Timber yards can be intimidating places for the woodworker making a first visit. Although buying softwoods is fairly straightforward, hardwoods can be another matter. If possible, find a more experienced woodworker who will be willing to guide you through some of the pitfalls. If buying timber from a large supplier, check whether they have minimum-quantity purchasing policy.
There are two ways of buying hardwoods, depending on the facilities available at the timber yard. The cheapest way is to select boards yourself at the yard, checking for defects and roughly marking out what you need. If you can transport the timber home so much the better, although most yards will deliver for an extra fee. You can then saw the boards up to the required size at your workshop, although you will probably be left with some offcuts.
If you have limited machining facilities, some timber yards will cut – and even plane – boards to your cutting list, charging per saw cut or by the hour for machining. This is obviously a more expensive method and you are unlikely to be able to make decisions regarding grain patterns or defects.
Some hardwoods have a much higher wastage factor than others (see below), and you should take this into account when estimating the quantity required for a project. For example, English walnut and yew have as much as 400 per cent wastage while others, such as beech and mahogany, have less than 100 per cent.
Buying softwoods is generally easier, as most imported timber is square-edged, sometimes even planed to size. Rather oddly, softwoods are usually sold by the cubic metre in Britain, while hardwoods are traditionally priced by the cubic foot or foot run. When timber is priced by the metre or foot run, width and thickness are ignored, although this will already have been taken into account by the timber merchant. This is often the case with wood sold in narrow strip form.
At the timber yard
Before buying wood for your own use, it is wise to inspect how boards are stacked at your chosen timber yard. Most timber merchants are conscientious in spreading the load evenly when stacking half a dozen fully sawn logs on top of one another. Others are careless, however, and you may be surprised to see trunks with such uneven weight placed on them that the entire log bows considerably at one end or in the centre. Be aware that stresses introduced as a result will eventually cause a board to try to revert partly to its original form, which could cause problems later on.
Generally speaking, much of the movement of each sawn board will have resolved itself in the air-drying process. Although timber yards place cleats on the ends of boards to reduce splitting, wood should be allowed to move in whatever direction it wants to go. Very little can stop a growth line shrinking if it wants to, and it has been known for 152 mm (6 in) nails to snap in half owing to the force of shrinkage.
The majorityof wood with splits and shrinkage defects will be marked with a wax stick or marker pen, or removed from the stack altogether. It will be to your cost if you fail to spot any such defects in the length of a board. Often a split will continue, following a growth line, and can even reappear on the opposite face or edge, making the board worthless for part of its length. Always check both faces of a board carefully. Often the best face is presented, but a closer look at the opposite side may reveal larger, additional knots and wild grain, which means that some parts cannot be used for structural purposes. These defect areas are often marked out in the calculations, but if you feel that the potential saving is not worth the inherent problems later on, choose another board. Do not buy distorted boards: the fibres will have been distorted in the drying process and the cell walls will remain permanently damaged.
The basic rule when inspecting timber is that, the more parallel the grain, the less it will shrink. This is not to say you should not buy a board with flowery and wild grain, as this may be more exciting visually. It does mean, however, that you may have to saw a wide, figured board into narrow widths of perhaps 152 mm (6 in) and re-glue them. This will give you a wide board with much of the tension removed. If you buy your wood with two waney edges and the board is not the same width at each end, the timber yard will measure both ends, plus the middle of the board, and calculate an average width. Unless you will have boards delivered, it is a good idea to take a handsaw when visiting a timber yard.
Storing timber in the workshop
In your workshop, stack long boards flat on the floor rather than propped at an angle against a wall. Do not expose them to direct sunlight, as this will cause the natural colour either to fade (as in mahogany) or to darken (as in cherry). Brush melted paraffin wax on the end grain of all boards to prevent the ends drying too quickly in a heated workshop. A good maxim is ‘to keep a long piece of wood as long as you can for as long as you can’: many woodworkers have workshops full of timber that is too small to use! Finally, keep all wood storage areas well ventilated and avoid damp conditions. A dehumidifier is recommended.
Word Discription :
PAR (planed all round) The term refers to softwoods that have been planed on all four sides.
Waney edge The natural edge of a plank, which may still have a covering of bark.