Chris Schwarz's Blog

How I Buy Wood & Why I’m Weird

Compared to many of my woodworking friends, I buy wood and treat it a little differently than most.

Many of my friends have a significant stock of lumber on hand, from a garage-full to a few barn-fulls. When they find good lumber, they buy it.

In many ways, this is an excellent strategy because every board is different. If you see a pile of lumber you like for sale, you will never see it again. By the same token, these woodworkers have a good pile of scraps saved away for pens or small projects. Again, a good, non-wasteful strategy.

I have never operated this way for several reasons. One, we don’t have the space – all our storage space is filled with boxes of books. So I have a small lumber rack in my shop that can hold about 100 board-feet of wood. No more.

Second, my methods suit my woodworking methods. When I build a project, I do everything in my power to get all the primary wood out of boards that are from the same tree. In fact, I try to get them out of boards that were flitch-cut.

I do this because it makes it so much easier to get consistent grain and color in the project.

While at Popular Woodworking Magazine, we always had a stock of wood on our racks, and I always found it frustrating to pick through it. There was never enough of a certain species – say white oak or maple – to complete a project of any size. So you had to go buy a few boards at the lumberyard to get enough to do the job. And it was always a pain in the rumpus to match color and the like.

I can remember many long hours just staring at my boards in the shop, wondering how I was going to make it work.

For my own work, I buy what I need for a project and pick the boards based on that project only. So if I have a dresser, I’m going to pick widths based on the case sides and drawer widths. Perhaps I’m just not smart enough, but this is a much easier way for me to work.

And when it comes to scraps, I’m ruthless. I don’t keep narrow or short offcuts. They go into the burn pile (hooray for the family fire pit). It’s too easy to get buried in little bits of wood that will never get used.

All this is not to say that I don’t suffer for my wood. This week I needed to buy some 20”-wide sugar pine for an upcoming project I’m building in Maine next week. Ty Black, a friend of mine, and I spent several sweltering hours in the rafters of an old foundry digging through thousands of pounds of 40-year-old boards to get the three perfect ones I needed.

But I have just enough pine for two chests, with a few boards left over to roast some weenies when I’m done.

— Christopher Schwarz

33 thoughts on “How I Buy Wood & Why I’m Weird

  1. amoscalie

    I have just redone my workshop (third car garage) and I looked at the rack of wood that I have and decided to do exactly what you are doing. Buy what I need and burn the scraps. I have pieces and parts from various projects that have been sitting around for years, but they will get used up in my historical re-enactment fires from now on.


  2. lathemommy46701

    Hi, Chris.
    I work much the same with the exception of small cutoffs that are suitable for small lathe projects. Keeping too much lumber around actually messes up the choice of projects!

    BTW, I do not find you weird at all. Those of us with “a reverence for wood” (Eric Sloane) and working wood by hand live in a kind of time warp that others simply do not understand. Be the anarchist you are. I’m proud to be one with you!

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