When you visit a home center to purchase hardwood lumber, more than likely you'll encounter limited quantities, limited species, and through-the-roof pricing. In some cases, you're paying for that shiny cellophane wrapper. Before you sell your tools and steer toward a different hobby, you need to check out the benefits of shopping at a lumber sawmill.
While some mills service only the commercial building industry. make pallets, or ship woods overseas, many gladly sell to the local woodworker. Here is where you'll find great variety and huge savings. If the special lingo and ways in which sawmills sell hardwood have kept you at bay, let us help you shop like a pro.
First things first: finding a sawmill.
While your local yellow pages will yield results when you look under "Sawmills” or “Lumber-Retail," members of 10 cal woodworking clubs, woodworking friends, or woodworking specialty stores may serve as better sources for locating a sawmill.
Other sources: your state's department of natural resources, conservation, or forestry; a university extension service; or a forestry or wood science
department. If you're lucky, one of them publishes a sawmill directory arranged by county or region with phone numbers and notations such as type of mill, species cut, and presence of a kiln (it may be available online as a downloadable PDF). An Internet search for "hardwood lumber mills” “rough-sawn lumber," and "veneer mills" is yet another good approach.
Note, too, that sawmills come in all sizes, from one-man operations to large mills. With the advent of inexpensively built solar kilns and portable bandsaw mills, many small operations sell lumber directly to woodworkers. but they mayor may not be listed in a directory, and the wood may not be kilndried. Find owners/operators near you by calling portable mill manufacturers such as WoodMizer, (800) 553-0182; Granberg, (800) 233·0499; or Cook's Saw Manufacturing, (800) 473-4804.
First contact: what to ask
Once you discover one or more local sawmills. call them up and ask the following questions:
- Do you sell direct, and if so, do you sell in limited quantities or require a minimum order?
- What species do you sell, and in what grades and prices?
- Is your wood air-dried, kiln-dried, or both? What are the price differences?
- Can 1 sort through a stack to select boards, or will I need to place an order in a specific grade and pick it up at an agreed upon time?
- Can I buy boards from the same log?
In a phone call to Haessly Hardwood Lumber Company in Marietta, Ohio (which we randomly selected), we learned, for instance, that the mill does sell direct with no quantity limitation. Woods include red and white oak, hard and soft maple, cherry, walnut, ash, hickory, beech, sassafras, and sycamore in thicknesses ranging from 4/4 to 8/4 for some species and in a range of grades from FAS to # 1, # 2, and #3 Common. (See "Sawmill Lumber Thicknesses~ and ~Lumber Grades at a Glance)
That's above and beyond what you'll find at your local big-box store. By going this route, you’ll essentially cut out the middle man. And the really good news? Prices for kiln-dried hardwood stock undercut the big-box stores by 50% or more!
Continue reading at part II: Buy lumber wood and wood products