Basic carpentry skills can be one of the most rewarding things to acquire. Building a little coffee table or a set of benches feels empowering, fills you with a sense of pride, and adds real character to a house.
Wood is often the most expensive part of these projects, particularly for those with a few tools already lying around. Box stores have lots of milled lumber, but it’s often overpriced and lacks charisma. Small lumber mills can offer more unique woods, but sometimes they are difficult to find and priced to value.
Using imperfect wood, with knots, notches, and personality, makes for much more interesting projects. Old, repurposed wood is less expensive, and there are many outlets for getting it cheaply, sometimes even for free.
Hardware Stores/Garden Centers
Pallet wood is fantastic small project wood. Pallets are often built with hardwoods, and the boards are very well sized for most of the furniture any of us would attempt to build. Plus, the individual pieces of lumber often have scars and marks that add to the rustic feel of repurposing projects. Hardware stores and garden centers are fine sources for finding old pallets and crates, frequently for free.
Old Barns and Houses
For those who live in or near the countryside, many fields have dilapidated sheds, barns, and houses warily standing. Some owners are more than willing for someone to come and take the building down in exchange for the lumber. Other owners will charge small fees for the privilege of doing it. Whatever the case, old buildings tend to have fantastic lumber with valuable woods, such as white oak, chestnut, black locust, and heart pine. Craigslist is a great place to skim if this sounds like a winner.
For those willing to spend a little money in order to avoid the labor of taking something apart, salvage yards are ideal for finding interesting cuts of wood, including thick, live-edge slabs. There are also lots of shops these days that specialize in reclaimed wood, and they’ll offer large lots of flooring, posts, and other specialty pieces. Basically, these shops are selling the wood found in those old barns and houses, as well as factories and other such structures. If price is not a huge issue, they are the best way to find primo used wood.
Construction sites are insanely wasteful, and the large dumpsters that sit on them can be a treasure trove of tossed lumber. For creative carpenters, it’s quite possible to piece together enough wood for a nice potting table or fun projects. Remodeling jobs are much the same. People often tear out perfectly good kitchens and replace them with newer versions. This leaves a lot of quality wood in the dumpster. Why not use it?
Unfortunately for the planet, as a society we’ve not yet come to always value the materials we can salvage from torn out decks or remodeled bathrooms. But, many of those materials are perfectly good for reuse. Contacting demolition companies or handymen who do this kind of work can be a great source for inexpensive or free wood. They are often as disturbed by throwing all of the material away as the hobbyist carpenter is excited for getting it.
This can be a rather regional find, but for those who happen to be near furniture companies, particularly those that make wooden furniture, these can be amazing for finding job lots of quality wood. Manufacturers will often have to ditch a piece of lumber for small imperfections, so they’ll pile them up and sell them off all at once for a steal of a deal. Once the home projects get rolling, this is an inexpensive way to stock up on timber.
Lumber mills and lumber yards sometimes find themselves with a surplus of wood or in need of clearing away waste wood. For the inquiring shopper, there might be a lot of boards that have a little damage or an awkward twist. Some of these won’t be of interest; others will be top-notch with just a cut or two. It’s worth asking at these places. Some will be dead ends, but it only takes one to provide a steady supply of cheap building material.
The Neighbors’ Yards
While milled lumber is what we typically think of when looking for wood for carpentry projects, fallen trees and branches can actually make dandy table legs or framework for many items. With the right type of hardware, this kind of wood can add real heft to a piece of furniture. For those with knowledge of a small, local sawmill, it’s even possible to get fallen trees cut into some really nice boards. But, it does take quite some time for the fresh wood to cure.
With a little initiative, it’s really easy to find inexpensive, attractive, unique, and sturdy wood for lots of carpentry projects. And, once the saw gets cutting, the whole thing starts to get addictive. It’s a lot of fun.
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