Canadian Woodworking
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Dealing with high material costs

Blog by Rob Brown
Solid structure

I recently mentioned that I planned to build a structure of sorts in our backyard, and asked readers to email me some of their past projects, and share tips and things to avoid. I hope to share some of these ideas in a future column.

Once the column went out I started to think about the cost of materials and what I might have to fork out to make this small dream a reality. It was a scary realization.

I’ve had a few emails but would love more. Maybe a few of you have some money-saving ideas, too.

Soaring prices

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a few other factors, have caused prices of materials to skyrocket. I would hazard a guess that just about everything is more expensive today than it was three years ago. Obviously, inflation has been around since our currency system was adopted, and I’m not against it. The problem with the past few years, as I’m sure you’re well aware of, is that the increase in cost of some products has gone through the roof. Rather than inflation in the low single-digit range, many products have gone up 10 times more than that, or higher. And in some cases, you can’t even buy a product that was once commonly available.

Building materials from solid wood and sheetgoods, to hardware and tools, have gone up in price quite a bit. In some cases, prices have nearly doubled in the past few years. This starts to push woodworking and home improvement project prices into an area that’s impossible for some budgets. This will obviously affect how large of a project many people will tackle, strictly because of cost.

As regular readers know, I’ve been building a Baltic birch kitchen recently. I paid about $175 for each 4’x8’x3/4″ sheet. A pair of standard pocket door slides came to almost $400 for one of the cabinets. A friend of mine just put in a sauna. Knotty cedar for the 5’x7′ sauna came to about $3,500. Clear cedar, which was the original material of choice, was going to be about triple that, so they opted against using it. These prices have all increased (in some cases dramatically) over the past few years. There are obviously thousands of other examples of price increases across the board

Cost is relative to size

Building a small jewelry box or end table won’t break the bank, but the cost of materials to build a dining table or wall unit might be too expensive for a lot of folks today, as those projects require a lot of materials. The outdoor rain / shade structure I’m thinking of is also in that category. Even just using standard 4×4′, 2×6′ and a few other standard building supplies to build this is going to be very expensive. Since I’m also considering adding a few curves, including some materials that aren’t typical and potentially designing the structure in a way that’s a bit different than most, means I might be in for a surprise.

Since I asked the question, “What backyard structure should I build?” last week, I realized I have a lot more questions. Two main ones, really.

Where do you find reasonably priced materials?

Maybe salvaging used materials is a good place to start. Where might I salvage materials from? Maybe a local buy-and-sell website will have something. Or our online woodworking forum might have a good deal on some basic construction materials. I should check out the local ReStore to see what they have. I should also visit some smaller, independent lumber mills to see if I can find a deal on anything. Is there a forest where I could find a larger dead limb or trunk that’s in good shape to design my structure around? Naturally, I’d ask permission first.

The good thing about designing and building an outdoor structure for myself is that I can be flexible. If I happen to come across materials that are appropriate for the job, I should be able to work them into the plans.

What are you paying?

What are others finding? Are prices stabilizing or are increases still happening in your neck of the woods? Crazy question, but have you found any prices decreasing? Let me know what items you’ve come across that have increased the most.

Be sure to let me know if you made a backyard structure recently. Email me a few photos and a bit of info about your project.

Solid Structure

Scott Morrow, who read my column a few weeks ago, sent me a few images of his fantastic backyard structure. He used a lot of 6"x6" and 6"x8" material for the structural members. A year after building the structure, Scott added a fan, some lights and a few electrical receptacles. I’ll share more of his project in a week or two.

Solid structure
Published:
Last modified: March 16, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

5 Comments

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  2. I have 4 1/2 acres of eastern white cedar north of Madoc. That supplies lumber for decks and such. Here at home we had some ashes gone dead. The neighbours let me have the logs which I had cut up into lumber which supplies my creative endeavours

  3. The beams in Scott’s project looks like douglas fir, shipped all the way from BC and likely to the Goodfellow yard in Montreal and then back to Ontario.

    We build timber frames and use D. fir when specified. We also build with eastern white pine, which is less expensive and local. Using pine outside for a structure will work as long as posts exposed to weather are protected/treated etc.

    We run a Peterson circular blade swing mill and saw mill all our pine needed for structures. We do have good inventory and we custom saw mill as well. if you could send a timber list (grade?) for your project, we could check inventory. We also have the equipment to plane, square and sand timbers. And our workshop is equipped for timber frame layout and cutting.

    With the increase (OBC spring 2022) in the square footage of sheds and outdoor structures from 108 to 160 square feet, more usable structures can now be built.

  4. For building material, looking on Kijiji will pay off a lot of the time for both used and new. I also find Amazon to be a very good place to shop on when looking for a lot off stuff. Recent examples where Amazon beat the regular retailers at times by a considerable amount – pocket door frame and hardware, screws – cement screws, deck screws, drywall screws, LED lighting and electrical hardware. I would not buy wood on Amazon as for wood, I need to see what I am buying and generally pick through it. Amazon also saves time as delivery is to your door. Also a lot off places like Home Depot will have discount lots of lumber that they sell from time to time. You haave to take what you get but its ussually well discounted.
    Another method of saving money has to do with work practices. take the time to look at your material and plan the job. Some pieces are more sutable for cutting into short pieces than others as they may be warped, have large knots in them etc.. Planning any cutting to minimize waste also helps. I also throw very little material away till I finish a project – how many times have you needed some short pieces and what you threw out the other day or week would have worked? Some times a little extra work saves money. I needed a bunch of 2″ x 2″ framing lumber. They wanted almost as much for a 2 x 2 as they did for a 2 x 4 and so I bought 2 x 4’s and ripped them in half. In my case my table saw is quite capable of ripping these quickly and so money in pocket was the result.

  5. Rob
    I have a cabin up the Sechelt Inlet and have a huge amount of live edge cedar 4 to 6″ thick. I do have an Alaskan saw mill that I can cut to size if needed. I also have some 8×12, 6×10 fur beams 10′ to 18′ long. I am willing to sell at reasonable price to anyone looking for lumber. The place is boat access only but I can boat it out. I can send pictures.

  6. A lot of people are still having issues with fallen trees on their properties caused by last summer’s derecho. I am sure that some would be willing to give you some of the trees for free to lessen their cleanup costs. Of course you would have to do a bit of work, and have a truck to remove the logs.

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