Whether you’ve seen the headlines about the price of lumber (well, everything really) over the past few years or you simply suffered from sticker shock last time you popped into the lumber aisle, material costs for your projects are likely on your mind.
You may be wondering who has the cheapest lumber, what is the cheapest lumber to buy, and whether it is cheaper to buy lumber from a lumber yard. We’ve got the answers. You can skip down to specific sources for wood below, but before you shop, we think it’s important to know what you’re shopping for.
What Is the Cheapest Kind of Lumber?
For many projects, you likely don’t give a lot of thought to the type of wood you need--and you don’t always have to.
For a quick backyard bar you want to make for an event this season but don’t plan to keep for decades, sourcing free, recycled, or discounted lumber is the way to go. For a dining table or desk, however, you’ll be looking for something besides rough cut 2x4s.
You’ll have softwoods, which come from conifer trees like fir, pine, and cedar. These woods dent easily and are susceptible to variations in water content. Hardwoods, on the other hand, you’ll see in hickory, oak, maple, walnut, and mahogany, among others.
Softwood is cheaper than hardwood simply because softwood trees grow faster. Inasmuch, softwoods are commonly used for everyday projects such as framing a house or building a deck. Softwoods are readily available at most home improvement stores.
Hardwood is typically preferred when a more durable material is needed, such as for floors, cabinets, and furniture. Hardwoods are more of a specialty, but can be found at lumber yards or other wood specialty locations.
Breaking down these classifications even further while trying to be brief, softwoods and hardwoods are both classified by different “grades.” For softwood, you can find common or select yard lumber, which are your basic everyday, commonly found materials.
Common lumber comes in grades from #1 to #3, with the higher number having more knots, cracks, and other blemishes and damage. These materials are commonly used for paneling and fencing. Select yard lumber comes in grades of C Select and D select.
The second classification is structural lumber, which is classified into seven categories and is the designation you’d look for framing and similar applications.
The third classification is called Shop and Factory lumber. Avoid this for structural applications, but source it for craft-type projects.
Then you’ll need to decide between pressure treated or not, and observe the moisture content that is identified by letters. These categories range from green wood to kiln-dried wood so it’s important to know what will work for your application. Pressure treating adds cost, and so does any process that removes water to dry the wood.
Hardwoods have similar classifications to watch out for too. There’s a lot more we could discuss on the matter. However, hopefully you have an idea of the type of lumber you’re looking for so you have a basis for comparing prices.
Now, consider your options for where to get your lumber.
What Is a Lumber Yard?
If you’re unfamiliar, a lumber yard is exactly what it sounds like—a business that sells lumber. Lumber is typically stacked around an office of some sort, similar to piles of gravel and bark at a landscaping business. Lumber is what they do, although they commonly also sell associated hardware and tools.
What Are the Benefits of Buying from a Lumber Yard?
There is cost, and then there’s value. Depending on your project, you should keep both in mind.
In addition to being an alternative to the box stores, a lumber yard will specialize in lumber alone. That means you can collect expert advice for all your questions pertaining to wood materials for your project.
You will also have a significantly bigger selection from a lumber yard, and not just in types of wood, but in sizes and grades as well.
If you need any help with your lumber cuts, you can have box stores make a cut or a rip, but for anything more custom than that, look to a lumber yard.
Along with this added perk, you’ll find lumber yards take a bit more care with their product, which means you’ll find a higher quality of well-cared-for lumber. In contrast to box stores, there’s also a lot less waste at the lumber yard, so you can feel good about the minimal environmental impact.
But we’re here to talk dollars and sense, so is it cheaper to buy wood at a lumber yard?
When it comes to lumber yards, you’ll find they are typically similar or even cheaper in price for most types of wood, many of which you can’t find at Home Depot or Lowe’s anyway. Lumber yards buy in bulk for a significant discount, so it’s quite likely the cost of what you’re looking for will be the best around.
The Cost of Lumber at Home Improvement Stores
If you live in a city larger than a rural town, you likely have a Lowe’s or Home Depot within easy driving distance. It’s the place most people head when putting together the plan to build a deck, table, or an entire house. If they carry the type of wood you’re looking for, they are a great source to consider.
When shopping, be sure to compare Lowes, Home Depot, and any lumber discount stores, such as Lumber Liquidators, alongside local lumber yards.
Also take advantage of Home Depot’s low price guarantee by asking for a price match if you find the same item advertised elsewhere. They’ll even beat that price by 10%.
Lowe’s has a similar, but slightly more restrictive, policy, so be sure to ask there too.
When in Home Depot or Lowe’s, check out the discounted wood pile. They both have one. Obviously, inventory will change frequently, but it’s a great way to get a significant discount on boards for small projects and crafts.
Find coupons. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot offer coupons. They are typically either a percentage off or a certain dollar amount off your purchase. Sign up for their email list to receive discount coupons.
Check eBay. Yes, the one no one uses anymore. For a few bucks, you can often purchase a 10% off coupon, for example. It’s instantly delivered via email so you can buy it while standing in the store and use it at checkout. Just be sure to read the fine print to ensure your purchase qualifies.
If you, or someone close to you, is or was in the military, take advantage of the military discounts offered. Sometimes you can get a discount if you’re a contractor with an account on file too.
Hit the Internet
Whether you’re looking to save money on lumber when building your own home or just thinking, “How can I get free wood for a simple project,” the internet may be the answer.
Start by considering a discount lumber store in a nearby city. Compare prices, scour the discount page, and give them a call. The drive might be worth the effort or you may be able to negotiate delivery on large orders. Either way, the discount could be significant.
Similarly, an internet search might help you find materials not available at your local Home Depot or Lowe’s. Visit their website to find lumber. When you’re ready to place your order, have it shipped to your store. If there’s no additional cost, have it delivered directly to your house instead.
Local businesses that work with wood are another place to check. Give cabinet makers, wood mills, furniture manufacturers, wood flooring installers, and similar businesses in your area a call to see if they offer a deal on discarded waste.
Also check out Freecycle and LetGo for items in your area. This is more frequently used in some areas than others, but it’s worth a look.
Use the Power of Social Media
Another way to use the internet to save time, money, and hassle, is to watch for used materials within your social media groups. Many times, when someone tears down a shed or removes a fence, you’re doing them a favor by hauling away the wood, even while you benefit from the free materials.
Check out Craigslist, which is still widely used to advertise free and discounted lumber and other goods. Whether you use Facebook or not, you can tap into the wildly popular Facebook Marketplace to find items for sale too.
If you do dabble in Facebook, join all the local buy and sell groups and watch the activity. You’ll regularly see options to consider. Also look into groups such as “Pay it Forward,” “Everything Free,” and the “Buy Nothing” movement.
In reverse, use your social media to let people know what you’re looking for. Sending the message that you need lumber might just give someone you know the opportunity to clear out some stuff they’ve been wanting to get rid of.
Other Local Options
Check out garage and estate sales for lumber too. When people are moving, they often don’t want to deal with the hassle of moving lumber, so it’s commonly offered at an exceptional price.
Habitat for Humanity is another option in many communities. They end up with a lot of wood surplus, so it’s a great resource for smaller projects.
Construction sites often have piles of cast-off lumber they have to pay to have hauled away. Always be sure you speak with a crew boss for permission, but consider the option when you see work underway.
The same philosophy holds true for smaller construction projects in your own neighborhood. If you see a neighbor ripping out a deck or taking down a shed, offer to help and ask if they have plans for the wood.
One material that is easy to find in most areas is pallet boards. Because pallets are made of wood, they can be disassembled and re-used anywhere a regular board is needed. Pallets can be found via online listing sites. You will also see them stacked by the dumpster in many places.
Most businesses are happy to let you have them, but a few do have plans for them, so be sure to ask if it’s okay that you rehome them. Note that many pallets include a combination of wood types.
Also be aware some pallets are treated with nasty chemicals, so watch for pallets that have no stamp or those that read “MB” for methyl bromide. Also skip colored pallets.
Once home, use a Sawzall to cut through the nails or screws. Alternately, a strong hammer, a crowbar, and some determination will loosen the boards.
In addition to putting the information on your social media, chat about the topic often. Keep your ear out for someone tearing down a barn or ripping out a fence. Old wood makes a great material for raised garden beds, signs, rustic furniture, and more.
If you mention it to your real estate friend, banker, hairdresser, barber, physical therapist, golf mates, bowling league, church community, etc., it puts many ears to the ground, and it won’t be long before someone contacts you with a lead on free or cheap lumber.
When the topic comes up, don’t be shy about letting them know you’d love it if they made the connection. Networking is the best way to connect with those looking to get rid of materials, and there are countless reasons people look to part with perfectly good lumber.
It might be because they’re moving, cleaning out a loved one’s home, closing a business, giving up a hobby, or doing a remodel. Whatever the reason, word of mouth is a powerful tool.
Sourcing wood for any project can add up to be the most expensive line item, perhaps next only to specialty tools. But it’s also the easiest place to reap some savings since it’s a material that’s easy to find. If you get the word out and know where to look, getting lumber to the jobsite doesn’t have to be financially painful.
While you're at it, here's some more information about How to Break Apart Pallets and How to Tell if a Pallet Is Safe to Reuse.