Woodworking: How to shop for wood

There are a few main things that you need to consider before purchasing wood for working. In this article, I will explain where to buy your wood, what to bring with you when purchasing wood and what to expect, how to choose the right wood for your needs, what not to do when purchasing wood, and the cheapest way to buy wood for woodworking.


  1. Where to buy wood for woodworking?
  2. How to choose the right wood for woodworking?
  3. What to bring with your when purchasing wood?
  4. What to do before your wood buying visit?
  5. How to check the wood before purchasing?

By the end of this article, you will know all of the basics to make your first, or 100th, wood shopping visit.

Where to buy wood for woodworking?

You can buy wood from lumber yards, home department stores, retail stores, sawmills, and online. The place that is best for you will depend on the type of wood that you are looking for and your expertise with shopping for wood.

Home department stores

  • Completely dried wood
  • Less wood types
  • Small to large purchases
  • Generally more expensive
  • Wood cutting equipment


  • May not be completely dried
  • More wood types
  • Larger purchases
  • Generally cheaper
  • Generally no wood cutting equipment


  • Completely dried wood
  • More wood types
  • Medium to larger purchases
  • Generally no wood cutting equipment

1. Home department stores

Home department stores is perfect for the beginner woodworker because if the store is not understaffed, you will have an associate to help you with the purchase. Additionally, most home department stores have machinery to cut your wood pieces to a rough size so that you can fit it in your car.

Less wood types

Home department stores are also great for those who want popular wood species like poplar or maple wood. Everything is also nicely laid out so that you know the exact wood dimensions, grade, pricing, and other specifications that may not be as organized in a lumber yard.

Completely dried wood

Larger home department stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot carry a certain level of integrity so that you know that the wood was handled properly. However, home department stores may not sell the top of the line and highest quality wood. If you want that, then you will likely have to go to a dedicated lumber supplier.

2. Sawmills

Sawmills are businesses that cut logs into lumber. Lumberyards, home department stores, and big box retailers then purchase the lumber to sell to customers.

Cut out middleman

One of the benefits of purchasing wood directly from a sawmill is that you essentially cut out the middleman. However, not everyone can purchase directly from a sawmill.

Requires larger purchases

Most DIYers do not need enough lumber to make a purchase from larger sawmills. Sometimes, you can still purchase from these sawmills if you are a part of an organization or group that makes larger purchases.

More wood types

Sawmills also have many wood types, and you can likely find most of what you are looking for. Lumberyards and department stores purchase wood from sawmills, so they will have those wood types and maybe more.

May not be completely dried

One of the downsides to sawmills is that you will need to do your homework and know what you are looking for. Additionally, you will need to know how wood works, how to read moisture content, how to check for bugs, and how to dry wood that is not fully dry.

3. Lumber Yards

Lumber yards benefit because you can purchase wood that is properly dried. However, it is still good to still bring a moisture meter to a lumber yard because not all lumber yards are made equal, and some may not have wood that is dried completely.

More wood types

Additionally, lumber yards tend to have more wood types than home department stores. Home department stores sell the most common types of wood. Lumber yards have a much wider variety.

More equipment needed

One of the cons with lumber yards, is that you will need more expertise with purchasing wood than if you went to a home department store. It is best to know exactly what you are looking for. You will need to inspect the wood more, than if you went to a home department store. You will need to look for bugs and it is good to also check the moisture content of the wood.

When purchasing from lumber yards, it is also good to bring a circular saw or portable jobsite table saw to cut the wood to a rough length so that you can fit it in your transportation. Some lumber yards do not have cutting machinery for that on hand.

How to choose the right wood for woodworking?

When woodworking, you need to take into consideration what the project will be used for when choosing the right wood for the job.

Questions to ask yourself when picking a wood type

  1. Is the item going to be outside in the elements, in constant direct or indirect contact with sunlight?
  2. Will it be in contact with food, especially ready-to-eat foods?
  3. Will it be exposed to excess moisture?
  4. Is the lumber used for structural purposes, like the framing of a house?

All of these questions are important to choosing the right wood type for your needs. Below I will do a brief overview of wood characteristics, but if you are more interested in choosing the right wood type, then you should check out my article where I explain different wood types and how to choose the best one for you.

Solid wood vs. particle board

Choosing between solid wood and particle board is one of the first decisions that you should make with planning a project.

Solid Wood

  • Larger sheets
  • Not for structural uses

Particle Board

  • Dimensional lumber
  • For structural uses
  • Can be for outdoor uses

In some instances, particle board is not feasible. Particle board should not be used for anything structural, like the legs of a table. You should always use solid wood for weight bearing parts of a project.

However, particle board comes in larger sizes of 4ft by 8ft which makes if very easy to use for tabletops and similar projects. However, due to the characteristics of particle board, it is likely that you will need solid wood to prevent warping. To learn more about solid wood and particle board, then you should check out another article “How to choose wood for woodworking”, where I explain in depth the differences between particleboard and solid wood.

Hardwood vs. Softwood


  • Dense
  • Heavier
  • More likely to split
  • Stronger
  • Generally more expensive


  • Less dense
  • Light
  • Less likely to split
  • Generally cheaper

Hardwood tends to be more dense and heavier than softwood. Hardwood is more durable and is more fire resistant.

Softwood is less dense and lighter than hardwood. Softwood is a good start for beginners because is it less likely to crack through drilling and chiseling than hardwood. However, not all hardwoods and softwoods are equal.

Softwood is cheaper than hardwood because it grows more quickly.

If you need a project that withstand wear and tear, like flooring, or is used for structural projects, like framing, then hardwood would be your best bet.

If you need a project that is lightweight or cheaper, then softwood would be your best bet.

Pressure treated lumber

If your project will be exposed to the outdoor elements or indirect sunlight, then you will need pressure treated lumber. Regular lumber will not be able to withstand the direct elements of rain, sun, snow, etc.

Regular lumber may not hold up as well with projects that are constantly exposed to indirect sunlight. However, you will not need pressure treated lumber if you correctly seal your wood to block if from indirect UV rays.

What to bring with your when purchasing wood?

  1. Jobsite saw
  2. Moisture meter
  3. Gloves

When you purchase wood, you always want to be prepared to save additional visits, unexpected expenses, or purchasing the wrong lumber.

Jobsite saw

The first thing that you always should have when purchasing wood is a circular saw or jobsite saw if full pieces of wood will not fit in your car or truck.

Even though home department stores have cutting machinery, sometimes they go down. I’ve made visits to my local store before to be turned around because I didn’t have anything to cut to wood with. It’s always better safe than sorry.

Moisture meter

It is also good to bring a moisture meter when going to a sawmill or lumber yard to ensure the wood is properly dried before purchasing. Moisture meters are not necessary for big box retailers and home department stores.

You will also need to know what to look for and how to properly use a moisture meter.


There have been several times when I forgot to bring gloves when purchasing wood. I never turned around to get them, but I would definitely prefer to use then.

What to do before your wood buying visit?

  1. Know what you are looking for
  2. Take measurements for project requirements and transportation
  3. Call or check website for availability
  4. Ask specific questions beforehand, if possible

Know what you are looking for

It is always good to know exactly what you are looking for, not matter where you go. Do your research so that you know what you actually need and will not be up charged unnecessarily. You will also save time and you will know the right questions to ask to get exactly what you are looking for. Purchasing wood may seem easy, but without background knowledge and knowing what to look for, you can likely get the wrong wood for the project.

Take measurements

First you will need to take measurement of the dimensions and amount of wood that you will need. Next, you will need to take measurements of your car or truck to ensure the wood will fit.

Take plan measurements and car measurements

If the wood will not fit, then you will need to look at your project plans to know where you can cut the wood. This is important because let’s say you have 6 feet worth of clearance in your car, but you are purchasing 8ft long boards. You can cut the wood in half to make roughly 4ft boards. However, if you need 5 ft boards for your project, then it may be best to cut 2 ft off the 8 ft board to make a 6 ft and 2 ft board.

I’ve made the mistake before of just cutting the wood in half without looking at my plans before.

Cut off more than you need

Additionally, I would advise against cutting the exact length at the site. If you go to a home department store, the cuts will be “rough cuts” which mean they cut to get a general length, but it may not be exact or completely square.

Even if you are cutting the wood yourself at a sawmill or lumberyard, I would still cut off a little more than I need because its best to measure twice and cut once and I like to take my time to make sure the cut is perfect.

Call or check website for availability

Always make sure that the location that you are going to has the wood that you are looking for. More common lumber types tend to sell quickly and may be out of stock. Less common lumber types may not be available at the moment. Checking before may save you a trip.

Ask specific questions beforehand, if possible

After you do your research, if you have specific questions then it may be best to ask them beforehand. It’s better to know if they have a method to cut the wood to rough size, know their hours of operation, and for smaller businesses, if they take card, before making the trip.

How to check the wood before purchasing?

You should always check the wood before purchasing it. One of the downsides of purchasing wood and having it delivered is that you cannot check the integrity of the wood.


Wood is prone to warping and some warping is almost inevitable. So it is best to get the straightest lumber that is available.

To check for warping, you will need to look down the side of the wood and put your eye slightly above the top of the wood. For a 2×4 piece of 8 ft lumber, you will look down the 8 ft length.

To see warping from side to side, you will notice the lumber is not completely straight. To see warping up and down, you will see blurry patches down the wood, which indicate low spots.


Wood cannot be guaranteed to have knots. You may want knots for aesthetic purposes; however, knots should be avoided in structural projects like framing.

Moisture content

Like mentioned before, you will need to check the moisture content to ensure the wood is dry enough.

Checking moisture content and knowing what to look for based on your geographical location and project use requires background research. However, generally the acceptable level for indoor use is 5 to 9 percent for indoor use and 9 to 14 percent for outdoor use.


In this article we went over how to search for and purchase wood. We went over where to buy the wood, things to bring with you when you purchase, and how to find the right boards.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and I wish you luck on your woodworking journeys!


My name is Rachel Blanding and I am a woodworker. I started woodworking at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I mainly create and refurbish furniture and create art. In this site I will share with you the knowledge I have gained over the years, and what worked for me and what didn't.

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