How to Buy High-quality Wide Wood

On Wide Wood and Where to Get it

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Raw Materials, Woodworking Blogs

Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I lived in a place where I didn’t have easy access to clear, wide wood.

Then I realize the answer: I would move.

Today I picked up about 300 board feet of 5/4 and 6/4 sugar pine – most of it 18” wide – for some projects I need to build this year for my “The Furniture of Necessity” book and for a customer. I bought it from Midwest Woodworking in Norwood, Ohio, which I have written about before. And I’ll say this one last time: If you live in the Tristate and haven’t been there, then you have no right to gripe about your lumber problems.

But if you don’t live in Indi-hio-tucky, then here are a couple tips I can offer you.

1. Buy local species. I’m not going to find good alder or yew in my area. But walnut, maple, hickory and cherry are everywhere. So I’m more likely to find super boards in those species than in non-native species.

2. Be prepared to pay. Clear and wide boards are expensive. Yes, some jokers are going to score 24”-wide sapele for $1 a board foot. But if you are waiting for that kind of deal before building your project, you will never build anything. I’ve never regretted the money I’ve spent on good stock. I have regretted a few of the “deals” I’ve gotten on sketchy stuff.

3. Put out the word and build relationships. Wood is waiting for you in surprising places. If you tell your friends and coworkers that you are always looking for old lumber, it will come your way. When you find people who sell it, nurture them. Round up when you pay or calculate your board footage. Pay cash. Pay on the spot. Make yourself their favorite customer. Restack their lumber that you picked through and didn’t buy. And buy enough so they remember you. Selling boards to individual woodworkers is a lot of effort for a lumberyard. If you realize that and try not to make yourself a pain in the butt, you will be welcome back.

And for those of you who live in a desert, develop these relationships with lumberyards that ship nationwide. Call Irion or Steve Wall Lumber. Buy a half-decent load of lumber and you’ll be on your way.

Or call a moving van and start looking for land in Pennsylvania.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 28 comments

    I recently went searching for contact information on Midwest Woodworking … phone, address, website, etc but with no luck. Can someone point me in the right direction? I live in CINCY and don’t want to miss out.

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      Frank David is the owner: 4019 Montgomery Rd., in Norwood; 513-631-6684

  • Cosmo

    I visited Midwest yesterday not to purchase wood but to get some mill work done. Shawn squared up about a dozen pieces of 4×6 SYP for me. He was fast and accurate and made sure every piece was done to my liking.
    At $50 an hour with the work being done on a time available basis, I felt that this was a real bargain and Shawn was able to do the job while I waited and it took less than an hour.
    Beat the heck out of hand squaring all that lumber.
    I’ll be back again for wood.
    Nice people, great work and an amazing inventory of lumber and veneer.

  • Tom64

    Stopped in to Midwest this afternoon and met David Frank. Got a tour from one of his employees and David himself. WOOOOOOW!!!!!!! Time to cash in some of the IRA! Incredible! He is limping a little bit but got around enough to show off some the really wide stuff. Cot a little history on where some of the old wood came from. Nice guy!

  • Tym

    Check out Bobs Big Boards if you are looking for you guessed it, big boards in the Pacific Northwest. They have everything from table size pieces of Black Walnut to 10’x8″x30″ Curly Maple boards. Great Prices too.

    • Dave Hart


      Thanks for the info. Out where I am Smyth Lumbermill in Poulsbo is another fair priced, family owned business. Mostly fir and cedar.

  • Bill Lattanzio

    My father-in-law owns 300+ acres in upstate Pennsylvania with plenty of untouched woodland. Maple, Walnut, Cherry, and Hickory along with Pine are abundant. Unfortunately for me I can’t seem to develop enough of a relationship with him to get any. Seems that marrying his daughter doesn’t count when it comes to trees.

  • GunnyGene

    I rarely buy retail of domestics. Living out in the North Mississippi woods I have plenty of standing hardwood and softwood to choose from, and a couple of bandmill owning friends. This past year I’ve cut down an old box elder, which showed some excellent flame and figure, and a red oak. All of which was minimum 14″ wide and cut in thickness from 4/4 to 12/4.

    I realize not everyone has several acres of assorted standing timber at their disposal, but it sure does make life worthwhile. 🙂

  • MarkHulette

    If you are in the Central Kentucky area, the guys @ Bagdad Lumber (Shelby Co.) have a good basic selection of likn-dried oak, cherry, walnut, maple, sycamore, plus local exotics at GREAT prices. Ron will take very good care of you— not affiliated just a very happy customer.

  • obewan

    every time i call there i either get nothing or a message to leave a message……happy to drive down from ann arbor, mi but can never get an answer????????????????

    thanks as always…..dale

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      Frank David has has some health issues recently, and as a result, has been out of the office. My best advice is to keep calling – I do!

  • dangbert

    I have a question for Chris. I looked up Midwest Woodworking and got a (Closed) on the link to their website. Do you have a good link for them. While I live in Alabama (south central) a trip to Cincinnati is not out of the question. But I want to make sure they are still there before I head out. 🙂

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      I’m not sure they have a working web site – but call 513-631-6684 and leave a message – eventually, you’ll hear back! (And I have a couple snaps if you want proof of some of what they have)

  • muzhik

    I think you may have misunderstood, pickerman. Nobody would advocate mixing alcohol and sharp spinning blades (or dull spinning blades, for that matter). Nothing wrong with having a few drinks after bringing home a good score. Gotta give that lumber time to acclimate to your shop anyway 🙂

  • Ron 1

    Gotta come up with a much better reason than that to live east of the Rockies.

  • tjhenrik

    Yikes! I hope you left some. I was heading to that pile this week.

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      There is PLENTY left — gorgeous, old wood in many species and thicknesses.

  • evolutionkills

    And here I’ve been wondering why anybody would live East of the Rockies, where there are no (real) mountains or rivers and so many people. Yours is the first good answer I’ve seen.

  • bub4e

    I can get 16″ wide sycamore pretty easy, is it stable enough?

    • pickerman

      I’ve used it for flooring and found it pretty stable but I’ve never worked with wide boards. The answer would depend on how it was dried.

    • Steve_OH

      You’re talking about American sycamore, right? (What Brits call “sycamore” is a kind of maple.)

      Jon Arno wrote about American sycamore in Fine Woodworking back in 1995 (issue #110). Bottom line: surprisingly unstable, given the shrinkage numbers.

      In my own experience, quartersawn sycamore is stable enough, but I would assume that a 16″-wide board is probably not quartersawn.


  • rwyoung

    And when you lift long heavy boards, remember to get somebody else to do it. Now where’s that bottle of IPA…

  • Megan Fitzpatrick
    Megan Fitzpatrick

    And when you lift long heavy boards, remember to lift with your legs, not your back. Now where’s that bottle of ibuprofen….

    • jimballew

      i thoughtit was a bottle of scotch not ibuprofen!

      • pickerman

        Nothing makes a woodworker unable to count to ten faster than alcohol. It isn’t even something to offer as humor. remember, inexperienced woodworkers read this and might take you seriously.

        • rwyoung

          Lighten up Francis

      • Clay Dowling

        Given the proximity to Kentucky, I would suggest bourbon. But scotch will do in a pinch. The important bit is that it’s brown liquor.

        And to the nervous nellies: lighten up. If you think you’re doing any woodworking after wearing yourself out on a lumber pile, you’re fooling yourself. Being tired is at least as dangerous as moderate drinking, and definitely affects the quality of your work.

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