Over the years, I have made dozens of trips to Home Depot and Lowes for wood. And in that time, I have never owned a truck, trailer, or even a large SUV to haul it. That means that I am getting the wood cut down to length with almost every trip to fit it into my car. Luckily, both Lowes and Home Depot will cut wood for you!
Now, I do have to warn you that each store may have their own individual policies or equipment on hand. I recently visited a Lowes that could only cut sheet goods like plywood. I had a cart full of 12 foot cedar boards I was going to cut in half but ended up just having to put them all back on the shelf and visit anther store.
With that said, there are a few tricks I’ll show you for how to get the best value from your lumber purchases and make sure you’ll be walking home with all of your pieces cut to the right size.
Getting Wood Cut to Size at Home Depot or Lowes
Getting wood cut to size at Home Depot or Lowes is usually a fairly simple process. Just pick out the boards or sheet goods you need and head to the back of the lumber area. Occasionally I have seen the sheet good cutting station near the front of the store but 99% of the time all the cutting is done near the back.
All of the boards cut at Home Depot or Lowes are cut on a modified radial arm saw. Unlike a miter saw which is pulled down onto the wood, a radial arm saw is pulled across the wood. That is combined with a large safety shield that covers the wood to prevent any chance of injury for the employee making the cuts.
The nice thing about these saws is that they are usually fairly square. The not as nice thing is they can be a bit tougher to line up cuts. So, if you need precise cuts, you are probably best buying a miter saw and making them yourself.
The employee will usually ask you how long you want the pieces cut and will make the wood accordingly. If I’m looking to have the wood cut into multiple pieces I will usually grab a tape measure and pencil and mark the wood myself.
Project Cuts vs Rough Cuts
We’ll get more into the exact store rules in a bit but for now let’s take a second to talk about rough cuts versus project cuts.
The “official policy” for most big box lumber stores is they only make rough cuts designed to break down sheet goods or lumber so it can fit in a customer’s car. This rule serves two purposes: to keep customers from tying up the saw (and employee time) by asking for dozens of small cuts and preventing customer complaints when the cuts don’t match their exact dimensions.
These saws are also used dozens of times every single day and often have dull blades, so the cut quality will usually be, at best, rough.
Project cuts would be described as making numerous cuts to exact dimensions so you can take the cut boards home and assemble them into your new raised planter box or whichever project you’re working on.
There are a few steps you can take to maximize your chance of a store associate going the extra mile to help you out with your project cuts.
- Visit the store during off hours. I usually have good luck in the mornings on weekends and weekday evenings. Avoid showing up right before closing time though as the stores are usually pretty short staffed by then.
- Be prepared to plan out your cuts. Bring a pencil, tape measure and speed square (or grab one to use off the rack) and mark out all of your cuts ahead of time. This will save a ton of time for the wood cutting associate.
- Be nice to the wood cutting associate. A little goes a long ways here. Say hi. Talk about your project. Understand that if there are other people waiting in line behind you that they may feel rushed to get the job done so don’t micromanage their job.
- Help them out. Help load the wood onto the saw or grab pieces from them after the cuts. Show them your measurements so they can quickly line up the cuts.
What Types of Wood Do They Cut at Home Depot or Lowes?
You can get almost all lumber and project boards cut at Home Depot or Lowes. Their saws do have size restrictions though so you may not be able to have wider project boards cut as they are too wide for the radial arm saw and too thick for the panel saw.
If you need to cut trim there is usually a hand saw station in the trim department. Once again, these saws get a lot of use so they may be dull but trim is easy to cut through.
If you need to cut pressure treated wood your luck will vary by store. Some stores cut it without question while others won’t touch it. The same tends to go for MDF although they sell plenty of smaller MDF sheets ready for transport.
Getting Plywood Cut to Size at Home Depot or Lowes
Even if your local Lowes or Home Depot doesn’t have a radial arm saw for cutting lumber, they will almost always have a panel saw for breaking down sheet goods like plywood.
The panel saws hold a full sheet of plywood and are adjustable to make both rip and crosscuts. This means you can break down a full 4×8 sheet of plywood into two 4×4 pieces or two 2×8 pieces.
The saws at these stores will often leave a very rough edge on sheet goods due to their blades designed for rough cuts and often dull. This means if you’re hoping to leave any plywood edges exposed on your projects, it may require a lot of cleanup or more cuts once you get the wood home.
Many folks have had good luck with getting decent cuts on sheet goods but be aware that this is certainly not always the case.
If you’re going to be building many projects with sheet goods, then a decent circular saw and straightedge guide are a good investment to make. They are relatively cheap and take up very little space.
Home Depot and Lowes Wood Cutting Rules
I said earlier that we’d take a look at the store’s rules for cutting wood at Home Depot or Lowes, but the fact of that matter is there doesn’t seem to be any precise rules that cover all stores!
Some stores allow 1 cut per board for free, others 2, some even offer up to 5 cuts for free. After that, the charge may be $.25/cut, $.50/cut, or even $1/cut.
Some stores will even limit you to 1 cut per piece of wood, period!
There are some general rules that you will run into at almost all stores. Don’t expect cuts of less than 12 inches. Don’t expect to get free cuts if the store is busy or you’re asking for a dozen or more cuts for your project. Don’t expect the cuts to be all that precise. Other than that, your mileage will vary, and often it is up to you to present yourself in a manner that will encourage the store associates to be helpful with your project.
Other Places that Will Cut Wood for You
There are plenty of other places to look to get your lumber cut down to size if your local Home Depot or Lowes just isn’t cutting it. Pardon the pun!
Dedicated lumber yards can be another option for places that will cut wood for you. Look for lumber stores that carry specialty lumber like walnut, cherry, maple, etc. This would is often purchased rough milled, and these stores will have on-site milling capabilities. This means they can cut the boards to length and flatten and square all four sides.
If you are working on a project that requires more specific lumber dimensions, this can be a great option. And you’ll still be able to work with cheaper, paint-grade woods like poplar if needed. I recommend doing a quick online search for lumber yards near you and call around to see what services they offer.
My old lumber yard near Seattle had full milling capabilities and well-trained staff who were more than happy to cut my lumber and sheet goods down to any size I wanted. The best part was the cuts were always free as well!
Maker spaces are more popular than ever and are popping up in cities all over the country. These spaces are typically well equipped with woodworking tools, and the space can be rented by the hour. Typically a short safety training session is required before you can start using the tools. Once that is done, though, you can drop in almost any time to quickly break down lumber for a project.
Some spaces even stock lumber for purchase onsite, so you don’t have to worry about dragging it from the lumber yard.
Woodworking Shops or Cooperatives
Some woodworking shops or cooperatives will rent out services by the hour for the use of their machines. Most of the use will typically be for large machines like wide belt sanders. These machines are typically not an option for home woodworkers, so these shops can make some decent income renting them out for one-off projects.
It never hurts to ask if anyone wouldn’t mind breaking down a stack of lumber as well. If it’s a quick job, the rates shouldn’t be too high.
Final Thoughts on Having Wood Cut at Home Depot or Lowes
If you’re new to woodworking or don’t have room for a set of power tools, then Lowes or Home Depot can be a great resource for getting your woodworking projects started.
By taking some time to plan out your trip, you can end up with a pile of wood ready to turn into your next home project.