I remember the first time Richard and I were looking to purchase some hardwood and just how daunting the whole thing was. We’d been lucky enough prior to use material supplied by Richard’s Dad but on this occasion we needed to step out on our own. I was working elsewhere at the time but I still always got involved with Richard’s furniture designs and this time it was a large oak dining table.
Unlike with softwoods we couldn’t just pop in to a DIY shop, instead it was the much more commercial world of the timber merchants which was rather confusing to say the least.
Since that first oak order we’ve bought tonnes of hardwood; both small orders for an item of furniture to an abundance of ash for workbenches and this has given me chance to learn a thing or two about the process.
I received an email this morning asking advice about sourcing hardwoods and reading through it reminded me just how difficult it can be. I’m putting together a few posts to provide some simple advice on this subject and today it’s all about knowing what you are looking for.
Timber merchants vary considerably and some will suit your requirements better than others. One important thing to keep in mind is that many are aimed at serving a business customer with large requirements. This doesn’t mean they won’t be helpful to you but they may not seem overly grateful should you turn up looking for one very specifically figured board and expect them to get out the fork lift and move 20 trees worth of boards searching for it.
My advice would be to phone through to a timber merchants before heading out the door as this will help avoid wasting any time for yourself and the company. A short phone call will allow you to announce and arrange a time for your visit but perhaps more importantly will give you an opportunity to gauge how well that company is suited to your particular needs.
Be honest and clear about your requirements and if you don‘t understand the jargon then be honest about that too. If you’re able to ask the right questions then by the end of the conversation you should know whether that particular company is able to supply it, and if they can’t then it’s time to look elsewhere.
Try to consider the following points when thinking about a hardwood order:
Species – If you know what species you are looking for then check if it’s available. If you don’t know then it may be worth asking some advice, let them know the potential use and other details you’re sure of such as colour.
Origin – If you’re eager to buy home grown timbers then check this as well. If you simply ask for oak then it could come from any number of countries.
Drying Method – Air dried timber is more easily worked by hand though it will have a higher moisture content than kiln dried timbers. It will be important to know how the timber has been dried before buying it.
Grade – All timber is graded according to its quality. The higher grades will be clearer with less large knots. Some grades are prized for being full of character. If you have a particular need then its worth asking about.
Dimensions – When buying rough sawn hardwood boards it can be difficult to specify the exact dimensions that you require though you will be specific on the thickness. Larger thickness such as 3” or 4” aren’t always available so check if you need these and if they aren’t available are you happy to laminate?
Machining – Many suppliers will have the means to machine timber for you. If you aren’t able to do this yourself then its worth enquiring about. You’ll pay a premium but it could save you a lot of time and machinery costs.
Quantity – Working out the quantity you need deserves a post of its own but for now you could check if the company has a minimum order quantity.
Cost – Again I will go in to this in more detail later. If you’re planning to compare prices then a cost per cubic foot or metre will usually be provided for rough cut timber. On machined timber a cost per foot / metre length is normal. Don’t forget that prices are often provided without the VAT included from commercial suppliers.
Delivery – If you can’t transport the timber yourself then check if they can deliver for you. There may be a minimum order quantity required and only certain postcodes covered.
Please bear in mind it may be difficult to learn everything you need from one phone call, some companies will have a receptionist who isn’t familiar with all of the details. Don’t dismiss a company for this as you should be able to arrange to speak with a member of the sales team.
Hardwood buying is a lengthy subject so it’s something we’ll come back to now and again to delve in to the deeper details. I’ve written this for the perspective of someone who’s new to buying hardwoods as those of you who are more experienced will no doubt have your own approach already.