A Visit to Keim Lumber in Amish Country

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For me, woodworking tourism is the best kind of tourism, though I resist dragging my family along when I go to lumberyards, museum exhibits or auctions. I want them to remember me fondly when I’m dead.

Luckily, these days I have Brendan Gaffney working alongside me in the shop, and he’s always up for a ridiculous day trip. This week we went to Amish country in north-central Ohio to visit a tool store, some lumberyards and – most importantly – Keim Lumber.

Keim is about a three-hour drive from Cincinnati, so it’s a bit of a stretch to shop there regularly. But I’ve heard so much about the place during my life here that I had to visit it. What is Keim? It’s a lumberyard and home center that caters to the furniture maker and high-end carpenter.

The lumber section, for example, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Keim stocks both domestic and exotic species that you’d be hard-pressed to find, such as Tree of Heaven, Osage Orange, Butternut, Sassafras and a couple dozen others. On the exotic side, the stock was equally amazing. I’m not into exotics, however, so I didn’t retain a lot of the species names (you can browse the inventory here).

What is equally impressive is how the lumber is presented. Every board is beautifully planed with no tear-out and then drum-sanded. Yup, drum sanded.

The tool section is equally impressive, though it is geared to professional furniture makers with production equipment. Keim carries several lines of machines, such as SawStop, Jet and Rikon. But where the store really shines is in all the shop supplies and accessories. They have every sawblade imaginable, an entire aisle of sanding supplies and deep inventory on handheld electric tools. Plus they do repairs.

There’s an impressive section of hardware, though most of it is geared to the production woodworker (though they had Acorn strap hinges). Plus a huge section for finishing (5-gallon buckets of boiled linseed oil).

And there were entire sections of the store we didn’t explore, such as the custom millwork area.

Oh, and the prices were considerably lower than in the city.

If you are ever passing near Charm, Ohio, I highly recommend a visit to Keim. We’re already planning a return trip to the area to visit some additional lumberyards in the area.

— Christopher Schwarz

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The employee parking lot. As many of the employees are Amish, there are more bikes out back than cars.

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20 Responses to A Visit to Keim Lumber in Amish Country

  1. johncashman73 says:

    The lumber is drum-sanded? Drum-sanded? For the love of god, Why?

    I don’t think that any face or edge of any board I have ever used has actually shown itself in a finished project.

    Drum-sanded????

    • BunnyLebowski says:

      Not to mention, it is (according to Wearing) a faux pas to sand a surface before planing, which is bound to occur as these boards are worked. Grit contamination from the sanding process will rapidly dull your planer blades.

      Perhaps there is less risk of this from a drum sander (compared to sanding by hand)?

    • mike says:

      For the love of god, it is fairly obvious that this store is catering to a commercial crowd. I am sure anyone trying to make money appreciate the labor savings of having boards that are nearly finish ready.

      People need to get outside of their heads (and bubbles) and realize that working professionals don’t have time to mill by hand or finish prep with a #4.

      For the record, I typically by 8/4 rough material, from which I can usually yield two 3/4” boards and a 1/4” board for floating panels. But I build one-offs and am not under pressure to make money on my work.

      • jenohdit says:

        I’m a working professional and I can’t imagine buying pre-milled, let alone pre-sanded lumber for any but the most unusual of needs. Maybe carpentry trim boards, but I certainly wouldn’t use Ailanthus for that (or anything else although it allegedly makes good charcoal).

        • mike says:

          too each his own. every kitchen and bath shop I have ever visited buys premilled face frame and door/drawer front stock. I have never seen a working jointer in a kitchen cabinet shop and many only have a lunchbox planer.

        • mike says:

          I will add that my local dealer an S4S section of maple, red oak, white oak, walnut, poplar and cherry (all of which is finished in a wide belt) as well as a large selection of S2S (skip planed) RL/RW lumber and I bet the S4S outsells the S2S by a factor of 2:1. They most cater to the white van contractor/remodeler crowd.

  2. tpobrienjr says:

    I sure would like to seem Keim Lumber open a little branch store in TX. Sure would. Yup.

  3. I live in Cleveland and it’s about 2 hours for me. I don’t go often but when I do I stay for a long time. Plus, they will deliver up to 100/150 miles FOR FREE!! Yes, they will put one board on a truck and ship it to you. I’m about 85 miles away and see one of their trucks up here about every two months. Glad you guys had fun.

  4. The shorts bin is always worth a look. As is the Guggisberg Cheese factory 2 miles up the road. Take a cooler. . .you will not be disappointed.

  5. Joseph Roth says:

    I’ve been shopping there with my dad for years. Love this place. they do their own mouldings, trusses, millworks/doors. I notice them to be more geared to builders than furniture makers. they have looked at me funny at the project desk when asking about various furiture projects but the very best part is going back into the warehouse. Aisles of slabs of all species/ lengths/ thickness.

  6. Joe says:

    Thanks Chris. It looks like a nice place. Their website even has the ability to let you walk the isles which is very nice feature.

    Personally, I like wood that is S4S or nearly S4S. I don’t have any electricial powered tools and getting wood S4S’d is time consuming. I’m luck in that I have two options locally, a large hardwood lumber store will S4S up to a 100 board feet for $50; and for another $50 they will deliver it to me. As such, I can get 100 S4S’d board feet of most domestic hardwood delivered to me for a total cost of $500 to $600. It will take me two years to go through 100 board feet so I’m very happy with the price.

    If I need something more specialized than that, there is a local guy with extensive experience who will do simple work for me for $60 an hour. This past year, I needed to make 18 smaller size boxes as gifts to family and friends. I was able to borrow my neighbors chop saw to do most of the cutting. However, his band saw wasn’t up to cutting the 3/4″ stock to 1/4″ ish thickness. I happily paid this person $90 as it saved me quite a bit of time which I needed given the volume of gifts I was making.

    To my point, being able to get lumber that has been nicely prepared is really helpful for me. I could certainly do it all by hand but I don’t have a lot of free time to woodwork and appreciate paying a bit extra to have this take care of.

  7. Joe Newman says:

    If it wouldn’t be offensive to the Amish, a hosted visit might be a good event for the local enthusiasts. And your friends. Oh, wait, is that redundant?

  8. Quercus Robur says:

    Ha, the “Tree of Heaven”! In my neighborhood it is an obnoxious weed, growing ultra-fast and sending shoots through every crack and crevice. A nightmare, very hard to get rid off. I did manage though to get some reasonably-sized cuts from a local tree that succumbed to a storm, and although the smell is a bit repugnant, it is a nice looking timber, quite hard.

  9. KeithM says:

    I was awed during my first visit, too. Most amusing was seeing all the Amish clerks working away at their computers.

  10. James Mcelhaney says:

    The Western PA Woodworkers (Pittsburgh) took a field trip to Keim by bus a couple years ago. Came home with the bottom of the bus full of wood. I have been back several times since then, next trip in near future.

  11. David Traugot says:

    I love the parking lot picture! As a bicycle commuter and woodworker, it speaks volumes to me about the Amish relationship to nature.

  12. Sverre Aune says:

    I was just there yesterday. These folks will cater to your every whim. If you don’t find what you want in “The Exotic Wood Shed”, just ask the person at the counter. They will let you go out to the storage area and browse their huge stock to pick out whatever pieces you want, which is what I did yesterday and on previous visits. Their mill hands are very helpful and accommodating. If you want some pieces cut to length, they will do it on the spot. If you know exactly what you want, call ahead and place an order. You can get S2S, S4S, they will mill it as finely as you want or leave it rough, which is what I usually get.

  13. Todd Reid says:

    You have to be careful in their inside the store when you buy wood because the stuff inside is marked as 4/4 and it is actually 3/4. I had an argument one day with the Amish clerk because he thought it was actually 4/4. I even showed him on a ruler and I’ll be damned if I could get it through his head. Finally his supervisor came back from break and called out to the yard and ordered the 6/4 for me so that I could come out with 4/4 for a project I was building. So buyer beware.

    • Joe says:

      They weren’t trying to pull anything. It’s common to sell wood based on its rough cut dimension. S4S 4/4 would be about 3/4 inch in thickness.

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