Sean Hellman
Woodwright, Artist and Craftsman
Articles & VideosUseful advice on wood and wood products


Buying wood

Where do you get your wood from? is an often asked question. There are many and varied places to buy your raw materials and I will start off with the commercial outlets and proceed to the more personal ones.
The first port of call is often the sawmill or timber merchant, I would advise to choose the smaller sawmill that mill there own wood. This is because I am all for supporting local business this also keeps our money in the local economy.
To find a sawmill look in the yellow pages or the internet, they often advertise. Many organisations bring out directories of regional wood industries and craftspeople and these are often the best resource guides.
Also go along to your nearest Woodfair or county show you will find a dedicated area for woodland and forestry.
When you have found likely looking sawmills give them a ring and ask when they are open, you may have to arrange an appointment. Before you go make sure you have a cutting list (list of measurements of all the pieces of wood you want to buy). When we first start buying wood we often only want to buy a small amount, so don`t waste the businesses time by umming and arring about what you want. I could get very annoyed with a client if I spent an hour or so with them, showing them my wood and pulling out this or that piece, and they ending up only buying £10 worth of wood. If you only buy very small bits its going to cost over the odds. Don`t haggle especially if you are buying small amounts. You want to build up a good working relationship with your suppler, it will pay off in the long term rather than just getting the good short term purchase. Some bigger mills have a self select section and some mills who also manufacture have off cut sections. Do ask where the wood comes from, it is better for the environment if our wood is felled and processed as locally as possible.

Wood is sold by the cubic foot or metre. A cubic foot is 12 x 12 x 12 inches square or a plank 12 feet long by 12 x 1 inches wide and thick.
For example one of my suppliers sells oak for £36.80 a cubic foot plus VAT, so lets say I buy a plank 9 inches wide by 2 inches thick by 10 feet long.
I will multiple the length in feet by the thickness and width in inches.
This gives me a figure of 180.
Now divide this by 144 and this will give you the cubic footage which is 1.25 cuft, times this by £36.80 (the price per cubic foot quoted earlier) and this equals £46.
Add VAT by mutipling £46 by 1.175 and you now have the VAT inclusive price of £54.05.
I have bought planks of wood from £8 to £100 a cubic foot, the £100 is for English walnut, but the average is between £20 to £50 a cubic foot.
To do them same in metric The volume, V, of a piece, is calculated in cubic metres using the formula:
V = T x W x L
T is the thickness, in metres, to three decimal places;
W is the width in metres to three decimal places,
L is the length in metres to three decimal places.
For example:
V = 0.050 x 0.253 x 2.745
V = 0.035 m3
Small saw mills may also be willing to sell you wood in the round especially end bits cut off before milling or maybe smaller bits that may not really be worth milling because they were part of a job lot that they bought. These bits will be cheaper than plank wood.
You can also buy wood direct from the source, estates and businesses that fell and sell wood, these sources will only often sell to large buyers like sawmills, but sometimes you can buy a few sticks of wood, but you are looking at buying 30 to a couple of hundred hoppus foot.
Hoppus is a unit of roundwood measurement where the cross-sectional area of a log is taken as the square of one quarter of its circumference. One hoppus foot is equivalent to 1.27 cubic feet. A hoppus foot is thus about 21% short of a cubic foot – the reduction helping to compensate the sawmiller the volume of loss involved in converting roundwood to sawnwood. Nowadays hoppus measure is generally restricted to hardwoods.
Do try to buy wood that is FSC certified, as this organisation provides a chain of custody certificate for sellers and buyer of timber, which set standards for the management of woodland and forest. The FSC logo means wood has been sourced from well managed forest and you are not buying timber from illegally cut rain or temperate forests or even just badly managed forest. Personally I buy wood from small sawmills who can tell you exactly where the wood came from.
If you want to use and learn about green woodwork another way of getting wood is by volunteering with woodland charities such as the woodland trust and the BTCV. Woodfairs often have exhibitors who sell wood from the show. These fairs are great for anyone interested in any aspect of timber use.
If you want round wood for carving or green woodwork skills such as pole lathe turning, whittling etc you can often source cheap or sometimes free wood from fire wood piles, farmers, landowners, tree surgeons etc, but you must ask permission before you cut or take any wood