I've been cutting up wood for a long time and probably know quite a
bit about the stuff. However, the guys at my supplier know more - its
Thus, I don't go there to try to act like an expert. I go there to get
what I need. Just tell them what you need as an end result and I would
assume they will be very helpful. Going there and trying to make it
seem as if you know something because you picked up a few tips in here
won't do you any good.
What follows is more philosophical than a definitive answer, but follow
In woodworking, that won't do you much good, other than how much it will
cost to walk out the door with your prize, or putz, lumber.
If you do that, you'll likely get plenty of bad along with the good. Which
means you may end up buying 8 board feet + to finish the project. Sometimes,
however, there is no other way ... at first.
Most woodworkers I know would not frequent a place where they were not
allowed to pick and choose their own material, so you must learn to deal
with these folks and go out of your way to get them on your side.
And always carry a cutlist and tape measure.
Lumber yards are somehow the same the world around. It almost always starts
out that way if you're a new customer ... hell, even you're a seasoned pro
and get the new salesman. AAMOF, if there are six 'salesman" in the place,
you'll get treated six different ways, no matter how long you've been doing
business there ... it's not personal.
But, if you're going to be woodworking, you need to make an effort to
cultivate a relationship with at least one of your hardwood supplier's
"representatives" as quickly as possible.
Pick out one (get the grey haired old man, if there is one) and keep going
back to him ... ask for him everytime, and even wait on him if he's busy
with another customer.
It is amazing what an informed salesman/representative can find/suggest, or
dig up "out back", after he knows you, and you simply ask for his advice
_with a cutlist in hand_.
AAMOF, I did just that yesterday, and ended up with 65 bf of some beautiful
8/4 quarter sawn white oak that I would have otherwise never seen ... and
this from a place where I have had both personal and commercial accounts for
a few years, and after two previous trips earlier in the week ended up with
me finding nothing usuable in the "bins" while _my_ usual guy was busy and I
didn't have the time to stick around. (He chastised me for that later, and
even let me know that I am _his_ customer!)
In short, always take your cutlist, ask for assistance until you get what
you want, do your best to make, if not a friend, at least a friendly source
of business, and each time you go back it will get easier.
I'm going to violate all kinds of etiquette rules here by top-posting, and by
not snipping anything at all... but it's for a good reason.
Excellent post, Swingman. This is some of the best advice that's been posted
here, on any topic, by any poster, in quite a while.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
I really have to agree... my supplier is really a mom&pop shop with a few
They let me disassemble the entire pile to get what I want. I say please
thankyou as much as possible (suck up bigtime). Not because I have to, but
because I want to; it is in my best interest.
Always put the pile back together neater than you found it.
"cherry picking" (pun intended) is a priviledge and I make sure they know
that I understand that and appreciate it.
The last project I was working on required 16/4 cherry (4 inches thick)...
not something he normally has, but he emailed me when he got it.
I agree with Steve - a good, helpful, friendly hardwood dealer is a
wonderful thing, even if you have to look around for a while. Mine is
about a 45 minute drive, but absolutely worth it to pick my own stuff
and get good help/advice. If I just need something small and am not
too picky, they deliver into town here maybe once a week, in which case
I work around their schedule to meet them.
Sounds like you (the OP) need to find a different dealer, or try once
more to take a list of exactly what you need, and expect to buy at
LEAST 25% more lumber than is really required for your project. Most
places will do surfacing (planing/wide-belt sanding) for a fee, and
they shouldn't complain about doing a rough crosscut or two so you can
fit the long pieces in your car if necessary. Again, if you tell us
roughly where you're located, someone here might be able to recommend a
My last hardwood shopping experience was ... well, an experience! I drove over
2.5 hours to a place in south-central PA, to find the perfect piece of 5/4
quilted maple. I didn't have to pick through the pile - the salesman pulled up
a forklift, and did it for me. It was a *huge* pile, and it took a couple of
hours to find the board I wanted. And they guy seemed happy to work with me
the entire time. In the end, my entire purchase (that maple board, and a bunch
of other not-as-remarkable wood) came to just around $300. I can't imagine how
that pays for the salesman's time.
I'll go back there again, you can bet on it.
I suspect that, if he had something more important to do than work with a
customer, he would have done it.
Folks like us may well spend several thousand dollars in a year on
materials. Usually at regular prices. And we talk to our friends.
There's money to be made.
Fri, Sep 15, 2006, 3:38pm (EDT-1) firstname.lastname@example.org (Swingman) doth wisely
What follows is more philosophical than a definitive answer, but follow
along anyway. <snip>
Works equally as well in those "good" auto parts places. The ones
where they don't ask what size engine you've got and all that stuff, and
the employees drive things like 454 Vega wagons, primed V-8 '30s Chevy
pickups with no rear fenders, or Darth Vader black pickups with 4"
I am not paranoid. I do not "think" people are after me. I "know" damn
well they're after me.
In addition to the very good information already offered about finding and
cultivating knowledgeable and helpful salespersons at your hardwood supplier - I
Unlike wood products from your local BORG, hardwood from a real supplier comes
in random widths and lengths, and can contain knots and other irregularities.
It's up to the consumer (you) to make these pieces into the correct finished
dimensions for your project. Understand what a board foot means - basically 12
square inches of rough cut lumber wood that is 1 inch thick. Realize that when a
supplier planes the surfaces, and possibly straightline rips a edge, that the
piece of wood you're buying will no longer actually be its rough dimensions - 1"
thick, or the measured width. And also understand that when a plan or cutting
diagram says you need X board foot, you will need to buy more than X - 10-20%
more - to have enough to cut out your finished pieces. And maybe even more than
that to allow for oopses or pretty grain selection....
Wow, what a lot of great information! I appreciate you all taking pity
on a guy who's pretty new to this stuff.
I'll mention it here, since it came up, I'm in Los Angeles, so any good
sources are welcome. I'm going to go search the archives on this now.
... make that - a board foot is a 12 inch square by 1 inch thick. That piece
could be 12x12 or 6x24 or whatever gets to 144 square inches @ 1 inch thick.
Then if it was 2 inches thick, it would be 2 board feet. Or if it was 12x24x1 it
would also be 2 board feet. Sorry for the mistype earlier.
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