Buying lumber: The hardwood supplier

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.

Jeff Weiss in his showroomI 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.

Racks of MoldingThrough 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.”

The rough stuffThrough 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.

Helping the customers outWay 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.

8 thoughts on “Buying lumber: The hardwood supplier”

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Jason Rakowski

  2. So how far do you have to travel for your lumber, Tom? We have a local distributor, but he only sells either S2S or S4S. To get actual rough lumber I have to travel 4 hours to the Portland, OR area.

    I can’t wait for progress to catch up with the population here!


  3. Four hours, Vic? Dang… that’s a haul. My guy is about three miles from my house.

    Have you checked in your local yellow pages? That might give you some hints.

  4. Hey Tom
    Great site you have. Thanks for the info on the Weiss Co. I live across the bay and have been limited to the big box stores or Intercity Lumber near Clare Mel City. I will certainly add them to the resource list. I see from your bio that you are in Emergency Management. I am a Battalion Chief for Hillsborough County. Small world….
    Keep up the good work. Can’t wait for the Wood Workers Show this week at the fairgrounds.

  5. Hey, Ray! Glad you like the site.

    Weiss is a great place to buy lumber. They are very helpful and can get you what you need.

    Indeed I’m with EM – I do hurricane ed over here in Pinellas. I gotta hand it to you guys who do the field work – without you, we are totally sunk!

    I’m planning on hitting the WW show on Saturday – I’ll keep my eyes peeled while I’m out there!

  6. I think too many people make the mistake of not being selective because they dont want to be perceived as a pest. Do you agree?

  7. I think it’s a combination of things…

    1) The average consumer may be too intimidated to ask. I mean, you go to the big box stores and you buy a piece of oak. It’s planed and ready to work with. But, what if you need some small pieces? Can you sort through the racks? Are the guys in the yard helpful, or do they only want to deal with contractors buying in large lots? 4/4? 8/4?

    2) I think you are also right – they don’t want to be a pest – or be perceived as being a pest. I’ve been in a clothing discount store where a lady called over a manager to haggle over the price of a $3 shirt because it had a loose thread on it. No one wants to be that lady. So, the average customer may buy either what they are comfortable with (I know oak… I don’t know hickory, so I’ll pass on that) or they just walk out.

    3) It may even be just a matter of timing. Weiss Hardwoods has Saturday hours. No one is there on a Saturday morning except the DIYers… Someone walking in on – say a Monday when the contractors are there – may be treated roughly (not on purpose) or feel too insignificant to matter.

    Joe, I’m sure most of your business must be with commercial customers… but, the DIYer is still a portion of the audience you are trying to reach.

    One idea that might work for you would be to do what the folks at Weiss do periodically – the owner was on the showroom floor one Saturday morning serving coffee and making begniets (However those New Orleans donuts are spelled). They had their staff out and were meeting and greeting the DIYers who came in just to let them know they were welcome and could shop there like the big boys. I thought it was a great gesture…

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