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Thread: Venturing into unknown territory

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    new york city burbs

    Venturing into unknown territory

    Im about to leave, and attempt to purchase a large quantity of hardwoods.
    Mahogany, Maple, Oaks.
    I was promised prices would be 30% less than what I can buy it for anywhere here, and I know the wood is unsurfaced, a path Ill cross soon enough.

    Its going to be easy for this guy to see(hes been in the business since the beginning of time) that Im somewhat of a newbie, especially when it comes to purchasing wood.

    I hope I come out of this ok, Im taking 3 price lists with me, and Im not even thinking about touching it unless hes at least 40% less than any of them.

    Now the quality, well, thats where IM in trouble. Ill check for splits, warps, and overall look. Coloring, its just something I dont want to pass up on .
    I need some hardwood, and the prices here on LI, well, its like college tuition money.

    Hope I come out ok on this. Wish I had one of you guys with me, Ned, you downstate today?
    (in my fifties, and Ive bought commercial investment real estate without as much concern as I have right now, like Im walking into a place or zone I know nothing about.Ive always used reliable dealers and never seemed to be dissapointed.)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Constantine, MI
    Wow Allen - good luck!
    Take your time, listen to your gut. You'll come out OK.
    “We all die. The goal isn't to live forever; the goal is to create something that will.” - Chuck Palahniuk

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Let us know how you make out when you get back. Of course pictures of the new wood haul are welcome
    Rise above the rest

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Tokyo Japan
    Yep Allen, follow your gut, if you feel like the guy is taking you for a ride, walk.

    I've dealt with a number of hardwood guys here, I've only found one that has treated me right, most of them use a great big shovel when I talk to them about quality and such.

    I just walk, with my money.

    Wood, you know, it grows on trees
    The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
    William Arthur Ward

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Delton, Michigan
    allen take along your block plane and take afew swipes to see what is under the rough! and if it feels like he's pushun you to buy walk! a good guy doesnt care if you buy or not, he has another right behind you who will..becasue he knows what he has is good stuff..
    If in Doubt, Build it Stout!
    One hand washes the other!
    Don't put off today till tomorrow!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Sacramento, CA
    BOOOOOOOy this sounds familliar.

    My first adventure in the lumber yard:

    I walk in the door to the office. 10-11 people are all sitting at desks either chatting with each other or barking prices over the phone. It's a buzz of activity. The door closes with me half way in, sorta bumping my backside. I swear it was eggin' me on.

    I micro-stepped a little further in the door and it shuts with a inordinate amount of noise for the forces involved. Everyone stops. It's like shouting something embarrassing at a party and the whole room goes silent as you finish the sentence.

    These highly experienced people are all lookin' at me, now. I'm sure a pro just walks right in and begins shouting exactly what he's after and they expect this. It didn't take 'em long to realize I was trying to crawl entirely into my left shoe and become unnoticed. One guy, big muscular fella, with a Car Dealer Smile(tm) and a very forward-leaning conversational style barked "Hey. Whatcha need?"

    Now folks who know me have never seen me falter in public. They almost always find me as the spokesperson for the group - not by their choice, I usually am the first to step up. I'm normally very comfortable around strangers and have no problem requesting what I'm after. I guess what I'm trying to say is ... my friends would laugh if "shy" was used to describe me.

    Trouble is ... I ain't after nothin. I just want to look around and see what they have to offer. But these guys are serious folks. They jockey lumber around by the boxcar, not some piddly little squat who wants two or three boards for his end table project. Not some kid who has no idea what a skid of lumber is or how much it costs. It was one of the few times in my life that I truly was speechless. My charismatic personality took a hike when that blasted door swatted me into this chasm of unknown.

    I managed to elloquently blurt out "Um.. Hi *smile*. I've never been here before. I'd um ... well. I'm a.."

    "You wanna take a look around?" He jumped in.

    "Yeah. Could I?" I still felt a bit off balance, but the chance for improvement was rising.

    "Bill! Give this guy the nickel tour." He shouted over his shoulder.

    A loafish man comes shuffling out from a hallway and he points at me and asks "This guy? Sure. Come with me.".

    He walked me through the stacks of lumber and asked me all kinds of questions. He learned what kind of stuff I liked to do and took me by the stacks of wood that would be interesting to me. He seemed a little distracted, but heck he knew I wasn't likely to buy much so I don't blame him. He told me next time to just walk on in and start diggin'. They giggle at you less if you avoid the office until yer ready to pay up.

    I've since wandered into the other two yards in my area and the atmosphere is the same. Ya just walk in, take a look around. Try to stay out of the way of the fork lifts and bustling work going on. Sheet goods are usually piled in such a way that you can have a look at the first couple sheets. There's almost always a stack of loose boards laying around somewhere that you can pick through. There are always pallets of one species in a given form (8/4, 4/4, etc). There are never prices on things in my yards - ya gotta ask for that.

    I've since been to some other yards in other towns and they all seem to work the same. Go in, look through what ya like. Identify the things you'd like to know the price on and then you can ask someone at the counter for the prices. There is one place, MacBeath, that puts all their prices on the racks. VERY handy. I like that place, if only it weren't a 2 hour drive away.

    Learn your lumber terms - quarter, flat, and rift sawn. 4/4, 8/4, 10/4. Green, rough, dried, s1s, s2s, s3s, s4s. Straight-line ripped. Skip planed.

    Learn the defects. Checks, Cracks, Splits. Case hardening or Honeycomb.

    Many of the terms will be regional or even yard specific, though. Yer best bet is to see if they'll take the time to help you through those unfamilliar things. If they don't, walk. If they're too busy to help, they're probably too busy to work with our small quantities. Unfortunately, there are just some places that are like that. The small guy is more trouble to them than it's worth. Other places know that small guys could turn into the future big guys and they take their time with us. I like going to those places best.

    One other bit of advice I can share is: ALWAYS ask for the discount. These places are almost always working with fantastic margins and can work with the prices a little bit. I paid $1 less per pound than my friends did for some ebony at MacBeath a couple weeks ago. They were ashamed they hadn't asked for the discount when I told 'em. Always ask! What's the worst they're gonna say? No? So you pay their asking price... done and done.
    Jason Beam
    Sacramento, CA

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    GTA Ontario Canada
    Really great post Jason. I can totaly relate to every little detail. I have often thought that the lumber guys in general would do a heck of a lot more business if we could determine the price of the product without having to go and ask. In the willing buyer willing seller arrangement I want them to go first with the price. Then I can evaluate whether I am even in the market for that level of price product. What happens when you start asking and this one and this one etc. It reminds of the ice cream vendor on a bicycle when I was little. Until we got to understand what ice cream cost he used to get very mad with us trying to find our price point. In the end he lost out to higher sales because we (my friends and I) bought the cheapest ice cream since we knew we could afford it without having to ask the price.

    I think the same applies to wood. Even a ball park would do.

    One place I go to has a price list. That makes it somewhat easier provided you can identify what they are refering to.

    At the end of the day I guess its their turf and it is up to us to belly up to the bar and learn how to but lumber. I think shopping from one guy will be the best to be able to form a relationship.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    new york city burbs
    I went to the address, and while I was waiting for him, since I arrived way early, I walked over to an interesting park near his 2 shops.
    A park dedicated to sculptures, along the east river on the Queens side.
    Took a pic or two on my phone, nice car, I think it was mine 25 years ago.
    I have no clue what the other thing is, then it started to rain.

    Anyway, I waited 20 minutes extra, and drove away, then had a change of heart, realizing its pouring out, maybe hes delayed. So I drove back and he was already in the shop waiting. I must have missed him by 10 seconds.

    I walked in and immediately was impressed. This is a real wood shop.
    Each piece of machinery in this shop, was bigger than my entire garage.
    He had 20 or 30 tables(probably more like 12-15, its just that there was so much stuff all over the place) he built for various clients, restaurants and such, one was Antique Oak, it was a phenominal piece in my opinion.
    He restores windows and doorways, and is a general contractor, but builds anything. I could build a home full of furniture with just his scrap piles.

    He had a bigger hardwood inventory then most lumber yards Ive been in.
    Mahogany, Ive never seen a piece of 12/4, 16/4 12-18 feet long.
    Tons of mahogany, not like the African Mahogany I bought recently.This was redishr/golden brown, best way I could describe it. Absolute 100% beautiful.
    He was a European guy, and he was very easy going.
    I think he wanted to sell alot more than 2-3 hundred board feet, but at 5 a board foot, Im taking a couple hundred BF. Its not cheap, but real mahogany is over 7.50 a board foot in the northeast, and thats if you can find it.
    IM also taking Ash from him. He has tons of Maple, old, (antique?) oak, 100 years old, and tons of other stock that I didnt even have a clue.
    Hes moving, so he wants to trim down his stock, guess the move is costing him a pretty dollar.
    I hope I get the ash down to around 3 a bf, that would be great for me.
    Im picking it all up Friday morning, so Ill offer some pics once its in my garage.

    Again, I know its not a steal, but Ive always loved mahogany, and Id love to give it a whirl.
    Last edited by allen levine; 10-30-2008 at 02:16 AM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Constantine, MI
    Hey Allen........ You done good.

    Looks like it all worked out for the best.
    “We all die. The goal isn't to live forever; the goal is to create something that will.” - Chuck Palahniuk

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    new york city burbs
    that cars about 30 feet off the ground. Manhattan in the background, sorry, it was dark and rainy.(looked like a bronzed trans am)

    I gotta go finish that little stand Im working on, the client is pressuring me to hurry up(last time I build for my kidsI told my kid, listen, I have a drop of talent now, and my expertise in the woodworking field is worth something, I dont build anything for anyone for free anymore, so what can you barter with me? He told me since Im a total disaster when it comes to computers, consider this a tiny payment for all the computer work he does for me, cause he doesnt do any computer work for free either)
    Last edited by allen levine; 10-29-2008 at 05:23 PM.

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