When I have projects like the Mission Style Closet Doors or the Cedar Wainscoting to make, the process involves going through the doors shown at the right. No big-box can match the quality or selection of the wood that these guys sell. The local Home Depot and the not-so-local Lowes stock some of the lumber I’ve used in these projects, but it’s usually warped, and it’s almost always more expensive than this lumber yard. Also, and perhaps most annoying, there’s a price sticker permanently glued onto every single board I buy at those stores. I hate that.
Warning: Lumber yards are not home centers. You don’t walk into Kelly-Fradet and start loading up your cart. You talk to a salesperson, you tell him or her (but usually him) what you want, he tells you what your options are, and you either agree to proceed or not. If you’re buying lumber, and you agree to proceed, you’re going into the barn.
The barn is a magical place.
The big-box presents you with bin after bin of questionable quality boards that have been picked over so many times that you have to move 10 out of the way to find one good one. In the barn, everything is lying flat. You can pick through the stack if you like, but most boards are very good quality. If the board has issues, the salesman will usually point it out – “you don’t want that one.” I’ve taken some boards that have loose knots or damage, when I’ve known that I could cut around it. They appreciate that. On the other hand, if I need (n) feet of clear wood, they will help me find it.
The barn is interesting on its own. It’s old and it was purpose-built to stock lumber. There are multiple levels and you can “go upstairs and poke around” if you like. When I had my cabinet shop, this lumber yard was owned by a different company. In addition to lumber, they were a fully stocked hardware store. I was there often. I continued shopping there after I closed my shop, because I still knew the staff. If we had to go into the barn, they would let our daughter Faith climb the stairs and go across the little bridge. I’ve been yelled at in Home Depot for moving one of their portable stair things. Liability, don’t ya know.
Most people think that the big box stores are faster and cheaper. I have found them to be just the opposite. They are convenient, in that they probably have everything you need, but if you only need one thing, you will be in and out of your local hardware store in way less time. If you’re buying building material (lumber, windows, doors, siding, etc.) you are going to spend more money at a big box unless you compromise on quality.
When we were planning the renovation on our house in which we tore off the low-pitched roof and replaced it with a Gambrel roof, I shopped around for lumber. I needed a lot of lumber. When I gave my bill of material to the big boys, the guy at Lowes simply noted their price for each component. The guy at Home Depot told me that the prices were all available online. When I took the list into Kelly-Fradet, the salesman asked to see my plans.
I was very happy to show him those plans.
We spent over half an hour talking about the plans and the material being used. In three significant places, he recommended a more substantial and expensive product. They had a better sub-floor material. He recommended plywood sheathing instead of wafer board and he recommended thicker than required by code roof rafters because using them would let me put more insulation in.
I like to make things stronger, but I was worried about my budget. The next day, he emailed me a quote. With all three recommended upgrades, Kelly-Fradet’s cost was about 25% lower than Home Depot’s. Delivery (that pile shown on the right) was a flat fee of $25.
This post is part of Norm Frampton’s fun and interesting Thursday Doors series. You can join us any Thursday.