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This may seem silly or conceited. I am not a huge customer of any lumber outlet. But I get frequent e-mails about where I buy specific types of wood. Hopefully this will provide some answers.
At the risk of being shunned by fine woodworkers, I confess that I do buy some wood from the familiar big orange box (Home Depot) or big blue box (Lowes).
There are several locations where I have bought furniture-grade wood in Austin.
Dakota Premium Hardwoods
6301 East Stassney Lane, suite 600, Austin 78744 (not far from the airport)
Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Dry measure (measured before milling with about 10% loss)
East Stassney Lane becomes Montopolis at the first light south of Ben White (71), so part of your trip may be on Stassney, part on Montopolis. The easy way to Dakota Hardwoods from the North is from IH35, take the new ramp onto 71 - Ben White East - then take the first exit (Montopolis) south. If you are coming from the west on 71, Montopolis is the second exit after IH35. In a few blocks Montopolis becomes Stassney, just past the light, with a large industrial/warehouse complex on the left (east side of Stassney). Dakota is in the south end of that complex, in the front building along the road. If you approach from the south, follow Stassney east and north. Only a small sign on the building.
Dakota is a new chain of hardwood suppliers in Texas, that opened in Austin January 11, 2012. Dakota is based in Waco, with outlets in Waco, ElPaso, San Antonio, now Austin, and more planned for Houston and the DFW area. The owner, Price Brashear is a third generation lumber man, who worked in mills, on his way to a Harvard degree. They have delivered on their promise attractive prices on plywood, good hardwood, a full line of cabinet hardware featuring Blum and KV, and related products.
Hardwoods are stacked on pallets, so someone may have to use a forklift to pull the type of wood you want, but I was impressed with selection, quality, and price. They have a small area with "exotic" woods, on display, so you can examine the individual boards. Their sheet good selection included all the usual furniture and hardwood plywoods, Baltic birch in multiple grades, many types of Melamine (hope I don't have to go there again), MDF, 3/8 inch bending ply, etc. This may not be the best place to just poke and browse through the boards, but it is my first place to call and place an order for pick up or delivery.
You may recognize the name Ron Mazzarella - he was the manager of Austin Hardwoods and then BlueLinx (when they bought Austin Hardwoods and moved). Later Ron switched from BlueLinx to Mason's Mill. He has now moved to Dakota to open and manage their Austin branch. Ron has served me well for many years, and continues to do so at Dakota. You may also recognize Nick Harper (30 years with Paxton), Mike Beville (BlueLinx and McKillikan) and Bob Henderson, who was a supervisor at a furniture plant in San Marcos, owned a cabinet shop, and ran some large millwork operations before moving to lumber sales.
They don't have hours for those folks with a conflicting "day job" but feel free to call after hours, and if someone is there, they will try to take care of you. Hardwood prices start to drop if you buy 300 bf or more. Free next-day delivery is offered for larger orders (over $500). Mid-size orders will be delivered "when a truck is in the area." Smaller orders... talk to your salesman for delivery times and fees.
Mason's Mill and Lumber Company Inc.
512-295-3000 (toll from Austin), fax 512-295-3001
Mason's mill is a major Houston lumber company that opened a warehouse in Buda, just south of Austin, and was a favorite for a couple years. That location has closed, but the person who answers the phone says they still serve the hill country from Houston.
Fine Lumber and Plywood
9407 Brown Lane (Northeast Austin, east of I35 and Cameron, North of 183)
730 to 5 Monday-Friday, 8 am to Noon Saturdays.
(512) 836-8990 Current measure
Fine Lumber is a great place to start if you are not experienced in buying hardwood. The folks are really nice and helpful, and you are welcome to browse through their well-labeled stacks of lumber. Most of their rough cut lumber is skim-planed (4/4 lumber planed to 15/16), so you have a pretty good idea what the board is like, but can still plane it more to perfect the surface and remove any dings. They also have planed and sanded lumber (more expensive), mouldings, hardwood plywood (walnut, cherry, etc., with ply core, MDF core, and lumber core). They have some "tropical/exotic" hardwoods, wood such as quarter-sawn white oak, and even recycled old pine and river recovered southern yellow pine for the New Yankee Workshop projects. You can pick your boards from the racks, then go to the office and a clerk will measure your selections and check you out. The prices for hardwoods are quite competitive, but some of their sheet goods are pretty expensive... for example, their red oak ply was almost as cheap as the big box, but I once paid $54.96 per sheet for 1/4 inch walnut plywood, and subsequently paid as little as $26.15 for the same item from their competitors.
I go there occasionally for small quantities of hardwood, since I can pick boards to meet a specific need. Since everyone can pick their boards, sometimes I have trouble finding sufficient wood of decent quality when I am starting a larger project, even digging through their entire inventory. They have a well-equipped mill on site, if you need special services (but it is not cheap for small volumes). Generally, they do not deliver, but when I asked recently they reluctantly agreed to deliver for a fee.
Fine Lumber does carry hardware (but I don't know how their prices compare).
Brazos Forest Products, a division of Baillie Lumber Company, formerly
Hogan Hardwood which was formerly
Paxton's wood source
600 Industrial Blvd (South of Ben White, between Congress and I35)
(512) 443-0777 Dry measure
This is where I learned about industrial or wholesale purchasing. You place the order with a salesman, by phone or in the office, and get wood in the order it comes off the bundle. Good and bad, but the stacks haven't been picked over by every woodworker ahead of you. Rough cut lumber has generally not been skim planed, so you will have to do some basic planing before you can select boards for a project. You don't need to be special to buy this way, but you do need to act like a wholesale customer. They expect to take your good-size order, fill it quickly, and move on, not meditate on each board. They will deliver larger orders.
On my first order after Paxton became Hogan, they let me down - couldn't deliver what they promised, after I held up a project waiting for their delivery. On the next order they messed up billing by about $100, and took a month (and many phone calls to the accountants at corporate headquarters) to fix it. I haven't dealt with them, nor their successor, since, but many woodworkers like them.
Hogan's Woodcrafter's Store
This was the retail outlet next door to the (Wholesale) Hogan Hardwood Source in Austin. The wood displayed in the retail store was eliminated with the change to Brazos, and the people who ran this outlet have retired, but some of my friends report that the store still provides retail service to smaller customers.
formerly Austin Hardwoods Inc.
Austin store now closed
On May 23, 2009 I received a letter saying they had moved to their southeast San Antonio location on May 21st. It was only a few months before that they closed their Dallas store and moved it to Austin. Guess the purchase of Austin Hardwoods by BlueLinx didn't work! They say they will be making deliveries to Austin, but I haven't determined how often or with what conditions - when I inquired, they asked if I had a forklift and a loading dock (no), and then didn't call back. (I saw a BlueLinx trailer truck in Austin, rather than the smaller trucks that "fit" on my cul-de-sac, so I suspect they are only interested in larger customers. Someone who went to San Antonio said they gave him a price break because of making the trip from Austin.
McKillican America - F1rst Wood
29 Cypress Blvd,, Round Rock TX 78664
512-828-5800, 866-742-5800, fax 512-828-5801
Green tally (allows their prices to appear lower)
From Austin go north on I35, exit 257 onto Chandler Road. Go east (right) to the third street on the right, Cypress Boulevard.
I recently received a note from them that they had become more friendly to retail customers. I have not had a chance to visit since I got that note, but welcome your feedback if you have used them recently.
I visited several years ago, but not bought from them yet. They are (or were) a wholesale-only lumber yard, where you place your order in person or by phone, they pull the wood, and either deliver it to you, or you can pick up the bundle they have prepared. You may look at the lumber in their warehouse, but there is no option for selecting boards. They do sell hardware at attractive prices.
Walnut is one of my favorite furniture woods. But in 15 years I have never found a good source in Texas. Only one routine order and one special order in all those years pleased me, and the "good" routine order would have been considered only average quality up north. When I have been able to pick through boards at a lumber yard, it is hard to find enough to do a good size project. As a result, I have brought walnut back from Minnesota/Iowa a couple times when visiting my wife's family. And I have bought several hundred board feet from Wall Lumber in North Carolina.
Old growth walnut with wide boards, straight grain, no knots, and no sapwood is ancient history - basically not available except from someone who has a stash hidden in their barn. The 150 year old trees that wood comes from have been harvested long ago, and the 50 year old trees aren't that large. In some areas, walnut is steamed (high temperature at the beginning of kiln drying, not something that can be done later) which darkens the sapwood some, but also lightens and takes out some of the character of the heartwood. I would love to get steamed wood, rather than what is considered good here... the high percentage of sapwood on at least one side of each board. For fancy walnut projects, I now think of walnut veneer, sometimes even on walnut substrate (hide the ugly walnut, but get the other advantages of walnut).
Why do I tell this story? Because I have seen several people look for walnut at a lumber yard, and when they see what is sold in Texas as walnut, they rate the lumber yard bad and leave. My bad luck with walnut in Texas applies across all the lumber yards I have bought from, so it must be a problem with the lumber sources that Texas lumber yards buy walnut from. Or the fact that Texans have come to accept this walnut as "normal" - a quality that many of us Yankees would consider "bad."
I don't go to San Antonio to buy lumber, so I haven't dealt with any of these facilities, but some woodworking friends in San Antonio recently shared these comments:
San Antonio, Texas 78217
Phone: 210-967-WOOD (9663)
My "full time woodworker" friend uses Dakota as his primary lumber yard - he says it is the only one he recommends without reservation. The best folks at the other lumber yards appear to have ended up here. (Sounds like Dakota's approach in Austin).
BlueLinx Hardwoods is still operating in San Antonio, having left Dallas and Austin, but my friend's loyalty has switched to Dakota. See BlueLinx at 535 North WW White Road, San Antonio, TX 78219, (210) 657-9994
Another woodworking friend says that, in the rare case that he can't get the plywood he wants in the other San Antonio lumber yards, he uses Roddis Lumber and Veneer, but he is less than thrilled with their service.
Alamo Hardwoods, 1 Fredericksburg Road, San Antonio, TX 78201, (210) 736-3137
A friend says "They have a fantastic showroom of hardwoods, but are very expensive."
Allen and Allen is another one mentioned - downtown at 202 Culebra, San Antonio, TX 78201, (210) 733-9191 or 800-950-8579. See their website.
Berdoll Sawmill and Furniture Company
4754 FM 535, Cedar Creek, TX 78612
I haven't been to their new retail outlet, but Google maps says they are about 20 miles southeast of the Austin airport.
Brandon Berdoll is a very talented lumberman, specializing in large slabs of Texas lumber, with the ability to mill logs up to 7 feet in diameter, flatten (plane) wood up to 50 inches wide and dry wood up to 20 feet long. His computer controlled kiln (and a lot of personal talent) has enabled him to create some amazing slabs, some of which he builds into furniture.
Brandon and Brandi are just getting started in the retail lumber sales of Texas hardwoods - a friend who went there to buy some mesquite was very impressed with their selection and prices. Their web site is still quite rustic, but their service is great.
This lumber yard started in Georgetown, then moved to Pflugerville, and I heard that they had moved again. On December 18, 2012 I tried to contact them to find their new location, but they have not responded.
Texas Kiln Products
Their mill and two houses were burned to the ground in the September 2011 wildfires in the area. Their website says they are now out of business, and thanks all their customers and friends during their 25 years of operation.
Mail order is expensive because of shipping costs. Several places offer a "UPS bundle," about 70 pounds of wood, no long boards - basically a much as they can ship by UPS at the "normal" rates without jumping to the higher freight rates charged for large packages or heavy shipments. Sometimes the wood is especially good. Top grade wood must be fairly long, but long boards cannot be shipped in a normal UPS package. One company explained that if they have a board that is very good on one end, but bad on the other, they cut the bad end off and put the good end in the UPS bundle (since the shorter board can no longer be considered top grade by the official grading specifications). A UPS bundle (or two) may be enough for a small project, but certainly not for a large entertainment center or bedroom set. For a regular order (not a UPS bundle), the estimate for shipping 100 board feet from North Carolina to Austin (pick up at the terminal, not even delivered) was over $100. When I bought 300 board feet it cost $222 for shipping. Even a full truckload (6,000 to 8,000 board feet) costs about $2 per loaded mile to ship.
The other risk of shipping is the quality of the wood. No wood is perfect - as they love to say, "when you buy a steak you pay for the bone, too." But just how good will it be? The reputation of the vendor is critical.
Steve H Wall Lumber Company in Mayodan North Carolina has been selling through fine woodworking magazines and on the Internet "forever." Steve personally called me back instantly when I e-mailed a question. They have been very responsive to me, their deals look good, and they have a long term reputation on the Internet as good people to deal with. Freight costs have killed most potential purchases, but I did take advantage of UPS bundle for some exotic wood, and another time took advantage of a special on Walnut. The extra cost of the freight made the special not so special, but the wood was good. Dry measure
Mike Mastin, who ran Curly Woods (my favorite source for figured hardwoods) in McKinney Texas (near Dallas), is getting back in the business as McKinney Hardwood Lumber. He sells by mail order through his new web site, www.McKinneyHardwoods.com, and if you want to inspect his stock, he is open by appointment, working out of his "Garage Mahal". He recently told me he was awaiting many woods, but his new web site shows some beautiful samples. Feel free to contact him at email@example.com to discuss your requirements, or get directions for a visit. Mike is someone I would trust to sell me figured wood, even sight unseen, at a very fair price.
Hartzell Wood Stock in Lime Springs in Northeast Iowa is run by Jim and Jana Hartzell. Jim was a wood buyer and lumberman processing thousands of trees per week until he had a lumbering accident that left him paraplegic. He found a new career using his knowledge of wood in a small-town lumber yard. They are great people to deal with. If they don't have what you need in stock (they are small), Jim can probably get it for you. I couldn't leave without loading up my minivan with some odd size pieces of very nice walnut that Jim gave me at a great price. A good friend bought a large quantity for the trim and cabinets in the house he was building and was very pleased. Another woodworker we know in the area recommends them highly. Much of their wood is local wood that they had milled and dried by people they hired, not just bought by the carload for resale. Their published prices are attractive. Regular freight for small orders is expensive, as for everyone. They are a great place to buy in person, but aren't always great at calling back as promised, so plan on making an extra effort if you deal with them. Their web site is no longer active so try Hartzell Woodstock, 111 Center St. PO Box 176 Lime Springs, IA 52155. (563) 566-2298. One Internet listing gives the address as 10456 70th St, which I suspect is their home - when my brother-in-law picked up my last load of about 500 bf of walnut from them (he was coming to visit), he spent some time running around - the lumber yard is not open full time.
When should you buy lumber at a store that isn't a lumber yard? When Woodcraft is having a sale! Woodcraft is a great place to buy tools, but their lumber selection is limited. They often feature one wood at a very competitive price. If that is a wood you need, "go for it." As I originally wrote this, I was planning on stocking up on 5/4 Lyptus from them. But I knew Hogan (Brazos) carried it (and I hear Fine Lumber now carries it) if I need more after the sale is over.
One of the importers of ipe, the Brazilian ironwood, is located in Austin. Everwood Decking Partners, just east of Austin, is a good source of this wood and it's close Brazilian relatives.
Premium Mesquite is co-located with Everwood Decking Partners, the importer of Ipe. Their web site claims it is local Mesquite, but a friend who works exclusively with Mesquite reported "they have a whole warehouse full of excellent Argentenian mesquite... not a stick of Texas. The South American ... more of a grey color. By itself, it would be fine... but it won't mix with Texas honey mesquite."
My other web site, www.solowoodworker.com, includes a page on "how to buy hardwood" that you may find useful.
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