An Expensive Trip

January 8, 2024 | 2 min read | By: A.J. Hamler

There’s high prices for wood, and then there’s ridiculous.

I make a lumber run a few times a year to get the staples I typically use: oak, poplar, walnut, cherry and various clear SPF. I’m low on just about all of it, so it’s time for a run.

But in the meantime, last week I wanted just a few small pieces of wood for photography purposes for a joinery article, didn’t have what I needed, and so headed to my local Big Box. This wasn’t going to be a major restocking. For one thing, it was raining and I didn’t want to get soaked loading up. Plus, we were in Sally’s too-small car for 8-foot lumber, I didn’t have a lot of time, and I wasn’t about to do a big lumber buy at a Big Box.

While she waited in the car I picked up a 4-foot piece each of 1×2 and 1×3 oak, and a pair of 3-foot poplar 2x2s. That’s really all I needed to finish up my photos, and I spent more timed digging through the rack for what few straight pieces they had than looking at the prices.

So imagine my shock at the checkout when those four pieces of wood, small enough to tuck under one arm, rung up at a whopping $57.37. Yikes! I’m sure my jaw dropped, but the guy at the counter wasn’t paying much attention. Still, I needed those four pieces so I paid for them and – very carefully considering their value – went back to the car.

I learned two things that day. The first is to never by small pieces of hardwood at a Big Box store, something I already knew but needed reminding. The other is to never let my racks get so low that I’m forced to even go to a Big Box for small quantities.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Big Box stores. They have lots of things I need – for both my woodshop and my home – but small pieces of hardwood lumber aren’t among them.

 A.J. Hamler is the former editor of Woodshop News and Woodcraft Magazine. He’s currently a freelance woodworking writer/editor, which is another way of stating self-employed. When he’s not writing or in the shop, he enjoys science fiction, gourmet cooking and Civil War reenacting, but not at the same time. 

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