Happy Bunkday to Me


I use a lot of construction lumber in my projects – not only for workbenches but for furniture projects as well. If you carefully select your lumber you can end up with very nice wood for little money.

I’ve written about how I select my construction lumber from the racks here, but the following is the other half of the story.

As much as I like my local independent hardware store, I end up visiting my home center about twice a week for odds and ends. No matter how much of a hurry I’m in that day, my first stop is the framing lumber. I don’t always buy something, but I always watch the pile of 2 x 12 x 8’s. And I look at the rack of lumber at the roof.

At my store, they usually have a Saturday-night cull. The employees pull all the junk from the racks that won’t sell because it’s too distorted or nasty. They band the culls and sell them for something real cheap. But I ignore the cull pile.

After they cull the racks they open up new bunks of fresh wood to replenish the racks that look skimpy. So Sunday morning is a great time to go to my home center.

Today I stopped by for lightbulbs and saw they had just opened a new bunk of 2 x 12 x 8’s. The employees had removed only two of the restraining straps, so I did them a favor and cut the third free. Then I spent the next hour sorting through the entire bunk (then restacking it perfectly). I found nine beautiful, straight and clear 2 x 12s. And because this bunk had been sitting at the top of the rack for months, the stuff is dry – between 5 and 7 percent moisture content.

These 2 x 12s will be the next project in “The Furniture of Necessity,” one that I have been itching to build for two years.

The only problem is I have to head back to the home center today. In my excited state I forgot the lightbulbs.

— Christoper Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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29 Responses to Happy Bunkday to Me

  1. knewconcepts says:

    Whew! Glad to hear that I am not the only one!

    Lee (the saw guy)

  2. gman3555 says:

    I just did this dance yesterday. There was a new hire and he gave me the stink eye for about half an hour. Of course I neatly reassembled the pile, as always, before I left. The new hire had a look of relief and disbelief as I past him. There is good lumber to be had at the big box store if you are willing to put forth the effort to dig through the piles.

  3. This is great advice for 2x lumber but what about 1x. I’ve noticed lately that most 1x12s of pine, poplar, and oak at the Box Store is smaller boards joined together. Do you have any suggestions on finding decent 1x stock when all you have is the Box Store?

  4. abtuser says:

    Agree with Lee, I’m glad I’m not alone in this.

  5. Joe Eberle says:

    In your neck of the woods what species are you finding?


  6. Scott Taylor says:

    This reminds me of a series of articles from the good old B/W days of FWW (1984-5 #48, 49, 50)… Roger Holmes wrote four on basic pine furniture built from lumberyard stock. All hand tools and promoting his claim that the only planes one really needed were a block and a No. 7. Great stuff with pencil illustrations and great writing. I think you are keeping that tradition alive Chris, thanks.

  7. Eric R says:

    I have recently been paying more attention to the SYP found at my Home Center store.
    I got a very nice piece for cheap and made a nice project out of it.
    Glad to be included with the other fellows in not being alone.
    Thanks Chris

  8. berfal says:

    Having purchased the excellent “Naked Woodworker” DVD, I went to my local home centers to look at materials and the first thing I noticed was that, in both options, 2 x 12s are now 11 1/4″ by 1 1/2″. Did I miss a memo or something? Not that I can’t make the adjustments but it’s irritating. The other thing is that in one store, the species of lumber is given by the rather nebulous name of “whitewood”, perhaps the home center equivalent of the fondly(?!) remembered “mystery meat” from the high school cafeteria.
    I was just wondering if these phenomena were local to the eastern shore of Maryland or are others seeing them in other places as well?

    • jenohdit says:

      When you read “whitewood,” just mentally substitute “deal.” Problem solved.

      I went to my local beer store yesterday and found a lot of 4-packs. At least they didn’t call them 6-packs, but from the prices you couldn’t tell the difference.

  9. snwoodwork says:

    Sounds like my day yesterday. Forty minutes at the blue store going through every pile they had. Went over to the orange store & with an employee’s help walked out with two 2x10x12’s in ten minutes.

  10. I have both blue and orange home centers near where I live, but I am also fortunate to live near a locally owned lumberyard/home center that carries a large stock of Douglas fir 2X lumber. (We don’t have much Southern Yellow Pine in upstate New York unless it’s pressure treated, or 5/4 stair tread.)

    Last fall, when planning to build a Knock-Down Nicholson workbench, I went to the local lumberyard/home center to get some bolts and screws. As usual, I wandered out to the lumber yard to check out the Douglas Fir 2 X 12’s. They carry these in 8′, 10′, 12′, 16′, 22′, and 24′ lengths. Walking past the 24′ stack, a beautiful straight, relatively clear 2X12 caught my eye. It was cut near the pith, so a large portion of it was quarter-sawn. Damn, I didn’t have my saw or my sawhorses with me! Well, I figured, there are plenty of boards to choose from, even if this one was gone when I came back.

    I had dropped my wife off at the grocery store before going to get the bolts and screws. When I went back to pick her up, she had something important to tell me, but I didn’t pay any attention to what she had to say. I couldn’t think of anything else but that gorgeous 2 X 12 X 24 foot Douglas Fir board, and I just had to tell her about it! Needless to say, that resulted in a domestic argument. My wife just can’t get as excited about a piece of lumber as I can.

    I couldn’t get that board out of my mind! I was determined to go back the next morning and get that board. It was the perfect source of wood for my new Nicholson bench. The thought of that board kept me awake most of the night. I was certain that someone was going to come along and buy it before I got back there!

    The next morning I loaded my sawhorses and my trusty Stanley sharptooth saw into my van and headed back to the lumber dealer. This dealer let’s you drive right into the lumber yard and use your vehicle like a shopping cart. The board I thought about all night was still there!

    It was Sunday morning, so it was quiet in the yard. I had plenty of time to ponder just where to make my cuts to suit my workbench project and to fit into my van. What a blissful way to spend a Sunday morning!

  11. Brian says:

    Are you making bunk beds?!? If I’m doing the math right, you might have grand kids in a few years, so this will come in handy for them 🙂

  12. Eric R says:

    Took your advice and went to Big Blue today.
    Sorted through the 2 x 10 x 10’s and found two really nice boards for $9.77 each.
    (Restacked the rack neater then I found it too.)

    Thanks Chris

  13. Have you had any luck with 4x6s or 6x6s from big box stores?

    • We don’t have those sizes, except in cottonwood. Which is more like a sponge than a tree. Oh and some nasty fir that always looks unsound to me.

      • meanmna says:

        When you say cottonwood, is that what they are listing as “whitewood” at blue and orange? Or, are there “whitewood” 2X4, 2X6 etc. that are either SYP or fir in this group?

      • I remember a post where you talked abut a workbench class you did using all (doug fir?) 6x6s for top and legs. Would that be something other than the Doug fir lumber I’d find in a west coast big box store?

  14. Zack Deluca says:

    A note to all readers, if you are looking for Southern Yellow Pine without any success look for OSHA approved scaffolding boards in your area. These are almost always SYP 1×12’s regardless of the region and are defect and knot free to meet OSHA safety standards.

  15. petevdl says:

    You wrote once of a method you used to strip the zinc coating off modern hardware. I tried a search of your blog, but came up with nothing. Was it a vinegar soak? A reminder would be very appreciated. Thanks

  16. bgilstrap says:

    Wish I had the time to sort through such a rack of wood. Glad you found worthy material.

    I do find SYP blunts my tools something fierce at a 25-ish angle when performing any hand tool joinery. The different ring strengths make a rather uneven “toothed blade” rather quickly. Maybe 30 degrees is the answer? Other ideas?

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