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Take Chances with Different Wood Species

First, if you are a sawdust breathing, measure 4 times cut once, walk into the room, and from the front door identify the species of wood used to build the dining room table kind of woodworker, this article may bore you. But maybe not. This is really for that person who works full time, loves to work with their hands and is always looking for that next project.


If a new project is in the plans, you have the tools and time, the only decision to make is what materials will you use? It's about right here many DIYers succumb to the dreaded Big Box stores where what you see is what you get. Poplar, Oak, Pine, the choices are pretty limited.

 But then there are the specialty lumber stores. Here you can purchase virtually any wood species, if you are willing to pay. But what if you don't want to spend $98.10 for one piece of board for Grandma Roses Christmas shelf? She is worth it (we better make that clear!), but if you’re going to spend that kind of money, you just want more. After all, the leftover wood can be used in your next project, but not at that price. Consider your local sawmill.

Many sawmills have a small supply of different one-off wood species which you can pick up for a very reasonable price. Local sawmills can be your best bet for unusual and unique materials. Whenever I pick up our load of material from the sawmill, I'm always checking out the other stacks to see if there are any species that I might want to experiment with. I make a mental note of what's available, and then proceed to completely forget about the whole experience, until my next trip to the sawmill. Why? There just wasn't any need to spend the extra money, when I had materials that would work. Until I didn't. 

Owning a small business in any capacity is a challenge. Many of the things we do and the processes we use as business owners, are put in place to help us operate as smoothly as possible and still earn a reasonable living. One of the most helpful processes we have employed is wood procurement. We don't limit our clients' choices; however, we offer four types of wood to choose from when it comes to custom builds. Oak, Hickory, cherry and maple. The reason? We understand those species and are comfortable with how the finished product looks. But looks aren't everything, these pieces we build have to last. So, over the years, these have been our main materials. That is until I couldn't find the right amount of hickory to make some small decor items for Christmas.

Oak would work just fine, but I didn't want just fine. I wanted amazing and for what i had in mind, it had to be hickory. I reviewed the list from my local sawmill and saw they had the perfect amount of basswood. Basswood was used in the production of synthetic limbs because it was soft, easy to shape, and yet fairly strong. The plastic industry took over this process, so the demand went down. Luckily our sawmill had extra time and decided to cut a run of basswood. At the same time, I noticed one of the choices on my engraving machine was basswood, A species that I knew absolutely nothing about.

 But I took a chance and to my delight, it worked even better than hickory! Hickory has beautiful grains, but it is the hardest domestic wood, making it a little difficult to work with.  Basswood on the other hand, has the same grain pattern, is half the weight, soft and a quarter of the price of hickory.

The point here is, take chances. Don't get so used to a certain species or wood or material just because it's readily available. Experiment with different species.

However due diligence is in order. I would never build anything other than decor items with basswood and the price of basswood reflects that limited versatility. I can build anything I want with hickory and the price reflects that versatility. 

So, the next time you are thinking about your next project, it just might be the perfect time to buy a bundle of wood from a local sawmill, instead of a few expensive pieces from the Big Box store.  Experiment. Build stuff. Try your old stains on your new material. I look forward to hearing from you about your favorite material and what new ones you've discovered. After all, my sawmill may run out of basswood and hickory, so I'll really need your help!

Good Luck!

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