Is Good Wood Still Out There?

Is Good Wood Still Out There?

Last week Rob wondered if quality lumber is getting more difficult for you to find. Your responses to that question have been mixed. – Editor

“I have just retired from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and I am a woodworker. These stores can be a good source of hardwoods, although it is catch as catch can. Folks donate building materials, tools (some of them amazing!), wood, etc. It comes mostly from folks downsizing or widows of woodworkers who have passed away. Some of these folks have built up supplies of fine hardwoods with the intention of using it in the future but never got around to it. I build paddleboards and have sourced all my cedar and redwood from the store. The redwood is mostly reclaimed tongue-and-groove material and just needs milling down, and I am paying 10 to 15 cents on the dollar for it! I and other customers have also reclaimed nice cherry, mahogany and oak from dining table tops, broken table legs and so forth purchased at ReStore that are too damaged or out of style for use. These can be milled down and used on other projects. Typically they sell for 5 to 20 dollars; the ReStore gets a little cash and saves dumpster fees while you get some old-growth wood! Habitat ReStores are an amazing resource.” – Steve Cheatham

“I’m fortunate enough to know someone with a small sawmill. His wood isn’t always top notch, but he normally has a good selection and his prices are good enough that I can afford to buy extra so I can remove any bad spots and have enough quality pieces for my needs. Before I started buying from him, I bought my wood from the big box stores. It was usually a big disappointment. The higher-value boards like walnut, cherry, hard maple and oak were sealed in plastic wrap. More often than not there were hidden defects that were not apparent until the plastic was removed. Occasionally the so-called kiln-dried wood would twist or warp so badly as to be unusable for the intended purpose. Also, the wood was very expensive. In addition to hardwoods, I have problems just finding any kind of quality wood. Most of the pine is so warped and full of loose or missing knots that it’s practically unusable. I find most hardwoods and softwoods at the big box stores are poor quality, split, warped or bowed and just not worth taking home.” – Richard Nichols

“I have not had a problem finding good-quality domestic hardwoods here in the Midwest. Badger Hardwoods is a great little supplier for me here in southeastern Wisconsin.” – Dennis P. Sheehan

“Wood for projects is definitely harder to find. Not so much that the wood is poor quality, but finding a sawmill that will sell retail in quantities less than a ‘bundle’ or under 100 board feet is difficult. Many former retail sellers of lumber have become custom wholesalers that provide ‘cut-to-size’ blanks for large cabinet shops or other fabricators.” – John Klouda

“I live in central Massachusetts. There used to be a number of small furniture-grade lumber retail yards around the eastern half of the state. They are all gone now. There are two wholesale places I can think of, but you buy a bundle at a time and they pick it. I have to drive into New Hampshire to find what I need for my small business and personal use.” – Steve Zagame

“I live in the Minneapolis area, and ever since Youngblood Lumber closed, I can’t find a good source of hardwood plywood with any variety.” – Doug Reetz

“I live in southwestern Washington, and my town is a wood town — lumber and pulp. Still, I can’t buy a decent piece of hardwood anywhere or plywood for that matter. However, if I drive down to Portland, there’s an awesome hardwood store there called Crosscut Hardwoods. I can get pretty much anything I want, in any grade, including plywood and exotics. It’s a two-hour drive round trip, and if I want plywood I have to borrow or rent a truck/van/trailer, but it’s generally worth the trip and money. Still, it irks me that I can’t buy anything but oak trim at the local Lowe’s. It’s only 10 minutes away.” – Steve Kendall

“I am blessed to have a hardwood supplier just across the street from my shop. They always have quality wood available. All the local craftsmen shop there.” – John DeStazio

“I know that most are not near a source for good hardwoods. Many have only big box stores to supply them with an expensive but limited selection of lumber. Unlike many, I am within 50 miles of Frank Miller Lumber in Union City, Indiana, which carries a very good selection of both domestic and exotic hardwoods.” – Jerry Dye

“Twenty years ago I had five or six local sources for raw or S2S boards. Ten years ago that went down to four. Last year it dropped to three — one of them an hour away and two that are closer to two hours away in two different directions. The selection is a little smaller and the quality is still there, but the drive and expense make things very challenging. We’re renting truck this fall to pick up some sheet stock for a couple of projects. I don’t know if there’s a list of quality suppliers of lumber that’s not S4S, but it might be an alternative revenue stream for some wood-related organization to get a nationwide advertising list that could be broken down by geographic location. I’m between Chicago and Milwaukee, so you’d think the options would be many, but not to my knowledge. Owl Hardwood in Des Plaines, Illinois, Lombard, Illinois, and Kettle Moraine north of Milwaukee are the only options I know of, but maybe I’m actually lucky. I guess if I lived way out in the sticks it would be harder. I’ll know that in a few years as we want to get out of the crazy taxes in Illinois.” – Randy Jones

“I basically have two nearby options in Houston, Texas. The first is a Rockler store. They generally have high-quality hardwood in stock in many species. The second is a store called Clarks Hardwood, which has a ton of hardwoods in many ‘standard’ and exotic species. They also have many different species and thicknesses of plywood.” – Dick Vaughan

“I live in southern California. Recently I tried to find 8/4 and 12/4 quartersawn white oak for a project and couldn’t find anything thicker than 6/4. I called a number of sources in the area, even as far as halfway to San Diego with no luck. I ended up buying a 12/4 riftsawn beam that had a good amount of quartersawn figure along the sides. My go-to source is Bohnhoff Lumber.” – Albert Lazzarini

“It can be tough (to find good lumber). When I lived in Maryland we had several excellent planing mills, some run by Mennonites. Once I found them, I could get anything. I even had the one I primarily dealt with get me ten, 22-ft., 4×6 rough-cut poplar beams for a house I built for my dad. The mill found them, cut and dried them and loaded them up on my trailer. They could get me anything from white oak to tiger wood, and just about anything in between, and the price was right. Then I moved to Oklahoma, where I can get none of that. I need some nice walnut to build a partner’s desk, and I have no idea where I am going to get it. Still working at it. When I built my library, I ended up using native Oklahoma wood that I had never worked with before, eastern red cedar (not too bad but a lot of planing, glue-up and sanding) and Oklahoma post oak (some of it nice but tough to work with). Let me just say that if I ever use post oak again, I hope I am putting in a post. I got both woods from a small sawmill that cut them special for me. So yeah, tough to find unless you are in a place where a lot of that wood — walnut, oak, etc. — actually exists. So much so that I have thought of going back to Maryland, renting a truck and bringing a truckload back and selling it here. We’ll see.” – Steve Gardner

“I live in the northeastern part of Mississippi about 80 miles from the Memphis metro area. I go to a Rockler partner store there and get my wood. I have heard there is a local sawmill that saws and kiln-dries local species, but I have not made the trip to check it out. The proprietor runs a portable sawmill around the area, so you have to call and make an appointment to go to his place of business. I hear he also has some exotics that he imports.” – Charles Buster

“I feel blessed that there are a number of good hardwood suppliers in the greater Seattle area where I live. Of course the price has gone SKY HIGH, but generally there is quality lumber to be found if you are willing to spend the time picking through a stack. I have always found the quality I am looking for, but I often have to go to several stores to get enough. At the price of wood and storage/inventory costs, a store usually can’t afford to have a lot of each variety. For some more exotic species, there are a variety of online sources, too. Of course the issue there is, I am very picky, and I really want to see the wood. The cost of shipping, and smaller pieces usually available, can be a challenge. Some of the online stores have great pictures, and what I have purchased through them has worked out well (knock on, um hardwood) so far.” – Dave Dietz

“I have had a more difficult time finding simple Baltic birch plywood. The quality grades I suspect are going to China, or at least not here to Austin, Texas. I have made quite a few looms for a lady for the last five years, and getting good quality with few defects is becoming a bigger issue every time I get a new batch. She cannot accept any face defects on either side or voids in the layers. I can get about nine parts per 20 x 20 panel, and if she gets one defect per panel she will be losing money with the margins she has. I used to get only one defect per 60 x 60 sheet of plywood. Just my two cents. I haven’t had an issue with hardwoods, but I have not used much in the last few years. Soft maple and hickory here seems to be OK.” – Mike Kelly

“Living in the foothills of the Appalachians here in southwestern Pennsylvania, I don’t have any issues getting great lumber at a reasonable price. There are dozens of tiny wood mills all along the back roads if one just goes for a ride. However, none of them are run by younger folks — just older men. When they are gone, there is going to be a real problem.” – Bob Leistner

“I am having more problems finding veneer-core plywoods here in the St. Louis area than I am finding domestic hardwoods.” – Bruce Vincent

“I retired to Nevada from northeast Ohio 20 years ago. I wanted to do custom woodworking, which I did for 10 years. I searched out wood suppliers before I moved to Las Vegas and knew where I could get lumber. I purchased roughsawn only. After a couple trips to the lumber company, I asked the yard foreman about the quality of the lumber available. He said the Chinese have taken over many of the West Coast lumber mills and ship the best lumber to China, The rest of it is left for the United States. Boy, do I miss Ohio!” – Doug Keener

“The problem I have is there are no sources for wood near me that I know about. I am in The Villages, Florida, and I believe the nearest woodworking stores are in Orlando. I would be pleased to find oak, cherry, maple or walnut close by. I don’t need anything fancy, just a good source of common woods.” – Charles Templeton

“It’s not that wood isn’t available, it just seems like the quality has deteriorated markedly.” – Ralph Livingston

“I rarely use exotic species and purchase most lumber rough-cut at the mill, so hardwood isn’t the problem. PLYWOOD is the problem! I struggle to source hardwood plywood with anything but paper-thin surface veneer. Recently the veneer has been so thin that you can see the color of the adhesive through it. Don’t even think about sanding the stuff — it’s awful. Any guidance you could offer online or in print would be great.” – Greg Harmon

“I live in the middle of the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania. My dilemma is actually sourcing hardwood suppliers, specifically ones that will deal with the general public. The variety and availability of species is vast where I live. I’m just having difficulties finding somewhere to purchase it.” – Nathan Spicer

“The hardwood is out there, so I want to know when did trees become so expensive? Or how about $300 coping saws and $130 red aluminum framing squares! I guess I missed the issue with the article about ‘How to get rich in woodworking’!” – Bob Janousek

“I am kinda stumped about buying wood now. I use to buy it from CUWoodshop, but it has closed its doors. I will probably buy it from sawmills in southern Illinois.” – Dave Phelps

“For a long time wood availability for me was mostly the big box stores, and species selection was limited to the usual oak, pine and sometimes maple. Quality varied, although the shrink-wrapped stuff was good. To me, there’s something wrong about buying shrink-wrapped lumber, and I avoided that if possible, not only on principle but the cost. Then about 10 years ago a local group opened a woodworking store 30 minutes from my home. It included a huge ‘dreamshop’ where one could buy ‘shares’ early in the process and use the shop. They carried a great selection of woodworking supplies and tools (a Rockler affiliate, I believe) and a large selection of lumber from local species to exotics. A great way to relax was just to stop in there and look through what they had. I have been able to use wood for projects I never had access to before. On top of it all, they offered classes on woodworking techniques and projects, and a number of the instructors were ones I have seen featured in Woodworker’s Journal and other publications. I purchased some cherry boards for a bed stair project at the store just before the shutdown in March. We were anxiously waiting for them to re-open, as Illinois moved through the phased re-opening. Sadly, about a month ago the store announced they would not re-open and were closing permanently. Ironically, I finished that bed stair project the day before the closing announcement. I was stunned, and it was hard to see how 2020 could get any worse, but of course a lot of small businesses have been clobbered by the response to the pandemic. This will definitely slow down my woodworking, at least for any large projects, until I can locate another source for wood. Sawmills aren’t common around here. My hope is that someone who realized the value of our local store with the means to do so will step in to make a variety of wood available in the area.” – Steve Hilberg

“I live in a town of about 12,000 people in southern Kansas. We have one lumberyard that carries no hardwood lumber, although there is one about 10 miles away that carries some of the standard hardwoods such as maple, cherry, walnut, etc. When I’m looking for hardwoods, I search the Internet and have several places within a couple hours drive that have a wide variety of hardwoods. I get great enjoyment just walking through their facilities and taking in the different woods that are available. When I travel (hasn’t happened much lately) I check lumberyards in the areas where I’m going, although I’m usually limited in buying anything since we don’t travel in my truck. One thing I’ve learned is that while it’s exciting to see the many different woods, it doesn’t make sense for me to purchase anything unless I have something specific in mind for the wood.” – Lyle Weinert

“It’s easy to find the wood I need: I just wander around woods and find a downed tree. I cut it to length, pick it up with a tractor and take it to my neighbor’s sawmill. I help him saw it into lumber and haul it home to stack it for drying. Then I try to remember what I wanted the lumber for in the first place…” – Erwin Thomas

“I guess I’m lucky, I have a local lumber yard who stocks good variety of really great quality hard woods. I know this lumber yard has a specific person responsible for sourcing hardwood. Best part is the lumber yard let’s you rummage through the bins to find exactly the right pieces of lumber. They only ask that you replace the wood you might have pulled from the bins. A small price to be able to pick and choose lumber.” – Ken Lordy