Choosing the right wood for a woodworking project can be difficult enough, but finding the best specimens can be even more of a challenge. You can always drive to that giant home improvement store, but there are better ways to find the wood you want.
Why Good Wood Matters
Before revealing my sources for the best wood, I would like to explain why good wood matters.
First, each species of tree exhibits unique properties for beauty, durability, and sustainability. While a baby crib can be built out of pine, a nice selection of maple may yield a better appearance to match your nursery decor. In the same regard, a high chair or dresser made of oak is more likely to stand up to years of wear-and-tear as opposed to some softer woods. Sustainability is also important because trees take years to mature. Cutting down trees without planting more leaves the next generation of woodworkers without the raw materials necessary to create their own memories.
Second, a good selection of wood is easier to work with. While warped boards may require hours of sawing and planing to perfect, straight boards are ready to go from the supplier. The knots desired in some projects may not be a good fit with the current woodworking plans. In addition, woodworkers should always keep in mind that the hidden nails and staples in free wood can quickly ruin a saw blade and be more hassle than the price was worth.
Finally, some of the best woods are found locally. We have all seen the exotic hardwoods imported from remote areas of the globe, but the suppliers typically do not reveal a secret defect: exotic woods are intended to be used in the area where the trees are grown, not in upstate New York or Omaha, Nebraska. Lumber from local forests can be a better deal in the long run because (1) they come from trees that have adapted to the local temperatures and humidity so they incur less strain within the home, (2) they travel a shorter distance so fuel and transportation costs are lower, and (3) they support local businesses and the regional economy.
OK, enough background information. Let’s get to the best places to find wood for your woodworking project.
Best Sources for Wood
Since woodworking is a multi-faceted hobby, the perfect materials for one woodworker may not be as ideal for another. No matter your specialties or interests, the following categories will give you a headstart in purchasing the best wood.
1. Woodworking Clubs
Who knows where to find the best wood better than the people who use it every day? The camaraderie built up over discussions of baby furniture, woodturning, inlays, and scroll patterns may earn you enough brownie points to be inducted into the inner circle of woodworking professionals. You can then learn about those secret locations where quality hardwoods and softwoods can be purchased at a fraction of the cost of mills and home improvement stores.
2. Woodworker Forums
Like woodworking clubs, forums can also provide insider information. Most forums deal with a national or multi-state audience, so the best locations for wood may not necessarily be down the street. The sources presented on forums also risk saturation as thousands of readers flock to this store or supplier that “nobody” knows about. At the same time, because woodworker forums often have such a diverse audience, the ideas for finding, buying, and hauling home the best woods can get much more creative than the advice presented within local clubs.
3. Ads in Woodworking Magazines
Some of the greatest deals presented in woodworking magazines are outside of the articles and free furniture plans. One tip to find reliable wood suppliers is to review the advertisements in the back of the publication and look for advertisers that continue to buy space month after month. These advertisers are likely making money by being listed in the magazine, which means that a lot of people are buying their products. Keep in mind, however, that not all advertisers are reputable. Some companies make a lot of money off of beginning woodworkers, when the pros would never even look in their direction.
4. Neighbors, Salespeople, Everybody
The fourth category of sources for the best wood is a catch-all category: everybody else. How can people help you find the best woodworking suppliers when they do not know you are looking? Mention your hobby to friends and neighbors to see if they have suggestions. They may have just purchased a hutch from an artist that makes furniture, or they may have heard a contractor mention her desire to open a lumberyard. If they do not know how to help you, they may have friends and family members who can point you in the right direction. Be honest with the universe about what you need, and it will take care to show you where to find it.