Selling Hardwood on the Side

A furniture and cabinet maker is considering a small-scale side business selling lumber, and gets advice on where the market is. November 10, 2005

Does anyone have any experience in setting up a lumber rack (4/4 oak, maple, cherry, mahogany, etc.) in your shop for retail sale, or even doing it full time? Is there a big demand for this type of lumber and business from local craftsmen or do-it-yourselfers who cannot find lumber other than oak and poplar from the big box stores? Where I live the only way you can get wood other than oak and poplar is either by having a business license or through the internet, which is expensive.

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor A:
I know a couple of guys who are selling lumber this way as supplemental income to their cabinet shops. In my area (SE Ohio) I can get a better price buying lumber from these smaller guys than through larger mills and suppliers. I also like buying through them because they are friendlier, there are no minimum orders and they let me pick through the pile for the pieces that I need. I am a furniture maker and generally am looking for a small quantity of high quality lumber. It sounds like there may be a market for such a business in your area. You would need to get the word out and Iíll bet that you will generate some interested customers.

From the original questioner:
I started out building custom furniture and have started doing some kitchens, but still do a lot of furniture. When I started, I was buying oak lumber from Home Depot at $6.00 per bd ft. I really think I can beat that price and be able to offer people a good variety at a reasonable price as there is no one else in my area (Birmingham/ Jasper, AL) that I know of who sells different types of wood to individuals.

From contributor B:
I'm also trying to sell hardwood retail. I run a tree farm in southeastern Adirondacks and harvest and saw timber on the farm. I will grade saw the better hardwood logs, but am trying to offer wood that have would be at best a grade 3 if it were graded. I have craft people less interested in grade and more inclined towards grain patterns, swirls, mineral stains, etc. and also odd thicknesses that that they can't find at the big box stores. I also let people dig into the lumber piles to find what they want, figuring that they will come back to see me and may refer me to other people. Building a customer base is long and difficult. I do need to have a dry kiln at some point, as air drying can't get the moisture content down far enough for furniture or fine woodworking. I would be interested in how it works out for you.

From the original questioner:
My plan so far is to set up on wall with brackets to separate and stack the wood, and keep maybe 100 bf each of red oak, white oak, hard maple, cherry, mahogany, birch, walnut, and some pine shelving. Since I build custom furniture, if I do not sell the lumber I can always use it. I am going to try to target the craftsmen and the weekend woodworkers who may build small projects and furniture to hand down to their children. I think that I can do pretty well if the market is there because the only other resource for a lot of this wood is to order it and have it shipped in, and that can get expensive.