Cheap Lumber Through Scavenging
You have unlimited creativity. If you could only find free wood.
While free wood is basically impossible to find, here are some top places to look for wood that you can repurpose or salvage.
Keep in mind that you ate exchanging your labor and skill with power tools for the wood. You are going to spend countless late nights researching possible spots for wood, and phone calls to track them down. There are going to be those moments when you drive across town for a curbside pickup, only to discover that someone beat you to it.
However, if you have more time than money, these wood-getting suggestions can be just the ideas you need in order to unlock your vision.
If you have the energy to jump through the hoops, — and a way to get your free lumber home — this list is for you.
It is easier for woodworkers to find smaller scraps of wood for doing woodworking projects. Getting the larger pieces of wood will likely need for home improvement projects requires more effort and persistence.
I am convinced that with enough patience, you could gather almost enough wood to build a house with free wood.
Best Sources For Cheap Lumber
1. WoodWorking and Cabinet Shops
I grew up working summers at a shop that built storage sheds and gazebos. We always had a good supply of wood that was about 2 feet long. Sometimes we would end up with oddly cut pieces of exterior plywood that was pretty decently sized. You could take our scraps and easily build a dog-house or birdhouse or other small projects.
The other area where I’ve personally had excellent success in finding scrap lumber is through a Cabinet shop. The had a surprising amount of weird lumber scraps that they were always getting rid of, and some of those boards were quite long. Once you build friendships with these shops, you can often find out when the best times are to stop by, and some of the crew will even start a pile with the choice scraps.
Wood flooring installation companies, construction companies, and specialty lumber yards are all places to find free or cheap material. Sometimes they want you to pay for the truckload, and in the case of lumber yards, you are going to pay by the board. But you can get nearly perfect wood for much less than it normally costs.
They need this lumber to be removed, so they are often quite happy to have locals use it for their own woodworking projects.
2. Lumber Mills
When the trees are being processed, there are a lot of ruined boards and scrap lumber that never see the market. These untreated boards tend to be rough and unfinished, but you can generally get a good quantity of them. If you have a planer, you can finish the wood yourself.
If I was trying to build a house with free lumber, this would be the first place I would check. The pieces tend to be longer and more usable.
You do have to watch out for bugs and make sure that you aren’t introducing pests into your stock of wood.
When I was in high school, we worked out with one of the Amish sawmills to let us collect the bark. We’d then use our chainsaw and wood splitter to work it into the wood to sell to the campsites.
3. Lumber Yards
Lumber yards deserve their own mention. I have a friend who runs a specialty hardwood store. Folks come by to get high-end lumber for furniture making and for turning bowls and pens.
However, he also ends up with piles of wood that simply won’t sell. These boards might be cracked, have an undesirable knot or other blemishes.
Additionally, as a small shop, he needs to sell a certain amount of wood in order to keep his discounts. In a month when he might be struggling to make quota, he is very willing to cut deep discounts in order to move a large quantity of lumber.
Look for small hardwood lumber dealers in your area and see what deals you can work out. The wood quality is probably higher, but the cost will be as well.
Just talk to the manager and see if they have any discards they are trying to get rid of. Often you can get this wood at firewood prices. Sometimes this will even work with box stores like Home Depot, but in most cases, you are going to have better results with smaller, local stores.
4. Free Building/Free Barnwood
If you keep a close eye on the “free” section of Craigslist, it is common to come across houses that need to be moved, free storage sheds and barns that need to be pulled down.
If you are willing to do the demolition quickly, most of these folks are just glad to have the wood removed. You may want to hire some help in order to get the project done in a timely fashion.
The other downside with this is that you are going to have to come back through and remove all of the nails.
For someone with a bigger construction project, a few demolitions like this are all that is needed to give you enough wood.
5. Construction Site Dumpsters
Every summer, the roll out dumpsters get set outside of the schools, and summer construction begins. The demolition phase of this period is always a rich resource of free building materials.
It is difficult to get permission to go dumpster diving. Be aware of your local laws, but it is often common to raid the dumpsters on the weekend.
Dumpster diving seems weird the first time you do it. However, I’ve made good money picking up junk from the curbside and flipping it on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.
6. Wood Pallets
Everyone makes fun of the pastors with their pallet backdrops on their stages. However, it just underscores that pallets are the best source of free lumber.
Every factory and retail site has an unlimited supply of pallets that need to be removed. Most of these sites are excited to have you come by and pick up as many as you want.
They are great for DIY woodworking projects of all sizes, from making a queen-sized headboard to building a 6-pack beer carrier.
You could use a CNC router to make excellent signs from pallet wood. Now there’s an Etsy Shop idea!!
7. Abandoned Buildings
Similar to point #4 above, you can reach out to the owners of abandoned buildings and see if they’ll let you tear it down.
You’ll have to contact a few buildings to find someone willing to let you do it.
In our city, it seems as though they’d rather let them rot than sell them to someone else.
However, if the lot is deemed a safety hazard, they may be receiving fines from the city and would be anxious to see it unloaded.
You can start by looking up tax records and reaching out to owners of dilapidated properties.
8. Old Decks
Reach out to a decking company to see if they have any upcoming projects where the old decks need to be removed.
These companies move fast and don’t have much patience for folks who take up their time.
Show up promptly, clear the lumber, and you might find that they are strong suppliers of free wood.
Fencing companies are another good source of old wooden fences.
With a little pressure washing, you can uncover a goldmine of cheap lumber.
A Note Wood Storage
When you begin collecting wood, you are going to end up with pieces of every shape and size. You need room to store it, to sort it, and to keep it dry until it is time to put it to use in your project. Storing it out of the sun will keep it from warping.
One of my favorite storage ideas is to build wood racks out of 2×4’s inside of this affordable storage shed.
Be judicious about what wood you hang onto. Wood hoarding is a very real problem. I suffer from it. So once a year, I do a spring cleaning and sort the woodpile. Someone else can have the pieces I don’t need, and I have more room for collecting choice pieces.
Wood should be spaced so that it gets plenty of airflow. You can put little “sticks” of wood between your pieces of wood.
Killing Wood-born Insects
Introducing wood-born insects to your wood stack can reduce the entire pile into sawdust. Get that contaminated wood too close to your house or your trees, and that problem can spread.
There are a few thoughts on treating infected wood. Sometimes you can get your hands on a large lot of supposedly infested wood. Once you sort through it, you’ll find that there are only a few bad pieces.
These can turn out to be gold mines.
A few of the top treatment options:
- Kiln-dryer – Kiln dried wood is in-hospital to bugs. Once you cut off their source of water, the wood is not able to be inhabited by the bugs. Building a kiln for use at home can be pricey, but if you have a good supply of wood you need to treat, it can be a good idea.
- Freezer – If you have a large enough freezer, you can stick the wood into it for 72 hours to kill the bugs.
- Linseed Oil – A sealant can remove their oxygen supply and suffocate the bugs. Mixing in an approved pesticide can make this more effective.
- Pesticide – When it absolutely matters, and you are treating wood that will be left outside, pesticides can be used to kill an infestation of wood-boring insects.