Cheap Lumber: Find Great Furniture Wood in Piles of Floor Joists

Reader Contribution by Steve Maxwell
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Next time you visit a lumberyard, check out the piles of cheap lumber 2x8s, 2x10s and 2x12s meant for framing houses. Where I live the best planks must come from huge, old trees because the growth rings are tight, the grain is beautiful and the very best boards have almost no knots. You may never have considered using framing lumber for fine furniture, but I know from nearly 30 years experience that cheap lumber like this is a diamond in the rough. The woodwork you see here is made entirely from cheap lumber milled for construction.

Before I tell you more, let me make it clear that I’m not talking about throwing together rough tables, cupboards, boxes and stools with deck screws.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but that’s not what this blog is about. What I’m talking about is making finely finished, ultra-smooth, refined furniture from wood that starts off as big, wide planks for house frames. I mill, joint and plane these with the same care I apply to the furniture-grade hardwoods I use in my shop and the results are every bit as refined at a fraction of the cost.

I discovered the secret of cheap, high-quality framing lumber for furniture back in the late 1980s. The 1/4”-thick shop-cut “veneer” you see on the drawer face here is an example of the kind of thing that’s possible. But what got me thinking about all this most recently is a YouTube video I posted in 2010. Until a couple of months ago, this video only got a few thousand views. Earlier this year something clicked, and now it’s my most popular video – about 75,000 views per month. Many of the comments are positive, but some are skeptical, like these:

“That kind of wood doesn’t take a nice finish”, some people warn.

“Framing lumber warps too much”, others proclaim.

“Don’t waste your time. This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about”, offered one armchair expert.

After decades of experience, I can say for sure that none of the prejudice against building fine furniture from framing lumber is true. If you select boards carefully, then joint and plane the wood the same way you’d work any kind of expensive, rough hardwood lumber, you can get terrific results.  The glass-smooth finish you see here was applied to a piece of 2×12 floor joist.

Here’s are the basics:

1. Always choose “kiln dried” framing lumber. Avoid the stuff labelled “S-Green”. The high moisture content will have triggered mold stains all over it.

2. Always dry your framing lumber before and during building sessions. Even “kiln dried” construction lumber is wetter than the 7% to 9% required for interior projects.

3. Learn to recognize stable, high-quality grain patterns. Tight growth rings, freedom from knots and annular rings as close to perpendicular to the board face as possible is what you’re looking for.

There’s more to success building fine furniture with framing lumber than I have room for here. In response to those skeptical YouTube viewers I told you about, I’ve put together a detailed how-to post on the subject. Learn all the details for free at

Great wood at low prices. This is what building fine furniture from framing lumber is all about. So why is there this opportunity? Most of the softwood lumber industry in North America still thinks of itself as a bulk producer of low-value commodity wood. This means that wood from the biggest, best logs isn’t selected out for sale at higher prices. It’s just lumped in with all the knotty, low value lumber that makes its way to house frames. Once you learn this fact and you find a lumber yard that trusts you to pick through piles while keeping things tidy, you’ll get some very nice lumber at very attractive prices. All you need are eyes to see what quality looks like.

My post includes downloadable plans for a bunkbed I made using framing lumber. This project was originally published in 2001, but you can get the plans here:

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