"Cherry-Picking" Lumber

Is it right to select the pieces you like from a stack of boards and leave the rest for the next person? July 24, 2006

I am a small furniture shop that is looking for references of some top quality lumber suppliers in the Pacific Northwest. I am specifically looking for a quality supplier of quartersawn white oak. I have used the "lumber quote forum" in the past and have purchased lumber from some of the listed suppliers. What I am looking for is the word of mouth of suppliers that some of you are happy with. Since I am not able to personally view the lumber beforehand, I have ended up purchasing it sight unseen and at times, have been disappointed with some of the suppliers. I was hoping that some of you may have a great source for this type of lumber that you would be willing to share with me.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor F:
I am in the Pacific Northwest too and I think itís the same story everywhere. If you order hardwood to be delivered to your shop, the supplier is going to pull the number of board feet you ordered right off the top of the stack and if you are like me, it is usually disappointing.

In the old days I had suppliers who would allow me to sort through a stack of boards if I would restack the pile neatly. Then, at times I have had suppliers allow me to choose my own boards but charged me a $.10 a board foot premium for the privilege (worth it to me).

These days, it is difficult to even get a supplier to let you choose at all. At one supplier, the fork lift driver will come to the loading dock with the full unit on the forks if you show up unannounced at the will call section. This worked for me a few times until I guess I got a little to choosey with a unit of cherry. When I went to the will call desk to get my paperwork, I was told that the fork lift driver had "walkie talkied" in that I hand selected instead of pulling the boards straight from the top of the unit. They charged me a dollar a board foot extra for that load!

Lastly, I have worked for guys whose strategy was to buy hardwood by the boxcar load. The logic being that the mills donít have enough poor lumber to fill a box car so you will get plenty of good boards.

From the original questioner:
The story about the lumber supplier adding on a $1 extra per board ft. would have made me walk away from that order. I will give the companies you listed a go. I am still hoping others will respond. There is nothing better than word of mouth.

From contributor P:
Contributor F - why wouldn't you expect to pay a buck a board foot more to hand pick the load? You are taking the best boards and leaving the crap, tying up the fork lift operator, and making it more likely that the lumber yards large customers, who spend a lot more money than you do, will complain about the quality of their wood. If I was operating that lumber yard, I'd charge a higher premium than a buck a foot. If you really want good service from a lumber yard, buy large quantities, or at least regular quantities, and specify exactly what you want when you place the order. And if they don't give you what you want, then you can use someone else. Lumber is a very competitive business, but like all businesses you get the best results if you are a good customer.

From the original questioner:
"You are taking the best boards and leaving the crap." This quote is exactly why I posted. When I or anyone is purchasing FAS why should there be any "crap" boards in the stack? When buying a product such as FAS, shouldn't we expect to receive what we pay for? If I wanted to buy "common", I would buy common and not be complaining.

Contributor P - I used to own and operate a Sawmill and sold many 1000's of board feet of lumber. My policy was if the customer didnít want the board, he didnít buy it. I sold him only what he wanted. I never tried to slip "junk or crap" boards into an order just to avoid eating the loss on the "crap" board. This is what I am talking about. I still have past customers calling me up and begging for me to get back into the sawmill business.

When purchasing FAS one should never receive boards that are split completely down the middle or have still have chainsaw cuts over halfway through the board, etc., etc. You say start by being a good customer. Is being a "good" customer paying top dollar for FAS and getting 10-20% of your order with boards that are worthless to use for that purpose but just be grateful?

Whatever happened to just getting what you pay for - nothing more, nothing less. I have always been a "good" customer. That is not the problem. What the problem is quality assurance by some of the lumber supplies. They can increase their profit margins by passing on the "crap" boards that should have been culled out by anyone with half a conscience. When any of us are paying 3000-5000 for FAS per MBF, why should we have to settle for 10-20% of the order to be "crap"? Thereís a $300-$1000 possible loss right from the get go.

Most businesses thrive or fail due to the word of mouth of the "good" customers. All I am looking for is if anyone has a decent source for lumber.

From contributor F:
To contributor P: I didn't post the dollar a board ft. comment as a complaint. I was surprised by it but I paid it. But you donít know how long I took with the fork lift driver, how big a customer I am, how good of a customer I am, what type of boards I was selecting, whether I was looking for widths that would net my parts efficiently, maybe just random widths that were similar in colors and etc.

Truth is, it was an excellent unit and what I left behind was nice stock, thatís why I was surprised. In that case, I was making moldings and if 6.5" would net 2 blanks but 6.25" wouldn't. I left the wider material alone.

I donít apologies for trying to obtain the material I know I need for my work. I buy the quantities I need or want. If I find a good deal and have the cash, I buy for inventory. I buy with regularity of my needs.

Donít look down on business that doesn't have your purchasing power. Just count your blessings. Iím sure you are getting all the lumber you need in spite of me. I mentioned my experiences old and new to illustrate that times change and the art of procuring fine materials for fine work changes with the times and with the available supply.

From contributor P:
To contributor F: I may have came on a little strong. "Crap" is obviously a relative term - every board that you buy within a certain grade should conform to the grading standards. But let's face it - they're trees, and even within standards there is variation. When I buy a load of wood that is designated as FAS I expect some boards to be superb and some to be less superb unless I have specified exactly what "superb" is to me. To that end I have supplied all of my lumber dealers with photographs of boards that we like and we don't like - and when it counts we tell them to refer to our specifications. Keep in mind that the quantities we purchase are far too large for us to hand pick them - if you are buying a 100 bf or so at a time then whether you hand-pick is between you and your dealer.

I still think that it would be reasonable to expect to pay more for the very highest quality boards. However, let me again apologize for the strong words, and I realize that my purchasing power gives me some options not available to others, like the opportunity to play several dealers off against each other. If you were in the Northeast I would have several recommendations for you - dealers that have given me excellent service as we have grown. Don't know anything at all about Northwest suppliers, though.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The idea of going through a pile of properly graded lumber and pulling out some of the grade and leaving the rest has been addressed by the NHLA. The expectation when you purchase a particular grade is that you will get the full range of lumber produced - widths, grade variations, etc. If some of the grade or widths are withdrawn, the purchaser of the remaining must be told. It would be most ethical to do this if the higher part of a grade is gone. (For example, the yield of furniture parts from No.1 Common might range from 50% to 85%, with the higher yields coming from the higher part within the grade. If the price is the same for lumber within the grade, I think everyone would like to use the best and avoid the worst, etc.)

From contributor G:
I buy cherry and walnut from a mill in Pennsylvania. They buy veneer rejects and other high grade lumber. They sell by the log only 14"-36" diameter, 8'-16' long cut to the customers thickness specifications. Boards from a single log tend to have the same appearance. They charge about $6/bd ft and have no problems selling their lumber