When you want to buy hardwood for your woodworking project, there are a few different routes you can go. There are Internet dealers, home improvement centers and – if you are lucky – you know a buddy with a portable sawmill and access to a lot of trees in your area.
While these are all good options, if you want the greatest selection and the ability to load and go, look for a decent hardwood supplier in your area. How do you find one? Look in your local yellow pages under hardwood supply, visit Wood Finders and start your search for suppliers near your zip code, or look for local cabinetmakers. No doubt, they deal with at least one reputable supplier, and might be convinced to give you their information.
I recently paid a visit to Weiss Hardwoods in Largo, Florida to see what happens in a well-stocked, full service hardwood supplier’s warehouse. There, I met owner Jeff Weiss in his well-appointed customer idea center. “Here, we show off some of the interesting things people can build – or have built – from our supply.” A sapele bar trimmed topped with a specially-treated leather top gleamed among the floor samples, fireplace mantles and stairway components. It’s not difficult to get more than a few decent ideas there.
Through a very plain looking door to the right of the service counter is where the fun really begins. The warehouse is abuzz with contractors and employees getting the supplies they need for upcoming projects.
Dozens of tall racks hold common molding profiles in maple, cherry, mahogany, oak and poplar. Some pieces of molding are greater than 20′ long and all clear. Other racks toward the back of the warehouse contain planed dimensional lumber in the same common species. The middle of the massive warehouse holds racks full of premilled staircase supplies and cabinet grade plywood of different species. “We serve a lot of different people here – contractors, homeowners working as their own contractor, hobby woodworkers… the list goes on and on. We try to have enough variety on hand to suit everyone’s needs.”
Through two massive garage doors, there is an outside covered lot where the rough timbers are stored. Some planks up to 8/4 and 16′ long are stacked by species. Besides oak, maple and poplar, customers can choose soft maple, hickory, walnut and several other species that you can’t find in your local home center. If you have the tools and like to mill your own, this is the place to look.
And, if you are looking for something a little more exotic for a project, you can get your hands on zebrawood, cocobolo, bubinga, rosewood, ebony and others. These can really give your project the character it deserves.
Way in the back of the warehouse is the milling operation. I had a chance to watch Earl Ogden, one of the millwrights, plane some boards down to a customer’s specs. Earl has even skip-planed a few boards to give his customers a chance to see what the final wood grain will look like. “We’re kind of like Burger King here – you can have it your way. We’ll mill exactly to a customer’s specs because that’s the kind of service they want.”
Since these hardwood suppliers do a lot of milling for the trades, you might want to ask to see their shorts – also known as offcuts. These shorter boards can be purchased at a lower cost and are perfect for smaller scale projects like boxes and clocks.
From rough boards to fully milled pieces, a full-service hardwood supplier can meet just about all of your woodworking needs.