The big-box constructions stores only carry two or three different species of wood, but at a well-stocked woodmill you can find dozens of different species, and sometimes hundreds, depending on the size of the mill. Keep in mind that having wood in stock costs the store money, especially if noone is buying it. Therefore, you can often find great prices at the smaller lumber yards. What you lose on immediate selection, you can sometimes regain in price.
In the species section, you can find identification, functional characteristics, and historical uses of virtually all wood species available in North America, including some imported exotic species.
And of course, when you find yourself at the lumber yard, you will be innundated by various acronyms for the grading of wood. Take a moment to determine what the acronyms mean, and determine what grade you should shop for.
And of course, you need to also consider the sizing of the pieces found at the lumber yard. We all know that a 2x4 is not ACTUALLY 2 inches by 4 inches. If you want your final piece to measure exactly 1 thick, you would need to buy a piece that was labelled as 1¼", or 5/4, and then you would still need to do some planing. If you bought the wood that was labelled 1", you'd end up with a piece that was 1/8" or 1/4" thinner than you were expecting!
A key consideration for anyone working with wood is wood movement. In our pages devoted to this topic, you will find a full explanation of its causes, and how you can predict it and compensate your designs for it. We've also included a calculator that you can use to calculate the approximate minimum and maximum expansion for any given width of board!