Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Buying Lumber for My Next Project

Happiness is starting a new project.

There is nothing quite like picking a new project and getting to work on it.  Having the idea in your mind is exciting.  Plus, nothing has gone wrong yet.

I have decided that my next project will be building the Shaker side table completely by hand, ala Chris Schwarz' new DVD.  If you havne't read my review of this DVD yet, you can here.  The DVD is available from Lie-Nielsen.

I'll try to follow the DVD for the most part, but there will be some differences.  Hey, I gotta be me!

The first step in this build is making some decisions.  I think I am going to try to stick as close as I can to the dimensions listed on the DVD.  I hardly ever build to a plan, but in this case I want the table to turn out with the same proportions as the one on the DVD.  I have very little experience in making something so delicate, so following the plan is a good place to start.  The important thing I have learned whenever I have worked from a plan, is to be flexible.  Use the plan, but don't be a slave to it.  There more than likely will be some things about the plan that the wood will not want to cooperate with.  For example, this plan calls for a top that is 18" square.  If I had a nice piece of wood that turned out 19" square, I wouldn't rip the inch off, I would make the whole thing a little bit bigger.

The big decision at this point for me is what kind of wood do I use?  I toyed with the idea of making it from pine, and perhaps painting it.  I have a good bit of pine, but for some reason no.  Maybe the next one.  I want this one to be cherry.

Off to the lumberyard!

I am extremely lucky in Munich.  There is a fantastic lumberyard here.  It is part of a larger firm of Carl Götz.  Check out this picture I took yesterday:

One aisle at the lumber yard
This is just the first aisle.  There are four or five more just with rough stock.  This row has yellow poplar, maple, cherry (both American and European), and walnut (American and European).  On the right side of the photo are imported exotics including flitches of 8/4 sapele, zebra wood and who knows what else.  Not shown are the different kinds of oak, ash, scots pine, spruce, apple, pear, etc., etc., all in thicknesses from 4/4 to 12/4.  This place is a bit of sensory overload for woodworkers.

If you are lucky enough to be able to shop at a lumberyard like this, there are a lot of ways you can screw it up for the rest of us.  We hand tool hobbyists are a finicky lot.  This is a big business that would rather sell a truckload of wood than go through the trouble of dealing with you for twenty dollars worth of scraps.  Here is what I do:

I like to get a good idea generally what I want before I go in.  They will take you to the lumber racks, pull out a pallet of wood you want to look at, and even might let you go through it.

Note:  if you spend an hour and a half flipping through the stack, inspecting every single board, asking them to put this stack away and bring out another, only to go back to this one, you will probably not get too much help.  What I did yesterday, was I knew that I wanted two boards.  One wide one that would yield a good top for my project and another that I could get some good legs from, with thought to the aprons and drawer front for this side table.  They brought out a pallet of wood (it only had about 12-15 boards left on it).  They helped me flip through the stack.  Since it was a small stack I chose to look at all of the boards, but just a cursory glance.  Once I saw them all I picked the two that I wanted, held a measuring stick to them to make sure they were sizes that I could use, and told them those were the two that I wanted.  Overall about two minutes or less to go through this wood and identify the ones I wanted.  Sometimes I ask them to break the wood down for me so I can fit it in my VW Golf.  They do this with an electric chainsaw.  This time I had a cordless circular saw in the trunk and did it myself.

The point is not to be a nuisance since in reality they are not making any kind of substantial profit by the hobbyist.  My goal is for them to enjoy the curiosity of getting me what I want rather than dread the annoyance of my visit.

Moving my two boards from the racks to the delivery area.
As you can see by this photo, they use this cool side fork lift which can lift about a zillion pounds of wood 40 feet into the air.  I'm sure they do this a lot, and working with just my measly two boards could easily become an annoyance.

I think I usually wind up paying about twice what I could get away with if I was more careful.  I think that it is worth it in order to stay on good terms with these people.  If I was told they didn't want my business, there is nowhere else nearby that has such quality and selection.

More money is lost when I break down the stock to fit in my car.  The strategy I usually use is to cut the boards where there is a big defect like a knot.  I cut each of these boards once and got all the pieces easily in my car.  It is possible I could layout all the pieces for my project, and have them cut it in the right spot, but I find that this takes an enormous amount of time to do it right while some guy with a chainsaw is waiting for you to tell him where to make the cut.  Cross your fingers and hope.

All in all, I think I did pretty good.  I wound up with a narrower board of quarter sawn cherry and the wider one a bit more flat sawn.  I took them both off of the 33mm stack, which is a little over an inch and a quarter in the rough.  My experience is this number is usually a bit conservative. 

I expect to get 1 1/8" legs out of this stock easily.  Less fun will be thicknessing it down to the 3/4" the plan calls for the top and side rails by hand.  We'll see what I can get away with.

This should make a beautiful side table.  There is likely enough lumber here for another table, if not more.  The wide one is much wider than the nine inches needed to make the top out of two equally sized boards.  I'll play around with what I have to see what I get for a nice top. 

My next step is to break down the lumber into component sized bits.  Then it will probably sit a week or two to acclimate.  Stay tuned!


  1. I think it is a very wise decision, not to haggle a lot about the Price.
    Places where you lay down a lot of money, you should off course get some sort of discount almost automatically. But specialty places I don't mind paying the asking Price, if they provide an outstanding service.

    1. In reality, it is cheap when you think about it. This is ready to go, I get to pick from a big selection, and it is convenient. Now, if I could only get something shipped to me on a pallet made with tropical hardwood, we'd be in business!

  2. I'm surprised they use the 4/4 style lumber designations in Germany. I would have expected something metric.

    1. They don't use the designation systems you speak of. The lumber I bought yesterday was on the 33mm pile. I just have a hard time thinking this way.

      It really messes me up when it is time to pay. Board feet are so much handier for the hobbyist. This lumber was priced in cubic meters.

  3. Brian, get ready for a laugh... I just found I'm passing in front of a hardwood importer every day on my way to work. They also conveniently speak English so now I just need to check if they do accept to deal directly with amateurs :)

    1. Great! I had to learn the terms in German. No easy task as the technical terms like "rough stock" do not show up in German/English dictionaries too often.

      If they don't have six meter flitches of mahogany there, you can still come here to get them.

    2. "unbehandelt" or something like that? :)

      And it turns out they do deal with reasonable amateurs as well, I may pool an order with a couple of guys around to avoid annoying them with tiny quantities.

    3. I'm excited for you.

      The German word for "rough stock" that I use is "Schnittholz."

      Not sure if that's right, but when I say that they take me where I want to be!

  4. You may also want to bring a picture and/or plans of the final product.Rarely do the guys see the results. I'm sure at least one of them would be curious, therefore opening up some good communication that may pay off.

  5. Hi Brian - I was told about your blog from someone at Dictum. I just moved to Munich a few months ago and wanted to purchase some small quantities of lumber for very small-scale projects with hand tools at my apartment here. Would Gotz sell something of the equivalent of about 3 or 4 bdft of 1/2" stock (of anything besides pine or equivalent softwood) to a hobbiest? Or would they tell me that they can´t do it? I would hate to take the S-bahn all the way out there just to be turned back. Any feedback you could provide would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Hi Iozl,

      Sounds like you are in the same boat as me! I do woodwork in my Munich apartment, too. I have a bench in my Kellerraum, a tool chest, and a bunch of the wife's storage. I have one storage shelf on wheels that I push out of the storage room when I work there, and push it back in when I'm done. The point is, it can be done.

      Goetz doesn't carry 1/2" stock. The thinnest boards I have ever got there are 4/4 (they call it 27mm). The selection is a lot broader if you want 40mm or thicker. This is a problem. Also, you might be able to get some maple or beech in two meter lenghts, but most of the other wood comes much longer. Especially softwood. Trust me, that board will look a lot bigger on the S-Bahn than it does in the Goetz warehouse!

      I have addressed this by taking my lumber to the workshop at Dictum on occasion. They have beautiful machines, and Peter is really good about resawing on the band saw. Those guys are all really nice. Perhaps you might even talk one of them into picking up some wood for you, or letting you tag along. Maybe we could even talk them into doing an occasional run to the lumber yard with a group of guys to do a bit bigger of a purchase. The benefit of going with other woodworkers is if you only need a 2m length, but 40 mm Kiefer comes in 6m boards, perhaps someone else would take the rest.

      We should meet up at Dictum one of these days and then go for a beer to talk about woodworking. I don't know a lot of other woodworkers in town.

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