On the Myth of Wide Lumber

Lots more mahogany in 16" and 18" widths. No knots.

Lots more mahogany in 16″ and 18″ widths. No knots.

When the only tool you have to flatten a board is a 6” electric jointer, all your boards look 6” wide.

One of the greatest gifts of handwork is the ability to flatten boards of almost any width. Many times when I demonstrate flattening stock by hand I get asked the following question: Isn’t it grueling work?

To which I reply: When you are working with 18”-wide stock, nothing is too grueling.

Today I led a bunch of woodworkers (there were 15 or 20 of us at one point) to Midwest Woodworking in Norwood, Ohio, so they could experience this epiphany themselves. We bought tons of old mahogany that was 18” and wider for less than $7 a board foot. We bought 30-year-old sugar pine – dead flat and about 12” wide – for about the same price. Many of these boards will become campaign chests at my class next week at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

And then we went around the corner to Gordo’s Pub for a burger and a beer – my definition of a perfect day.

You can have your own perfect day wherever you live. Getting wide stock is a matter of looking, asking and refusing to settle for low-quality raw materials.

Do you have a phone? Call Wall Lumber, Hearne Hardwood, Horizon Wood Products or Irion Lumber and tell them what you want. They can truck it to you. And if you are willing to buy 100 board feet or so, you will get a surprisingly fair price.

Wide boards are always worth the money. To me, good lumber is more exciting than a fancy shop or an expensive plane.

What did I buy at Midwest? About 20 board feet of old teak from Malaysia for my next project: A full-size fold-up officers’ desk, circa 1830.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Thanks to Andy Brownell of Brownell Furniture for helping me arrange this special visit to Midwest. Andy also supplied us all with free Gorilla Glue (PVA and poly) and T-shirts.

Planing some 24"-wide sapele.

Planing some 24″-wide sapele.

Another of many 18"-wide mahogany boards. That's not sapwood. It's dust.

Another of many 18″-wide mahogany boards. That’s not sapwood. It’s dust.

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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11 Responses to On the Myth of Wide Lumber

  1. psanow says:

    Those boards were not a myth. Thanks for leading the expedition. It was a good time. Have fun next week all of you.
    Paul

  2. Wergeld says:

    I want some. :(

    Anywhere around Chicago sell wide mahogany for that price?

    ~Kurt

  3. playnoevil says:

    Does your course ever come West to California?

    • lostartpress says:

      I’m teaching at Port Townsend School of Woodworking in Washington State in September. I can only teach where I am asked to teach….

  4. amvolk says:

    As another Californian, do you have contacts for wide lumber suppliers here? Pine? Mahogany?

  5. Yeah, wide stock is cool stuff, vital really if restoring old furniture.

  6. timsnider says:

    Be sure to check out your lowly local estate sale. I picked up locally cut, milled, dried walnut that averaged 8 – 14″ wide x 12′ long for $2. bd. foot. Pics @ http://s789.photobucket.com/user/trsnider/library/Estate%20Sale?sort=3&page=1
    (gloat :) )

  7. I would add that when you need wide stock over 24″, expect to pay a premium, say $20-30 a board foot. Several years ago, i had this walnut period queen anne low boy type table that needed a new top & Schwarz talked me into buying a single board top for it. I think i paid $27 a foot for that walnut board or $480 for the top, not counting milling/installing it but, best decision i ever made, the table looks great. For a table like that, it would have looked odd to have a 2 or more board top.

  8. Roger Benton says:

    As a purveyor of slabs up to 42″ wide and a huge advocate of hand tool use, I will to allow that once again the nail has been hit on the head with this post!

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