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Don Burleson Blog 








Tips for finishing your own rough cut hardwood Oak

Handyman Tips by Donald Burleson

Finishing your own Oak

I?m doing a new construction project and I?ve always wanted the elegance of detailed hardwood walls.  However, at current prices of over $5 per board foot, it gets pricey. Red Oak has wonderful grain texture and properly finished it's even more attractive than Walnut, rock-hard with great grain patterns.

Red Oak can be stained to look like Walnut

I love walnut too, but it's too easy to make it too dark, and the grain patterns of Red Oak are amazing.  Red Oak is cheap, durable and very attractive.  I have lots of country cousins who dry and cut their own Oak and although it's a lot of work, it can be well-worth doing, especially if you need lots of Oak.

I live in North Carolina, one of the major timber regions in the USA and I?m quite fortunate to be able to buy fresh-cut Oak for less than a dollar a board foot.  You can buy reclaimed antique Oak from this vendor starting at $6 per board foot, but it still requires finishing, an expensive process. 

Red Oak has great Grain

Oak doors are stunning

Red Oak is easily made for wall panels

I love Oak walls, and Oak is very versatile for home detailing.  It can be left "light" or stained for a warmer finish:


A sample Oak project - Luxurious Oak Walls

For the purpose of this discussion, assume that we want floor-to-ceiling Oak walls for  a 60' x 60' room with a 12 foot high ceiling.  The total board footage would be about 22k BF.

Computing board foot cost:  As a refresher to your High School wood shop class, you compute board feet by multiplying the dimensions of the wood and divide by 12.  For example, a 10 foot 1 x 6 would be ((10*1*6)/12 = 60/12 = 5 board feet).

Processing rough-cut Oak

Going from rough cut to finished Oak involves these steps:

  • Drying Oak - Left alone, a rough cut raw Oak board will twist and curl while drying, and it needs to be tied-up and dried.  Some folks use a kiln, but you can tire-up and dry your own Oak in a semi-trailer, or a "Moveable cubicle".  You stack and tie the raw boards, close it up for heat retention, add a fan to remove the moisture from the drying, and you can have your own dried rough cut Red Oak in 90 days.  This vendor sells kiln-dried Oak for reasonable prices, with rough cut dried lumber for $3.75 per board foot (BF).  This vendor charges $2.95 per BF and adds 45 cents per board foot for dried oak, for a total of $3.40 per BF.  This vendor sells dried unfinished Red Oak for $2.10 a BF.

  • Finishing Oak - You need a high-quality planer and lots of labor.  Each board must pass through the planer 6-10 times to get a finished oak board.    See the Dewalt or Delta 12" planner for about $600 each.  This vendor charges $2.69 BF for dried rough cut and $3.44 per BF for finished Oak.

Comparing prices for Red Oak

At a dollar a board foot, the raw boards are only $22k, but there is a big difference between a wet, rough-cut board and a finished piece of Oak.  Finished hardwoods are expensive.  Turning a rough-cut board into a ready-to-use board involves these steps, each with a mark-up: 

  • Rough cut Oak @ $1 BF = $22k

  • Dried Oak @ $2 BF = $44k

  • Finished Oak @ $4 BF = $86k

Is it worth finishing the Oak yourself?

The potential to save $64,000 is the sixty four thousand dollar question.  We must dry and finish 20,000 board feet of Oak, a large labor expense.  Let's look at the costs of DIY Oak finishing:

  • Drying ($2.5k) - Renting a "moveable cubicle" for 22k board feet of Oak costs $500 for 3 months rental (two units).  Plus, you must stack and vent the cubicle, plus unloading, about 5 days work, at $20 per hour = $2k.

  • Finishing ($10k) - You must spend about $600 for a planer and another $500 for replacement blades, not to mention a whole lot of your time.  Planeing a 5 BF board takes about 5 minutes, so my 22k BF project would be at about 60 BF per hour, for at total of 366 hours (9 weeks) effort. For a laborer at $20 per hour, that's a finishing cost of $8,000.

There are also many potential pitfalls to finishing your own oak:

  • Waste - Remember, buying rough cut hardwood is tricky.  It's like buying a steak.  The cut of the meat, the marbling and the feed of the beef all contribute to the relative costs.   When buying rough cut Oak, pay the extra costs for "select" and take someone with you who understand wood.  You cannot see the grain within uncut Oak.

  • Liability - The planeing process can be dangerous and deadly if you are not careful.  Make sure that your workers are fully insured. 

Notes on Red Oak:

Rough milled lumber is sold in numerical units.  Remember, the finishing process subtracts - inch, such that a rough-cut one inch board is only about - inch when finished.

4/4 = 1 inch rough cut

5/4 = 1 - inches rough cut

6/4 = 1 - inches rough cut

8/4 = 2 inches rough cut  





Burleson is the American Team

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