Buying timber can seem to be some sort of secret club that you’ve yet to be initiated in to. I’d like to say that after all these years of sourcing timber I’ve been through that initiation, but if I’m honest I’m often still stumped.
It’s not the technicalities that get to me, I’m pretty good now at knowing what I’m looking for. But the problem I see is that all suppliers like to go about it in their own way (a polite way of saying they’re all a bit odd).
Some like you to speak an old-fashioned local dialect, while others I’m quite sure use code.
The Challenge Of Buying Timber
The real root of the problem I suspect is that all timber suppliers are serving a different customer base, and very rarely is that the hobbyist or small-scale furniture maker.
When hunting for oak you’ll often stumble upon a source for chunky timber beams that are sodden wet. The search for softwood leads to construction timbers that have grown so fast they’ll not thank you for going at them with a hand plane.
Good quality dried hardwoods are not difficult to find. There are a wonderful array of species both native and global available from many different supplies.
Much of the challenge comes when we’re looking for something specific, and it’s too bulky to pop out with the postman.
Locally we have some great small scale suppliers of native timbers (the wood’s spot on, although their quirk can the difficulty in actually catching them open). But when we’re looking for something that’s only available further afield we’ve got to weigh up whether to spend a day on a round trip, or go for a costly delivery with the risk that what turns up isn’t quite what we’re hoping for.
Of course it’s by no means impossible to buy good hardwoods, but there’s generally enough of a challenge to cause some friction before you can get building.
I’m going to leave Richard to share some tips on buying from a stockist, I know he has a fair few stories after all of his timber buying ‘adventures’.
But apart from a good moan and sympathising with all of you who struggle with this, I wanted to explore the idea of something a little different.
Recycling previously used wood.
Scavenging & Reusing Old Hardwoods
This of course comes with many of its own difficulties, but there’s something about scavenging something unwanted and making it useful again that really gets my mind ticking.
I know many of you have done this for your own projects, and I have to confess to being a bit of a hoarder. Over the years I’ve stock piled various tables and broken cabinets after stripping them down to their ‘raw materials’.
We received a question recently about how to source thin boards that are ideal for furniture making. This drew my attention to an old mahogany top that I remembered stashing and I got a sudden itch to remind myself of what other old wood we have stored.
The most obvious difficulty with such an approach is having enough of the same timber to build the whole project.
I’m thinking that a good approach here would be to reverse engineer it – check over what timber I’ve got then design a piece to suit.
If I happen to get that far, then I’ll let you know all about it.
And in the meantime, feel free to make any recommendations below to the best suppliers you’ve found in your location. Along with any tales of timber recycling.