First trip to sawmill tomorrow

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I've been reading The Art of Woodworking Encyclopedia of Wood, and am going to take my first trip to the sawmill tomorrow. I'm just wondering is there anything I should know that they don't teach in a book? Things I should be on the look out for, etc.
I want to start to get the feel of what to expect in these places. I buy my wood from Home Depot, but I am getting sick of the prices and low variety of choices.
I did some looking at the shops(using superpages.com) that had internet sites (only 2) so I sort of know what to expect, but I don't want to walk in looking like a total newbie.
-Matt
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That can work to your advantage. If you meet the owner and he is proud of his setup, he'll likely take some time to show you around and the in's and out's of what to look for.
OTOH, some business owners don't take kindly to anyone that does not know exactly what they want and ask for it with the proper terminology. Kind of a crap shoot, but I'd go with the first scenario.
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wrote:

I've never found a sawmill to mind that you don't know what to ask for. So long as you know what you _want_, i.e. what you're planning to do with it. I've always found them extremely helpful in translating that to what they offer, or what's practical. If you want something that's wider and thinner than is practical / affordable, a good timberyard should tell you this, and advise you to join up two narrower ones. Knowing timber is, after all, what they do. Be open with them, tell them what you really need and what you don't know. Don't be too rigid on insisting you walk out with some specifc timber, just because that's what some guy on the other side of the country buys locally.
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In my experience, including a great uncle that owns one, sawmills don't sell to the general public. They usually sell to large lumber wholesalers or lumber yards. There are a few specialty sawmills that mill then dry the hardwood onsite and sell to the public.
If you are going to that latter, have some idea what you want and how much you need.
Dave
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Be sure your planer and jointer are ready to go to work.
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Just remember that they sell by the board foot NOT the linear foot (like HomeDepot).
Bring a tape measure and a calculator (at least I always do).

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Matt S wrote:

Matt, if the guy looks at you with one eye squinted real hard and then spits tobacco juice on your shoes, Just thank him and leave. Some of the mills here are easy to deal with, others are trying to meet someone's quota for lumber as mentioned before. If you know someone else who is buying from a certain mill, get him to introduce you and confirm that he is an interested seller. Then check his references. Usually the guys that sell to the general public will treat you pretty fairly. The guys that have lost contracts to competitors and are temporarily selling to the public will sell you plenty of knots with a little of wood in between and people love to tell about that sort of thing.
Good luck,
Tom in KY, with some good wood, some knots and some tobacco juice stains on his boots.
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Edwin,
I was thinking the same thing it's going to go one of two ways, good or bad.
Dave,
There's two that I am going two and I believe both sell to the public, we'll see. There about 5 miles apart from each other.
Stoutman,
I remembered the bf measurement, but calculator and tape measure I didn't think of. Thanks. :)
Leon,
You betcha. I'm hoping to get all my boards under 6" as I don't have a planar yet, but I have an unused HD credit card so maybe I'll go Christmas shopping.
Tom,
'Fraid I don't know anyone for the intro. I do know what you're talking about with the chew tobacco. I cut lawns in the summer over the last few years and I think those types of people are cut from the same cloth. I'll try not to go barefoot at least ;)
Thanks guys, I'll report back and tell you how it went
-Matt
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Tom,
Can you tell me where you buy from? I'm setting my shop up in the Georgetown area. I've seen some mills on the way down to Sommerset on 27. Have you tried them? I don't mind the drive to much if the people are easy to deal with.
Roy
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ROYNEU wrote:

Hi Roy,
I'm afraid I'm too far away to do you any good, Owensboro area.Considerably to the west. Out in the rural areas of KY, there are little lumber yards / hardware stores still up and running. They almost always know where the local hardwood sawmill is. These stores are also probably your best references as to who will be the friendliest dealers. Here in Western KY, there is some Amish country. These guys are always helpful for referring you to their favorite mill.
I hope this helps, if you just can't find anything, e-mail me and we'll meet up and go find something around here.
Tom in KY, trees everywhere.
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I've used two different types of sawmills in my area:
1. A comercial sawmill that usually will only sell wholesale and has contracts with floor, furniture, or other reproccessors. I was lucky enough to know one of the managers and buy cherry from them by the tree. (they normally process oak and when they clear cut they get other species that they are not set up to move. They often run out of room in their pond/wetting area and want to move the other stuff). I bought about 600 BF of Cherry, had to take everything that was cut, no grading. You get it green and rough and you have to make arrangements to dry. I got about 40% yield out of it but paid very little for it. It is now bedroom furniture for two bedrooms. Keep in mind if you buy it whole tree ungraded the process of ripping, planning, jointing and selecting pieces for glue up will take longer because you are wading through low yield stuff.
2. A local guy who has a woodmiser type sawmill, a home made drying kiln and will do planning for you if you need it. He caters to woodworkers and small commercial lot sizes. He kind of grades it and I can usually expect to get about 75% yield out of his wood. But again, about a third of the price of the borgs. He will not always have every species, depends on what kind of trees he can get locally.
You want to know if they can dry it or you will have to make arrangements to kiln dry it or wait a considerable time to air dry it.
You want to know if you can buy it graded and then get what you specifically need. or at least be able to buy enough for your projects depending on what grade you can get and what the projected yield is.
Frank
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The Results:
Well stopped in at the first place, and figured honesty was the best policy. I told him I wasn't looking to buy till spring and told him what I was looking for. He gave me a rough idea of how much I was looking at spending. Then my brother blurted out, "He wants to see the saw!" He took us to the back barn and showed us the whole set up. He showed me how the rough planks would come and some of the basics of sizing etc. He said he had some ash he wanted to get rid of at a good price, asked me if I ever used it, I said no so he gave me a 8 foot piece to try out. He left and had some other guy cut it who was picking up some scraps for fire wood. My brother and I chit chatted with that guy for a bit and checked out the whole set up. All in all it was a good stop.
Second shop, we walked in and my mouth about hit the floor (for the first time today) he had every species I could think of and some I couldn't set up as molding pieces (they make custom molding). I told him the exact same thing, and he broke out a sheet with all the types of woods on there (about 40 different kinds) and asked what I wanted. I named the ones I could think of white oak, red, poplar, pine, and cherry. He went over the whole sizing thing and differences in cost (this vs. that etc etc.) then he said let's go in back. So we checked out the back room where they had the milling tools planar, jointer, etc. showed me some finished boards and how they get cut and the differences etc. Then took my brother and I to the very back where they stack and store it. And he went over everything again, things were winding down in the coversation so I asked a very naive question, "Is there anything that's really red yet inexpensive." He said no, and then showed me all the really red stuff, and then showed me the exotic stuff they get in. Bloodwood is so cool, btw. I mentioned I was sick of Home Depot and asked if they sold plywood as well. He said no and then whipped out another book and gave me the addresses and phone numbers of two plywood shops a little further down the road, and even drew a map to one.
So I decided what the hell and went to one of the plywood stores. I walked in and said the same thing, "I'm sick of Home Depot and the selection at Lowes, what do you have?" I'm convinced specialty stores like these get two kinds of people those that say what I said and those that say, "But I can get it cheaper at....." Either way I must have said something good cause he took me in the back and showed me a ton of stuff too.
Now oak plywood and the exterior sheathing kind are the only two kinds of plywood I have ever seen in my life. So when I saw the walnut plywood I about crapped my pants. He had everything neatly stacked in bins and pulled out 6-8 sheets of different kinds stating what they were. Now sometimes you don't know what a crappy product is until you see a superior one, and this guy's plywood looked like a sheet of glass, extremely flat, smooth, with edges and corners you could cut skin on.
Needless to say it was a great trip. I was thinking about making my dining room table out of oak but after seeing that walnut plywood and finding out that my brother has a walnut tree waiting to get cut up, I think I'll switch.
-Matt
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Sounds like a pleasant experience! Thanks for the feedback.
--
Stoutman
http://home.triad.rr.com/brianmelissa/woodworking_frames.htm
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Well Matt, I think you are well on the way of being totally corrupted. You may develop a rash if you go into any of the big box stores now. Cuz you are turning into a wood snob before our very eyes.
Like any field, woodworking has the specialty suppliers. And like any specialty store/producer, they usually know their stuff. And that expertise is usually available to you if you are respectful enough.
Some comments about my first time in a REAL WOOD STORE..
I too remember the first time I saw walnut (and cherry) plywood. I never knew that plywood could look that nice or be that EXPENSIVE! I made some builtin bookshelves from some of the walnut plywood and trimmed them in real walnut. They were gorgeous. Back in the day, I was paying from $90 - $110 a sheet for that stuff. How much is it these days?
I also asked if they could cut some wood for me. He said sure. I asked how accurate the cuts would be. he told me the cuts would be within 1/64th. I was shocked. I was speechless with my mouth hanging open. He looked at me and laughed. He asked me if I was used to going to lumberyards (pre big box days).
He went on to say that if you have a good blade and your saw was well tuned, there is no excuse for not cutting everything precisely. All good shops do it, so why shouldn't they? He just did not understand why lumberyards and other wood retailers did not offer precise cutting services. They did lots of projects where people would come in with a cut list and they would prepare the wood. They would then go home and build some nice furniture.
Another hint. Always look in their scrap box. I can't tell you the number of projects I have done with an economically priced piece of fancy wood because I bought a good looking piece of scrap from the good wood store.
Another hint. See if you can find a cabinet shop that is open to the public. They often use the nice plywoods for their cabinets. The often have some nice peices in their scrap bins that have already been paid for. I would go into these places and offer them a cut rate price on several peices of plywood. I could often get some good cabinet grade plywood for almost half price becasue I bought it in pieces.
One caveat though. If you do this, be sure to bring along a set of calipers and make sure that the various peices you buy are the same thickness. All plywood is not created equal.
Lee
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Thu, Dec 22, 2005, 2:55pm (EST-3) snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (MattS) doth admit: The Results: Well stopped in at the first place, and figured honesty was the best policy. <snip>
And now you know the secret.
JOAT You'll never get anywhere if you believe what you "hear". What do you "know"?. - Granny Weatherwax
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JOAT, Don't you just love junkyards :)
Lee, it was $100 for the 3/4x4x8 walnut plywood. Everything except oak plywood was around 100 with nothing over that (at least nothing that I wrote down), the oak was about $70 I think and went up from there depending how it was cut.
As for the other two places I won't quote all the prices, but red at the first place was 2.25/bf and 3.60/bf at the millworks shop.
-Matt
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Fri, Dec 23, 2005, 12:18pm (EST-3) snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (MattS) asketh: JOAT, Don't you just love junkyards :) <snip>
Oh I do, I do, I really, really, do.
JOAT You'll never get anywhere if you believe what you "hear". What do you "know"?. - Granny Weatherwax
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J T said:

As do I. It's amazing some of the good stuff people throw away.
I need a compressor from an old refrigerator, but the local landfill won't let me take them, even though they are just flattened as scrap.
Too many lawyers, and too much waste.
Greg G.
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Greg G. (in snipped-for-privacy@4ax.com) said:
| I need a compressor from an old refrigerator, but the local landfill | won't let me take them, even though they are just flattened as | scrap.
Next time you're on I-80, stop by my shop and take one of mine home with you. I have three spares for replacing an original that doesn't seem to want to quit.
No money down same as cash. Guaranteed for the life of the product not to rust, bust, chip, peel, corrode, or explode. Other limitations may apply.
-- Morris Dovey DeSoto Solar DeSoto, Iowa USA http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/solar.html
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That was my experience also. I went to kirkland sawmill (a chicago favorite). The guys were all great and they had a great inventory. They underestimated all of the boardfeet measurements. I told him one looked like 5/4 to me, but he insisted it was 4/4.
I haven't been to any plywood dealers around here. Every time I look at plywood prices on the internet, I get sticker shock. Still, I think you have to compare that price to an equal amount of hardwoods. Sometimes you need the flatness and stability.
brian
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