What’s the difference between a lumberyard and a home center? A lumberyard doesn’t have aisles of plumbing supplies, carpet displays, and electrical apparatus to overwhelm you while you are only looking for lumber. It may carry accessories, such as nails, screws, brackets, saws, and drills, that are used with lumber but it mainly concentrates on selling different species, grades, lengths, widths, and thicknesses of lumber. You can usually find a lumberyard by looking for one the following words in its name: yard, millworks, woodworks, boards, or sawmill.

Speaking of sawmills, lumberyards have in-house saws that can cut, rip, bevel, or trim boards to order. Yet another sign of a lumberyard is its atmosphere. It is not air-conditioned or heated in its storage areas, so it’s hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. Usually there is sawdust lying around, so it smells like lumber too.

The guys who work in lumberyards don’t say things like “May I help you, sir?” Rather, they say things like “Whatcha got, pal?” when you drive into their yard. They also look like they used to be—or still are—carpenters. They wear Levis, flannel shirts, and work boots, and when they speak they use terms like posts, columns, beams, joists, studs, and rafters, and actually know what they mean. And they don’t have to tell you, when you are in the middle of a job, “We can get that size for you in two weeks, or you can go to another one of our outlets on the other side of the county.”

So, if you find yourself needing a good cross section of wood to build a porch, shed, barn, deck, or garage, do yourself a favor and look for a lumberyard.