How do I buy wood cut to size?


Buying wood can feel like a daunting task. In some way or another we all have wood in our homes, gardens or businesses and the likelyhood is that whether you see it as a hobby or a necessity, it is an important part of your environment. Whether its structural, decorative, functional or architectural, the chances are at some point you will need to purchase new or replacement timber.

Despite its basic principles being so familiar to us, wood can also be a bit baffling. Wood is wonderfully variable and versatile which is what makes it so inspiring but its this innate diversity that can make it such a confusing material.

So here are its various forms you can expect to find it in and how you can use a few simple tips to identify the different attributes and speak the same language as the people who sell it.

These are our top 5 things to consider when buying wood cut to size.

1. Where can you buy it from?

You can either buy your wood from a timber merchant, builders merchant or DIY homestore. The DIY places are very accessible and are great for turning up 7 days a week where you can walk freely between their aisles and pick out your pieces from set sizes. The drawbacks are that you have to compromise on the thickness width and length of the piece as the set sizes are fixed. This is where they guess the most popular or useable sizes for their customers. Another important thing to note is that its rarely premium quality and they are known for the cheaper basic quality. Timber merchants often have a mill where they can machine timber to your bespoke sizes and offer cut to size and made to order services. They buy in packs imported from all over the world and provide more premium quality timber and specialist types of wood species.

2. How do i choose what type of wood? 

Timber merchants or importers stock wood in all different varieties. Slow or fast grown, softwood or hardwood, dense or lightweight, oily or resinous, there is never one type that does all jobs. They each have their unique properties that present strengths or weakneses in different environments due to the different climates of their origin.

Choosing your ideal type of timber for your project is easier than you think and you can filter this easily by a few basic categories. Indoors, outdoors, good for painting, dark or light in appearance, contact with water, structurally sound etc. Your timber merchant should be able to guide you based on these different applications. We have a helpful tool to help with the selection process. This info can be found on our What Wood Works page.

3. Will it be rough or smooth?

Timber packs are at various set lengths which vary for different species (wood/tree type). The pack is made up of boards which are usually cut from the tree into square edged planks which have been sawn roughly in the forest with crude thick sawblades. This means you will get saw marks, tapering, lumps bumps and an overall course splintered texture.

Sawn boards can be bought from your timber merchant in either parallel sawn (similar widths) or random width packs. Buying sawn boards is only recommended if you have the tools to machine the boards to a finished state as it will be rough and splintered. Machining to a finish will not only make it smooth to touch, paint or treat but it will also make it regular and even all the way round so you can build things with. If you like to machine/cut/plane yourself this is where you can order sawn boards.

4. How do i get it to an exact thickness and width?

Provided your timber merchant has an onsite mill (the machine workshop) the cutting process is the part where you get this to a more workable and finished state. The cutting process is called planing. The sawn boards are passed over sharpe blades in a planer and/or thicknesser. This process can be set to different tolerances but a common method is to use 3mm off the top, bottom and sides which is enough to get the surface to a smooth and regular state. This process is reffered to as PAR (planed all round) but sometimes known as PSE (planed square edged). These are the industry terms for having wood ready to sand, stain, paint, oil and work with. You can request an exact size you need in thickness and width and your timber merchant will guide you on economical ways you can achieve these sizes from the different sawn dimensions available.

5. How do I get the lengths I want?

The best thing you can do is explain to your timber merchant exactly what lengths you need for your project and they should then show you how you can economically optimise to the available stock lengths. We recommend that you dont try to guess what lengths are available and round up, add margin or multiply to fit into set lengths. Packs come in various different lengths and picking what you think is available will confuse what is critical with what you can be flexible on and you may pay for more wasted timber than you need to.

Get in touch and get creative

The transformation from its sawn state to planed is a thing of beauty as once the rough texture is sliced it reveals the unique patterning from the grain and growth rings of the tree. You get to see the identity of the wood, its natural colouring and it is now ready to get creative with.

If you want to start getting creative with your timber, build a variety of bespoke projects or if you want to be in control of the wood you supply to your joiner/carpentor/architect, this is where you can explore planed all round timber. Get in touch with your timber merchant today. Good merchants encourage you to contact them so you can discuss your project with them.