Hidden Gems at the Home Center

Look beyond the 2x4s and plumbing fixtures to find the woodworking supplies you want and need.

by Jim Heavey
Not to be snobby, but I rarely shop at a home center for woodworking tools and materials, unless it’s for a few extra screws or a can of finish for a project I’m working on. Even then, I usually know what I want, so I get in, get it, and get out.

But with more time on my hands the past several months, I’ve lingered longer, roaming the aisles, and discovered there’s a whole lot more there for woodworkers than I expected. Here are a few sometimes-surprising ways to get the most woodworking value from your trip to these DIYer destinations.

Tons of tools

Before investing in a large tool purchase, see and play with models at the home center. How do the controls work? Do they feel well-built? What accessories exist?

Besides portable tools, such as cordless drills and circ saws, you can outfit a full shop with benchtop tools such as a bandsaw, tablesaw, planer, jointer, drill press, and mitersaw [Photo A, above]. And instead of reading between the lines of anonymous online reviews, at a home center you can actually touch a potential purchase and compare it with similar offerings from other manufacturers. 

Looking past the rough-work hammers, hacksaws, and chalklines, you can find a good selection of precision layout tools [Photo B, below] and clamps [Photo C, following] perfect for woodworking.

Measure and mark precisely with tools such as these calipers, contour gauge, angle gauge, compass, and steel rules.

Home centers offer a wide variety of pro-quality clamps, from one-handed quick clamps to parallel-jaw clamps. I’ll be dropping hints at home about this as my birthday and Christmas come around.

If one of your go-to router bits has dulled, go to the home center for a replacement [Photo D, below]. While browsing this area of the store, I came across a wide selection of Forstner bits, as well [Photo E, following].

Find quality router bits in the most commonly needed profiles and even specialty bits, along with several router jigs, in the tool aisle.

I didn’t know home centers stocked Forstner bits, but here’s a set with every size a woodworker may ever need. Find individual bits as well.

Wondering when you can start building something out of that slab you cut from a storm-felled tree? Pick up a moisture meter [Photo F, below] at the home center to know when it’s dry enough.

A moisture meter takes the guesswork out of determining whether air-dried lumber is ready for working.

Finishes are just the start

The paint aisle contains a wide variety of finishes from paint to poly, plus stains, wood fillers, and solvents of every type. You’ll find a wide selection of adhesives, too [Photo G, below]. Pick up a roll of rosin paper to roll out over your bench before a glue-up or when applying finish to catch drips. 

Find adhesives, from PVA and polyurethane glues to spray adhesive, in a variety of sizes, plus contact cement, CA glue, and syringes of epoxy for small jobs.

Hard-to-find hardware 

As with portable hand tools, choosing the right drawer slides, hinges, pulls, and catches becomes much easier when you can try them out, see the actual size, and select from a variety of choices side by side [Photos H, I, J, below].

Some stores have demo drawers where you can compare the movement and travel length of slides to determine which type best suits your needs.

Quickly look over and compare a wide selection of pulls. Wrap your fingers around them to see if they feel “right.”

Precisely position pulls with this jig that provides a drilling template for nearly every pull made.

And near where they stock bulky boxes of bolts and screws, home centers provide an area with specialty hardware, where you’ll find threaded inserts, knobs for jigs, brass and stainless steel screws, shelf pins, bushings, and dozens more items you didn’t even know you needed [Photo K, below].

Knockdown fasteners? Yep. T-nuts? Here. Figure-8 fasteners? Check. The specialty hardware aisle holds many undiscovered treasures for the woodworker.

Beyond construction lumber 

If you feel a bit intimidated ordering stock at a hardwood dealer or sawmill, some home centers carry hardwoods such as oak, poplar, maple, and regional species. In the home center, you can inspect and pick material at your leisure—something not always possible at a yard that outfits professional cabinetmakers [Photo L, below]. Even venerable pine comes in a variety of grades from #2­—with its knots and imperfections—through select, a cabinet grade with distinctive grain and figure. 

In addition to standard 3⁄4"-thick stock, some stores stock 5/4, 1⁄2" and 1⁄4" material. Milled to S4S (both faces and edges surfaced square), it makes the perfect choice if you don’t have a jointer or planer.

Some of the best-looking lumber I found was stair treads [Photo M, below]. The clear, straight grain makes a great top for a table or chest. And you’ll find clear cedar packaged nearby [Photo N, following].

Stair panels make a good tabletop
Glue up two or more stair treads to make a beautiful tabletop. The 11 1⁄2"-wide panels come in several lengths up to 48".

To line a blanket chest or humidor, look for clear Eastern red cedar boards packaged as tongue-and-groove boards.

If someone asks you to build something with the look of rustic barn boards [Photo O, below], head for the lumber aisle rather than sneak out to some farmer’s lot. Most anyone would have a tough time telling these from the real thing.

Rough-sawn pine boards, dyed to look weathered, create the farmhouse look right out of the bin.

For your next outdoor project, consider cedar-tone treated pine [Photo P, below]. Dyed to look like cedar, it provides rot resistance, like green treated lumber, and a color guarantee. 

Cheaper and sturdier than cedar, cedar-tone pressure-treated lumber won’t need a finish, and looks better than typical green treated lumber.

The moldings aisle [Photos Q, R, S, below] provides plenty of opportunity to add eye-catching details that you may not have the time or tools to create.

Ready-to-use legs and feet add turned elegance to a project, even if you don’t own a lathe.

Delicate moldings provide simple to intricate profiles, ready to install.

Dress up a project with corbels, plinths, or a scrolled and carved applique.

Just down from the rough sheathing and OSB, you may find hardwood cabinet-grade plywood. One store near me stocks maple, oak, and birch; another even has prefinished plywood. Some of these come in partial sheets to save money.

Wondering how to get a load of lumber, sheet goods, or other large items home with no truck? No problem. Some box stores offer truck rental, from pickups to panel trucks. And you can rent seldom-used specialty tools, such as a handheld planer, floor sander, or sprayer, rather than buy them.

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