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
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
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.
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.
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:
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
There are also many potential pitfalls to finishing your
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