Logistics of buying wood and supplies
Matt Buell in shop

You won't see huge stacks of lumber in Matt Buell's shop because he doesn't want all his cash tied up in inventory.

Although talking about machinery and power tools is typically my favorite thing, this month, we’re going to cover the other major aspects of purchasing while running a woodworking business. For a young wood pro, this is a vital aspect of running a business. 

Materials like wood, sheet goods, and other substrates are a necessity in our line of work, along with consumable supplies. I define consumables things as items I purchase for the work that must be replenished. Examples of some of these are sandpaper, glue, finish materials/paint, hardware, and joinery accessories such as Domino tenons. 

Value your time
Unless you are among the rare small few that live right next to a wood supplier or a woodworking store, finding the time to retrieve these things is an important aspect of our work. This is not something to take lightly, as doing so can take up a good bit of time, and we know that time managing business needs while not doing the physical work can be costly. Forgetting to obtain just one of the few items I have described can lead to a standstill on a job or making a job run late. 

It is important to approach how you go about the logistics of your supplies with thoughts of efficiency and good habits.

Deciding whether to go pick something up or ordering online really depends on the type of work you do. By this I mean, are you a volume producer or a small shop doing one-off customs? Both of these types of shops would have different ways of getting materials and consumables that might work best for them. My shop is a little bit of both. I typically do custom one-offs, but often they are very large sets, so bulk ordering at times is my best method. I’d like to share my experience with both.



Bulk ordering
When it comes to consumables, bulk ordering is always preferred because you get a better discount, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to get consumables at good prices. Over ordering in bulk when it’s not necessary for a break on price isn’t really saving money if it creates overstock in your shop tying up your cash. 

This is especially true for consumables like glue and finishes that have “use by” dates. I find it helpful to do a monthly inventory of my consumables and my ordering of replenishments on the same day. This allows me to have a consistent stock and idea of when things arrive. It is also a good habit to have.

Buying lumber
When it comes to lumber, bulk ordering has the wonderful advantage of getting it delivered. Not having to leave work to get lumber is a huge time saver and plus being a gas saver. Not to mention the relief of not having to load up the lumber, saving wear and tear on my body. 

The downside to that is you don’t get to see the lumber with your own eyes before you purchase it, and having too much wood sitting around without purpose is actually not a financially prudent practice for a woodworking business. 

For special pieces, I typically prefer to put my eyes and hands on the lumber before purchase, but I do love the convenience of having it delivered. Typically going and getting lumber costs me a half day to a full day of work in the shop (yes, traffic is a factor). When it comes to domestic woods that are consistently available, though, if I’m ordering more than 500 board feet, I have it delivered. 

When it comes to exotics, I prefer to go look at the lumber first. The reason is because exotics can be less consistent and sometimes inaccurately represented or catalogued based on people having different views as to what constitutes certain species such as rosewood and mahogany. Some species can vary substantially from tree to tree. I trust my own eyes best.

Hybrid approach
I take a hybrid approach overall. If I have several jobs lined up that require small amounts of lumber, then I will wait to obtain it all in one trip or wait until I reach a certain board foot count to order. In the spirit of being efficient, I schedule one day a week ahead of time to go and do all this. That way, I know that my process and ongoing pieces can also be scheduled around me missing a planned half day or full day in the shop. 

When it comes to consumables, I do typically order most of it online and have it delivered. Most of the consumables I use are not available at the big box stores or local hardware stores. It is also worth noting, that being mindful of time of year/holidays and how that affects delivery times is important to keep your work schedule on track (like using Amazon around Christmas).

However, I do know where I can get all the consumables within driving distance outside of specific items that are not available geographically. When you’re in a pinch and you need sandpaper or glue immediately, it’s best to know where to go and what local stores carry the products you prefer. It has been beneficial more times than I can count. 

I even have the benefit of having an account with a specific local store that gives me a discount on all of my purchases. This comes from establishing a rapport and repeat business over the years. I still only order my glue from them because the price is better than anything online. 

Another thing worth exploring is developing a relationship with company representatives of products you use regularly. Reps can often help you find good suppliers local and online that can help you streamline your ordering process. It’s also worth having a contact for questions and receiving news of new products. Be sure you are acquainted with all the regional wholesale distributors in your area. Too many professionals starting out pay retail for items they could get at reduced wholesale prices from a distributor.

This type of managerial work is not the most glamorous part of running a woodworking business, but it is a necessary task. I hope you can put some thought into how you are doing it and what parts you could do differently to improve your business. 

#YoungWoodPro is a contest and an educational program sponsored by Grizzly Industrial to help novice professionals improve their skills in business and woodworking. Entries are now open, and you can enter online.



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About the author
Matt Buell | President/Owner/C-Level

Matt Buell of M. Buell Studio the host of the 2023 #YoungWoodPro contest and lead coach for the people who make up the YoungWoodPro audience. Buell has achieved national acclaim for his custom furniture and was honored as a member of the Woodworking Network 40 Under 40 Class of 2018.