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It’s currently raining in Atlanta. And it has been… all weekend. And according to the forecast, it will be for the next few days. I’m not really complaining since last month was pretty much without a single drop of the wet stuff, but it is making naps seem mighty appealing when I have lots of work to do… including a big reveal next week!
At any rate, as you may have seen me mention on Instagram, not long ago when it was still dry, I decided to make some progress on that wooden screen I built to help hide the trash can on the side of the house. I pretty much followed the same steps as I did for the air conditioner screen I installed over the summer, save for building a more decorative frame with some black outdoor hardware (you can check out how I did that here).
The process of adding slats to the front of the screen requires clamping and waiting for glue to dry, so when I ran out of supplies one afternoon, I thought it might be fun to take a small detour and head up north to a lumberyard I’ve been meaning to check out. I’d never been to one before, but I follow lots of woodworkers online and have always wanted to reduce the intimidation I feel on this “side” of home improvement/woodworking/furniture building. To me, it’s next level stuff and the kind of thing “makers” do, and I’d really love to learn more about it. This shop was an easy drive about twenty minutes away, just past a kilt store and a goat wearing a poncho.*
*I swear, I was not hallucinating.
I have been in plenty of specialty shops before, but I knew I was going to stand out right away in this shop like I didn’t know what I was looking for, so I walked up to a salesperson working in the front office. I explained to her that I wasn’t really sure how things worked, so she offered to introduce me to one of the guys in the back who then walked me around and explained how pieces are priced, what the markings, numbers, and tags are meant to convey, etc. I asked about the colors on each end of wood, and I learned that it only identified which mill it originated from (I had assumed it meant price or something, but nope!).
Once he was done using terms (that barely registered at the time but I later looked them up), he let me wander around on my own and take mental notes. Here are a few things I think you’d probably like to know:
Wood is cut at the sawmill in a few standard thicknesses, all based on “quarters” of 1/4″ increments. This means that a board thickness of 4/4 (“four quarter”) is one inch thick, and can be sold in measurements like 5/4, 6/4, 8/4, etc.
Rough vs. surfaced/planed/dressed
Despite the thickness standardization mentioned above, these boards aren’t always “finished” the way you see at the building supply stores where you’d just grab a smooth, squared-off board and start working. Most of the boards I saw were rough on one or more sides, meaning that if you bought it, you’d have some extra work to do to get all four sides planed and smooth before you’d probably start working with it (other than say, live edge wood). Some people prefer to buy it rough and do their own planing/smoothing, but that requires more tools at your disposal, such as a table saw and jointer planer. Keep this in mind for when it comes to pricing, because the measurements used for it are based on the board when it’s rough… so if a 4/4 (which is 1″ thick) board gets planed down to a smaller thickness of 3/4″ to make it smooth, you’re still paying for it as 4/4. This isn’t really all that different from the 2x4s you buy at a big box chain, really, since a “2×4” is only its nominal dimensions and not its actual width and thickness (length, however, is always true).
Length and width
Both appear to be variable (see “pricing” below).
Pricing is based on dimension called “board foot” – one board foot is 12″ x 12″ x 1″, so you have to do a little more math to get pricing than you would in the lumber aisle at one of the home improvement stores.
The sections on the shelves are divided based on wood species, but each piece is unique. I’ve picked up smaller, more squared pieces at places like Rockler across town, so I’m hoping using those will increase my familiarity with working beyond poplar, cedar, oak, and pine (the stuff you can easily get at one of the big box stores).
Still, the experience was really fun, especially checking out the variety of wood species available. One side of the building was dedicated to molding, while the largest section just had varying sizes and widths of different species. I’m a sucker for walnut and other types that have a lot of variation in their grain. I loved some of the names, too — like this “wormy maple.” Isn’t it gorgeous?
I talked up the guy a little more and inquired about finding live edge wood (possibly for a new coffee table?). While they didn’t have any available for sale at this location, he did supply me with some info on another supplier who has clearance sales a few times per year when they get large shipments in. If (and hopefully when) I check that out, I’ll be sure to post all about it!
As a helpful guide, the woman at the front desk printed out and let me leave with a catalog of all of the kind of stuff they typically carry. It’s going to take a little time to review it, but I was really pleased at how welcomed I felt here. Maybe 2017 will be my year for making this a more familiar place!
That’s it for my first trip to the lumber yard, but it won’t be my last! Did I get all the vocabulary right? (ha!) Do you have any tips of your own to share? Please do!
A lumberyard definitely seems less intimidating now! Would you say that the common wood is less expensive at a lumberyard than a big box store, or is it just higher quality? Thanks for the awesome post. =)
I’d say that I’d definitely think about each one differently. For example, if I were to want to build a jewelry organizer and paint or stain it, I think I’d be better off (and find it more convenient) to go to the big box store for supplies since it wouldn’t require a “fancy” species of wood to achieve what I was after with the project. But if I’m building a dining room table or making a cutting board from scratch or other items where I’d want to experiment with the wood itself or really make something beautiful, I’d probably check out my options at a lumber yard for the stuff that’s less common.
I can verify that you were not hallucinating, I live between the kilt shop and the poncho wearing goat.
Hi -long time reader here- really enjoy your blog. As a single mom of two teens, dog owner and homeowner I do a lot of inside and outside work on my house myself . Sadly for us (especially because we live in snow ridden Massachusetts), we do not have a garage – Just wondering why you don’t just put your trash barrel in the garage???
1. I have a one-car garage that is PACKED with projects most of the time. It’s easier to house trash outside. 2. Summer stink. With Georgia being so hot and humid all the time, and the garage not having much in terms of keeping bugs out to begin with, I just see it as a recipe for disaster.
Thanks- I forgot to take the Georgia heat under consideration. Back story is that we don’t have a garage, so I had to think about trash bins and where they would go when we moved to this house 7 years ago, but turns out that because I recycle and compost (and have a garbage disposal) and am mindful about waste, even with two teenage boys, our weekly trash does not exceed the bin that lives under the kitchen sink, so I just tie up the bag at the curb on trash morning!
That’s fantastic! I have good intentions with getting more responsible about it, but I still seem to have a lot of waste with my DIY projects and all of the deliveries I get (lots of cardboard to recycle).
I really am enjoying your blog Sarah. We have been experiencing the same rain as you are as my partner and I own a roofing company in Charlotte NC. I was looking at building some specific things such as a wooden garden screen frame, as well as, a couple coffee tables for some family members of mine for Christmas. I came across your article here, and enjoyed it, I thought I’d comment. Your blog has great information! Keep it up. I am enjoying reading all the articles I have read thus far. Looking forward to reading more. Thanks! I really appreciate this one…. Sparked my brain for some really cool stuff!
Sarah, this was a fun virtual tour! :) Now …. if I were to make a SPECIAL request… next time you are in the moooood to see lumber.. how about visiting Georgia Reclaimed Lumber in Monroe and tell me allll about it! Clearly there is little of that sort just south of Tampa, FL where I am. So I am hoping to shop vicariously through you. :)
Many years ago,( 37) ,I had a one woman landscape business. Almost every time I would go into ANY Lumber yard ( in my truck with Lumber racks on it), I would get the same question,”Whataya makin Lady?”
MY immediate answered would be, ” A Outhouse, want to see the blueprints? ”
At 65 years old , I still do a lot of carpentry: horse corrals, horse shelters,patios for myself and nice kitchen tables and coffee tables for my family.
. . And my nearby Lumber yard has women working there all over..no more questions anymore!
Love your Web site! Your work very, very good. I appreciate reading it!
‘Some women buy shoes, I buy power equipment!’
I love going to my local lumber yard in Pennsylvania, although the pricing in “board feet” just stresses me out! I like to ask them for recommendations on species that would be good for whatever I’m building. For example, when we built a dining table for our deck, I walked in thinking teak was what I wanted, but found out that there are different types of teak, usually the crappiest one is used commercially, and it still costs a crap ton of money. But, he pointed us to mahogany and canary wood, which will do just as well as teak in the elements, and canary wood is GORGEOUS. Also purple heart, some of the maples, and zebra wood are also really cool. I bought a large hunk of walnut that I’m hoping will be a sink counter soon, we’ll see if it happens!
Great post! I miss the old school lumber yard I grew up visiting with my Dad before the age of the big boxes. You used to have to go there to get wood as simple as a 2×4. There were acres of old red barns filled with the smell of wood and sawdust and a couple grizzled old “yard guys” to help you find it and load it. Of course you couldn’t find the fancy stuff there like you can in the cool wood store style lumber yards we have around here.