How to Make Cheap Wood Look Pretty
Even before the price of wood skyrocketed it was my goal to cut costs on all DIY home projects. One trick I learned was how you can make the cheap wood look pretty with just a few extra steps.
There are two main ways to make cheap wood look pretty. The first option is sanding. You can stop there if this is good enough for your project. Eliminate the roughest parts with an 80 grit sanding pad on your orbital sander. From 80 to 120, then you’d end with 220 grit for finishing. The second option if you want to go the extra step is to first rip the rounded corners off. You do this by taking a minimal 1/4″ off each edge on a table saw.
Now that you know the two main ways, let’s go into a little bit more detail about what is the cheapest wood you can buy and how to make it pretty.
A noticeable difference between the before and after. This 1×4 was chosen with my rigorous process of elimination by avoiding the 4 major flaws when picking wood, details below. But you can see the difference of a straight edge AND sanding thoroughly makes.
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What is the Cheapest Wood You Can Buy For Projects?
The cheapest wood you can buy is framing lumber and furring strips. The reason it’s cheaper than premium wood is that it’s rough and ugly. But it’s inside walls and you’ll never see it. It doesn’t have to be the straightest or prettiest wood to get the job done.
What is framing lumber?
Framing lumber provides support for a building’s shape. When you hear someone talking about studs in a wall, this is what they’re referring to. It is a traditional way to frame the walls in a stick-built home.
What is a furring strip?
Thin furring strips create a level surface for attaching wallboard and paneling. You would typically use furring strips to create that level surface over something like a brick wall. It takes up less floor space than if you were to install a traditional stud wall.
4 Tips to Help You Pick the Best Common Lumber
The first and arguably most important step is before you even get the wood home. I’ve trained my eye to pick out the best ugly wood in the piles and even how to remedy wood I’ve had to settle on.
Since framing lumber or furring strips are typically behind walls, they don’t have to be pretty. However, to use it for projects that you’ll actually see you need to follow a few rules. In order of importance.
Follow these 4 Guidelines to Ensure You Pick the Best Cheap Wood
- Avoid any twisted or warped pieces. Take the board out and look at it flat and sideways. Does it curve? If it does, leave it behind.
- Beware divots. If they’re on one side that’s not too bad because most projects only need one or two prettier sides.
- Try to get minimal knots. Knots often have the center wood fall out leaving you with a hole in the piece. Which is obviously not optimal (especially on 1×4 or 1×2).
- Avoid pieces with large chunks missing. Ripping on a table saw to get a straight edge will remove imperfections. And many will come off with a good thorough sanding. But avoid pieces with any large chunks taken out.
If you are particular about the pieces you pick your next steps will be much easier. Many times the hardware store will have newly stocked full skips tied together for you to pick through. But occasionally there are slim pickings. In those situations go in order of the steps and pick the best pieces you can.
You can work around some of these issues depending on the project. But never pick warped or twisted wood. They are simply unusable.
How Does Using Ugly Wood Save Money?
To put it plainly, you exchange extra time in preparation of the wood for a less expensive option. Therefore if you have the ability to draw out the length of the project this works beautifully. It can really cut the budget of any project down considerably which is optimal for those on a small budget.
To give you some reference framing lumber and furring strips are traditionally at least half the price of the other prettier options of premium boards. And some sizes aren’t even available as a prettier option, like a 2×4 and 2×2.
How to Make Cheap Wood Look Pretty
Learn how to use the cheapest wood in the hardware store and turn it into premium-looking wood with a few steps.
- 1 Piece of Framing Lumber or Furring Strip
- Orbital Sander
- Sanding Pads: 80, 120, & 220 Grit
- Table Saw
- Safety Goggles
- Table Saw Push Block
- Step One - Measure the width of your board.
- Step Two - On your table saw adjust your guide to 1/4" less than the total width of your board (As an example: A 1"x4" true size is 3/4"x3.5", so you would adjust your saw to 3 1/4" for the first pass to eliminate 1/4").
- Step Three - Adjust the height of the blade to just above the wood piece.
- Step Four - Use a push block to ensure your fingers are nowhere near the blade as you push the wood through.
- Step Five - Send your board completely through.
- Step Six - Adjust your guide again to eliminate another 1/4" from the second side. (As an example: After going through the 1"x4" would be 3 1/4", you would set your guide to 3" for the second pass to eliminate the other 1/4").
- Step Seven - Send your board through on the other side. Ensure you aren't sending it through on the same side you just cut.
- Step Eight - Once both sides are straight grab your orbital sander with an 80 Grit pad and work on getting the rough spots off.
- Step Nine - On the edges make sure you aren't tilting the sander or it will round the edges you just straightened. Keep it steady and straight.
- Step Ten - Continue sanding with 120 and 220 grit pads until your board is blemish-free and ready for installation.
On the edges make sure you aren't tilting the sander or it will round the edges you just straightened. Keep it steady and straight.
Use Safety Goggles to ensure nothing gets in your eyes.
How Do You Make Wood Look Nicer?
Sanding to Achieve A Beautiful Finish – The One and Done Option
The most effective way to achieve pretty wood whether it’s framing lumber or premium wood is to patiently sand down all the rough parts.
I always start off any project with wood by using 80 grit sandpaper on my orbital sander. To read more about orbital sanders and which one I recommend and use go check out this post, The 10+ Essential Tools for the DIYer.
Switch to 120 grit sandpaper after you’re confident the roughest parts are off. Then to finish the piece off and give it a really premium appearance go down to 220 grit.
While this is a very simple process, it will take your time. However, it’s not a process you can skip in any wood project. So, in other words, you’d be having to do it anyway.
Obtaining the Square Edge With A Table Saw – The Extra Step That Elevates Drab to Fab
I like to be extra. Especially when it comes to not sacrificing quality when looking to cut costs. I don’t want something to simply look good, I want it to actually be good. So, as an alternative to purchasing the more expensive premium clean-edged wood, I get the look for less by utilizing my table saw.
I purchased my table saw for this very reason. And I’ve never looked back. If you’d like to read more about the table saw I use as well as my other tools check out this post, The 10+ Essential Tools for the DIYer.
This step comes before sanding if you choose to do it, but doesn’t eliminate sanding. Nothing eliminates sanding.
To give you an example I recently ripped 1x4s on my table saw as I’m replacing all of the trim in my household. A 1x4s true size is actually 3/4″ x 3.5″.
- Move your table saw guide to 3 1/4″ which will eliminate 1/4″ off the first rounded edge as you run it through.
- For the second pass (on the 2nd rounded edge) move your table saw guide to 3″ which will eliminate the opposite sides 1/4″ rounded edge.
Be sure you don’t pass it through on the same side twice. You’ll end up with a smaller board, but with one rounded edge left. I have accidentally done this once and once was enough. Thankfully it isn’t a big expensive mistake.
Note: Sometimes you can’t afford a 1/4″ so you would take off 1/8″, which isn’t optimal, but still improves the overall appearance of the board. This is the case when ripping 1x2s (actual dimensions of 3/4″x1 3/4″) to make them 1 1/2″.
Use Cheap Wood in Projects to Add Charm and Character to a Builder Grade Home
There are so many ways to use this cheap and ugly wood to add character and charm to your home. I hope I have given you some inspiration to start a project even if you don’t have much to spend. And the tools and resources it takes to make cheap wood look pretty and cut costs in your DIY Projects.
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Meet the Author
Hi, I’m Julie! Mother to five beautiful kids, Homeschool Educator, Writer, Handicraft & DIY Enthusiast, Photographer, Thrifter, and Furniture Restorer. Follow along for fun DIY projects creating a handmade home on a budget! Read more about me here→
Great tips! I love finding ways to use pieces of wood even when they arent pretty!
Me too! I wish I had more storage for even scrap wood — because I think it’s an especially fun challenge to figure out ways to use it up!
Great tips…especially considering the price of lumber!
Oh yes! I’ve been doing it for years, but I definitely miss the good old days (2 years ago) when I could buy 14 feet of 1×4 wood for the small price of $4! I hope these tips help people in similar situations. Thanks so much for commenting!