Tips on how to find great lumber in the junkyard

If you need a supply of lumber for a home improvement or building project, you can source quality and interesting pieces at a lumberyard. These tips will help you develop an eye for the right type and quality of wood.

Tips on how to find great lumber in the junkyard

Types of wood

Both softwoods and hardwoods are available on the second-hand market. As with all used goods, you need to be discriminating when buying, but with a little effort you should be able to pick up some good-quality lumber inexpensively.

Common softwood lumbers are pine, Oregon and western red cedar. Because used softwoods were milled from older and larger trees than exist today, they are often found in long, clean lengths without knots.

What to look for

If you know what to look for, you can select the best wood for your project.

  • Rot is a much more common defect, often affecting the ends of the lumber, especially if it has been exposed to the weather.
  • Also look out for splits along the grain, which occur when lumber is removed from a building.
  • Ignore problems such as dirt or weathering if the lumber is in good condition otherwise.
  • The outer layer of all lumber goes grey over time, but a few passes with a carpenter's plane will usually expose the original colour just under the surface.

Tips on treating wood for the task

The number of hardwood species used over the years runs into the hundreds. Many of them have beautiful grain and colouration and may not be available new in lumber yards. Keep your eye open though and you might strike gold!

  • Seasoned hardwoods are excellent for panelling, mantelpieces, furniture and similar items. Remember, though, that nailing hardwoods together is difficult and each nail hole will probably need to be pre-drilled to 80 to 90 percent of the nail diameter before you can hammer in a nail.
  • When examining lengths, look for evidence of twisting; old hardwoods that have not been well restrained twist quite badly and you will not be able to straighten them. There may, however, be scope to re-saw the lengths to provide straight, high-quality boards.
  • Another common defect is rot, and lumber showing signs of it should be passed over. Most second-hand lumber still contains nails, often snapped off or bent over, and their removal is an essential chore. If a power tool such as an electric plane hits a nail, not only will the tool be damaged but you could be injured by metal fragments.
  • A small nail is often best pulled right through soft lumbers; on hard lumbers, the head of the nail has to be pushed back out so the nail can be extracted with a claw hammer or a pinch bar. If appearance is important, protect the lumber from the pressure point of the hammer or bar so that it is not bruised.

Easy lumber sourcing

Knowing what to look for when you dig around a lumberyard for that home improvement project will set you on the right track to locating quality wood. These tips will help you come away with the perfect pieces.

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