Finding wood – The right and wrong ways

The search for good and affordable materials is fun for any craftsman.  In my few years as an aspiring woodworker, I have been fortunate enough to receive a free walnut log (great) and unlucky enough to buy a pallet of maple boards that must have been sawn from a hyperactive tree because they would not settle down or be still (bad).  In the last two weeks I have topped both of those experiences with all new best and worst lumber acquisition experiences.


Lets start with the best – free black cherry logs.

I have wanted to try my hand at some “green woodworking” projects for a while now.  A big challenge for someone living in suburbia is finding green wood.  If you don’t own land or have friends that do, you may say that green wood (logs) is not accessible to you.  That’s garbage.  If you live somewhere that trees grow, you can get logs (sorry, Phoenix).  Ask around.  Anyone who clears land (like builders or developers) will probably give you some logs if you will haul them away.  Other good sources are tree service companies.  Most of them just mulch logs.

Back to my story.  I was driving in my subdivision past a new construction site and noticed a felled tree left by the curb.  I stopped and asked a worker what they were going to do with the logs.  The “worker” turned out to be the builder and after I told him why I wanted the tree, he told me to take what I wanted.  For Free??!!  Yippee!!! Thankfully, I own a truck.  I loaded up 6 cherry logs that were 12 to 17 inches in diameter and 3 to 4 feet long.  They are just large enough to yield a lot of material without being too heavy to handle on my own.  The best part about them (other than price) is the absolute lack of branches.  None of these logs any have branches, so they should split nicely.  I hope to follow Mike Abbott’s instructions and build some 21st Century Chairs as described in his excellent book.  For now I have coated the ends with wax, piled the logs under my only tree, and covered them with landscaping fabric.  I’m trying to keep these logs as green as possible without losing them to rot.  I can’t wait to open them up, but I’m making myself finish this dresser first.

Helper_3  Helper_2 Helper_1

I had a little help moving the logs around.  They helped at least long enough to snap these pictures.


Now for the worst – reclaimed barn wood full of iron.  I would call them nails, but my wife more accurately called them spikes.  Yikes.  I’m pretty sure these are not coming out of there.

Let’s just say that I should have known better than to buy lumber over the phone without seeing it first.  Of course, it basically matched the stated description, but I forgot to ask one key question – “Are there really huge nails in the wood?”  Yes, I think I could sell them for scrap metal and come out ahead.  How does this happen?  The conversation with the nice retired man in his VFW jacket went something like this:  “Yes, thanks for delivering the posts for free… hmmm, those look pretty rough…Oh, I’m sorry your wife has cancer… yeah, I will still take them.” I’m a sucker.  At least they were (relatively) cheap and the wood is solid oak.  They should burn nicely if I can cut them up.

Oak_1  Oak_3

I was going to build my Roubo lathe with these – now I’m thinking “not so much”.  I think some 8/4 lumber yard materials are in my future.

So there you have it.  Don’t pass up free wood, and always ask about nails.

Bob Jones

6 thoughts on “Finding wood – The right and wrong ways

  1. rondennis303

    Let me recommend one of the best nail removers I’ve every owned:

    If you find a really mean one, heat the offender with a propane (not MAP gas) plumber’s torch. This will expand the metal and break its hold. Thirty to forty seconds usually works fine, just don’t raise any smoke from the wood.

    Great exercise too!

  2. John Quick

    Do you not have a nail puller. Please give me a list of tools that you might be needing I have a large collection of antique woodworking tools and sharpeners

    1. Bob Jones Post author

      Thanks John,
      I have a nail puller. Some of the more concerning metal is not obvious in the pictures because it is embedded and the heads have been removed. I may try to fish them out, but I have not decided yet. I’m still languishing the poor decision to buy.

  3. Wolfram

    Yes, it may be more work than expected to pull all the metal out, but the result can be a very special project with lots of memories. And think about the story you call tell your grandchildren once you are retired. “Well, back in 2014 i bought a huge truck of lumber. It had nails in it thaaaaaat loooong etc etc”


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