xgrewellx

Beginners question: working with pine

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I went to the big box retailer in my area (Lowes) and bought some pine and it was all bowed, bent, and just overall not what I call usable. I was complaining about it to my father and he suggested I go to our local lumber yard, as they may have some good wood. Supposedly this place caters to woodworkers, and has really nice product. Is it normal to buy wood with a bow and use it (either by planing it or whatever other means) or am I going to get different results by going to the lumber yard. I do not have a surface planer, just a jointer/planer that was given to me by a friend.

Sorry to ask such a newbie question, I am just getting started.

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What were you buying would be the first question? The big box stores have construction lumber which is hardly ever straight unless it is soaking wet which means it hasn't bowed yet! :) Or they also have finished boards which are generally a lot better, not perfectly straight but a lot better. Some bow in the flat direction is expected, the edges should be straight an parallel. Of course, once you rip ot to width it may well box along the edge also. Wood moves, nature of the material. Also, I doubt there boards are jointe flat then planed to thickness. Most likely planed on both sides which won't take all the bow out.

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Depends on what you're building: If a board is going to be chopped up into little bits or otherwise rearranged, bows are less of a problem. If you need the full length (for, say, a long table apron) then you need to find a different board. If you're really stuck on that particular piece of timber, then you end up trading thickness for straightness.

In any case, your father is on the right track. Visit a serious lumber yard and you'll be well on your way both financially and for the quality of wood.

(NB: A thickness planer wouldn't take the bow out of a board, it will simply leave you with a thinner, bowed board.)

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I went to the big box retailer in my area (Lowes) and bought some pine and it was all bowed, bent, and just overall not what I call usable. I was complaining about it to my father and he suggested I go to our local lumber yard, as they may have some good wood. Supposedly this place caters to woodworkers, and has really nice product. Is it normal to buy wood with a bow and use it (either by planing it or whatever other means) or am I going to get different results by going to the lumber yard. I do not have a surface planer, just a jointer/planer that was given to me by a friend.

Sorry to ask such a newbie question, I am just getting started.

I buy pine from Lowes and Home Depot all the time, and I don't typically have a problem with it. However, you can't just expect to walk in there, pick up the three boards on the top of the rack and go home with perfect lumber. Even at a lumber yard, this isn't going to happen, whether you are buying pine, oak, walnut, mahogany, or anything else. Lumber selection is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced just like cutting dovetails. The nice thing about Home Depot and Lowes is that you can pick through the pile and find the best boards they have and no one gives you a hard time, as long as you restack everything neatly when you are done. The same can't be said for all lumber yards, though most that I use regularly are ok with it as long as I restack neatly and without major voids in the stack.

The problem with lumber at Lowes and Home Depot is that it's already planed. Even if boards are dead flat in the store or lumber yard, chances are pretty high that those boards will experience some degree of cupping when you bring them into your shop due to the environmental changes. Wood moves, and we can't prevent it, so we have to plan for it. For rough sawn lumber from the lumber yard, this is no big deal because it is full thickness. So we can bring it home, let it sit for a week, mill it oversize and skip plane it, let it sit a couple more days to do any last moving it will want to do, then finally plane and cut it to final dimensions. However, since the lumber at Lowes and HD is already planed to 3/4", if we do the same thing, we could end up losing a lot of needed thickness. For this reason, I don't buy stuff from there unless I need stock thinner than 3/4" or if I can live with minor cupping or bowing. In these cases, I still pick the straightest, flattest and clearest pieces I can find and then use strategies to eliminate any minor warping when I use the boards (i.e. plane them thinner or cut them up into shorter & narrower pieces to minimize the impact of the bowing and/or cupping).

All of the appliances and furniture in my shop were built with pine or construction grade material from Lowes and Home Depot. However, I was very picky about the boards that I bought, sometimes going to multiple stores and only buying one or two boards from each. You can get very good pine from these stores, and often times it's cheaper than the lumber yard for better grade material. However, you have to be patient, take your time and pick the best boards. Plan for knots (you'll cut around them later) and minor cupping and you should be ok.

jHop likes this

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Basically...what Bob said. Good response Bob, I couldnt' agree more. I use pine from the Depot all the time. I usually buy wider than I need and cut down to size since ripping and crosscutting will elminate some of the cup and bow. It the wood is really wet (which it usually is) it will move again and sometimes it will move while the cut is happening. Just expect that your boards will move and plan for it. A little bow along the length of a board won't kill you either as long as you plan for a way to join it to keep it flat. Remember this is woodworking, not a machine shop. The tolerances don't need to be so high.

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When I first started wood working I Used a lot of pine from those places to make my projects. A lot of my kitchen is box store pine. My opinion is that its cheaper to make your mistakes on a piece of pine than on an expensive hardwood. In the long run its harder to work with and finish. Haven't used it in years.

CaptFerd

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At my local Lowes they have 2 types of pine. They have what I refer to as the cheap pine boards and then what they label as "premium" pine. The premium pine is usually straighter and less knots in it and just better quality. I use the cheaper stuff to practice dovetails and different things. The premium also costs a little more but you do get a better quality board. And like Bob said just take your time and look through all the boards and pick the best ones they have. no one has ever given me any grief for going through the stock. Just as long as you put it all back neatly like Bob said.

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Basically to reiterate what several others have said,

1) Pick through the stack.

2) Account for wood movement by letting it acclimate to your shop, etc.

3) Don't expect perfect pre-dimensioned lumber. Wood isn't a perfect building material, it must be tamed.

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I went to the local lumber yard and they showed me their "premium" pine. It was a little bit more expensive, but it had less knots and was a lot straighter, its straight enough I'd call it workable. What I was getting from Lowes was firewood in comparison.

Thanks for all of the suggestions everyone!

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You can take this for what it's worth but I've quit buying lumber from the big box stores if I plan on using it for my woodworking. The costs for it from the big box, in my experience is a joke. You can get so much more from a lumber yard/supplier for the same amount of money.

I know what it's like just starting out in woodworking you want everything and if you're like me you can't afford it all but I would encourage you to try to get a thickness planer, you will find having one will open up a new world to you. But don't do it until you can pay cash for it. Sorry I'm not trying to sound like you father or anything. Just have fun with all this, it is so much fun.

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Another tip - If you are going to by pine from the big box, you are likely to find better boards in the 12" stack. The good 12" boards are left 12" wide. The bad 12" boards are ripped down to lesser widths to cut out the knots/defects/etc.

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You can take this for what it's worth but I've quit buying lumber from the big box stores if I plan on using it for my woodworking. The costs for it from the big box, in my experience is a joke. You can get so much more from a lumber yard/supplier for the same amount of money.

Generally speaking yeah. I do still find myself swinging by there on occasion if I'm making a project with red oak, and I'm a little short since they're right around the corner. When I was starting out I bought a lot of construction grade lumber from Lowe's/HD to work with. Luckily in Texas it's easy to get southern yellow pine which is a lot denser, straighter etc. than SPF and only slightly more expensive. It's an inexpensive alternative when starting out, though I think I'd probably recommend poplar to a new woodworker as I find it's much easier to work and more forgiving than pine (and especially SPF) to work with.

Bow's can be cut out as Rob mentioned, and cups can be jointed out. The biggest thing I look for when picking up lumber at a BORG (even if it is for construction purposes) is twist. I can deal with bows and cups a lot of the time, but twist is firewood even if I'm just framing a wall (which admittedly doesn't happen very often :P).

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I've said this before, but the BORG stores carry construction lumber. Once you understand the difference, and the rules, you'll know where you can and can't use it.

Rule #1: The first thing to know is that it is wet. Sopping wet, as far as a woodworker is concerned.

Rule #2: The second is that it is not straight. And if you find a straight piece, it isn't going to stay that way, because of Rule #1.

Rule #3: Big box stores compete on price, not on service. That means they're going to buy the worst, voidiest, warpiest, crappiest wood they can find. Never assume anything but the worst about your purchase.

Now, if you treat what you bought with those rules, you should be fine.

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