1

Now to be honest this is specific to the UK, which if this site is anything like StackOverflow, means my question will soon be closed as "too localised". However, please consider that the UK is very small relative to the US for example, and sourcing wood is problematic as much original timber is hard to come by.

I'm looking for places to obtain plywood (reclaimed is fine if I can find large enough sheets), initially for shop projects. I'm only just starting out this new hobby and it strikes me that £40 for a sheet of plywood is fairly expensive for building basic cabinets etc.

Obviously I've looked at "big box" stores like Wickes, but all their stuff (timber and sheet) is rubbish from a combination of poor manufacturing and poor storage.

I've heard of Jericho's reclamation centre near Oxford, but that's a long way from me. Are there any tricks people know for obtaining wood more locally? Things like going to new housing estates and asking to purchase offcuts etc?

Many thanks in advance.

  • Not related to your main query but £40 a sheet for plywood actually sounds good to me, it's a lot more here (and not for very good stuff either) – Graphus Jun 5 '18 at 12:08
  • It's not too localized, but it is a shopping question, which are off-topic on pretty much every site on the SE network. – mmathis Jun 5 '18 at 12:54
  • If @op makes it a little more general, I think this could be on-topic. Not "tell me where to shop", but "what kinds of places can I look for material"? – Charlie Kilian Jun 5 '18 at 15:12
  • Call a few professional cabinet shops in your region, introduce yourself as a newbie to woodworking, and ask them where they get their wood. I suspect that most would be happy to help you get started. – Ashlar Jun 5 '18 at 19:24
  • @Ashlar, this is good advice to locate a local source of decent material for quality projects and if you don't mind paying the going rate. But the market in quality plywood is different in the UK than in many parts of the US, there is basically no A-grade birch plywood any more, in some places B-BB is the best obtainable and even lower grades than this may not be cheap. Any really good hardwood ply tends to be eye-wateringly expensive, – Graphus Jun 7 '18 at 15:56
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Trying to source materials for free I think the main thing is to keep your eyes open and nab anything suitable you find as and when you see it, like when looking for pallets.

Basically you'll be eyeing any skip you drive past in case there's some wood or sheet material sticking out of it that you can take1, poking your nose into any house renovations or building sites to ask if they have anything they'll be throwing out2. Those are possibly the two most common ways to acquire 2x softwoods, ply and occasionally other materials like worktop offcuts for free 'on your travels'.

Another source worth definitely worth checking are the free-ads sites like Preloved and Gumtree, where stuff is offered for free or very cheaply basically to offload it and get it out of someone's hair as fast as possible (e.g. when clearing out a garage or a shed).

One last option worth trying is the local reclamation yard (or multiples if you have more than one within easy striking distance). These are of course not set up to allow members of the public to take stuff away but you lose nothing by asking politely of the staff. Explaining that you're only starting out and just want it to build stuff for the workshop/garage may gain you a sympathetic ear. This might not be viable depending on the staff (it's not uncommon to find them to be grumpy old farts to say the least..... dealing with the public all day every day will do that to a person!) or the council's H&S rules might be very tight and the blokes on site just can't allow it.

Last option I can think of is a semi-commercial route, going to a proper timber yard that stocks reasonable quality plywood and knows how to store it and asking if they have any plywood that's gotten edge damage or is too dirty to sell in the normal way3. This can, at the right yard, net you stuff for a steep discount.


1 Ask first before raiding a skip if at all possible, this is always best practice. And never trespass to get at one. Although when a skip is outside on public ground the stuff inside is generally considered fair game this is not always the case, and there are no legal precedents you can confidently use as a defence if the skip owner objects. In short, you might be guilty of theft if you don't ask and get permission.

2 This in particular can be surprisingly lucrative if you only need a finite amount of material, since a builder's discards from just one job could keep you in sheet goods for cabinets and jigs for the foreseeable future.

3 From being dropped or run into by the forklift, accidents happen even in the best-managed yards. The edge damage will need to be cut off, I wouldn't attempt to repair it as it's almost never worth the effort. As for the dirt, a surprising amount of surface filth can be cleaned off with a damp cloth and/or by scraping or sanding, and afterwards it can look practically new. I've even gotten reasonable-looking stuff out of builder's discards that were spattered with cement or mortar, it was quite a lot of work cleaning that off and the same won't always be doable but it gives you an idea of what you can deal with if necessary.

4

Of the builder's merchant chains, some are more professional and some are aimed more at DIY'ers. The more DIY ones tend to be more expensive with lower quality wood but they have better websites with clearer pricing and will often cut your plywood for you. Wickes is a bit like this in my experience - I tend to use RGB or Jewsons. It depends quite a bit on the individual shop though. Don't be afraid to just walk in and ask for advice - some people think they'll be chased out if they aren't professionals. Go and see how they store their plywood.

£40 is about what I'd expect to pay for a medium quality sheet of thick plywood. By medium quality I mean decent hardwood ply that doesn't have too many voids but isn't marine quality...but also isn't cheap shuttering ply. High quality 12 or 18mm Baltic birch ply is more like £50 or £60 per sheet respectively.

It may seem expensive but there is about 1.3/2 cubic feet of material in a 12/18mm sheet of ply. Common temperate hardwoods are usually around £30 to £50 per cubic foot. Speaking very generally, ply is pretty cheap once you consider all the wastage you get with solid wood and it is extremely cheap once you consider the labour and overheads of making solid wood boards.

If you are buying unseen and getting it delivered, inspect the sheets upon delivery and don't be afraid to tell them to take it back and try again if it isn't good enough. Tiny chips on the edges and corners are fairly inevitable but chunks taken out of corners or deep scratches on the faces are unacceptable.

There are also timber suppliers that exclusively sell wood. This is probably where you will need to go if you want hardwoods, veneers, very high quality ply or anything exotic. They are a bit harder to deal with as a non-pro and some will try to fleece you if they sense you aren't sure what you are talking about by getting you to buy more than you need or by racking up the price. Try to have an idea of how much things should cost beforehand. Ply is easy since it's a standard product that comes in a standard size. If buying solid wood you want to know how many cubic feet of wood you are looking to buy and have an idea of the price per cube. They may deal exclusively in metric or imperial measurements so have both ready. On the positive side, I've found they are often surprisingly happy to take small orders and deliver them but they will charge a fair bit for delivery and it will usually come on an articulated lorry. If buying solid wood and collecting it yourself it will usually come as long, large boards that need to go on a beefy roof rack, a trailer, or a large van.

A few suppliers are aimed at hobbyists and high-end cabinet makers and these will tend to sell a greater variety of species and are more set up to sell small quantities.

1

Builders doing work on a house have huge amounts of waste, don’t seem to want to reuse stuff on the next job (I guess it’s easier to get new wood, and as their company is paying for it, there’s no saving to them). However, they do have to pay to get rid of waste. Hence they’ll usually be very happy for you to take it off them. We had our loft converted, and they chucked massive amounts of stuff, not just lumber but also stuff like door knobs and £100 smoke detectors. They told me it wasn’t worth saving stuff, partly because it meant storing it and knowing what they had. Consequently I’ve got a garage full of wood!

I suggest you look for a house building project near completion, and just ask nicely!

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