A Trip to the Lumber Mill

My dream is to make furniture in North Carolina. For now, I’d prefer to do commissioned work for clients in Virginia and North Carolina. I could probably work for South Carolina too. I just don’t know anyone in South Carolina yet. I would also like to use local wood that is available and reasonably priced. Today, I made a trip to my local lumber mill and picked up sassafras for secondary wood and cherry for primary. The sassafras was only $2.50 a board foot and it’s plentiful. I’m using it for a table commission for the drawer carcass. This sassafras was clear and very pretty. I might be making something soon from the sassafras and actually using it as a primary source for some furniture.

Since I’ve renewed my interest in woodworking I’ve learned a great deal about making things from wood. My youngest boy works at Home Depot but it’s not the place for select lumber. Also, select lumber is milled for you and it’s picked over so you need to get there when the stocking level is up and pick over it yourself. I won’t even tell you what I paid for Poplar for drawer carcasses in the past. If you want to build something fine, and need anything better than a 2×4 stud for material, find a small lumber mill resource.

Today, I learned how my new friend at the lumber mill quickly calculates board-footage and ultimately a price to me for my needs. He used a lumber measuring stick, probably hickory, with a steel catch on the end. This stick had 3 scales on top of each other on both sides. E.g. the middle one on one side was for an 8 foot board. He placed the steel catch on the side of the board and essentially measured 5-1/2 for the board’s width. This meant that this board’s volume of wood was 5-1/2 board feet of sassafras and at $2.50 a board ft. the board would cost $13.75. This is more awesome than you the reader can imagine because 8 feet of a clear, straight, useable, truly 1-1/4″ board gives me goosebumps. Yes, it needs re-sawing but this was a beautiful board for $13.75.

IMG_2019When you find the lumber mill and someone you trust, you can get wood easily and at a fair price. With a knowledge of how the mill-worker calculates price you can buy what you need and usually have wood left over for other projects. It’s confusing at first because you may know that something you will be making takes 10 board feet and that means absolutely nothing to you when you are considering it’s layout, milling, preparation, and assembly. You will see the piece or it’s conception and then go blank at the woodpile. I’m still learning all this but I think a trusted lumber mill guy or girl is what you need.

I’ve purchased wood from two lumber mills now. One was was in Virginia and the man knew me as a child (cub scouts) and the other is here in Wake Forest, North Carolina. My guy here runs a medium sized operation north of Raleigh and for me, it’s easiest to just get a set monetary amount of wood that will cover my current needs and leave me extra material when I’m done cutting what I need. The trust part and a little knowledge go a long way. I trust my guy and like him very much. He’s a family man and he’s more than fair on price. I go with a set limit on cash and just get as much wood as I can buy. If I had unlimited funds and a pickup truck, I’d overstock my shop. Find yourself a lumber resource and befriend him or her.


3 thoughts on “A Trip to the Lumber Mill”

  1. I think your dream is an awesome one! And “going blank at the woodpile” would be a great song title! Have you ever built any wood instruments? I know they are a different animal of sorts, compared to building furniture…requiring a different kind of precision and such…but I would bet you would create a beautiful one! I recently saw someone playing some kind of wooden box percussion instrument. I seem to remember it had some kind of weird name, and it was amazing the versatility of sound that came out of it, depending on where and how the person hit it. Very cool! All I know for sure about it is that it just looked like a simple wooden box. Any idea what that might be?

    I like your blog…hope maybe some day we might get to create something together. I love to collaborate!

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