Renovating an old house can be quite a bit of fun. It's also true that it can be tedious, trying, difficult, frustrating, and downright infuriating, but most of those moments fall by the wayside when you're able to look at what you've accomplished in a finished project and take pride in the fact that you were able to do it yourself and overcome some of the challenges that presented themselves along the way.

One of the single biggest challenges when considering DIY home improvement is actually not the lack of skills you have as an amateur, but more typically it's the lack of knowledge pertaining to where you can find good quality and reasonably priced materials. It's not an aspect of home renovation I initially considered when beginning our journey, but it's a fact that Wendy and I both learned very quickly. For most DIY homeowners, this does not come as a surprise and will most likely be met with quite a few head nods.

With the rather recent introduction (we're talking the last 20-30 years) of "big box stores" like Lowes and Home Depot, many people feel, and the marketing would lead you to believe, that they have pretty much everything you need in the way of materials to do any project. The reality is that they typically have the basics to help you get started, but you'll need to find alternate sources for quite a few materials in order to ensure a high quality finished result. Add to it that the big box stores don't typically carry some of the more specialized products you'll end up needing, especially those that old house enthusiasts such as us require to work on our house. I mean, I wouldn't ever expect to find plaster buttons or lime based mortar anywhere in the aisles of a big box, it just doesn't make financial sense for them.

One of the aspects of materials acquisition that's been particularly challenging for us is the location of high quality and reasonably priced lumber. If you've been through the aisles of the big boxes you know that the lumber available is often either not of top quality, or it's been thoroughly picked over, leaving warped or damaged boards that you must pick through yourself to find something the meets your needs. This isn't as much of a concern when you're searching for framing lumber, but if you're working on something that has a finished face that you plan to stain or paint (like our office desk), it has the potential to ruin your project.

Finding that perfectly straight, undamaged, and correct species board in a big box can sometimes feel like searching for a unicorn or leprechaun. Perhaps this is why I hoard my wood scraps in the basement. When I find something good and have a little left over, it truly brings pain to my heart if it isn't eventually put to use.

In yesterday's post, we mentioned that we purchased the western red cedar boards for our storm windows from an online retailer, but this wasn't the first time we've purchased wood online. Over the years we've compiled a pretty decent list of both local and Internet based resources where we're able to purchase high quality lumber for our various project needs. Now that we have the list in hand, and we've received the periodic question about where to buy wood, we figure there's some value in our list and it might help you with your projects in the future, so why not share? Hopefully this will also spark some discussion that will inspire you to share your favorite locations with us (wink, wink).

Right when we moved into our house there weren't many online resources for lumber, so we were left to find local sources. After a quick survey of the local market, we turned to Smoot Lumber in Alexandria. Smoot is particularly well known in the area among the trades, and it's been around for nearly 150 years. I've actually heard that John Smoot, founder of Smoot Lumber, has been credited with "building Alexandria," since his lumber mill was the main game in town and used to be located in the heart of Old Town. They're also famous for a massive mill fire in 1909 that devastated a large section of Old Town.

Now that they're located about 5 miles away, they're still relatively convenient. Smoot offers a tremendous selection of in stock moldings and profiles, many species of rough sawn boards, specialty building supplies, and high quality plywood. Their prices are somewhat high, especially for custom knives and millwork, but when you need something quickly that they happen to have, you can't beat the convenience.

Their showroom is nice with all of their molding profiles on display so you can easily get the sense of each items scale and purpose. You can see it in the background of this photo I took of a Smoot window from the late 1800s.

We've purchased several of our crown profiles, some rough sawn tight grain pine, our Cyprus siding, and much of our oak closet plywood from Smoot.

As our projects called for more specialized wood, or the prices at local lumber yards had us flinching as we grabbed for our wallet, my search for more lumber options took me online. Over the years our options to buy lumber online has grown tremendously. I now have several favorite online retailers that are my typical go to spots when I start my search.

The first place that jumps to mind was the first place we ordered from. It's a California shop called Mad River Woodworks, and they specialize in the more ornate Victorian style millwork you see on many "gingerbread" homes. We had them cut knives to custom match some of our home's original moldings and they've since added our profile to their catalog for easy ordering.

When we ordered I was amazed at their pricing. Custom knives, setup, and 100 feet of custom run 4" molding plus shipping from California was still less than half the cost of ordering it locally. Can't beat that with a custom cut stick.

We've placed a few other orders with Mad River over the years and often look to them for anything really specialized.

When building our office desk we wanted to use cherry, but didn't have a source for inexpensive yet high quality supplies. I was also concerned that we wouldn't be able to get it back to our house even if I found some locally, since we only had our Mustang at the time. Luckily I found a great mill online called Baird Brothers.

Baird Brothers is located outside of Canton, Ohio (home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame) and offers a very nice selection of S4S hardwoods and plywood. We ended up ordering all of the wood we needed for the desk in dimensional lumber and two full 4' x 8' sheets of cherry plywood. It all shipped freight and arrived in perfect shape. All of the wood for the desk ran us about $1200 including shipping. I priced it out at another local mill and they told us we were looking at $1600, so we were happy to find this option.

The final place we've ordered wood is from Sound Cedar in Washington state. We mentioned this in yesterday's post about the wood storm windows we're building. It actually took me quite a while to find a place where I could order 4/4 Western Red Cedar dimensional lumber, so I'm quite happy I was able to find it. Now that I know they're a good and reasonably priced cedar supplier I know just where I can pick up the wood for any of our future WRC needs.

And though we've not gone this route yet, I've been considered salvaged wood or rough sawn boards that people are trying to move on Craigslist. After a recent search I'm rather intrigued by the local pickup options for rough sawn curly maple and tiger cherry. Now that I have a planer I could make some beautiful furniture.

There you have it, my secret list of local and online lumber suppliers that have worked really well for us over the years. It's amazing how much better a project can turn out if you use high quality wood of the correct species for the task. It may add a few dollars to the overall price of a given project, but it's very much worth it when the end result is something that you can truly br proud of.

Do you have any great local or online resources for lumber that I need to know about? Maybe a great place to pick up reasonably priced salvaged lumber? If you do, please let me know, I'd love to hear.

Comments 14


6/5/2013 at 10:55 AM
I'm passing this along to Handy Hubby. You guys really need to hang out and talk about wood. Anyway... he goes to Vienna hardwoods but there's a place near Frederick, MD that he really likes. It's not convenient or easy to get to. Also, he claims the Lowes in Chantilly has the best, straighest wood. He has tried them all.
Ah, the manly things us guys can talk about. :-)

I'll have to check out Vienna Hardwoods at some point in the near future. I heard of a great place in Columbia, but it too isn't convenient.
6/5/2013 at 1:14 PM
Thanks for this post. I have yet to work with maple or cherry for any serious projects that demand high quality results, so I've been able to get by with poplar for my paint grade projects from Lowes. Although, when I built my kitchen cabinets for my first home I bought the poplar rough cut and planed it down... saved a bunch of money over buying it S4S from big box store.

I've used Western Dovetail ( for the drawers for those cabinets. Love them. Would totally do that again if I did another kitchen.

Locally, I'm a fan of Manayunk Timber ( for reclaimed lumber. They have wood that is centuries old and HUGE pieces, like 12"x18"x 30'+ .. place is crazy.

We're going to eventually be building a home office, so I'll keep Baird in mind. Thinking about making white cabinets with a cherry ply counter. TBD.
Good luck on the cabinets. I've always dreamed of building out an entire kitchen, Norm Abrams style.

Baird is definitely worth a look for your needs. I'll have to check out Western Dovetail for some of our future projects. Thanks!
6/5/2013 at 1:54 PM
Thanks for this post! We never even thought about buying online. We've had custom millwork done also, but did that locally here in Denver.

We feel your pain on the Lowe's/HD wood selection also; "yikes" pretty much sums that up!
Some of the west coast places might be just about perfect for you.
6/5/2013 at 9:59 PM
Good thing you didn't say Frager's because it's burning down right now.

J.P. Moriarty in Massachusetts has a good catalog.

I'm sitting on a stack of 1000 board feet of white oak that I had milled from a neighbors tree. More than I need. Welcome to make me an offer.
6/5/2013 at 10:22 PM
Oh and Second Chance up in Baltimore has great old growth beams (chesnut, SYP, etc.) that can be milled into great stock. Cheap.
That Fragers fire was horrible, I couldn't believe it. So sad too, that place is such a great resource.

I love Second Chance, but haven't been up there in a while. I'll have to check out their selection sometime soon.
6/6/2013 at 9:13 PM
Alex, if you're planning to buy rough wood locally, just remember it's "buyer beware". You have the potential to get REALLY GORGEOUS and well priced furniture grade wood, or it could be improperly seasoned and turn out to be expensive firewood. Curly or "tiger" cherry is stunning, but usually quite expensive. Curly maple, however, occurs fairly often, and is usually not as high priced (and if it's hard maple, or "rock" maple, it will be very difficult to work with: twice as difficult as working with cherry as far as sanding goes).
I'll definitely take your advice to heart, that's for sure. I've heard the same on some of the hard/rock maple from a former boss. We'll see how any future projects turn out.
6/7/2013 at 9:46 AM
Starke Millwork in Nazareth, PA has an insane number of profiles in their catalog.
Wow, that is a whole lot of moldings to go through. I went through the whole list and was shocked that our casings weren't in that catalog. Still, it's a great resource!
6/19/2017 at 6:43 AM

Buying hardwood online, It requires a lot of research for both the product and product suppliers. You cannot just go for the first product you see on the web.

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