using rough cut lumber

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Forum topic by FredIV posted 10-29-2014 05:57 PM 2167 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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121 posts in 2902 days

10-29-2014 05:57 PM

Here’s a stupid question. I am designing a desk for someone’s teenaged daughter. It’s going to be painted so I figured I would use rough cut poplar that I can get from a local mill at a very good cost.

I understand the savings of using rough cut lumber if the project was intended for me or my family. However, am I really passing along those savings to a customer considering all of the time and labor that would be involved in prepping (jointing, planning, cutting, etc, etc) the rough cut lumber? They have a budget that they are working with and would I love to keep the materials costs as low as possible but feel like it wouldn’t make a difference given all of the work involved in prepping the materials. Any thoughts? Am I missing the point here? Any advice would be so welcomed.


15 replies so far

View jmartel's profile


8571 posts in 2662 days

#1 posted 10-29-2014 06:06 PM

If you are charging someone, factor in the labor it takes to surface all of the lumber. It may or may not be cheaper.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View TheDane's profile


5690 posts in 4175 days

#2 posted 10-29-2014 06:17 PM

What is the moisture content of the lumber from your local mill? S4S is typically kiln-dried to under 10% moisture content … I have had some rough cut stuff that was still too wet to be stable. And sometimes, the S4S at the big box doesn’t even measure up:

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2881 days

#3 posted 10-29-2014 06:21 PM

all of the time and labor that would be involved in prepping (jointing, planning, cutting, etc, etc) the rough cut lumber?

Since you’re referring to them as a customer, I’ll assume that you’re doing this project for the profit, as opposed to a gift/favor for a friend. As such, you’ll want to factor in your hourly rate spent milling lumber, wear/tear on your tools over the course of more than one project, etc. It’s about passing the savings along to the customer, it’s also about paying yourself for milling lumber, and not somebody else.

I bought over 100 bdft of really nice air dried cherry for $80 last time I bought off of CL. I seek oak and maple also going for around this.

At my local hardwood dealer, I’d pay around $500 for that same amount in the quality that I got. If I spent a full 8-hour day milling that pile (and it wouldn’t take 8 hours), I’d be putting $50 savings into my pocket, per hour.

If I was doing this for a customer, I could pass on some of the savings to them, lowering the material cost for them, and increasing the amount of cash in my pocket.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View bannerpond1's profile


397 posts in 2410 days

#4 posted 11-01-2014 01:05 AM

Since it’s going to be painted, I would not go to the trouble of having to mill the rough-sawn lumber. Go buy the poplar and save HOURS of time and wear and tear on your planer.

Why would anyone order a custom desk and then PAINT it?

They’d be ahead to by something if they’re going to paint it.

-- --Dale Page

View buildingmonkey's profile


242 posts in 2059 days

#5 posted 11-02-2014 06:08 PM

I build all my projects from rough cut lumber. Mostly because when I decided to set up shop wanted to use native lumber.

-- Jim from Kansas

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Bill White

5227 posts in 4472 days

#6 posted 11-02-2014 06:26 PM

I guess that I’m the one missing the point.
Would you not have to surface and joint all the rough cut?

-- [email protected]

View AlaskaGuy's profile


5355 posts in 2821 days

#7 posted 11-02-2014 07:51 PM

I’d get the rough cut lumber and mill my own stock (I always do). I have yet to find S4S lumber that consistently flat, straight, square and the same thickness. Milling your own (if you know how and have the tools) will give you more control over your stock.

For furniture building with truly flat square straight stock of the same thickness will make layout and cutting joinery easier and more accurate. I don’t see where painting or putting a clear finish on a project has anything to do with the build itself.

Painted custom build furniture? I happens all the time I see nothing strange about it.

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View greenacres2's profile


338 posts in 2680 days

#8 posted 11-02-2014 07:58 PM

One of my first “real” projects (a pair of desk trays), i used S4S mahogany purchased from a box store. There was a big difference in the thickness of the 2 boards, which i had to overcome without a planer or jointer at the time. Now, when i have to buy store lumber, i still mill it to even thickness. There is a mill i could buy from, and for 100 bf and up they will mill to spec (cost is pretty reasonable too) and it will be true when it leaves their shop. Still prefer to do my own, but i’m not in production.


View TechRedneck's profile


770 posts in 3369 days

#9 posted 11-02-2014 08:16 PM

If you go with rough cut (most of my projects are), then you need the room and time for proper milling. For me it is the only way to go because of the control it gives you.

The Dane had an excellent point. Moisture content is a big factor with rough cut from the mill. Is it kiln dried or air dried? At any rate, you will want to get the lumber in your shop and stabilized for a couple weeks, stickered and stacked properly.

Then what I do is go through the pile and choose the lumber for the project trying to minimize the waste. Then take the boards and rough mill them to within 1/8” and cut to length leaving a couple inches at the ends. Then sticker them and let them stablize another week or more. You will see if any boards are going to give you some issues with cupping or warping.

Finally, bring the boards down to final thickness and width and start the build.

-- Mike.... West Virginia. "Man is a tool using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.". T Carlyle

View B's profile


137 posts in 1999 days

#10 posted 11-02-2014 10:17 PM

If you do own a jointer and planer it is most probably cheaper to buy it rough cut and plane it yourself.You might save only 50 cents a foot planing it at home, but planing everything at once you could get the moneys worth of your time very quickly. There is no guarantee it will be flat,square, and that all pieces are of consistent thickness if you buy it already planed.As well,after you glue together panels you will likely want to plane them again in case they are not flush,but you could use biscuits, dowels,or cauls to keep pre-thicknessed boards flush as you glue them together.

-- A poor workman blames his tools. Mr.B, Ontario Canada -

View Don W's profile

Don W

19340 posts in 3079 days

#11 posted 11-02-2014 10:38 PM

There is another aspect. If you figure the cost of milling it, and its within the same cost frame or cheaper, then you are making the profit of milling it, not somebody else. Plus you’ll have control over it.

I would price it both ways, and if it’s close, I’d want the additional profit for myself. If its more, then buy the pre-milled, if its less, split the difference with the customer.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View firefighterontheside's profile


20581 posts in 2368 days

#12 posted 11-02-2014 10:40 PM

If it’s going to be painted, consider, plywood or MDO or MDF. I’ve grown fond of MDO for painted projects. You can use solid lumber for edges.

-- Bill M. "People change, walnut doesn't" by Gene.

View DrDirt's profile


4592 posts in 4254 days

#13 posted 11-04-2014 08:13 PM

you will have to square your stock even if it is S4S when you get it.

Guess it depends on your source – - if you are buying rough sawn from a mill, vs Surfaced from Home Depot… they you will save a buttload of money on rough sawn.

Kiln drying the wood is where the cost is. Milling is not so expensive.

I get it skip planed (not fully smothed) and SLR (Straight line rip) so that I have one edge to start with that is pretty close.

You are right to look at the time/cost of surfacing. Many have decided they like making furniture more than making boards.

Surfaced saves time, but you still will need to let the stock acclimate to your shop, and it will need some fine tuning.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1329 posts in 2447 days

#14 posted 11-04-2014 08:36 PM

All prepped stock I have ever seen was too twisted and warped to be used as furniture grade lumber without being prepped more. I very rarely buy S4S lumber, and when I do I always expect to have to do some work to get it straight and square.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View emart's profile


445 posts in 3140 days

#15 posted 11-04-2014 09:27 PM

I think it depends too on just how rough of wood we are talking about. I bought some ridiculously cheap oak last week to make a bow for someone’s halloween costume and it was perfect for that but would have taken a lot of work to be useful for anything else because it was so cupped and twisted.

-- tools are only as good as the hands that hold them

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