Wood and Lumber Selection, a Series

Part One - Before the lumberyard

Above all else… appearance is king.

I don’t tend to romanticize woodworking.  I don’t generally feel that when I am making furniture, that I am being inspired or being overly creative.  I tend to default to my engineering brain and think that I am just putting the pieces together the way they should be assembled.  “The drawers are joined with dovetails because that is the way they are.” There are, however, points during the process where creativity and imagination can be a focal point.

Whether you are working from plans that you did not create, or a design that you have developed, when you are making a piece of fine furniture, you should endeavor to have a full design fleshed out before even stepping foot into the lumberyard.  Making sure that every piece is in the design, every dimension is known and every joint is accounted for will alleviate a lot of mistakes further down the line.  It also allows you to better decide where you should focus on aesthetics.  This is an area where you can begin to develop your style.


A custom cabinet design for a craft room with a lot of storage.

A custom cabinet design for a craft room with a lot of storage.

There will be a future blog (series) on furniture design, but for now, let’s assume you have a design in hand and from that design you can develop a cut list.  A cut list consists of every single piece part that you will need for the finished piece, their dimensions and their quantities.  You can also denote on the cut list what parts you want to focus on visual appearance. Your cut list is only as thorough as your design.  If you have forgotten a feature or a piece in your blueprints, the cut won't save you. The cut list only saves you the humiliation and effort of having to return to the lumberyard again because you bought too little.

An example cut list for the solid wood parts of the above design.

You will see on my example cut list, I have: finished dimensions, quantity, desired grain, species and what I call Front and Center (F&C).  F&C is to denote which pieces will be the most visible.  This will be the table-top or the cabinet door or chair back, and I want to attempt to get the prettiest and most visually stunning board to the Front and Center of the piece.  Remember, Above all else… Appearance is king. Take, for example, you are making an Arts & Crafts piece and using quartersawn white oak.  You want to try to make the most visually pleasing piece of lumber, with the best ray fleck, your F&C piece.

A straight-grained, even colored piece of white oak for the breadboards on this rustic table-top because the breadboards are an F&C feature on this piece.

With this cut list, you can be armed to go to the lumber yard and confidently select the appropriate amount and quality of lumber for your project.  We will discuss overages and extra lumber while we discuss selecting lumber and looking for defects in a future post in this series, but the adhering to a properly fleshed-out cut list will ensure that you never have to return to the lumberyard because you bought too little.

You will notice that a criterion on the cut list is ‘Species’.  In the next post in this series, I will discuss the ins and outs of species selection when designing a piece of furniture.  Stay tuned!



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