Buying timber

Buying timber is a frustrating business at the best of times. In fact I’d go as far as saying it is my least favourable part of the entire woodworking experience.

Our usual experience starts off by buying timber (a very loose definition if force-grown, crapiata (aka pine)) from the local box hardware store. It is twisted, warped, cupped, and all the other faults you could possibly find in this timber is guaranteed to be there, often in every piece you pick up. You don’t even know if it has finished twisting and warping- the timber seems so green it hasn’t realised it has been cut down and milled yet! It might be fine for houses, but it might explain why you can never seem to find a straight wall in a house too.

Some stores get very shirty with you if you even try to pick and choose (although if you get one of these, I’d encourage you to stop patronising their store and take your money elsewhere. Life is hard enough without being forced to buy crap timber).

Even if you can pick and choose, you can get SO frustrated. Because it is all pretty useless.

Bunnings once used to stock (overpriced) jarrah, and at least that was a reasonable timber, but that stopped years ago and the average backyard shed dweller was left with little options.

So we are stuck with rubbish, or heading to a specialist timber merchant, and the prices (at least in Melbourne) can leave one wondering why bother woodworking at all. It is very hard for the amateur to know if they are getting ripped off or not- sure feels like it.

So the next step is to source a timber yard, and try to get something better, without taking out a second mortgage.

I’m still stuck around this stage: I don’t make enough large projects to have found a supplier I have a good relationship with, and I won’t buy from the box hardware store if I can possibly help it. The standard penance is three Hail Marys.


I don’t have a good answer yet, and probably goes a long way to explain some of the tools in my workshop, or at least why their predecessors were first purchased.

The bandsaw for resawing timber to close to final dimension.

The jointer to get a side flat, and an edge square to that side.

The thicknesser to get the remaining side parallel to the first, and the timber to the required thickness.

Finally, the moisture content meter, hopefully to help ensure the timber is at least dry enough to ensure it won’t continue to twist & cup any more than it has to.

You will notice I don’t use either of the two conventional naming systems:
Jointer & Planer is the typical US naming convention
Planer & Thicknesser is typical for UK/Australia

I bastardise them both and use jointer & thicknesser as I feel this is less confusing. Having two different machines both called planer: bound to confuse! Of course, a thicknesser thins, but that is another idiocyncracy best solved another day!

9 Responses

  1. gday stu happy new year,
    Sourcing timber has always been a PITA since crapiata took over as the builders timber of choice. At the big green shed they sell both types of timber treated and untreated (ha-ha). But you can source from smaller concerns if you put in the time and effort I recently picked up a couple of hundred metres of tasoak roughsawn 150×25 at$1.50 lm and have done similar things in the past you just have to grab things and store them till needed cause they are never there when you go back. Maybe with loewes opening up we will get more choice.Although when I watch the videos and read about what the US have in there lumber yards I go green with envy.

  2. I did read somewhere that Masters/Lowes will be stocking Poplar here at their general purpose timber. Still not a brilliant wood but should be better than the pine crap we usually find in these places.

    Stu, I’ve also found it frustrating to find a good timber supplier in Melbourne. There are a few about but I’ve had to shop around depending on what I’m after. No one place has it all or most, and certainly not at a reasonable price either.

    Here’s hoping 2012 is different – not likely though. 🙂

  3. Poplar! Here alot about it used in the States but my understanding is that it is a hardwood that blunts tools quickly! Correct me if I’m wrong?

    • As do I Mike – Poplar seems to be the generic wood of choice for carcass building, etc. Haven’t heard about it blunting tools quickly, but this shouldn’t pose an issue for those used to Australian hardwoods! 🙂

      • Masters are indeed stocking Polar as well as Red Oak and what looks like Baltic Birch ply. This only comes in small sheets and only up to 12mm, but it is void free and and has at least a b finish on both sides.

  4. Hi Stu, I fully concur with your statements, the only thing I would add is that the situation is even worse in NSW.

    I tried to bring this situation up in the Australian woodwork forum

    but eventually got howled down, mainly by people who work in the trade and are, apparently, pretty happy with the situation. It beats me.

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