How to get the best lumber from Lowe’s or Home Depot!

Lowes and Home Depot both carry graded lumber (usually #2 and better), although you may see a lot of lumber with low moisture content for framing lumber – prone to splitting- and lumber from Fast growing trees that don’t have the same qualities as the older, slow-growing trees of my youth.  I will try to shed some light on lumber buying.

Lumber grading is usually visual, and based on the timber.  Graders can have variation within lots of timber, and a board that is a pristine  #2 on one end can be dunnage or scrap on the opposite end!

Lumber is graded and stamped, with mill numbers, Grade, and features like Kiln drying.

Rules and Specifications for the Grading of Lumber: Adopted by the Various Lumber Manufacturing Associations of the United States
Rules and Specifications for the Grading of Lumber: Adopted by the Various Lumber Manufacturing Associations of the United States

The more you know more about lumber, you can see why many DIY’ers and tradesmen have a concern about mass-marketed lumber at big box stores. There can be tremendous variation in grades, and QUALITY, depending on the mill and experience of the graders.

My advice is not to label the wood product of either store good or bad, but look at the stamp and inspect the wood when you purchase it. I frequently pick through lumber ALL THE TIME when I buy it, and it will vary from one side of the pallet to the other.  I even sight down the long end of the boards, to ensure they are straight – as opposed to cupped, bowed, twisted, or warped.

More Books on Lumber grading from Amazon

So understand lumber grading (don’t buy #2 common when you need a #1 select), buy the best lumber for your project, and inspect it when you pick it. No one wants to run from store to store picking boards, so make the best compromise you can.

I would also recommend that you speak to the Lumber Manager at the store, they usually are familiar with the product they have in stock, and can suggest material that is “out in the yard”

The Essential Wood Book: The Woodworker’s Guide to Choosing and Using Lumber
The Essential Wood Book: The Woodworker’s Guide to Choosing and Using Lumber

In this time of pandemic, I needed some Pressure treated lumber, which is in short supply – I ordered 30% more than called for, and crossed my fingers that the product delivered was “good enough” for the project. Fortunately, I got lucky!

What tools do I need to turn a small log (10in/ 25cm diameter) into 1/4″/6.5mm thick boards?

If your log is green wood (freshly cut, or “wet”), you will need a bandsaw with a throat larger than 10″ (and capable of dealing with the irregularity in a long 10″ diameter log).

I would recommend (on the modest side) a 14″ – 18″ bandsaw like this one by Laguna Tools:

Laguna 18″ bandsaw

Then you would need a sled, or carriage to transport the log through the bandsaw.

This is a homemade log cutting jig for short logs: Super Simple Band Saw Log Sled, from Instructables.

If your log is long, you will need to make a support or rails so it will slide evenly through the saw without binging or cutting at an angle or curve. your logs are larger then 10″ and heavy, your best solution is to purchase a small sawmill.  This book is available on Amazon, and worth reading, so that you understand the principles and capabilities of a portable saw mill.

If the log is green, you have to allow for drying and shrinkage, so you may cut the pieces 1/2′ thick and then use a thickness planer to get it to the final 1/4″ thickness, after allowing the wood to dry to dry. (8–10% moisture content before planing). This is some good information on how to dry wood; Cutting And Drying Logs Into Boards – Woodworkers guild of America.

after the wood is dried to 6-10% moisture content, you will need a thickness planer.  Thickness Planers are available from big box stores, Amazon, and eBay.

After the wood is sized to thickness, you will need a jointer and a table saw to clean up a long edge and square the board.

At this point your 1/4″ S4S (surfaced 4 sides) boards are ready for fabrication.

Some caveats: These are powerful machines, and caution must be exercised with each machining operation. Use protective gear like safety glasses, ear protection, dust protection, and gloves. Make sure you have all the machines setup and working correctly, and make test passes before machining all the wood, so the slabs will be uniform and true. (parallel sides).

Depending on your specific application, you may need a larger bandsaw, a tablesaw, a jointer, and more – especially if you make the jigs and supporting tables yourself.

Thank you for reading, and Have fun making your own boards from logs!

Disclaimer: I am a trained woodworker and have my own blog, The Chenkin Workshop