A Beginner's Guide to a Timber Merchants






Norman Goes To The Timber Yard

diy problems


The variety of timber in a specialist yard is far greater than “sheds”. The range of mouldings, (architraves, skirtings, beads, etc.), the species of timber, from redwoods to mahogany, the widths, the lengths. You just don’t get this at “Wickesbase”.

Basically all you can get in a shed is about 5 different cross sections, none much more than a couple of metres long and nothing other than that white “boxwood” stuff which, if you ever open a pack, (it comes wrapped in cellophane, my
sandwiches come in cellophane) springs out at you then adopts interesting positions in the rack all of then rakish and none of them straight. Mind you it’s easy to cut, if you forget your saw, you can use a fruit knife.

Types of Timber

So…you’re looking at wood. It comes in very many variations doesn’t it? So here a breakdown for you.

There are 2 types for a start…..sawn and planed.

Sawn Timber (when its rough)
Sawn
timber is used where you can’t see it, under floors, in the roof etc. and it’s cheap. If you want to use it outside for fences etc. you can get sawn and treated. Now it will be rough but also green or brown.

Planed Timber
This is sawn timber, which has been planed down a bit until it’s smooth. If you see the acronym PAR, it means planed all round. This is used where it
can be seen.

Sheet Materials
This is
processed wood formed into sheets. Each type of sheet has different intended uses.

Plywood is generally quite rough and is used for covering flat roofs or moulding concrete (shuttering). There are a couple of funny looking, specialist roofing sheets as well but you’re not a roofer are you?

Laminated plywood which is usually quite thin and which can have a lovely finish to it, is used for doors for instance. The laminate can be almost any type of wood imaginable from oak to mahogany.

MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard). has many uses internally, from shelving and cupboard making, to skirting boards.

Chipboard is a poor substitute for MDF used where it’s not visible, flooring for instance.

Laminated chipboard looks the same as laminated plywood but is generally thicker and self supporting. This is used for kitchen cupboard doors etc.

Be aware when buying laminated boards from timber yards, the edges are not laminated, so how will you cover those up?

How to Buy your Timber

Now you need a lesson in how it’s measured. Lets start with its cross section. Any pamphlets you see, will mention sizes in millimetres. Forget that, the yard bloke will deal in inches, so you will buy 4 by 2, or 6 by 2 etc. He may
know the millimetre equivalent but that’s as far as it goes. So if you ask for a few sticks of “fourbitwo sawn” he will know what you mean, even if you don’t!

Next the length. Now you must forget the inches and talk in metres but it’s sold in lengths, which are increments of 300 millimetres (which is as near as dammit is to swearing, an old imperial foot). The shortest length you will find will be a 1 point 8. (That’s 1 metre 800mm). Then, there’s a 2 point1, 2 point 4, 2 point 7, geddit?

So.. you might be confronted with a rack of planed “sixbitwo” which is a nice size to make shelves with (which is probably what you want to do isn’t it)? This will all be in different lengths and none of them the 38¾”, that you went in for.

Do not ask the chap to cut you 6 pieces each 38¾” long. Firstly, he will have been avoiding you like the plague because no matter how hard you have been trying, he will know your not a tradesman and therefore…

  • Won’t know what you want.


  • Will tell him what job you are doing and why and how difficult it will be to do.


And do you know what? He won’t actually give a monkey's about you or your sad little attempt at DIY.

  • Will know he will have to carry it to the car for you and wait while you wind back the sun roof.


  • Will have to tell you that no, he doesn’t have any tweezers.


But……. he will be able to get rid of the length with the knot hole in it.

You can’t just waltz into a wood yard and demand the lengths you
want. You have to take the lengths they have. So work out how many shelves come from the longest lengths you can get in your car and get the appropriate number of that length, plus a short bit for the one left over. He may be prepared to cut a piece for you but only in increments of 300mm and the shortest length he will ever put back in the rack is a
1.8. In other words he should be prepared to cut a 1.2 length from a 5.4 for instance and be happy to put the 3.6 “off cut” back in the rack.

Planed timber by the way doesn’t come in the same sizes as sawn, because its been planed down from the sawn timber size. So a length of fourbitwo (4”x 2“) PAR wont be 102 mm x 51mm any more but will measure about 95 mm x 45mm.

Sheet timber and plasterboard comes in 8 by 4’s. That’s 8 feet by 4 feet. But it will be the metric equivalent, which
should be 2438mm X 1219mm but it wont be that either. You might get 2.4 x 1.2 but not always. So if you are making a stud wall ready to fit plasterboard onto without cutting it, go to the merchants first, measure his board, then build your frame. And if you end up using a different merchant, don’t expect his sheets to be the same size. It’s a game isn’t it?

If you ask for it to be delivered, which is not unreasonable after all, you must also expect to get what they give you. Knots, shakes, missing chunks, splits, waney edges,
twists, wavy surfaces from poor planning, I could go on. This is why builders have vans. The only stuff
they get delivered is large section sawn stuff.

Still scared Normie?….You should be!







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