Beginners Guide to Buying and Preparing Timber

By Andy the stuff doer

I’ve put this guide together to help beginners, just like I was a couple of years back. It covers the kinds of questions that can be embarrassing to ask as they seem so basic.  If you are starting out on some serious wood working, carpentry or joinery, it will help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made.

The kind of questions covered:

  • What timber / wood to buy?
  • What is Redwood?
  • What is White wood?
  • What grade of timber to buy?
  • What do timber grades mean?
  • What is rough saw, PSE, PAR?
  • What Timber sizes are available?
  • What to look for when buying timber?
  • Where is the best place to buy timber?

When you’ve got your wood you don’t want to dive straight in and make something. The timber needs preparing and acclimatising properly. This is another area that doesn’t seem to be covered in an easily available format so I’ve covered the basics:

  • Preparing timber for final seasoning and acclimatising
  • Acclimatising timber and How Long for?

The final stages gets the timber flat, straight square and true using a bench / table saw or band saw and planer – thicknesser.

  • Cutting and planing timber to final sizes
  • Cutting and planing warped and distorted timber
  • Planing twisted, winding, bowed, springing and diamond timber

I hope you find this guide useful –

 < Beginners Guide to Buying and Preparing Timber>

Please use the responses / comments below to let me know how the guide works for you, suggest additions, corrections or criticisms.



14 Responses to “Beginners Guide to Buying and Preparing Timber”

  1. Hi Andy,

    Sorry it’s taken me a few days to have proper look at your site (I’ve been busy). It does look very good though. Do you plan to add more images in future, to support your text?

    I had a similar experience to you (almost a year ago, now) when buying “unsorted” redwood. The stuff selected by Bristol City Timber was more like fifths! I went back to exchange some of the boards but, they weren’t very helpful. He tried to make out it was my fault the boards had split (despite the obvious pith!!) and then, to make matters worse, he tried to fob me off with a few lengths of spruce, meaning I would’ve lost money! Needless to say, I haven’t used them since!

    The last lot of redwood I bought came from Robbins timber, also in Bristol (barely two-miles from BCT, in fact). It was a little dearer but, this was simply the best quality redwood I have found in Bristol. No splits, no shakes and not an inch of pith! Some of my boards were 8in. wide and yet, not a single dead knot! Trouble is, the majority of these ‘merchants’ won’t let you anywhere near their stocks, for health and safety reasons. Either get to know them really well or, if you really want to pick out your own boards, look for a more traditional yard or sawmill. But, even then, they’ll generally only offer locally-grown or imported hardwoods.

    “Sawfallen”… Sounds like an American term?

    One of my books gives reference to “saw felling quality”; “this being a mixed batch of grades I to V sold without further sorting, but the majority will consist of IV and V grades with very little of I, II and III grades. Some suppliers market this as ‘V and better’ or ‘fifths and better’.” – Carpentry & Joinery Book 1: Job Knowledges, Peter Brett (2005).

    It would be good, I think, if you could do something on common hardwoods (oak, ash, beech, sapele, iroko?) one day.

    Under ‘How to Plane Good Pieces’, you advise adding a long flat length of timber to the rip fence. If this extends past the last cutting tooth on the blade then, this is actually a bad idea, as solid wood can bend after the cut (as tensions are released) and bind on blade, allowing the rising teeth at the back to catch it and fire it towards you at high speed! It’s not as much of an issue with sheets but, it can happen.



  2. Thanks Olly, for looking and your detailed comments.

    I’ll add pictures as soon as I can.
    A page for recomended merchants might also be good idea.
    “Sawfallen” I’ll change to “Sawfalling” and add a bit more detail. It’s a bit of a minefield as terminology and meanings seem to vary.
    I’ll have to leave hardwood untill I’ve built up some experiance and I’ve not got anything in the pipeline.
    I’ll add a warning about increased risk of kickback with a long fence.


  3. Thanks for this – I really enjoyed the article and a good deal of the information here I can certainly make use of. Being an avid woodworker myself with a few years of experience under my belt you can never stop learning new things. My skill level is nowhere near what I would like it to be although it is true that practice does indeed make perfect! I have a small wood shop which I spend many hours crafting various home objects – my current project is a pine cabinet with single door, which is coming along nicely. I am using these new Wood Working Plans which have helped me immensely in terms of getting things right first time. I am aware many woodworkers use these plans, since they are simple yet detailed in their instruction – has anyone here tried them? I would be interested to see how others had got on with them, and whether they find them as pleasurable to deal with as I have?

  4. Jonas, I know many folks like working from plans, it gives a certain amount of confindence. Hopefuly the info I’m giving here will help with some of first steps to a sucessful build.

  5. Hello Andy,

    Enjoyed the video about making a door.

    Have you considered a section on selecting power tools?

    Already have (and can use) circular & jig saws, sanders, drills etc. Now I’m considering buying a router plus table and planer thicknesser, but don’t know where to start, and certainly can’t afford any expensive (or dangerous) mistakes.


  6. Hi John,
    Power tool selection is massive area and can can only really review what I’ve bought. This is something I’ve thought about doing.

    Have you had a look at the offerings from Tool-Up and Machine Mart if you click on the adverts on the website, I get a bit of commision, If you buy from them.

    I’m a member of a few woodworking forums. – getwoodworking and UKworkshop There’s hundreds of contributors that can give you specific advice. One bit of advice is often – “Buy the very best you can afford”. I would second that advice.
    I the best router and router table I could find, Trend, Record Power. But skimpt on the table saw and Planner Thicknesser, Woodstar. Both could be much better but after fiddling and fettling them, they do the job.
    Other thing to look at is spend the same money on second hand. This way you might be able to get proper, powerful, professional equipment that should last a lifetime.
    Hope that Helps

  7. to acclimatise timber lay flat on the floor, ideally in the room or area that the timber will be installed for at least 2-3 days

  8. Joinery Surrey, That’s advice for timber flooring and the like that should be well seasoned to start with. I’m talking about new Kiln Dried timber that will need a lot longer to acclimatise. I hope you take this in to account with the joinery you produce!

  9. Hi,

    Just wanted to say if you lived near me, you’d be my best freind and go to guy.
    Your door project is an inspiration, so much so, that I am hoping to make one myself.
    Couple of quesions, do you or anyone else no of a good timber merchant near Ilford Essex?
    I have a 3×4 meter shed that I tinker around in, it’s kind of small, but would like to get a planer/thicknesser any recommendations?
    Once againgreat info on your site and great door video.

    All the best


  10. Thanks for your comments Zuber. Sorry I don’t know Essex at all so can’t advise on merchants down there, try some of the forums like, there will be someone close to you who might be able point you in the right direction.
    My advice on tool buying is, Get the best you can afford, buy well once and it should last you a lifetime. having said that I went for a lower cost option that gets the job done for now. Have a look at my planner thickneser review . Hope that helps

  11. First time looking through your site, I just know it wont be the last time. Lots of stuff here for me to read through as a bit of a beginner. Have made some decent stuff in the past, but sites like this gives people like me the confidence to tackle more complicated projects. So, thanks for the time you put into making this information available.

  12. Cheers Jim, It’s good to now the info is useful and inspiring. Good luck.

  13. Thanks for making a really useful site covering all the stuff that’s generally missed, and explaining it so clearly too. No wonder it comes near the top of a Google search. Cheers, Colin

  14. Just read through your guide.
    A lot of useful information, perhaps you should add some details on ‘Regularised’ and ‘CLS’
    and perhaps different sawn grades …
    For example I recently ordered ‘fine sawn guaged’ so I could get a load of material of constant thickness I wanted.

    Happy Xmas

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