Friday I had a need (and the time) to drive into the heart of town to visit Bohnhoff Lumber. Finally, I found a real lumberyard in Los Angeles. I'd heard about them several years ago, but never had the opportunity to go there. They cater to the trades, but welcome the single-board shoppers like me. (I needed about 5 bf of maple for a dresser repair.) They sell a good variety of domestic species from ash to walnut, and from what I understand, they also carry some exotics. It's not really set up for browsing around and I was short of time, so I didn't do a whole lot of looking around.
When you pull up to the front, there's a small building with two doors and a sign that says Office, and you can see several large open metal shed buildings in the yard. I walked in the office and told them I needed to buy a few board feet of maple. One of the guys behind the counter said to just go on back to the yard and someone would help me out there.
So I wandered out the door and into the first of the warehouses. It's stacked 20 or 30 feet high with large pallets of all sorts of wood. In one corner a couple guys are busy ripping some long 12/4 stock, and a few guys are hanging out around a couple of large forklifts. I was kinds of gazing around the place trying to figure out who I was supposed to talk to, when the chatting guys noticed me, and asked if they could help me. I explained I needed some maple, and asked what the price difference was between 4/4 and 8/4 stock. One of the guys said "they didn't tell us the prices...you'll have to ask at the office." I figured it wasn't that big of deal, so I just said I'd go with the 8/4. "Hard or soft maple?" was the next question. "Hard. And I need it less than 6" wide so it'll fit my jointer." He said "That's OK, you can pick out the widths you want. I'll go get you some."
He hopped on a forklift and headed off, and returned few minutes later with a full bundle of 10' S2S hard maple, I'm guessing about 180 to 200 pieces. He cut the bands off the stack and told me to feel free to pick through and choose whatever I wanted. He said the only thing they ask is that I stack things back up when I'm done. I asked if they sold partial boards, and he said they do, but they require that I leave at least 8' of the board to put back on the stack. (In other words, they'd sell me 2' off a 10' board. I needed something longer.) All the wood was S2S, and after quickly looking at just a couple of boards, I found a nice straight piece about 5 1/2" wide that looked perfect for my needs. I asked the guy if he could cut it in half for me to make it easier to take home, and he said it would be no problem. He did a couple quick measurements to figure the board feet, wrote out a ticket and handed it to me, and told me to go pay in the office...he'd have it cut by the time I got back.
I went back into the office and the guy at the counter was on the phone. Another guy was sitting at a nearby desk and he motioned for me to come over. He took the yard ticket from me and jokingly said "Let's see how many thousand you owe us." Now all the while, I'd not asked for or seen any prices. I knew from reading about this place that their prices would be better than what I've gotten accustomed to paying at Rockler and another nearby hardwood store. He punched a few numbers into the computer, printed me an invoice, and handed it to me while telling me I could pay the lady sitting at the desk next to his. I checked the invoice. $38 plus tax. 10 board feet at $3.80 per board feet. I looked like this: The last time I bought plain 8/4 hard maple I paid somewhere around $10/bf. I think the best I've seen for 4/4 maple is about $8/bf. I had finally found a real lumberyard.
The only downsides to Bohnhoff Lumber are their limited hours and the drive to get there. They're only open Monday through Friday from 7:30 to 4:30. Closed weekends. That's why I never went there when I had a real job. And although they are only about 19 miles from my house, it took me over an hour to get there due to traffic. (My route took me by downtown Los Angeles and through several major interchanges. True LA-style congestion for most of the drive.) The drive home took less than 30 minutes.
Anyway, I'll definitely be going back. I don't have much need to buy flat lumber, but if it's more than just one or two board feet, it'll be worth the time and the drive. And next time I'll know the drill, so I'll make it a point to do some more browsing and pricing.