choose between. You can use their site to have it shipped directly to your house, or there may be a delivery option for select stores.
There are benefits to looking for wood at a larger brand store, including the following.
- More consistent and higher overall quality
- Larger selection and online wood catalogs
- Easy access and centrally located
- All necessary accessory products can be purchased at the same location
- Availability of popular woods is more likely to be consistent as well
3. Wholesale Distributors
You can find many wholesale distributors online, but you need to be careful about where you buy from. If the prices look too good and the site is new, then there is always the possibility they are not a reputable company. It is better to buy from more established local and online distributors even if their prices are not as low. We also recommend checking product and site reviews from previous customers to get an idea of what quality of products are delivered since it is not always easy to tell based on pictures alone.
You may also have physical locations in your city where you can purchase wholesale wood either in bulk or smaller quantities. A good way to find them is by looking for mills in your area and contacting them to see if they offer any wholesale or discounted wood. One fantastic benefit of going through a wholesale supplier is that they often have many sources, so no matter what wood you are looking for, they can probably get it for you.
4. Online Options
There are many online alternatives for buying wood, and even the places you can visit in person often have sites where you can order whatever they do not currently have in stock. Unfortunately, there will be a rather significant shipping cost attached to any wood you buy online, and it is rarely included in the total before you get through the cart. The shipment is going to depend on the weight of your order, how far it is being shipped, and how quickly you want it to arrive, but wood is heavy, so make sure you calculate this into your budget if you intend to use online sellers.
A few popular online stores for buying wood include the following. Most of them include wood, other materials, and woodworking tools.
5. Local Flooring Companies
If you are out of leads for where to get quality local products at an affordable rate, you might want to reach out to any nearby flooring or home improvement companies. They may have networking information for suppliers that are not easy to find in your area. Some could also be willing to sell you their remnants.
Whether you are an occasional hobbyist or a dedicated woodworker, it never hurts to network with people who can provide you with future resources. You can find these types of companies with a quick internet search or by checking the phone book.
6. Wood Auctions
There are quite a few online woodworking auction sites, but you can also keep an eye out for local events if you have mills in your area. Most people associate these with buying large woodworking equipment for affordable prices, but they also can have wood up for bid. You can find them on general auction sites as well. For example, eBay and West Auctions are sites where you can purchase woods of various amounts and quality for cheap.
One disadvantage of using auctions as a wood source is that there is no way to know what quality or type is going to become available at any given time, so they are not reliable. Instead, it is better to keep an eye on what they have to offer so you can snap up any great deals that might come across your radar.
7. Cutting Down Local Lumber
Some landowners will let you pay to come in and harvest their lumber. This can include anywhere from a copse of trees to hundreds of acres. It can be a cost-effect option for large construction-type woodworking projects such as bulk furniture creation.
While you will be saving on shipping and additional costs associated with the higher prices you will find in a store, this still might be a little expensive in terms of time and energy committed to cutting down your own wood, and how much they will charge can vary significantly based on geographical location and tree species.
Keep in mind the wood you cut down will be green and will have to be cut appropriately to be dried out before you can use it. Did you know you can use green wood? There are some things to consider first, so be sure to take a look at this first.
8. Exotic Hardwood Stores
Some woods might be hard to find because they are rarer, or they simply do not sell enough to be worth stocking for many stores. Exotic hardwoods can be quite pricey and often come from tropical locations around the world. A few examples are the Purple Heart, Brazilian Cherry, Brazilian Walnut, and Australian Cypress. They are often chosen for their unique colors or textures and can be made into all kinds of beautiful items, including pens, cabinets, tables, and chairs.
You can usually find them online, and there might be scraps available at your local woodworking store. For most exotic hardwoods, it is easiest to get them from a supplier specializing in procuring them. A couple of online examples include Cook Woods and Bell Forest.
9. Scrap or Recycling Wood
Pallets and shipping crates are excellent sources of wood that you can recycle into beautiful furniture. You can keep an eye out on notice boards or sites like Craigslist to see if anyone has extra they are trying to get rid of for free or at a very affordable rate.
Most stores that sell wood also have scraps that are leftover from various cuts that you can use for smaller projects (e.g., pens, etc.). They are on a first-come, first-serve basis, so you are not guaranteed to find any precisely when you need it and instead should keep an eye out for these deals so that you can snap them up for future projects.
Factory cutoffs are also a great place to get wood remnants from furniture and other mass-produced items. You can find them easily by doing a quick search online. Most of them come at a certain weight limit per box rather than by piece size, and the type of wood included is usually not something you can specify.
It is great for miscellaneous ideas you want to try out without spending a lot of money, and you can get some great quality as well. You can even find boxes of exotic wood cutoffs like this 10-pound box from Woodcraft.
10. Leftover Trimmings
You may notice that your neighbors are trimming down or entirely removing some trees from their property, and in many cases, you can save them a lot of time and hassle by buying the wood. This benefits everyone since they will not have to haul it away themselves or pay to have someone do it, and you will get fresh wood that you can mill into the desired dimensions.
If you notice a private landowner in your neighborhood has started the process of removing or trimming some of their trees, then it might be time to introduce yourself and ask about taking the excess wood off their hands. Even a few medium-sized tree limbs are enough to get you all the wood that you need for smaller projects.
A Few Useful Tips
Here is some additional information that you might find useful as you go through wood catalogs online or lumber in person looking for the right materials. You will want to check customer satisfaction on newer lumber supply sites to make sure that what is provided matches up with their descriptions. This is not an issue for more established sites and brands.
Determining wood quality is useful for figuring out if you are buying something at a fair price. The wood grade relates to what percentage of the surface area is free of blemishes (e.g., knots, splits, twisting, other warping, etc.). There are several grading systems depending on what type of wood you are buying and the factory policy, so we are going to go over the two most popular.
Interior and Exterior Grades
Because some wood (e.g., plywood, pressure-treated wood, etc.) is used for siding and other things that will be exposed to weather and may have direct contact with the ground, there is a grading system that relates to what environment the wood can withstand. They include the following.
- Interior: Plywood marked as “interior” is only able to withstand temperature and humidity fluctuations that you would find indoors.
- Exterior: These are waterproof and designed to permanently withstand outdoor environments (e.g., patio siding, etc.).
- Exposure One: These are waterproof and can withstand some outdoor environments for short periods but should not be permanently placed outdoors (e.g., patio furniture, etc.)
- Exposure Two: There is some water resistance, but it is not designed for outdoor use and instead is best for indoors where there may be minimal exposure to moisture (e.g., barn, shed, garage, etc.).
Standard A-D Grades
These are what you will see on most sites and boards you examine in home improvement stores and other retail locations.
- A: This is the highest quality wood that is smooth and can be used in a wood printer. These are often used for showpieces like cabinets.
- B: A solid surface that may feature some slight splitting.
- C: Small or tight knots can be seen along with other surface defects like discoloration.
- D: Larger knots and defects.
How to Identify Wood Defects
It is important to identify wood defects so that you get the best product for your money. Here are some ways you can tell if the wood you are viewing has any noticeable issues that may cause problems during woodworking. Below are some defects you are likely to see in the wood of grade B or lower.
- Knots: These were caused by branches growing out from the main trunk, and they are not always a bad thing. Knots can give character to a piece of wood, and much faux wood includes this aesthetic in the artificial grain, but they are to be avoided for projects that require smooth, even surfaces. Knots can also cause weakness in the integrity of the wood.
- Splitting: When the wood fibers tear apart, it causes a split in the surface of the wood. This crack often goes all the way through and lowers the strength of the board. The drying process often causes splitting.
- Discoloration: There can be a number of causes for discoloration of a board, but usually, it is due to UV damage from sunlight or fluorescent bulbs. Depending on what you want, the wood for this can be painted over or otherwise covered up.
- Cupping: This refers to a hollow appearing over the face of the board, causing the edges to curl slightly inwards.
- Twist: When two corners naturally curl in opposite directions, this is called a twist.
- Bow: Bowing is similar to cupping, except instead of the hollow being from side to side, it goes from end to end, meaning that both ends of the board curl up a little.
- Crook: There is a warping of the middle of the board. It can resemble bowing, but instead of being from end to end, the focus of the defect is on the center.
- Wane: You may notice that a board is missing one corner along the entire edge of the wood. This is often caused by a curvature of the lumber it was cut from.