Buying lumber is an important step in making your project. Getting just the right piece of wood can make all the difference in both looks and ease (or difficulty) of work, so take your time about it.
(See lumber dimensions for a discussion of how wood is sold and the sizes you can expect.)
At most lumber yards it is expected that you will pick and choose your boards rather than simply taking the top ones, so don’t be shy about digging around.
I will often go through most of a stack of wood, pulling out each board and looking it over before setting it aside as a keeper or to return to the stack when I'm done. (Hint: If you want to stay on the good side of your lumber yard –and you do - re-stack the pile neatly when you're done!)
So, what exactly am I looking for as I go through the pile? Several things actually.
First: look at the color of a board.
Is it consistent or does it have lots of sapwood? Are the boards you are choosing similar in color? Do you need something darker or lighter? Don’t forget that wood “defects” can make a project more interesting.
Then hold the board horizontally and sight down it to see if it is cupped or twisted. Then do the same while looking down it vertically.
This is essential with both rough and finished lumber. Milled lumber can also warp and twist.
Once you have found the wood you like the attendant will tally up the board feet or linear feet and present you with your bill.
If all looks good then check for knots and splits in the wood. Splits are common at the ends of boards, so it's a good idea to get in the habit of buying boards that are at least 6-8" longer than you will need.
Now that you are finished buying lumber, it's time to get to work!
It’s always safest to assume you will be responsible for loading and securing your wood. At some yards the attendants will help, at most you’re on your own.
Finally, if the wood is too long to fit in your car, most yards will cut it down for you (sometimes for a small fee). The same goes for plywood. Keep in mind that they will do a rough cut, so make sure and have them cut it a bit oversize so you can trim it to final size at your shop.