These days I rather look forward to my visits to the timber yard, but that wasn’t always the case, for many years the timber procurement part of furniture making wasn’t just a necessary chore, it was usually slightly terrifying, definitely not a good state of mind to be in at the start of, what should be, a hugely enjoyable process.
It’s the towering stacks of timber, huge, scary bits of plant and machinery, ovens the size of small houses, all of this with the added excitement (terror) of the flashing orange lights and spine tingling reversing ‘BEEP, BEEP, BEEP’s…….’ , of a pack of fork-lift trucks and that piece of timber handling equipment that I seriously covet, but have absolutely no need for, the ‘Loadall’ or ‘Telehandler’, that’s the cool looking one with the clever telescopic arm sticking out the front, sort of a cross between a fork-lift and a crane, who in their right mind wouldn’t want one of those? As if that weren’t enough, in the midst of all this are burly chaps sporting sturdy, steel toe-capped, boots and the latest in hi-viz workwear. Everything seems on such a large scale and rather bustling and terrifying when all you want is a couple of boards of something lovely for that small chair that you want to make.
Timber yards buy timber by the lorry-load and can, of course, be forgiven for wanting to sell it by the lorry-load, they are, after all, commercial enterprises. But the commercial enterprises that furniture makers need to identify are the ones that are just as happy to look after the customer who buys enough timber to fill an articulated HGV, and the ones that look slightly terrified but are, at the same time, rather demanding, extraordinarily picky, and only want to buy a couple of boards that have been carefully chosen, and will require chopping into lengths that will just about fit in the back of their 1960’s split-screen VW Camper van.
The perfect yard will be willing to embrace the furniture maker’s, sometimes rather erratic, foibles, and realise that, for them, timber selection is absolutely crucial. This might involve a yard-man, complete with crackling walky-talkie and a shiny new, bright yellow, fork-lift, tearing himself away from picking 40 tonnes of Oak for a flooring contract, to spending a not inconsiderable amount of time moving just as many tons of timber, in the quest for two or three perfect boards of Sycamore for the ‘next big thing’. This must sometimes be very tedious for the poor fork-lift driver, not only does he have to have an in-depth knowledge of his stock, the ability to negotiate a, probably rather cramped, warehouse without knocking over anything important (steel columns, other piles of timber, the yard manager, the customer………………………..)and do all this without muttering about ‘prima-donnas’, sighing dramatically or saying ‘I suppose so’ with a note of tired resignation, after all, furniture makers are sensitive souls, who will lose all sense of creativity if they’re not ‘understood’. We are not looking for a standard, run of the mill timber yard here!
But this can’t be a one way street, even though you’re ‘the customer’, in your role of ‘temperamental furniture maker’ you have to do your bit too, you must be reasonable and realistic. If you’re not prepared to at least consider timber that is not perfectly flat, has one or two knots and is a bit grubby looking, then don’t go worrying the timber yard, you might well be better suited to working with materials that have the sterility and precision that’s associated with that well known combination of MDF, glue and wafer thin sheets of veneer.
So, if you’re prepared to do your bit and still want to embark on the process of timber buying, NEXT TIME - We’ll look at some strategies for making the process of timber selection slightly less terrifying!