hardwoodsWood is a very versatile material used for a number of purposes in multiple industries. Hardwoods are used for a number of reasons. As a consequence of the value of this resource, hardwood forests in the United States are properly managed, and hardwood forests have actually increased. Since 1953, the volume of these trees in forests around the nation has gone up by 119%.

If you are looking for the right lumber for your projects, these tips should help:

  1. When buying rough sawn material, plan to lose thickness while surfacing. When measuring rough lumber, the thickness if often measured in the “quarter” sizing system. Boards are sold in 1/4 thickness increments, where the thickness is called out in the number of quarters. For example, a four-quarter or 4/4 board will be 1″ thick, while a ten-quarter or 10/4 board will be 2.5″ thick. This will need to be surfaced down, losing around 1/4 to 1/2″, depending on size and twist in the board. You will lose a chunk of the wood during the planing process so you need to get wood slabs that are thicker than you think you will need.
  2. Bring along the right tools. When you go to one of the lumber yards in your area, you need to bring your calculator and measuring tape to the yard. This way you can measure the wood and calculate what you should pay for it. Often the price is determined by the volume of wood you buy. There is a formula you can apply to get the correct amount you will owe for the wood you need. A board foot or bd.ft. is 12 inches by 12 inches by one inch (the thickness) or 144 cubic inches. When wood is priced out, it is done per bd.ft. All you need to do is take the amount of bd.ft you are buying by the price.
  3. Get longer wood slabs than you think you need. Just as you should get thicker wood than you think it needs to be, you need to get longer pieces of wood. Boards coming out of the mill will not have perfectly square ends, and most cracks or splits originate at the ends. There will parts that you need to cut out of the wood such as knots, wild grain, or checks. So if you need eight-foot lengths, you should buy the boards at nine or ten feet long. At Horizon, we fairly scale all boards and make deductions for checks and splits as appropriate to the grade.
  4. Learn to look beyond the surface when dealing with rough material. Planed and surfaced material will look drastically different than the boards in the rough. At Horizon, we’ve seen millions of board feet of rough sawn material, so we are used to looking at the beauty within. By paying attention to how material changes once it is surfaced and looking at the grain patterns behind the saw patterns, you can more accurately assess material.
  5. Always buy more lumber than you think you will need. Some people make the mistake of only buying the exact amount of hardwoods that they think they will need. You always use up some of the wood you buy in the process of getting it ready to use for your project. No rough lumber is free of all imperfections, no matter what the grade is that you buy. Experts recommend buying anywhere between 15% and 20% more than you think you will need. Different species will inherently have different yields, due to the natural tendency to split, check, or twist, so familiarity with the species you use will also help you estimate yield. Including some overrun will save you time and money in the long run.
  6. Get the color you want. This is one area where it pays to be a bit fussy. All it takes for your project to be thrown off is one single board that is the wrong color. You can usually tell if boards match each other even when they are in the rough state. When you surface them, do it someplace with good lighting. That can help you compare your boards. Horizon’s boule and flitch sawing makes this process much easier, since you get material from the same logs.
  7. Learn how to deal with warped hardwoods. Even though we at Horizon pride ourselves in careful drying, sometimes internal stresses just win out and boards can warp. There can even be a number of different warps in a single board. While this is not ideal, there are things that you can do to deal with it. The warps can be twisted, cupped, bowed, or crooked. You can drastically increase the yield of this material through careful planning. If you plan your layout to cut warped boards into smaller pieces, you need to remove less material to properly flatten stock.

There are a lot of specialty wood products made from hardwoods, such as hardwood floors, cabinetry, paneling, or fine furniture. Finding the right wood for the project you are working on takes time and effort but this is well spent. Your project will come out better if you do your prep work.

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