Recently people have been getting a little fresh with me. They keep asking me a question that’s really personal:
“How do I get wood?”
Sure, it’s something my wife and I talk openly about. Does it bother her that I drive outside of the city to pay a bearded man to get my hardwood? So far no, but it’s not like I’m getting my best wood from her anyway. Lumber that is. Come on people, we’re talking quality building material. So if I’m not purchasing from my local brick and mortar store where do source my lumber?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since joining the online woodworking community, it’s that people are willing to help you by sharing tips and information on basically anything… except their source for quality lumber. It’s like their own personal stash of gold that they hoard like their “precious” to any outsider. But don’t worry, there are other ways to get live edge or reclaimed wood.
Take To The Web (But Locally)
Your first instinct is going to be to google it. You will drop the words “live edge lumber” or “barn wood” into your search bar along with whatever city you live in and a few things will happen. First off a bunch of “non-local” websites will come up. Don’t be fooled. Once you get to their pricing guide you will immediately know where you went wrong. $500 for a rough cut piece of oak? Oh and you need to pay $100-$300 in shipping? That’s not how this works… that’s not how any of this works. This isn’t an Amazon kind of purchase. Don’t take the easy way out.
You might luck out and after the next few search results you could find a local dealer who sells quality lumber in a store front. While you won’t have to pay for shipping, again… this isn’t who you want to buy from. There’s a major retail mark up. What you really need to do is keep an eye on Craigslist or your Facebook Market Place. Just like a local woodworker trying to sell their first pieces, local sawmills are going to list their services (like rough cut or live edge lumber) on those outlets. Be aware that those retailers post ads as well to try and snipe business. You’ll know who is legit and who isn’t. Same goes for reclaimed barn wood. People realize there’s a value in tearing down an old shack on their property and saving the lumber… they just don’t know what to do with it, so you’ll see Craigslist ads constantly for reclaimed wood.
Social media that is. My connection actually came from this route. There are more and more Facebook groups out there that are EXTREMELY beneficial for the maker community (if you can sift through the trolls). I posted on our local “RVA Makers” Facebook group for a good source for live edge lumber. A few hilarious people posted a link to Home Depot and a few more posted directions to a national forest. Thanks. But what did happen is that I had local guys who had their own mills contact me directly… which is how I got set up with my lumber guy.
I’ve never had one before, but I’m guessing this is what it feels like to have a good drug dealer (they’ve all been bad dealers… Just kidding, don’t do drugs kids). You’ve got a good source for what you need. You text each other at odd hours. You set up convenient pick ups and drop offs. If you’re in need of something extra special he’ll see what he can do to find it for you. Oh, and you’ll share his contact info with only your close friends in need. Seriously… it sounds sketchy out of context.
If you’re anything like me you’ll drive down a road and see an abandoned shed that’s falling over with some beautiful looking aged barn wood. As much as you’re probably tempted to pry a few boards off in the middle of the night and run off with them… don’t. That’s trespassing and theft (you criminal you). You could always stop by and ask the owner, but chances are they don’t want someone stealing parts of their shed in under the veil of night no matter how dilapidated it is. You never know until you ask. I also keep an eye out for crews cutting down trees or even the tell tale sign of giant piles of wood chips. Our city marks trees with signage before they are about to come down. Which means you can always contact the listed office about the schedule and get permission to pick up a giant cookie of hardwood. Keep in mind that anything freshly cut needs months and months to dry out before you can use it.
How about premium old growth hardwood boards? I’ve got a buddy that’s been capitalizing on the renovation boom by salvaging hardwood flooring from 100 year old homes that are being flipped locally. Once again… don’t just go up to a jobsite and dumpster dive… that’s stealing. Instead, talk to the contractor. Most of the time when you haul a load to the dump, they charge by the weight, so lightening the load on something that’s otherwise going to be tossed is an added benefit for them. Not to mention, your new contractor buddy could be on the lookout for some particularly nice looking wide cut heart of pine.
Don’t have a planer to level your new live edge lumber? Check out my post on how to level slabs with a DIY Router Sled.