As much as people wish otherwise, there is no such thing as “free” anything, especially not free wood. When you are thinking about the cost of things it is imperative that you include the cost of your time and your tools. Otherwise you are dreaming when you think of things as being free. However, if you are willing to put in some work you can get very cheap wood. You will pay for this work in research time, emails and phone calls, visiting lumber salvage yards, bribing yard managers and doing hard physical labour. All in the name of “free wood”.
Now that the warning for lazy freeloaders is out of the way, let’s take a moment to look at how you can acquire, recycle and refurbish that cheap or “free” lumber. You can think of this work as being environmentally conscious – which sounds a lot better than being a cheapskate! This article will discuss:
– 5 Great Sources for Cheap Wood
– 5 Sources of (Usually) Free Wood
– 2 Great Project Inspirations for Free Lumber
– Other Lumber Money Saving Resources
– Tips for Cheapskates
– 5 Places to Look for Cheap Lumber
It helps if you are outgoing and friendly, but can present a professional front too. Be generous with 12 packs of beer, and get into the habit of making friends. This will help you find the best places for a steady supply of great value lumber.
1) Larger Commercial Woodworking Companies – You can often acquire cutoffs and discards from milling companies, cabinet maters and furniture firms. Any company that handles large amounts of wood as a part of their business will be desperate to get rid of their cutoffs and discards. It is not unheard of to pick up truckloads of wood for as little as $50. After all, if you don’t buy it they’ll probably be charged by a disposal company to take it away. Be friendly and be willing to accept the occasional rejection. Be polite at all times and keep looking until you find a good source of wood.
Pros: Usually you will end up with good quality hardwoods.
Cons: Because they are cutoffs, small and irregular sizes are likely.
2) Lumber Yards and Mills – Lumber mills and lumber yards are another set of companies that produce a lot of waste. Lumber mills and yards are always struggling with space issues, and they are even more likely to want to get rid of their excess wood than a commercial woodworking firm. Again, when you visit the yards and talk to the manager, be sure to be as polite and courteous as possible.
Pros: Wood from lumber yards is usually offered for incredible prices.
Cons: In some cases only a small portion of the wood will be usable, in others the wood may have bug infestations.
3) Yard Sales and Flea Markets – This may not be the first place you would think of for getting wood, but you can often find some high quality wood furniture at yard sales and even at thrift stores. Don’t dismiss that tattered looking sofa – look at the frame! You could pick up a fair amount of usable wood for just a few dollars if you are good at bartering.
Pros: Seasoned hardwoods are often available.
Cons: Cutting up furniture can be hard work
4) Volunteering on Deconstruction Projects – If you hear that someone is tearing up some wooden flooring or demolishing something, volunteer to help. Tell the person that you don’t want paid in money, but that you would like to take some of the wood that is left over.
Pros: This is a great way to get old, seasoned wood with a lot of chacter.
Cons: While there’s no monetary cost, you will pay in time and sweat.
5) Posting on Woodworking Forums – Hanging out on woodworking forums is a great way to get information and meet new people with similar interests, plus you can pick up some amazing deals on wood. For example, there is one lumber dealer that is a regular poster on the Woodnet forum that offers some great deals – and good service – for established members.
Pros: Great quality wood at similarly great prices.
Cons: The best deals are only available to established members that post regularly.
6) Dumpsters on a Construction Site – Keep your eyes open for construction sites in your area. New builds will produce a fair amount of lumber waste and demolitions will produce even more. The waste has to go somewhere, and if you don’t take it then it will most likely end up in landfill. Do not go onto a construction site without permission, however. Approach the site manager and explain what you would like to do, and keep safety in mind while you are dumpster diving. Consider reading “Dumpster Diving: An Introduction” to learn the basics of personal safety while you are trawling through other people’s trash.
Pros: The wood that you find will be free.
Cons: Dumpster diving isn’t always pleasant and it can be embarrassing to trawl through trash.
7) Salvaging Wood Pallets – Wood pallets are ideal for small woodworking projects. A lot of companies use pallets and they have to replace them when they become worn and start to break. If you befriend a few companies that work with them you might be able to get yourself a steady supply of wood. There are some pallet recycling companies that might be able to hook you up too.
Pros: You get a steady supply of oak.
Cons: The pieces are small, they may be stained, and you’ll have to put some work into processing them.
8) Discarded Furniture – Keep your eyes open while you are driving around. You will often find old furniture quite literally sitting by the side of the road. Why not just stop your truck and pick it up? If you live in a college town you will find a lot of tables, chairs, bookshelves and other furniture lying around – especially towards the end of the academic year when students are preparing to move back home.
Pros: The wood is usually good, and free!
Cons: You will need to break the wood down, and you’ll need somewhere to store it until you find the time to do so.
9) Freecycle.org and Craigslist – Freecycle is a group where people give away things that they don’t want, and other people respond to the advertisements and pick up those items. Competition for items on freecycle can be fierce, however because there are traders constantly watching the local lists for items they can pick up for resale. Craigslist is a site that is focused more on selling things, but there are some great deals there too. You can also find people giving away wood on woodworking forums, usually in exchange for a favor of some kind.
Pros: Free or very cheap wood.
Cons: You may waste time following up on many advertisements only to find that the wood is already taken.
10) Fallen Tree Wood – A fallen tree can be a source of unprocessed wood for your next project. If a tree falls because of a storm, go and chop it up! If you hear of a construction project that will require chopping down a tree, ask if you can take the wood. For that matter, why not contact your local arborist and ask them to inform you next time they’re working on trees in your area. If you don’t take that wood it will probably be chipped. Why let it go to waste?
Pros: This can be a source of very high quality wood.
Cons: You will need specialist equipment to process the wood and it will take a long time to cure before you can actually make good use out of it.
DO YOU HAVE a woodworking project or tip that you would like to submit to WooDesigner and get it added to our site? Then go to the contact tab below OR at the top of this page and let me know. Just make sure you are able to give us step by step instructions on it, as well as images as you see here, and we will put it on this site just like you have read on this page! As long as it is clear and concise like you just saw, it will go up. Your name will be credited to the project, as where you live. (Please include that.) Also include the type of lumber you use for the design. We look forward to hearing from you! (Take note that the tip and images and instructions have to become ours. I do hate that so much but in today’s society so many will sue, and yes, you can sue for a lot of money over images.) The tips will need to include YOUR IMAGES that you take. They can’t be images from somewhere online. Remember, we have to go through these images and if they aren’t your own, we will not be able to use them. This is illegal and it won’t be tolerated and you will be banned from this community by being blocked. We can get sued for this, and just one bad apple can ruin our community.
Ted Leger –
Comments or questions are welcome.