Buying cull lumber at Home Depot is a great way to save money on your projects. If you aren’t familiar with cull lumber, here’s where to find it, what you can expect from it, and how much money you can expect to save. It’s less work than salvaging lumber from palettes and you can get greater variety.
Cull lumber is damaged or scrap lumber that the store marks down at a steep discount to make room after it receives a shipment of new lumber. Cull lumber always has problems that kept it from selling at full price. Sometimes the flaws are minor. Sometimes they’re significant. But if you can live with the flaws, cull lumber offers you significant opportunity for savings.
What does cull lumber mean?
Cull lumber simply means lumber that the store removed from regular inventory. If you’ve ever bought wood from the lumber section, I’m sure you’ve pulled out pieces that were warped or twisted or had splits or had some other reason you didn’t want to buy it. At least I hope you have, and didn’t buy the pieces and find the flaws after you got them home.
You and I aren’t the only ones who do that. One Sunday night I took a look at the lumber section, and the selection of 1×4 boards was picked almost clean. There were maybe 10 boards left and virtually all of them had some problem that made me unwilling to buy them.
When a new shipment comes in, the store staff will remove those remnants to make way for the new inventory. The cull lumber goes in a bin in the back of the store. Usually they spray a line or two of brightly colored paint on both ends and rubber stamp it “cull lumber.” The price varies but usually it’s about 70 percent off. That means you can get a board that would have sold for $2.80 for about 84 cents.
How to buy cull lumber
Buying cull lumber requires a fair bit of luck, or at least really good timing. There have been times I’ve gone to the store and only found a couple of lonely twisted 1x2s in the bin. Other times I’ve gone and found all the wood I need for my project right there in the cull bin. Obviously, when I can do that, I save a fortune.
The trick is to go to the back of the store, near the saw where they cut the lumber for you. That’s where the cull lumber lives. Usually it’s in a big cart, or possibly a big plastic trash can. The cart or bin has a sign advising that it’s priced at 70% off.
Try to make a habit of checking out the back of the store, even if you’re not planning to buy lumber. Since you never know what you’ll find or when, you may miss an opportunity for big savings and not have any idea. If you see a lot of boards in a common size you use a lot, you may want to stock up. Besides saving you money, it may save you a trip or two to the store in the future.
Of course the selection tends to be mostly whitewood, because Home Depot sells more of that than anything else. I have occasionally seen pricier boards end up in cull, but it’s less common.
Tips for buying and using cull lumber
If you see anything usable, load up your cart. Be sure to examine each piece to see why it’s in the bin. In one case I found a couple of nice, straight 1x4s in the bin, but they had a really unsightly grain mark on one side. I bought them and used them with the good side facing out. If I’d been planning to paint the project, I would have cared even less about the mark.
If the board is warped or skewed, pay attention to where the warp is. I’ve seen boards that skewed off at a 20 degree angle, but they only did it at the last foot or so of the board. That meant the board still had five feet of perfectly usable wood. If your project calls for short lengths of wood, you can buy these types of boards and save a lot. Boards with their flaws closer to the middle may be more problematic.
The problem with cull lumber is that the selection is completely random. One day I found a bin full of 6-foot lengths of 1x4s. My project called for 8-foot lengths, but I just doubled up and saved about 10 bucks. If you’re willing to change your plans a bit and improvise with whatever you happen to find, you can save a lot of money. If you have a table saw or a track saw, you can cut larger boards into the smaller boards you need. Or if you have lots of bar clamps, you can glue up smaller boards into the larger boards you need.
Try to find out when the store gets new shipments of lumber. Theoretically the selection in the cull bin would be best soon after the new lumber arrives. That said, one busy Saturday afternoon when I was in the store, an associate came over and dumped an armload of boards in the bin.
Caveats with cull lumber
Make sure any lumber you find has the marks on it. The first couple of times I bought cull lumber, it wasn’t marked, though it was seriously damaged. One time the cashier gave me the discount anyway. Another time the cashier made me take it back and find someone to mark it. So you can save yourself some pain by making sure it’s marked ahead of time. It can take 30 minutes to find an associate in the lumber department.
I’m not sure why this is, but when the a cull board has a good side and a bad side, they seem to spray and stamp the good side. Maybe it’s so they don’t make a good deal too good. Fortunately it only takes a couple of minutes to sand off the marks with 60-grit sandpaper.
Sometimes a board is reasonably straight but has a lot of black marks on it from shipping. These marks can be harder to sand off for some reason. But they don’t matter much if you’re going to paint your work. They may not matter much if you stain it a dark color either. For that matter, staining a dark color can fix a lot of visual flaws.
Does Home Depot sell scrap wood?
Yes. If a customer requests a custom cut and doesn’t want the other piece, the scrap wood usually ends up in the cull bin. So do miscuts. I bought a nice piece of hardboard out of the cull bin once. It may have been an offcut another customer didn’t want, or a miscut.
And in my last trip to Home Depot, I found a six-inch length of 2×4 in the cull bin. I’m not sure how they’d price that, and there wasn’t anyone around for me to ask, but it was there.
Do other home improvement stores sell cull lumber?
Most other home improvement stores, such as Lowe’s and Menards, also sell damaged lumber out of a bin in the back of the store, at similar discounts. I’m more familiar with Home Depot because I live within walking distance of one.