If you are starting a new DIY woodworking project, among the first things on your planning to-do-list is sourcing the right wood. In this sense you have two main options – a big box hardware store, or your local lumber yard. There are several key differences between the two, among which are price, and quality.
Off the bat, you should know that it is cheaper to buy wood from a lumber yard. However, the cheaper price is just the beginning. This article will help to explain why it is cheaper to buy wood from a lumber yard, as well as the additional benefits of that come with purchasing lumber this way.
High Quality Lumber at a Lower Price
Lumber yards are able to offer cheaper prices on lumber because, well, that is all that they sell. While big box hardware stores can offer a quick pick-it-yourself lumber buying experience, this wood is typically worse in quality, and higher in price. This is because big box stores like Lowe’s, and Home Depot don’t really specialize in wood.
Instead, their lumber supply is only a small part of an over-encompasing inventory that includes hardware, tools, gardening, appliances, and manufactured products like doors and cabinets.
Lumber yards, on the other hand, focus on one thing, and one thing only, and that is wood. Since lumber yards purchase high volumes of lumber, and offer a wide selection of specialty wood, they tend to have buying leverage with their suppliers.
This leverage helps them be more competitive on price for their customers than big box stores are able to be, and even if their price on a particular type of wood is only within a few dollars higher or lower, it will come with much higher quality lumber.
A big factor in the quality of lumber is how it is stored. At a hardware store like Lowe’s the lumber is stored in tight stacks with little to no air flow, and it is heavily picked over due to the increased customer traffic these stores receive. This can cause the wood to be chipped, and bowed, which decreases the quality of the lumber, as well as the strength of the boards.
Instead, a lumber yard will store it’s wood in methodical ways that provide for airflow on all four sides. This goes a long way in terms of letting the wood dry. Wood that is high in moisture is called “green wood.”
This is the natural state of the wood when it is harvested. However, unless you are building a vertical cedar fence, purchasing green wood can be haphazardly as the moisture will eventually dry out from the boards. As the moisture evaporates, the boards can start to crack and split.
The second reason that improves the quality of wood at a lumber yard is their selection of kiln dried wood. A kiln is a huge room or structure that slowly dries out green wood. Wood is stored in a kiln in a very methodical way that allows for complete control over proper air flow, as well as other factors like temperature, and humidity.
The wood is heated at a temperature of 125 degrees. Purchasing kiln dried wood is a good way to ensure the boards you use on your DIY project will not weather or wear due to losing moisture. Big box stores typically either do not offer kiln dried wood, or a very small selection of it due to the fact that they do not have a kiln onsite.
Buying kiln dried wood is especially important when it comes to structure framing projects such as a deck or a roof. Framing something that will need to bear a lot of weight requires that the wood be rock solid structurally. Therefore, the lumber used for these projects needs to be as dry as possible.
When it comes to telling the difference between green wood and kiln dried wood, you can ask a lumber yard associate as they know their inventory, but you can also test yourself. Pick up two standard size boards like a 2 x 4, or a 1 x 8. If one is significantly heavier then you can assume that is still green. Boards with a high moisture percentage are much heavier than boards that have been kiln dried.
Besides just the higher quality and cheaper prices, there are several other great reasons to buy your wood from a lumber yard. One of these is that people who work at a lumber yard know their product better than anyone. It’s all that they do, and it’s the only thing that they sell.
For example, if you want to buy your mother some really great flowers for Mother’s Day are you going to purchase them from your grocery store, or a greenhouse? Probably the latter. This makes sense because a greenhouse does not just sell flowers, they know flowers.
They have a wider selection, with higher qualities, and probably cheaper prices. They also know all about the flowers in their greenhouse. They know how old they are, when they were planted or purchased, and the best way to care for them.
If you are interested in learning more about buying from a sawmill, check out my article “How to Buy Lumber From a Sawmill to Save Money.“
Buying wood from a lumber yard is no different. These people are wood experts. They know their product. They can tell you how long a certain stack has been in their inventory, how long they have been air dried, or how long ago they were kiln dried. They can also help answer any questions you may have about which kind of wood to use, and how to use it in your project.
Lumber yards are also a great community resource when it comes to finding the right contractor. A reputable contractor will inevitably buy their wood for a lumber yard, and have built up a reputable relationship with that lumber yard.
The lumber yard in turn has referred these contractors to many happy customers, so they know which ones are trustworthy and just right for your project.
Another great reason to buy your wood from a lumber yard is the opportunity to have it custom cut for your DIY needs. While a hardware store can cut your wood, it is typically only to length. You can also cut it yourself, but it might result in imperfect cuts, and may diminish your wood supply quicker as you try to get the cut just right.
Instead, a lumber yard can cut your wood however you need it. Since the lumber yard employees are solid wood pros, they can custom cut your wood with precision. Whether it’s for a certain angle or roof pitch, or needs to thinner, your local lumber yard can get it done.
Rough Cut Wood
Another advantage of purchasing your wood through a lumber yard or saw mill is the ability to get rough cut wood. This wood is typically much stronger than a regular manufactured board. Rough cut boards are cut at dimensions that are 50% larger than the normal cross section like 2 x 4 or 1 x 6.
For reference, a cross section is not the actual dimensions of a board. In fact most boards are a half inch shorter on both the height and width. This means that a board with a stated cross section of 2 x 4, is really 1.5 x 3.5.
Rough cut boards are typically much closer to the stated cross section dimensions. This increased size greatly strengthens the structure of the boards. This is incredibly useful when it comes to framing support structures such as joists and rafters.
The only downside to purchasing rough cut wood is the fact that it can be quite heavy. This makes sense of course when you consider the boards are much larger. However, the increased weight is definitely worth noting when it comes to transporting the wood to your job site, as well as any heavy lifting you might have to do.
Other Related Topics
Where Does Lowes and Home Depot Get Their Lumber?
They actually get their lumber from the same suppliers. Lumber is like most other products with the American supply chain system. One manufacturer or supplier will produce a good or product and sell it at multiple locations under different brands. Lumber is no different.
Is Lumber 84 cheaper than Home Depot or Lowes?
Typically, you are going to find that Home Depot has the cheapest lumber between the big box stores. Lowe’s is typically the second cheapest (though it’s close).
Lumber 84 is going to be the more expensive option between the three brands. However, their quality is typically better than the big box stores because it’s less picked over.
During the summer of 2020, lumber prices have risen dramatically. Most prices have doubled for product compared to the early months of the year.
Does Home Depot or Lowes have better lumber?
It’s generally going to be the same. They both get their lumber from the same suppliers. It’s really going to come down to luck of the draw when finding the best wood at either store. Some visits, you may find Home Depot has the better quality and selection, while other trips it could be reversed and go in Lowe’s favor.