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JOEL Joel's Blog

Wood - In the Rough or What?


Wood - In the Rough or What? 4When I build my first real bit of furniture I didn't have a jointer (hand or power) or a planer, and basically I knew nothing. So off I went to Constantine, which was then in the Bronx, and I bought a pile of ready planed cherry.

I got it home, it warped, and I never got the record cabinet square.

Since then I learned never to buy pre-surfaced wood for anything important.

I've broken that rule for poplar because I can get pretty stable poplar, but nothing else.

Fast forward to today. A salesman for a big lumber yard stopped by to say hello. Then he volunteered the information that his lumber yard, which is one of the few places left in New York City that stocks Walnut and Cherry no longer stocks it in the rough. And the wood is shipped to them from the mill already planed.

The official reason is that it's what most of his customers - professional cabinetmakers - want. A lot of professionals who use wood, mostly use it for parts of furniture - doors, trim, etc. and don't or can't want to take the time to let the wood settle. Also he says that a lot of his customers can't read the grain unless the wood is planed.

For anyone making traditional hardwood furniture this is a major problem. The minute wood enters a normally heated shop it will start moving and the only way to have a stable project is to first sticker it and then let the wood acclimate to the workshop climate. Then mill it. For project lasting a long time it even make sense to let the wood acclimate to your shop, then mill to a fat dimension, sticker it and let it settle more, and then joint and plane to final dimension.

I should mention that all accurate milling starts with a jointer (either by hand or machine) before using the planer to get the material to thickness. The planer rolls flatten the lumber so you need to joint to first to get a flat reference surface.

If you need to see the grain as the lumberyard to skip plane it for you. Skip planing just takes a light pass off the wood removing the high spots and that way you can see the grain.

You can buy planed wood, let it settle and plane it again, that will waste a lot of wood (and if you are milling by hand - more time) and of course cost more.

I don't know where my next solid lumber order is coming from (probably not from around here). :(
Join the conversation
11/30/2010 Kris
Great post Joel. I have a couple small lumber shops around here that can't believe someone wants to buy lumber in the rough. They don't think the guy that walks in from the street has the equipment or ability to mill lumber. Maybe some want the lumber planed, but I like you, want to do my own milling and let the wood settle before planing to proper size. I too have been in that position where I've bought an already planed board and then have it twist and render it useless. At least for the thickness it started as. Skip planing is great as you can see the grain plus it comes to you around 7/8" or 15/16" (assuming a 4/4 board).

Sure there may be an instance where you get a 3/4" piece of lumber and you plan to take it so say 5/8" or so, but for my money I'll stick to rough cut.

Besides, flattening a pieces of lumber by hand is just plain enjoyable. Plus it's the one thing that will quickly warm you up on those cold winter mornings when you first walk in the shop.

You might try Johnson's Workbench in Charlotte, MI. They will ship any quantity of wood (rough or finished) to you. I've been a satisfied customer of Johnson's for years. Their website is:

Best of luck!

Zach Dillinger
11/30/2010 Matt S.

I don't know if this will be helpful, but Groff and Groff lumber south of Lancaster, PA has a wonderful selection of lumber in the rough.

All the domestics you could want plus plenty of exotics if that is your thing. They are a sawmill so they can custom cut whatever you want. They ship too, but that is obviously not near as good as selecting the wood yourself. A good, independent company.
11/30/2010 SFPaul
This I think is partially to blame for the people who have let the big box stores take over their towns, villages and cities.
My parents died and it was up to the kids to fix up their house and sell it. My brother, the architect and general contractor from a little town in Virginia and I, former carpenter did the work. We would show in Dayton, Ohio and go at it. He would got to Home Depot and buy his lumber. I had never set foot in one of them and the experience was nauseating. I said, "Don't you buy your lumber at a lumber yard. How can you buy your lumber in a store with UPC codes on each stick?" He shrugged.
And I think this is just a harbinger of things to come. People have given up variety and quality in exchange to save a penny.
11/30/2010 Larry James
I live in Marquette, MI. Marquette is in Michigans Upper Peninsula on the shore of Lake Superior. Lot of logging in this area - mostly for pulp wood.

I live about a 20 minute drive from a mill. I buy rough cut 15/16 inch kiln dried lumber and plane it down to about 7/8 inch, and then sticker it on a rack in my basement shop area for about 2 months before using. I have an occasional wild piece of wood, but usually there is very little wood movement.

I use mostly red oak, and some maple and cherry.

The mill is Bell Forest Products and the majority of their sales are online.

Check them out, they claim to have lowest shipping prices online - but I can't verify that.

Standard disclaimer - no connection to company.

11/30/2010 David Gendron
Great post Joel! I'm the same way, just rough for me and i'm moving towards air dried as well it feels beter working it with hand tools(I only use hand tools...I only have hand tools)!!
11/30/2010 Ken
What's the lumberyard in NYC called?

There are 2 big lumberyards in NYC.


And condon. (Maurice Condon) not sure if the spelling is right.

There is also roberts plywood

For a great list of lumber availability in the us go to
11/30/2010 Pete
Plenty of lumber mills and Sawyers Up here in the Mid-Hudson area. If you are up for an 1.5 hour drive its do able, or there are many in the local Woodworker Club who could meet you half way....
12/01/2010 Joshua Clark
Like Joel said, try Condon's in White Plains. They have the best selection of domestic and exotic hardwoods I've found in this area. There are plenty of mills closer to me that carry the common stuff but if I need something special I make the trip to Condon's. Bring your check book though, literally and figuratively. They aren't cheap (but also not outrageously expensive) and they don't take cards.

12/01/2010 Mitch Wilson
If you don't mind shipping charges, then I recommend Lakeshore Hardwoods ( in Pulaski, NY, which is about an hour's drive north of Syracuse. (Full disclosure: I have absolutely no affiliation with them other than that I am a happy and satisfied customer.) Does a great job with his kiln drying and has wonderful Adirondack cherry, along with lots of other woods and quality plywoods. Usually has rough cherry available on skid sales.
12/01/2010 Stuart Hough
Thanks for this post! As a neophyte I didn't understand why my "store-bought" stock did what it did, and now I know why! The supposed time savings coupled with the frustration caused by having to get more stock come at a higher "personal cost" than starting with rough stock and following the multiple steps you explained. Thanks again for this insghtful post!
12/02/2010 Charles

I really hate to post this for everyone to see, but I've been to visit Irion Lumber in Wellsboro, PA and it was like a candy store. I am not exaggerating when I say I thought about buying a full trailerload to have it shipped to CA, where I used to live (I was in PA visiting family). His prices are the best I've seen, and his quality is better than I've ever found. Website's not the greatest though.

Louis Irion's the owner, and he's a former professional reproduction furniture maker, so he know very well what we want, and he's generally just a great guy. If he wasn't so nice to me, I'd keep the yard a secret for myself...

(I'm not affiliated with Irion in any way)

P.S. I'm very happy with the Ashley Isles tools I bought last December, and I plan to be a repeat customer soon. Thanks for the Blog!

I just started working for a large lumber supplier to help them establish an ecommerce presence. As you say, the truth is really that the hobby and amateur woodworkers buy so little compared to even a mid sized shop. Compare this to the window and door or millwork shops and even the mid size furniture shop is next to nothing in quantity. When we the woodworker go into a yard, the lumber in the racks may have lived in 3 or 4 yards already before ending up there. There are many middle men in this industry from the forest to the lumber rack. When a supplier tells you they can only provide planed stock then that is probably because the people that supply them only provide it that way. 90% of the users don't want the hassle of planing it themselves so as you move upstream in the supply chain, vendors are trying to make their customers happy and milling the wood before hand. Honestly, if you work with a firm that imports or sources directly from the sawyer then you should have the option of rough or planed.
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