Visiting a Timber Yard.

I’m sure that most activities could lend themselves to an analogy, comparing their key activities to that of the male perspective for sex and or the wooing of a beautiful woman. Surely visiting the timber yard to acquire the raw ingredients that make up that cabinet, table or chair that your building is no exception…

For those of you about to embark into a timber yard for the first time, you might find yourselves feeling awkward and or intimidated by the adventure that is the unknown and like many things, the solution lies in information and familiarity, unfortunately these two qualities come from experience. The solution is to ask questions, make mistakes and look silly (or more accurately feel silly), these are all part of everybody’s first encounter with the foreign, definitely not limited to the timber yard.

Comparably the motor mechanic is a more commonly accepted example of the intimidation that goes hand in hand with the unknown. Much like the timber yard comes with its own language and etiquette, the mechanic does too, so lets  “fiddle with the carbi and tweak the diffs… that’ll be six million dollars”, what does that mean? Why does it cost so much!?  Fortunately timber has less moving parts than a car and is far less complex. While timber does have its complicated intricacies, the purchase of it can be simplified into these simple guidelines, in order to ensure that you are happy, confident and prepared for your purchase:

Be prepared – confidence comes from being prepared, this means doing your research before the big date, identify the timber specifics within your product; colour, budget, density/weight and machine accessibility, these elements will reduce the number of timber types and assist in your choice. Also remember to take a tape measure and either a block plane or spoke shave,

Cutting list – while this isn’t mandatory, it will streamline your visit and make it easier for you to focus on selecting the boards, rather than fumbling with numbers in your head. Remember to be flexible within your cutting list as stock availability is unpredictable and is constantly changing, which might mean you will need to think on your feet.

Choosing your boards – each board is unique and needs to be inspected before purchase, as you are purchasing per meter, it is ideal to get timber of good quality, that is straight and without defects.

View each board by eyeing down the edge and face from one end, to identify; ‘cupping’, ‘twisting’ or ‘bowing’. Then look for; ‘knots’, ‘shakes’, ‘packing marks’ and anything else that reduces the quantity/quality of usable stock. Lastly inspect ends for ‘checking’, this is pretty common, however excessive ‘checking’ should be avoided.

Keep it neat – to ensure that you maintain a good relationship with the staff at the timber yard; don’t place timber faces on the ground, either stand on their end or use ‘saw horses’ available and lastly, restack unwanted boards back in correct section neatly, with numbers facing outwards.

This is the beginning of your project, as it is the beginning of all projects and it is important to realise that material choice is all about “getting off on the right foot”.

Timber choice is a major contributing factor in the sort of the woodworking experience you will have, whether that be one of progress and consistency or the contrary, in which you might find yourself faced with timber that cups and twists, offering only anxiety, as you continue to lose material to machines in a battle to achieve a ‘flat face’ and ‘square edge’. While it only affords a short amount of time, it should be considered as one of the most important parts of the completion of a product of integrity.

I hope that while reading this article you were busy attempting to identify the subtle hints that lend themselves to the euphemism, which I alluded to in the first paragraph of text. Whether I have actually addressed this subject matter or whether you have created your own connections is open for interpretation.

Is visiting a timber yard, like wooing a woman?

While its makes for a novel concept the complexity of women is by far, more substantial than that of any timber yard or motor mechanic. While you may find that the intimidation of the ‘timber yard’ fades away as your woodworking knowledge and familiarity increases, unfortunately the same cannot be said for ‘asking out’ that special someone. I would recommend however, asking your crush to dinner on April 1st, in which case you can quickly shout “April Fools!” when a rejection seems pending.


  • October 16, 2015 at 11:47 pm // Reply

    Fantastic article. I’ve only been to a timber yard once and it was actually less stressful than I thought it would be.

    One question though, what is the purpose of bringing a plane or spoke shave? Are timber yards really ok with you planing a piece of stock? And what can running a plane across a piece of timber tell you?

    • October 22, 2015 at 10:27 am // Reply

      Hi Henry,

      If you’re only taking off thin shavings from a small section of the face of a piece of timber then the timber yard guys don’t or shouldn’t mind. The purpose is to see the colour of the board more clearly, through its rough sawn exterior. Some timber species have a wide range of tones to them (like Tas/Vic Blackwood) and by viewing the dressed colour, it affords you the ability of choosing boards with similar tones.

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