Quality is a big factor to consider when making any purchase. Just think of food or a part for your car. In most instances, you get what you pay for. As a woodworker, and especially a woodworker who has worked with good and then not so good lumber, you know just how important quality is. Beginning woodworkers sometimes might look for the best deal on lumber. But as any experienced woodworker knows, the lowest priced lumber usually results in more cost by the time the project is complete. Here are some signs of low quality material and how it can end up costing you more in the long run.

Air Dried Lumber

There are too many uncertainties of air dried lumber. If you don’t know how important moisture content is in a project, make sure to check out our Wood and Water Relationship series. Air drying lumber can be done, and be done well for that matter. It will take a lot of research, time, and practice to really get the results that you want. And even with all this effort, the lumber still might have lots of drying defects. The biggest down side to air dried lumber is the lack of control of the drying rate. It is crucial in the early stages of drying, that you don’t dry the lumber too fast. If you do, you will have all kinds of checks, splits, or even honeycomb as a result. Lack of control also means you can’t guarantee consistent moisture content throughout a pack or even a board. If the lumber is air dried, there’s a good chance it contains one of these issues, which is why you should stay away from it.

Kiln Dried Properly

Kiln dried doesn’t automatically mean the lumber is high quality. It takes years to prefect the kiln drying process. If you dry the lumber too rapidly, it will experience drying defects. If you dry the lumber too slowly, the moisture of the wood and the moist environment in the kiln can cause the lumber to stain, and sometimes, even mold will start to grow. The lumber also needs to be equalized. This means all the samples (representation of all the lumber in the kiln) need to be within the proper moisture range. After it is equalized, the lumber goes through a conditioning process. Conditioning is a very crucial step to kiln drying lumber. When lumber is kiln dried, the surface/shell of the lumber dries out faster than the center/core of the lumber. This creates tension set, also known as “casehardening”. If this tension is not relieved, the lumber will produce all kinds of problems. It will cup if you resaw, bind at your blades while ripping, and the pieces will bow immediately after they have been machined. You really can’t make a decent piece of furniture out of unconditioned lumber. You might get some useable material from these boards, but you will have much more waste. Make sure to ask your lumber supplier if they equalize and condition the lumber. 

Grade and Waste Matters

You will always have waste in a board. You pay for the whole board so you want to make sure you’re getting your moneys worth. There are different grades of lumber for this reason. The higher the grade, the less waste you should have. Some products need boards that are wide and clear of defects, and for other products, this is not the case. Just think about it: For a table top, you want to have boards that are as wide as possible with very little to no defects. But if you look at a basketball court floor, you will find that there are no defects in the pieces but all the pieces are narrow and short. This is because the lumber flooring comes from is a lower grade. Lower grade doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality. Just expect to find more knots and defects through the boards. This means that if you remove the knots and defects, you are going to have more waste. So you would have to buy more footage to complete the same project. Sometimes you can make a product cheaper with a lower grade material, but other times you can’t.  

Here’s an example to put this in perspective: You are making a chair that requires 20 bf of red oak. Since the pieces are small, you want to see if you can save any money by purchasing 1 common material vs select and better. You can buy select and better for $2.50/bf and 1 common for $2.00/bf. Let’s figure you produce 15% waste with select and better and 35% waste with 1 common. That means to complete your project you would need to buy at least 23 bf of select and better or 26 bf of 1 common. This would make your total $57.50 for select and better and $52 for 1 common. So you would save $5.50 by using 1 common material. Is it worth all the hassle of cutting around knots? That’s for you to decide.

One other thing to note, if your lumber is low quality, whether it has a bunch of splits, checks, or wasn’t conditioned properly, you will have much more waste. You might pay more for high quality lumber up front but it will save you time and money in the long run. 

Cheap Lumber

Many woodworkers know you can find all kinds of “cheap” lumber on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. This might be a grandpa that wants sell some lumber to make more room in their shop or someone that loves to saw logs into lumber. Now, you can find a really good deal for some decent lumber, but many times the lumber is air dried or even green. And if you do find kiln dried material, it’s normally of the common grades (lower grades). And with most of this lumber, you don’t know the source of the lumber. This means you don’t know if it was kiln dried properly or even if they are selling it as the correct grade.

At the end of the day, you need to make sure your lumber supplier provides high quality. Low quality means more work and waste for you, and work and waste are the last things you want to be spending your money on.

Fine Craftsman Lumber is dedicated to providing our customers with the highest quality material. We kiln dry all of our lumber to 6-8% and make sure it is properly conditioned. We sell Fine Craftsman Grade (95% clear), Select and Better, and 1 Common and Better and also carry other grades, so if you are looking for a different grade, contact us at 1-888-903-3133 or [email protected].

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