The Value of Roughing It

There are cheaper ways to buy quality stock that with bar codes on it, but you'll have to tool up to make the most of those savings.

There are cheaper ways to buy quality stock than with bar codes on it, but you'll have to tool up to make the most of those savings.

When I started woodworking, and my tool budget was really lean, I bought my boards from the home center. It seemed logical to shop there. They were already surfaced, and that was necessary because I didn’t have a jointer and planer. Plus, I could see the knots, pitch pockets and splits easily, which gave me some confidence that I was finding the best of what was available.

I’d dig through the stack looking for the straight stuff. Usually I could find a few good pieces. If I couldn’t, I’d settle for less and live with some twisting and cupping. I didn’t like it, but what could I do? Even then I knew I was spending too much money on that wood. And, I was.

If this how you’re buying wood, I can totally understand your predicament. But let me share some numbers I jotted down recently while shopping for lumber to help argue a point: it pays to explore your options for buying material. Even if that means you need to break down and get a jointer and planer sooner than you’d like to.

Here's extra material you can really sink your teeth into. An extra quarter inch or so of material ensures that you can surface your stock flat true every time.

Here's extra material you can really sink your teeth into. A quarter inch or so of surplus thickness ensures that you can surface your stock flat and true every time.

Right now, 1×6 red oak is selling for $2.86 per lineal foot at my local Big Orange Retail Giant. That translates to $5.72 per board boot, according to my math. It’s exactly 3/4 in. thick, surfaced on all sides. If it distorts, there’s nothing extra to plane away to flatten it. You get what you get.

On the other hand, a local sawmill is selling kiln-dried 4/4 red oak for $2.20 per board foot. It’s roughsawn and still 15/16 in. thick after drying, which gives me almost a quarter inch of extra thickness for surfacing. And, it’s less than half the price of what the home center is charging. It’s also locally grown and harvested, so a fairly “green” product these days. I can feel good about that.

Another woodworking retailer in my area is selling 5/4 red oak for $3.37 per board foot. That stock is surfaced on both faces and ripped straight on one edge. It’s about 1 1/8 in. thick and still 40% cheaper per board foot than the home center’s 1x.

Whatever size machines you buy, here's the Dynamic Duo that puts in the driver's seat for surfacing. With a jointer and planer, your lumber-buying options are wide open.

Whatever size machines you buy, here's the Dynamic Duo that puts you in the driver's seat for surfacing. With a jointer and planer, your lumber-buying options are wide open.

A tough recession is the least opportune time to dump your savings into machinery, I know. But you will save money in the long run, especially if you buy quality tools. And, you’ll finally take control over flat, straight and square. That sure pays dividends to your projects.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

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About Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall has been writing for Woodworker's Journal as a contributing editor and field editor since 2001. Prior to that, he spent five years developing home improvement and woodworking books. He's written five of them and has served as a contributing writer on many more. A wood and tool junkie since childhood, Chris thoroughly enjoys building projects and reviewing woodworking tools for the Journal. When he's not assembling new machinery, sawing parts, taking photos or crunching text for an upcoming story, he enjoys spending time with his family and a houseful of pets at their home in rural Ohio.

One thought on “The Value of Roughing It

  1. I think too many people make the mistake of not being selective because they dont want to be perceived as a pest. Do you agree?

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