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How do you plan how much wood to buy?

dfg's picture

I'm fairly new to woodworking and have been starting to do some larger projects.  I just wondered how others planned how much wood to buy for larger projects.  Do you actually layout the boards on your cut list and determine lengths and widths that will be required?  How much extra do you buy in this case? Or, do you calculate an amount of board feet you need, add a waste factor, just determine about what widths would be best and head to the wood supplier?

Hope this isn't too silly a question...


RickL's picture

(post #77200, reply #1 of 14)

25% is the general rule of thumb in the industry and adjusted accordingly to the project, species, quality of the stock. Experience will be your best learning guide...just do it!

mudmanmike's picture

(post #77200, reply #2 of 14)

I would hate to give a specific number, though it probably averages out to what Rick said. I do take time to lay all the boards out and figure out how I can cut around knots and sapwood. It takes a lot of time and you need to find a patient lumber yard that dosen't mind. I usually tip the cashier guy $20 and he lets me in the wharehouse by myself so I can dig through every stack and make a huge mess (I do put it back). If I go early (7 AM) they will pull the stack with a forklift and drop it outside so I can cull through it in better light. Sometimes it takes me 4 hours to pull my lumber. I pretty much always work with cherry, maple, or oak, so any time I find a nice board especially quarter sawn I keep it. I love my pile of wood!


please excuse my spelling.
please excuse my spelling.
BenM's picture

(post #77200, reply #3 of 14)

You should always determine what width and length boards you need to be able to cut out the project components.  It's not enough to just know how many board feet you need.  For example, if your project needs 3 boards each 4 feet long, that's 12 LF.  If you buy 2 boards each 6 feet long that's also 12 LF but you'll be making another trip to the lumber yard.

Once you are at the yard you can see the quality of the wood.  By checking your cut list (I graphically produce it on an outline of "standard" size boards) you can see if large or loose knots can be cut out, if a damaged edge will be cut away, etc.  The waste factor also depends on the type of wood.

Mike54's picture

(post #77200, reply #4 of 14)

I use the program at cutlist with the price of wood I hate to buy more than I need or have to make another trip to the mill.

mudmanmike's picture

(post #77200, reply #5 of 14)

The cutlist software is great and really speeds up the process. However if you are striving for excellence it does not help much because when you get to the yard the boards will have knots, sapwood, checks, undesirable grain, and all the other things that make wood ....... wood. If you choose to not include these "imperfections" in your piece the software really can't account for it. The two most importaint parts of any project are selecting lumber, and the finish. Those two elements are 80% of what differentiates "fine furniture" and "Great considering you made it in the garage". You say that you are a beginer, but it is never to early to start thinking like a master.


please excuse my spelling.
please excuse my spelling.
dfg's picture

(post #77200, reply #7 of 14)

The whole idea of random widths and lengths, coupled with the need to cut out knots, gnarly grain and sap wood is what lead me to ask the question.  It would seem like laying out my cuts up front would be great and efficient only if I could get wood of the correct width and length and perfectly clear.

The idea of buying in bulk at 8/4 is appealing and I would love to do it, but I don't think I really make enough to justify having all the wood around.  Guaranteed if I had 100 bd ft of cherry laying around the next piece my wife would want would be in maple.

What I ended up doing today was a quick layout to get a feel for what shape boards it was going to take and how much.  When I go to buy later in the week I'll buy boards wider and longer than what I came up with.

Interesting to hear how others approach this.



jackplane's picture

(post #77200, reply #11 of 14)

I apply some general rules:

 If you have storage space, buy at price break amounts such as 500 or 1000 bd ft depending on supplier and species. Also store sheet goods of several thicknesses.

 I make a scaled drawing for each project, with plan and elevations. From that I calculate exactly all dimensions of sheet and solid goods, adding 15-20%.

  It's important to note that not all solid wood be flawless; usually only one face and an edge or two are ever seen. So buy accordingly. Happy hunting.

Expert since 10 am.

GHR's picture

(post #77200, reply #6 of 14)

I usually buy lumber in 200 bdft lots, in 8/4 thickness and 10" or more in width.

Then I make my pieces fit the lumber I have on hand.

I have some nice 20" x 9' cherry that will make 2 tables about 36"x8'-6"

LD's picture

(post #77200, reply #8 of 14)

I determine the approx bdft I need and throw in a factor of 25%.  I do not cull for knots or sap wood.  I personally believe that natural blemishes add to the uniqueness of the piece I'm making.  If there are loose knots  or the checks will  cause weakness, then I remove those.

If you always remove that stuff, then your pieces will look like the same stuff you buy at any furniture store.  Same grain, same color, same everything.

To me there is nothing more beautiful than a spalted board or a walnut leg with some streaks of sapwood running through it.


mudmanmike's picture

(post #77200, reply #12 of 14)


I don't know where you buy your furniture, I have NEVER seen production furniture with matching grain and even color. I frequent the best retailers in Dallas, the grain is always random, at best. The only time the color comes close to being even is if they use a very dark stain followed by a tinted finish. Basicly that hides the color variation and discontinuity in the grain. As a woodworker I try to create perfection in the context of that particular piece, weather it is rustic with knots or simply elegant. I agree that when artisticly concieved natural blemishes can be stunning, particularly when the grain flows and is harmonious. Remember that a tree in its natural state has perfectly matched grain and color characteristics. It is only after it is cut up into pieces that mother natures order is disturbed.


please excuse my spelling.
please excuse my spelling.
RandMCapozzi's picture

(post #77200, reply #9 of 14)

I come up a parts list. I then determine the rough lumber I need to make those parts. This also forces me to think about what joinery I'll be using so I can factor that in as well. 

I normally try to come up with 1 or 2 versions of the boards I need. Each version uses different rough lumber (6"x10' 4/4, 6"x8' 4/4, and 8"x10' 4/4 for example). As soon as I get to the lumber yard they just about never have the exact boards I planned for. Having alternatives already identified helps.


AlbionWood's picture

(post #77200, reply #10 of 14)

Not a silly question at all, this is something I spend a lot of time on. The nearest good supplier of hardwood is 2 hours' drive from my shop, so I have to make sure I get the wood I need on the first trip; but overbuying cuts into my profit, which is minimal enough already, and I don't have the room for storing a lot of extra stock.

So I figure out the rough-cut size of each piece, then go see what they have at the yard and select boards. Let's say I need 4 pieces 32" long by 7" wide for something. If they have one board 7-1/2 inches wide and 12 feet long, perfect - very little waste. But if the boards are all 8 feet long, big problem: I can only get 2 pieces out of each one, because 2 to 4 inches on each end is unusable, so now the waste factor is 33%. If the boards are all 6 inches wide, more trouble: I'll have to join up to get the 7" and the waste factor goes way up.

So, I generate a rough-cut list (allowing an inch or two extra on each piece) and take that to the yard, figure out which lengths they have and which are more efficient, get them to fork out the stack I need, sort through that for the best boards, restack the unit and tally up. Fortunately the guys at Mount Storm are very accommodating and don't seem to mind, as long as I come down when they aren't swamped with contractors.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."  A. Einstein

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."  A. Einstein

Mackwood's picture

(post #77200, reply #13 of 14)


Find some good wood.  Buy all you can afford; then mortgage your house and buy some more!!  JK LOL




"Close enough for government work=measured with a micrometer, marked with chalk and cut with an axe"

DaveinPa's picture

(post #77200, reply #14 of 14)

Normally, I pull what I need from my stock. Being I do most of my work in clear pine (90%) I keep both 1x6x12' and 1x8x12' in stock. When I have cutoffs I store them in my overhead and mark width and length on the edge. When it comes to the cherry and black walnut I keep them in the overhead above my toolbox with width and length marked on it. I keep their lengths between 4' and 6' with a max of 6" wide. I'd go broke if I started going to 6/4 and 8/4 stock. If I need more I buy it and go from there.

BTW has anybody here have customers wanting kitchen cabinets made from black walnut? I have had two requests so far this summer. Darker woods are making a come back in kitchens due to better lighting?!?!?

Dave in Pa.