Lumber Salvage: The Top 10 Sources for Cheap, Free and Recycled Wood

There is no such thing as free wood. There, I said it. If your dream of free wood doesn’t include YOUR LABOR and, potentially, NEW TOOLS then it will stay a dream. If you’re ready to put in the footwork of research, emails, phone calls, personal visits and 12-pack bribes then you might just be ready to face all the OTHER hard physical work involved in recycling, salvaging and refurbishing this so called “free wood.”

So I hope that scared off the lazy freeloaders ;) For the rest of you who are ready to work to recycle and refurbish your cheap and free lumber (congratulations you can call yourselves green woodworkers instead of cheapskates ;) here’s what you’ll find in this article:

>> 5 Sources for Cheap Wood
>> 5 (Usually) Free Sources of Wood
>> 2 “Free Lumber” Project Inspirations
>> Further Cheap and Free Lumber Resources
>> You Cheapskates Might Also Be Interested In…

>> 5 Sources for Cheap Wood
Gentlemen, start your engines. Ok, now turn them off. You’ll get more mileage out of being friendly, professional and occasionally generous with 12 packs of beer. There’s a lot of cheap wood out there for you – here are the five that I found. If you have others please comment them or send an email to GFrench@ToolCrib.com.

1) Commercial Woodworking Firms
Milling companies, furniture manufacturers, cabinet makers, and all your local wood flooring installation companies have wood cutoffs and discards. ALL OF THEM. I read over and over about people hauling off pickup truck loads of wood for $50. Ask to speak with the owner or manager. Be nice, be friendly, be prepared for rejection and you’ll soon find your personal source of cheap, ready to work wood. (Floor installer idea from LumberJock Pete_Jud in Free wood source.)

Pros: Typically use nice hardwoods.
Cons: Small, irregular sizes are likely.

2) Lumber Mills and Lumber Yards
Like commercial woodworking firms these guys produce a lot of waste. Your lumber mills and lumber yards understand the value of space even more highly than commercial woodworkers though. Again, be professional and courteous. Talk to the yard manager and ask him if he has any waste you could take off his hands for him. Happy hunting!

Pros: You can find some incredible wood at low prices.
Cons: Sometimes bugs. You may have hauls where you can only use a small portion of what you take.

3) Furniture at Yard Sales, Junk Stores and Flea Markets
Cherry? Oak? Mahogany? You can find all of these and more in furniture at your local yard sales, junk stores and flea markets. It could be that the ratty-old sofa that’s going for $5 is built on a solid frame of re-workable wood. Idea from LumberJock Bryano in do you use recycled wood?

Pros: Old, seasoned wood.
Cons: It’s in furniture form.

4) Volunteer for a Deconstruction Project
The next time you hear that someone’s putting on an addition, tearing up some flooring, or even taking down an old barn ask them if you can help them deconstruct instead of demolish… Your payment for helping out will be pick of the wood that comes up off the floor or out of the walls.

Pros: Old, seasoned wood with LOTS of character.
Cons: It’s “free” but you pay with LOTS of sweat.

5) Woodworking Forums
I read woodworking forums a LOT. There’s always someone who’s got a line on some cheap wood at a great price. I’ve seen folks going in on lots of wood to get a reduced price. There’s at least one lumber dealer who posts regularly at Woodnet who seems to give great deals and great service.

Pros: Great prices, GREAT wood.
Cons: You have to spend a lot of time on forums and even post a little bit so people will get to know you.

>> 5 (Usually) Free Sources of Wood
For the brave and the time-rich there is absolutely no shortage of free lumber opportunities. Here are five that I compiled from around the web. If you have other scrounge sources or ideas please comment them or send them to me at GFrench@ToolCrib.com.

6) Construction Site Dumpsters and “Burn” Pile
Any new construction – and especially demolition – create HUGE amounts of waste. Demolition alone accounts for 1/3 of landfill waste according to a half remembered statistic in my head. There’s a lot of wood in those dumpsters folks, and if you’re a brave soul who doesn’t mind digging through the trash then it’s ALL YOURS. That said you will need to be professional about it, always seek permission before entering someone else’s property and be safe. I also highly recommend that you read this guide to dumpster diving – Dumpster diving: an Introduction.

Pros: You can brag about finding great wood for free.
Cons: You may have to break out of your current social norms and people will get VERY tired of you bragging all the time.

7) Wood Pallets
I wrote extensively about woodworking with pallets – they make the eyes of newbie woodworkers gleam, until they actually try to work with them. That said if you work your local pallet-using companies well you can find your way into a steady supply of free wood… and if you can befriend local PALLET RECYCLING companies you might do even better for yourself.

Pros: Lots of oak.
Cons: Small pieces, LONG processing times. Chemicals on pallets?

8) Discarded Roadside Furniture
If you’ve already read this far then I know you’re the type of person who gets amazed at what other people throw away. If you don’t already own a pickup truck you should probably get one because it’s time for you to start pulling over at every pile of wooden junk you see on the side of the road. Tables, chairs, dressers – all these and more end up on the side of the road, especially in college towns.

Pros: Good wood for free.
Cons: Storage until you can break it down? You have to break it down.

9) Freecycle.org, Craigslist.org, Woodworking Forums
Freecycle.org is dedicated to connecting people to free stuff – I have no idea exactly how the free part works but you should check it out as I’ve seen it mentioned regularly on woodworking forums. Craigslist – well, you should already be prowling Craigslist every day for cheap/free lumber. Most of the time all you have to do is go and pick it up. On woodworking forums too (real life woodworking club meetings too…) you may find folks who are giving wood away, sometimes in return for a favor of some sort – there’s lots of competition there though ;)

Pros: Free wood and you’re usually helping someone out by removing it.
Cons: You have to monitor websites and have lots of email and phone conversations.

10) Fallen Wood from Storms, Construction and Arborists
Every time a tree falls in your neighborhood you could be stocking up on board feet for your next project. Come to think of it, why not talk to your local arborist tree surgeon companies and ask them (ask in this case means give them a case of beer) to let you know when they’re cutting down some hardwoods in your area. Either way you’re talking about taking what is waste to someone else and turning it into workable wood for yourself.

Pros: You can get some gems this way.
Cons: Chainsaw, Sawmill, Kiln, Jointer, Planer, Truck, Trailer, ETC… (not even close to free, really ;) Fresh wood takes a long time to cure.

>> Free Lumber Project Inspirations
Pallet wood oak jewelry armoire
Click for details: Oak Jewelry Armoire

Library table built from oak shipping crates
Click for details: Library Table

>> Further Cheap and Free Lumber Resources
Ways to get good wood cheap, or for free
How to Get Cheap or Free Hardwood Lumber
How to Get Free Wood for Craft Projects
Where can a person get free craft wood?
Free Wood – How To Find Lots Of It For Woodturning Projects
A Reminder that Free Wood is NEVER Free
The Saw Bucks Forum – Very Cool Lumber Milling Forum!
Pallet Recyclers Can Start Small; Getting Lumber for Free Is a Key (pdf)

>> You Cheapskates Might Also Be Interested In…
Woodworking Through the Economic Crisis: 11 Resources for Stretching Your Woodworking Budget
The Cheapskate Woodworker Quiz
28 Ways to Recycle and Reuse Sawdust and Woodchips

Free Woodworking Plans:
20 Free Cutting Board Plans + the 4 that Blew My Mind
15 Free Mobile Base Plans: Put Your Power Tools on Wheels
Wood Storage 101: 14 Lumber Storage Plans and 7 Storage Tips
32 Free Picnic Table Plans + Top 3 Most Awesome Picnic Table Plan Awards
15 Free Toolbox Plans for Woodworkers
24 Free Sawhorse Plans in the Hunt for the Ultimate Sawhorse
ToolCrib.com’s Ultimate Guide to Free Woodworking Workbench Plans
9 Sandpaper Storage Ideas (+ free plans)
ToolCrib.com’s Ultimate Guide to Free Router Table Plans
ToolCrib.com’s Ultimate Guide to the Crosscut Sled

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3 Responses to Lumber Salvage: The Top 10 Sources for Cheap, Free and Recycled Wood

  1. Is it a good time to be doing this with the state of the economy?

  2. Jake says:

    This is the BEST website/page ever!!!! I am NOT too good to do some labor for wood and it would make me feel good to have the opportunity to help someone. Thanks!!!!

  3. your mum says:

    this is the best site yet

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