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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!