For some reason, many of us find it harder to shell out cash on quality wood than on tools. Common sense says that you can build great projects with a few basic tools, but you can only dress up run-of-the-mill wood in so many ways. Some projects beg for a little more character and uniqueness you can only get with highly figured wood or veneer.
WHERE TO BUY? The problem many of us face is locating sources for premium lumber and veneer. The big-box home centers are okay for a few basics like the occasional sheet of plywood, but their prices for lumber are off the chart and the quality is hit or miss. Your choice of species is pretty limited. Pine, oak, and poplar are standard fare. If you’re lucky, you might find some maple or cherry, but that’s about it.
Local lumberyards (where they still exist) have better quality, wider selection, and more knowledgeable staff to help you find what you need. Depending on where you live, you can rely on these local suppliers or a highquality woodworking store. But in many places, you may not have ready access to these resources.
The good news is you can find just about anything you need online. There are a lot of suppliers looking for your business and they ship anywhere in the continental United States. And there are some benefits when you shop online.
UNLIMITED CHOICES. When you open up the market to online lumber vendors, you’re not limited by the stock your local suppliers have on hand. Your choices in species and grain configurations become almost endless.
I look at it as having a team of buyers available to watch for unusual woods with beautiful grain patterns. Many vendors specialize in certain species, so you know they have a vested interest in offering you a wide selection.
SUPPORT THE LITTLE GUY. Remember those local lumberyards and mills? Many old, established mills have found that selling over the internet is a way to save the family business. They can offer highquality wood to a much broader audience of potential buyers, no matter where they live.
WHERE TO START. If you use your favorite internet search engine and type in the phrase “online lumber,” you’ll end up with dozens of potential vendors. But one resource I usually start with is Woodfinder.com . Their website serves as a portal for access to online lumber and veneer suppliers. You can narrow your search by locale, species, specialty woods, and many other parameters. It’s worth checking out.
WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET. Most online vendors make sure you know exactly what you’re getting. They’ll have photos of each board or a representative sheet of veneer (see box below). And you’ll know the exact measurements. The better vendors are also quick to answer any questions you may have.
DEALING WITH SHIPPING COSTS. The downside to ordering online is the cost of shipping. But there are ways to minimize its impact on your buying decision.
In some instances, the cost of the lumber is less than what you would pay locally. This can help balance the effect of the shipping cost on your pocketbook.
Another way to minimize shipping costs is to look for deals. Many vendors will have “bundle” deals with free shipping or give quantity discounts. It pays to subscribe to their email list or social networking page (like Facebook ). This way, you’re aware of any deals as they become available.
If you have woodworking friends looking to buy lumber or veneer, consolidate your order to maximize the quantity discount and save on shipping costs.
WHAT YOU GET. After placing your order and typing in your credit card information, what can you expect? In just a few days, you’ll receive a package on your doorstep. The photos on the opposite page show a few packages I received. Most vendors package the wood with heavy cardboard and plastic to make sure it arrives dry and undamaged.
As you can tell in the photos above, you can get some pretty special and unusual pieces you may not be able to find locally. (I should note that I applied mineral spirits to highlight the grain.)
START SMALL. If you’re new to buying wood online or don’t have first-hand knowledge about a vendor, start with a small order. This way, you’ll get a feel for the quality of service and product they can offer. If all goes well, you can go on to place larger orders. And like I said before, most vendors are happy to address any concerns or questions you have.
OTHER GOOD SOURCES. Besides online storefronts, there are a couple of other options for finding special wood. Online auction sites (like eBay ) allow you to bid on a product. Often, you can get a great deal. As a matter of fact, some of the online vendors also use eBay to sell bundles of wood, veneer, or an especially figured, one-of-a-kind piece.
For a local option, check out sites like craigslist.org . You can often find wood in your own neighborhood or city.
SPECIALTY WOOD. For many projects, I’m perfectly content with the lumber I find locally. But if you want to try exotic and figured woods, buying online is the way to go. It’s a great way to shop for that special piece that will really make your project stand out from the crowd. All it takes is a few clicks of a mouse.
Buying Wood on the Internet
Browsing the internet for that special piece of wood, veneer, and even pre-made parts can be a little overwhelming at first. Fortunately, most of the online vendors make it easy for you to choose just the right material for your project.
When it comes to finding a highly figured piece of wood for a project, I start with woodfinder.com , as I mentioned above. Another good resource is Ebay . For a wide selection of veneer, one of my favorite resources is Certainly Wood . You can find them online at certainlywood.com .
For large projects like tables, it often makes sense to purchase premade parts like table legs. I like to use parts from Classic Designs by Matthew Burak . They’re located online at tablelegs.com .