Woodshop Waste Percentage

How much wood do you waste in the construction of your product? June 21, 2004

For those small shops building face frame cabinets and their own doors and drawer fronts, what is your waste percentage in solid wood? Mine seems to run extremely high - around 30%. Any thoughts?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor R:
I don't do face frames, but on my raised panel door and drawer fronts I can get a waste percentage higher than 50% if I have bad luck obtaining stock wider than 4.75 inches. If most of my stock is wider than 4.75", I can get a waste of about 20%. The length of boards is also a major contributor to waste. My ideal length is 12' or longer. Anything less than 9' and I start running into a high waste factor.

My opinion is waste percentage is directly related to luck. I've done jobs where the widest boards I could obtain were under 3.5 inches and that is some waste. There are times when the only material you can get is severely sticker stained and you need to cull all of the ugly out of the material (hickory is notorious for this). This is when you easily pass the 50% waste factor. I sometimes have to buy 300 bf just to obtain 125 bf, so I would say that a 30% waste is not a bad average.

From contributor P:
I think a lot depends on what grade and length lumber you are buying in order to get enough useable material. I used to buy #1 and #2 common and cull through it. Ended up with a bin full of culls. Now I only buy select or better in 7' and 10' lengths (or as close as possible). Costs a little more up front, but very little waste for me. Of course, my supplier is only a 40 minute drive away and I can pick my own stock. Also, I don't do full house cabs anymore, but mostly armoires, mantles, and other freestanding units, so my requirements aren't as large. Biggest problem for me is that it is hard to find many good pieces wider than 5 or 6 inches.

From contributor O:
My normal waste percentage is usually between 30 and 50 percent, depending on a lot of factors. The biggest wood waster is lumber width. If you're ripping door rails or FF parts that are 2" wide from a board that's 4 3/4" wide, you'll have 1/2" of waste the length of the board. A half inch per board isn't too bad. But when you're ripping and get a 1 1/4" wide strip left over, it adds up fast.

I find there's no way to plan for it, because what the mill sends is the widths I have to work with, as I order stock in random width and length.

From contributor J:
50% waste seems crazy. Don't mean to be rude, but it sounds to me like some of you guys need to get a little more creative using up your waste. If you're making your own doors, drawers, etc., and building face frame cabs, you have several options. I vary my face frame sizes to accommodate much of that waste. 2" upper rails, 1.5" stiles, lower rails. Cut 2 1/4 or 2 for your door frames and 1" for nail rails under your upper shelves. Only waste you should ever have is under 1". Run the rest of that waste that is over 1/2" through the router table and use for end fillers, etc. Yes, this takes a little more time, but not much - better than throwing 30 cents of every dollar in the fireplace.

From contributor V:
50% waste? I can't imagine how you could make money. Being a one-person shop, I have the luxury of a 1 hour drive to hand pick my lumber. The company offers free delivery for any order over $300, but I'll never take them up on it. I'll spend 30-45 minutes (time well spent!) just picking out 100 bf of whatever. I also keep in mind what I am building (doors, furniture, etc.) and make a point to measure width to minimize waste. If I'm using 2 1/4 stiles/rails, I'm not going to buy a board under 4 3/4 wide or much over 7 1/4. I try to think of rips, jointing, sanding, etc. I realize that larger shops just can't do this, nor do they have the time. If I had my stock delivered, I guarantee you that I would not have picked 6 out of the 1st 10 boards I looked at. Choosing the stock myself ensures quality for my customers, lower cost for me and less hassle. You also have to stop and visualize how you're going to cut up, say, a piece of 4x8 for a small cabinet/project before you actually cut it. When I'm sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a drink, staring out the window, my wife will ask me "What are you thinking about?". My answer..."I'm building something, honey."

From contributor K:
I agree with contributor P. We went to all FAS years ago. A little more up front, but pays for itself over and over again in less labor, and if you are running 50% waste, you end up paying much more than what you would for FAS anyway...

In addition, because we moved to fabricating all of our own components and specialty items over the years, we have reduced our waste to less than 1% (this is not a typo) for both hardwoods and ply. Industry average is 15%. We utilize everything...

Can't imagine how you have 50% waste, though... At a minimum, I would donate that much waste to the local school wood shops and write it off as a tax deduction before throwing it away.

From contributor A:
Bill Norlin covers this very nicely in his book.

If I can remember, he said:
10% waste for end trimming.
10% for ripping.
10% for the tally which is usually in the lumberyard's favor, of course.
10% for defects and if it is cherry or alder or walnut, even more.

This does not take into account if you need larger pieces. Or if the lumberyard slips in pieces that are not on grade.

So yup, 40-50% sounds about right to me, and this is my experience, also.

From contributor C:
First thing I do when I get my lumber is separate it into different width categories. I get mine strait lined one edge. If I only have 4 1/2'' wide, I rip a 1 1/2'' face frame stile and then go to something wider for what's left on my board. A 2'' rail or a 2 1/4'' door stile or rail… If I know I am adding crown I may go wider on my top rail. I always start ripping the board with my thinking cap on, looking toward what my next rip should be to get maximum yield. Make edging out of the narrow stuff. I have even thought of gluing the 5/8''- 1'' stuff into a butcher block type of panel and selling that as an occasional style of panel.

Contributor R, can't you just plane out your drier stick marks?

I was thinking about getting a cutter for finger joints and finger jointing the pieces that are wide and short and using them for my toe kicks. I would have to say 25% waste is tops for me. I was thinking about s4s to cut down on waste and save time.

From contributor T:
Waste is always a concern and something you have to plan for. When bidding a job I always add 50% to materials. I bid using #1 common. It has been stated that 50% waste on #1 common will drive your cost up above FAS. I went to my price list and multiplied my #1 common by 1.5 and still came up cheaper than my cost for FAS. I stated that I bid at 50% waste, but my actual waste is closer to 25-30% using #1 common. Bidding higher gives me more room to deal with bad boards. I recently did a job in cypress where I experienced a lot of ring separation. I hit close to 50% waste on this job and was glad I had figured it on 50%. In short, I don't think 50% is a bad number for bidding your jobs, but I do believe you should expect it in the neighborhood of 25% using #1 common. I do bid some jobs in FAS and figure in 15% for these. I end up with around 5% actual waste on FAS.

From contributor K:
Contributor T, if you factor in the time (labor) you spend on removing and selecting that 50% waste, along with the actual waste, you will in most cases be paying more than FAS, which you can just rip with very little consideration for waste.

Of course, this depends on what you are paying for your lumber. But in our case, as an example, we get FAS oak S3S at $1.99bf. #1 common would be $1.65bf. If your shop rate were $75/hr and we spent 1/2 hour (generous, and assuming you did this all at once and not piece-meal) selecting and cutting out the waste on 100bf for #1 common, it would work out to something like this...


$1.65bf (base price for #1 common)
+ $.38 (1/2 hour labor to select/cut waste)
+ $.83 (50% waste factor)
= $2.86bf total cost


$1.99 FAS (which has minimal processing)

Even if we were to only assume 25% waste, it would still be more than FAS, not including labor.

So, in our case, for what we can get the materials for, it just makes sense to go with the FAS to start with, as any boards we get that we don't like we just send back, which is rare...

Your numbers may be different, not to mention if you factor in going to a mill and selecting the material yourself. Everything has a cost associated with it, and if you factor in these considerations, you may come to a different conclusion.

From contributor O:
Contributor K: Trying to calculate and compare the cost of #1 common vs. FAS doesn't work. For instance, in my area, FAS white oak is over $3 BF S3S. #1 common is less than $2 - at least a buck per BF difference. That's a lot. Trying to add in the cost of sorting is where you also go wrong in your thinking. Yes, it might seem to cost more in the per hour view, but I get to keep the money and buy groceries with it instead of just paying my lumber dude. Essentially, I'm trading my sorting labor for cash in the bank - which is the reason I do this stuff.

It works like this: I buy 100 BF of stock. At $3 for FAS I pay $300. At $2 for #1 I pay $200 but I have to sort some of it. Using the 1/2 hr figure at $75/hr, I lose $37.50 in order to save $100. My net savings is $62.50, since that money stays in my bank account. If I use 500 BF per month (I don't), then I save over $300. That's a lot of groceries. This is also why I buy rough and surface it myself. Less initial outlay means someone is paying me for the labor instead of the lumber mill guy who doesn't care what kind of mismatched garbage he ships to me.

1% waste is unrealistic. My saw kerf wastes more than that and that figure doesn't take end checking, edge jointing, and curved offcuts into account either.

From contributor K:
Contributor O, maybe I didn't communicate it very well, but the point was about the labor, ancillary costs, processing and discarding of the waste, combined with the 30-50% waste factor you said you have.

I don't believe you are taking into account all of your costs, which are not always apparent unless you really dig, especially if you are surfacing it yourself. As an example (surfacing) - electricity, labor, blades, machinery wear and tear, etc. definitely work out to more than $.05bf, which is what our wholesale distributor charges for surfacing. 5 bucks per 100bf… you can't beat that. It's a no-brainer. These are all real hard numbers/costs that have to be taken into consideration.

Trust me when I tell you we've been through this exercise more than once, and FAS is the way to go. But to each his own - whatever works for you.

Look, we all have our way of doing things, and the advantage of a site like WOODWEB is that we can see things from different perspectives, and sometimes benefit from the light bulb going on over our heads and helping us look at the way we do things from a different perspective. No one has all the answers, but you can use the info any way you wish. As I've said, we make pretty much everything, but as an example of how we have a problem with change... We have done the cost analysis for outsourcing doors multiple times, and no matter how you look at it (except from the pride perspective), it just makes sense, but we can't seem to come to the mindset of making the change.

But taking your numbers:

$3bf for FAS


x $2 per bf for #1 common
= $200 (direct cost)
+ $37.50 (labor value - this 1/2 hour assumed you culled it all at once, obviously higher if you do it piece-meal)

+ 30% waste or $.60bf (this was your low number)
= $2.98bf actual total bf cost

So, in reality, you are only saving $.02bf or $10 per 500bf of lumber, which is most likely eaten up during surfacing. If it is 50% waste, it is costing you even more... Now, here is where the hidden costs and profit opportunity present themselves. While you are expending time, energy and money doing the above, you could be working on another project overlapping your labor (one of the greatest arguments for CNC, in my opinion). Anytime you overlap your labor within a project, you increase your profit, which is why it would be unprofitable to say, make a group of face-frames from start to finish, one-at-a-time vs. doing them all at once.

With regard to 1% waste, in our case, we make pretty much everything we install, and you would be amazed at how much of what is normally considered "waste" can be utilized for different components/products. We've been doing it for a few years now, and it is very doable. Not trying to convince you that we can, but we do.

"...end checking, edge jointing, and curved offcuts..." You'll find you have much less of this with FAS, but even so, all that you list has uses. End-checking can be used to make 1-tier spice racks, stiles between drawer fronts, etc. Curved cut-offs have many uses, including shimming. Point is, most everything you see in the catalogs you can make with your waste. You would be amazed with what you come up with. But again, key here is not one-at-a-time, otherwise it doesn't make sense.

Contributor O, after all this, if you wish to continue the way you are doing it, I still think that if you have that much waste, donate it to your local high school wood shop or vocational school, and take the tax write-off... I bet they would even pick it up.

From contributor G:
I agree with contributor K. I can only buy FAS and I would not buy anything else. And I get it delivered. When I do need to pick up something, I find it eats up more time than it is worth. I always look at what else I could have completed in the time I just wasted picking up materials. I try to deal with suppliers that will deliver to save my time. Most charge a fee if you don't buy a certain amount, so I sometimes stockpile just so I don't pay the fee or waste my time picking it up.

I find we get about 20% waste. One order I received was 100BF maple that had half the boards at less than 4" wide. I called my salesman and told him to come get it. He now specifies when I place an order nothing under 6". The last order I got had mostly 8" up to 14.5" wide oak.

As they say, time is money and you can only realize that savings if you take the time to figure all your costs, even the time you could have been doing something else productive.

From contibutor D:
You can't claim a tax write-off for donating material for which the purchase price is already deducted as part of your cost-of-goods-sold.

It's still a good idea - reduce the waste stream, do a good deed, etc., but the tax write-off would be double-dipping, and I think the IRS would disallow it.

From contributor K:
Contributor D, that's a good point; didn't think about it from that perspective.

I would think, though, that you could assert a deduction for the labor to cull and cut the material along with delivery of the material vs. your shop rate, as it is a legitimate expense (assuming it is done during normal business hours). Also, I wonder if you could also deduct the market value vs. cost of goods, as it was product that could have been sold, but was instead donated... Don't know, but I'll be scratching my head for a while...

From contributor D:
I tried that with some product we had made for a customer who wigged out on us. My accountant said that since the materials were expensed, as was all the overhead for the shop, employees' time, etc.; and you cannot deduct the value of your personal time under any circumstances (even volunteers at non-profit organizations can only deduct their legitimate expenses, but nothing for their time), there was no way to gain any additional deduction on my personal or corporate return.

Since I didn't claim the deduction, I guess I don't know what the IRS would have done, but as far as I was concerned, that was the end of the story.

From contributor K:
I am not totally sure, but since there are company resources being expended, donated for services, products that are normally charged for (i.e. market value of the material, the labor to cut/cull material and delivery), I would think there is a way to legitimately take a deduction for it. I agree that the original cost of goods can't be re-deducted, but the additional services should be able to... The shop rate would take care of electricity, insurance (auto and business), etc., as these are legitimate expenses associated with it.

An accountant would know best, but I am confident that there is a way to take a deduction for the donations, in whatever form.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I’m my own woodshop and I don’t believe in waste. What little wood I can't use for my project at the time, I put in organized shelves and racks for later use. Anything to small or warped to use (including sawdust) is used for animal bedding or firewood. So I personally think less than a 1% waste factor in everything is most accurate.