How to Prepare Construction Lumber for Furniture
Construction pine, the stuff you get at the big box stores, has a bad rap with woodworkers. It’s poorly dried, hard to work and moves way too much. It grows too fast so the grain is too wide and varied. It’s for carpentry projects…
I also know this. It’s cheap, requires good tool techniques, needs proper design consideration and demands sharp edges. Which makes it perfect for new woodworkers, experiments or items not destined for gallery status.
The key to using construction lumber for furniture is how you approach it.
Texas Hill Country seems to be on the faultline of the types of construction lumber we can get. To the south and east you get Southern yellow pine (SYP) but to the north and west the smaller dimensions are white wood (SPF). These names designate a lot of species with similar properties. I prefer SYP.
All of the stuff is labeled “kiln dried” – but you should assume that’s false advertising. So approach the stuff as green wood straight from the mill and full of moisture; treat it as such and you won’t have as many surprises.
Green wood moves, so I seek out the widest and longest SYP boards possible, 2x12x16s, with clear and tight grain. Look for a board with the pith (the middle of the tree) in the middle. If you need stock for items that will be seen on all four sides (table legs) choose wood that is cut just to the side of the pith, so some bastard grain (growth rings 30° and 60° to the surface) will be present. Check that the pith or flat-sawn section is in the center on both ends to reduce the chance for reaction wood. When I get home I process the boards.
My process involves cutting out the pith and knots on the band saw, then I run both sides through the thickness planer to reveal any case hardening (checks and splits that don’t always show on the surface). Then I sticker and store this stock for a few months so that it can dry for a future project. This creates at least 16 board feet (bf) of perfect quartersawn stock for less than $1 bf. That’s a perfect amount for a side table.
Whenever I make a trip to the big box store, I’ll make a trip through the lumber section to see if I can quickly spot a good board or two. This keeps a constant supply of stock available at the shop to use without a huge capital investment.
At that price point, it is the perfect material to push limits.