Hidden Gems at the Home Center
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
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, 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 and clamps (photos, above) perfect for woodworking.
If one of your go-to router bits has dulled, go to the home center for a replacement (photo, above).
While browsing this area of the store, I came across a wide selection of Forstner bits as well (photo, above).
Wondering when you can start building something out of that slab you cut from a storm-felled tree? Pick up a moisture meter (photo, above) at the home center to know when it's dry enough.
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, above). Pick up a roll of rosin paper to roll out over your bench before a glue-up or when applying finish to catch drips.
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, above).
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, above).
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, above).
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. Some of the best-looking lumber I found was stair treads. The clear, straight grain makes a great top for a table or chest. And you'll find clear cedar packaged nearby (photos, above).
If someone asks you to build something with the look of rustic barn boards (photo, above), 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.
For your next outdoor project, consider cedar-tone treated pine (photo, above). Dyed to look like cedar, it provides rot resistance, like green treated lumber, and a color guarantee.
The moldings aisle (photos, above) provides plenty of opportunity to add eye-catching details that you may not have the time or tools to create.
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.