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Thread: Choosing Wood

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
    Evansville, IN

    Choosing Wood

    I think the hardest part for me in this early stage is choosing the right wood and where to buy it. I've been reading as much as I can online, but I'm sure I'm not really going to understand it all until I really get out there and start experimenting. That said, it's a highly intimidating prospect. That's the part I need to overcome. But even as I learn various things about lumber, I still feel at a loss sometimes when I'm looking at certain projects. What wood should I buy for this project or that?

    (I need to buy a jointer/planer, but that's a whole other story. Still trying to figure out if a sub $500 combo would be acceptable.)

    I have a few projects I was looking at. Any advice would be great!
    I was going to build some garage shelves. It's mostly just 2x4s and a plywood sheet. Is a big box store like Home Depot good enough for something like this? Or would I still be better finding a lumber yard of some sort?
    Simple little drawer organizer. What would be the best wood for this? Some sort of pine? (this is where I could really use the jointer/planer to get 1/2 inches pieces, I think)
    Rather simple kid's table. What would be a good wood for this?

    Sorry for such a scattered post. Just feeling a bit lost/overwhelmed trying to figure this out.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    new york city burbs
    if you are making anything with dimensional lumber, 2x4s, etc........HD is fine, or few a few cents more you can buy at your local lumberyard.
    I prefer lumberyard, only because I like to build a rapport with them(or build another project for myself) for future purchases.
    If they see you now and then, they might offer you a contractors price(my local yard does, sometimes I have to ask for it, and then go back and forth with them, but I usually get it, depending on whos in).
    Shelves, plywood and 2x4s, don't matter much where you purchase llumber, just make sure you get straight pieces.
    Wood organizer, pine or maple should be fine, or any hardwood you can get cheap.
    Kids table, again, whatever youre comfortable with and whatever you want to spend.Im going to work on one very similar except make it round, for my new niece, and I think Im going to use poplar so the parents can paint it whatever color they want. Otherwise, if they want it just stained, Ill go with red oak, its not expensive, and I can get it anywhere, including hd or lowes if I run short a few pieces.

    If you don't have a jointer planer, your local yard will usually joint/plane for a small fee. (not sure, like 25-40 cents a bf?, maybe a lot less where you live)

    going to a yard and not knowing much about lumber, yes, it is intimidating.
    A good local yard will recognize this and assist you and answer your questions, hoping you will be a future customer.
    IF they treat you like hey, I don't have time for this now, they are not the right yard.

    its a learning process, enjoy it all, within no time you will be an expert at wood selection and the entire purchasing process.
    Last edited by allen levine; 06-25-2015 at 01:36 PM.
    Human Test Dummy

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Yorktown, Virginia
    Allen gave you the straight scoop. I'll just add that you can also usually find thin dimensional stock in pine and oak at HD/Lowe's for the kitchen organizer. Patronizing a local lumber yard on a frequent basis can lead to some good deals. If your yard stocks domestic and exotic woods for furniture and cabinet making you will often find bargain bundles of scraps for little money. After getting to know the folks at my yard, I ended up with a pick up load of off-cuts in oak, mahogany and maple, 1/2-3/4" x 2" x 10' , all free because I was a good customer. These are handy to have around for small projects. I still have a couple of $5 bundles of padouk 1/4" x 2"x 3' pieces that work for drawer organizers and jewelry box trays. You usually won't find those kind of deals at the big box, although my Lowe's has pallets of warped and twisted stock along side the building that you can buy really cheap. Speaking of pallets, my next door neighbor is always bringing them home and using the wood for small projects.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Kansas City, Missouri
    To add to what Allen said, part of enjoying woodworking is learning what woods you like to work with. Try to get in some small projects, like boxes and organizers, that will let you work with a variety of woods to see what fits your fancy. Most yards have small scrap bins and pre-planed wood. Also pick some projects with some small challenges to build your skills, like doing tenons or a few dove tails. I think we've all built something utilitarian out of some exotic wood, then shot brads in it, then regretting not doing some other way.

    I've gotten where I've found some woods I like for the majority of my builds, but still pickup scraps to play with and try out. For the stand-by woods I like (Oak, Maple, & Cherry) I'll buy at least 50 bd ft or more to have on hand, even for a small project, which gives you the option to find the right grains and character in the mix for your project.

    To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms but absolutely terrified of the word “boo.” – Robert Brault

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Escondido, CA
    Another perspective. I used to teach beginning woodworking and the students (usually older folks, not kids) often wanted to choose inexpensive wood because they were fearful of botching up a project with 'good' wood. I turned them toward poplar and alder (then a fairly inexpensive wood). Easily worked. Free of 'defects' for the most part, and once stained look all the world like something else more expensive. Don't choose twisted or warped wood. You don't have the machinery to overcome those problems yet. Don't choose wood with the pith in it. It will always crack. Don't try to find wood the full width of your project's needs. Learn to glue up these parts. Its not hard and you need clamps anyway no matter what you build. Stay away from knots and holes. They can be incorporated into design, but their unpredictable grain will give you fits as a beginner.

    You should also be asking tool acquisition questions at this stage. You did with regard to the combo machine. Unless it is used, the answer is no, $500 doesn't get you much. What I did mean was questions about clamps, measuring tools and flat surfaces, usually the first ill-spent money and falsely assumed ideas of a new woodworker. When you are ready, we can share. You don't have to spend a king's ransom, but you ought to spend wisely. And beware of the reviewer who says, "Oh, I got that and it has been fine for me for years." The gotcha in there is 'for me.' You need what is a good fit for you and nothing gets you there quicker than knowledge. There are reasons why things are inexpensive, fairly priced, and over priced. Learn what they are. We can help.

    BTW, the most important early skill to learn is how to sharpen. No one other thing will lead you to success quicker than knowing how to do that and committing to doing it often.

    Some say the land of milk and honey; others say the land of fruits and nuts. All together my sort of heaven.

    Power is not taken. It is given. Who have you given yours to? Hmmmm?

    Carol Reed

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    The Gorge Area, Oregon
    Howdy Justin,

    For the shelves, yes Home Depot or Lowes wood would be fine.

    Locally Home Depot sells 2x3s at a fraction of what they sell 2x4's for so I use those a lot for garage shelving of that sort. Don't be afraid to pick through the pile and bread a bundle or two open to get ones that aren't warped, suspiciously heavy (i.e. not properly dried), twisted, etc.. Also be aware that when you pull dimensional lumber like that out of the stack it has a tendency to move. You have two choices to combat that, first is to get it locked into place where it can't move as quickly as possible (like framing a house), this isn't always an option, especially if the movement will affect the piece (like in the case of your shelves here). The other choice is to stack it loosely and let it move some and then cull the ones that don't fit (you can't really "fix" them), you can often salvage some of it by cutting out the worst parts.

    Similarly for the plywood for that, no need to get to fancy same place. Avoid pieces that have an excess of surface voids or checks, they are annoying as shelves Avoid pieces that have "potato chipped" and curved to much, they're harder to cut properly. Any of the plywood will likely work. The "cabinet grade" is slightly nicer and has one smooth face (the "cabinet grade" at my local store is not really "cabinet grade" except in the roughest sense but it is generally nicer than the construction grade stuff and often worth the couple of extra buck for stuff like this).

    For the drawer organizer, look for some pre-dimensioned wood that's close to what you need. My local store has thin strips of poplar that would work dandy for this. As others have noted similar dimensioned oak or maple would also work well. Alder would be ok, but might be a bit soft. You might have to rip them to width but they start out straight and square and about the right thickness (the usual caveats about sorting through to find the better ones at the home store apply). If you can get good quality clear pine that would likely also work, but starting with pre-dimensioned wood will get you off of the ground easier and not require much tooling.

    You've gotten good advice on the table so I have nothing much to add there. I would second Carols note that harder woods like oak, maple, alder (less so but still), poplar, etc.. are easier to get tight fit and clean joints on that pine so a lot of folks start out with the softer "easier" wood and get real frustrated at the results whereas if they'd bit the bullet and bought up one tier they'd have been a lot happier.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    No, not all of SoCal is Los Angeles!
    I Googled "lumber yard, Evansville, IN" and it looks like you have a few to choose from. I'll second the fact that using "cheap" wood to learn on can be very disappointing and lead to bad habits trying to make up for the improper material. Carol is on target with poplar and alder although around here ash and beech are fairly inexpensive as well.

    Don't be afraid to call up your local yard and ask the current price on four-quarter soft maple, ash, alder and poplar. Probably $2-$3 a board foot but, your area will have its own "low priced" hardwood. When you consider construction lumber is around $1 a board foot and you have to toss 40% of it, the better material is not that expensive.

    Don't get me wrong. I just paid $8.80 /bf for black walnut which is an all time high around here. Exotics get even pricier but, we don't make everything out of exotics ;-) Getting comfortable around my chosen lumber yards took awhile but, now I find deals and can ask about guesstimates on species pricing in advance so I would consider this a large part of my success in saving a bit of cash on material.

    P.s. When putting up a long run of shelves similar to those in your first link, I framed the self, fastened to studs at the wall and used chains to support the front. This leaves a lot more room to get around things without the heavy framing getting in the way. Save weight too.

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    Last edited by glenn bradley; 06-25-2015 at 08:09 PM.
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