Idea Probe
Projects & Plans
Tips & Tools

13 Ways to save money on your woodworking materials

As a woodworker, you are often looking for ways to stretch your dollar and getting more things done in your workshop. As a business person, reduced costs means larger profits that will hopefully lead to growing your business.
Regardless of what your goals are as a woodworker, we all want to do more for less.
The costs of woodworking materials seem to be constantly increasing. To stay ahead of the game, we have to look at the furniture industry for clues as to how they keep their costs down. Although we always aim to produce a quality piece, there is no harm in considering some of the options we've outlined below without necessarily affecting the quality of your build.
So, lets take a look at different ways that you can reduce your costs and be more productive in the workshop.

  1.  Buying in bulk: Buying larger quantities of lumber at one time will often get you discounted prices from the lumber yard. Of course, not all projects require large quantities of lumber, but if you plan to make multiple copies of the same project, or plan on making several pieces for a particular furniture collection, it is always best to buy these materials ahead of time to benefit from these lower prices. Just ask the lumber yard if they offer volume discounts.
  2. Using secondary woods: Another way of reducing your project costs is to select less expensive wood species in components of a project that are not necessarily visible. For example, in building a cabinet, your drawer boxes, dust frames, and cabinet back can be made from secondary woods such as poplar. This won't detract from the functionality and will still give you an attractive and long lasting piece at reduced costs.
  3. Using sheet goods: As purists, some woodworkers would never dream of using plywood or MDF in their projects. But today, you can hardly  purchase a piece of furniture without sheet goods having been used in their construction. Consider using furniture grade plywood to help you save tons of time from not having to machine and glue up large panels. Adding edging to these panels even allows you to use plywood for just about any component of your project. The time savings alone can help you be more productive in the shop. The cost savings can be significant as well.
  4. Using veneer: Just as in using secondary woods for non-visible components of your project, you can also consider using these same woods in more apparent components of your build. Veneer is available in a wide selection of wood species and does not require a significant investment in equipment to apply. As in using veneer on secondary woods, veneer can also be applied to sheet goods. You really should consider this option if your planned project features an expensive wood specie that would otherwise be outside your wallet's reach.
  5. Machining your own lumber: There is always convenience in buying finished lumber from the big box stores. But you are limited to a handful of wood species and significantly higher prices than if you were to machine the raw lumber yourself. Machining the lumber obviously requires that you have the equipment to do so and are willing to put the time into preparing the boards. But over time, you can help offset the costs of the machinery with the savings of making your own.
  6. Reducing waste: The rule of thumb in calculating the amount of material needed in a project is that you should always plan for 20% of waste. This accounts for lumber "imperfections" such as knots, cracks, worm holes, etc. Spending a bit more time carefully selecting your lumber can help reduce the amount of waste and keep money in your pocket.
  7. Using recycled materials: Materials destined to the burn pile or city dump can often be given a second life in new crafts at great savings to you. Some crafters simply enjoy the challenge of producing something unique and beautiful from discarded materials. Projects made from pallet wood, re-purposed furniture and many other sources can be your inexpensive, and sometimes free, supply of lumber. Read our article on how to Save some money woodworking by reducing, reusing and recycling wood.
  8. Avoiding delivery charges: If you have your lumber purchases delivered to you, some e-commerce sites and lumber yards provide free delivery if you buy over a certain dollar amount. No harm in finding out if you can benefit from this sometimes free service.
  9. Finishing your projects: If you are producing a craft that you eventually plan to paint, there is no need to use expensive materials that will end up being covered up. Here, you have a vast choice of less expensive and durable materials that you can use thus saving you a bunch of money.
  10. Making your own finish: Save more than 60% on your costs of wipe-on polyurethane by brewing your own. See "Quick tip: Save money while making your own wipe-on polyurethane". 
  11. Hardware bulk purchases: If your project requires several hinges, handles, drawer slides, can often find bulk purchase packages for those items either online or at your local hardware store. A bit of shopping often pays off.
  12. Optimizing your design: As craftsmen, we are sometimes guilty of 'over-designing" or "over-building" our projects. By this we mean using more material than is really needed to achieve the same target level of quality. It's not like that bench will need to hold up an elephant or that cabinet can only be displaced by 5 people. Without affecting the integrity of the piece, you can sometimes look at design alternatives that will use less material and give you the same or similar end result.
  13. Sourcing via classified ads: Do not overlook this potential source of inexpensive materials. Regardless of a seller's reason for unloading these materials, great savings can come from snatching up these deals. Knowing the current retail prices for these materials will provide you with the ability to identify the deals.

As mentioned earlier in this article, read Save some money woodworking by reducing, reusing and recycling wood.