The first time I did a woodworking project, I was really nervous about asking the people at Home Depot to cut my lumber. What if my store was different and they don’t actually cut wood? I’ve since learned that fear was absolutely ridiculous.
Home Depot and Lowes both cut lumber (like 2x4s) and sheet goods (like plywood) purchased in-store. The first few cuts are free, but the stores reserve the right to charge for excess cuts. Menards does not cut wood, although some stores have a self-serve miter saw station available.
Since my first trip, I’ve had varying home improvement stores cut lumber (and other things!) for me hundreds of times. It’s a pretty painless process, but there are a few things you should know before you go.
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Getting Lumber Cut From Home Depot or Lowes
Home Depot and Lowes both have radial arm saws in their stores that are designed to cut pieces of wood that are 12″ or less in width. This includes construction lumber like 2x4s, and nicer hobby boards.
Wood Cutting Policies and Procedures
The general philosophy of both Home Depot and Lowes is that the cutting service is intended to cut the wood so that it fits in your car.
What this means is that they don’t do precision cuts, so your 4′ cut might be closer to 3′ 11 7/8.” And they don’t want to cut your wood into 100 tiny pieces. In fact, they don’t cut pieces less than 12″ in length.
Now, they don’t actually come out and say these things; that’d be rude. But when you head over to the cutting station for the first time, you’ll probably see signs that say something like “no precision cuts” and “First two cuts are free; additional cuts $.25.”
The exact policies differ by store, but there is usually some sort of official charge to discourage you from getting your whole project cut.
That said, I’ve never actually been charged for additional cuts. I’m sure there are stores that actually enforce that, but I’ve never had it happen, and for awhile, my closest Home Depot was straight-up awful and even they didn’t charge me.
Regardless, if you have a saw at home, your best bet is to treat the policy as it’s intended, and only have the stores cut what’s required for transportation.
One more note: pressure treated wood is bad for saw blades, and so many stores refuse to cut that as well. I don’t think this is as widespread as some of the other policies, but it exists and is something to be aware of if you’re planning to purchase pressure treated wood.
Getting Lumber Cut at Home Improvement Stores
First off, if this is your first time in the lumber section, you’ll want to grab a different type of cart than your usual shopping cart. I typically go for the lumber cart that has bars on the sides.
My second choice is this sheet good cart, which you can pretty easily pile things on top of:
If you’re not sure exactly what you’re purchasing, wait to grab the cart until after you’ve figured it out. These carts are bulky and difficult to move, so you’re better off grabbing them only once you’re ready to use them.
Then pick out your lumber, and load it onto the cart (check out this lumber buying guide if you’re not sure how to pick out good pieces.) At this point, I usually look around sadly and hope an employee asks if I need help (the young single girl aspect helps a lot with this.)
If nobody is nearby, I head up to the prodesk, and let them know I’d like my lumber cut. They’ll typically page somebody, and have them meet me at the cutting station.
Then I’ll tell the employee how I want my wood cut, and they’ll cut it for me. Easy peasy! Sometimes I have to wait awhile before someone comes to the cutting station; I’m going to go out on a limb and say the wait time is usually indirectly correlated with the niceness of the store.
Molding is a little different from other types of lumber, in that both Home Depot and Lowes have a self-serve cutting station in the aisle. It’s not a power tool, but there’s a nice little bench with a handsaw and tape measure so that you can cut the molding yourself.
I’ve always wondered about if I took the molding over to the cutting station if someone would cut it for me. It’s clear that’s discouraged, and I’m a wimp who doesn’t like to be told no, so I’ve never actually asked.
Either way, cutting the molding by hand is probably faster anyway; it only takes about a minute or two. Finding an employee who’s trained and qualified to operate the saws usually takes at least that.
Getting Sheet Good Cut At Home Depot or Lowes
Sheet goods are cut on the panel saw, which is the saw that’s taller than you. Once again, stores don’t do precision cuts, and the official policy is that only the first few cuts are free.
How to Get Sheet Goods Cut at Home Depot or Lowes
Unlike with lumber, after I’ve figured out what I want to purchase, I usually go find an employee immediately.
Moving large sheets of plywood off the pile and onto the cart is difficult to do alone. Store employees are usually happy to help with this, and they’re frequently the same ones who are qualified to cut your wood anyway.
Then we make awkward conversation and head over to the cutting center together. I almost always bring a drawing of how I want my plywood panel cut, because it’s way easier to show a picture than try to describe things, unless I’m just having them break it down into equal pieces.
Plus, this requires me to think out how I’m using my plywood for the project in advance, and helps me make sure I’m buying the right amount.
Then they’ll cut your wood relatively close to how you requested. Back before I had a table saw, I usually just had them make the cuts as I needed them, and dealt with any inaccuracies later. What they did was probably more accurate than my attempts with a circular saw would’ve been anyway.
But now that I do have a table saw, I have them cut my wood a little large, then trim it myself when I get home in order to have accurate measurements.
Anyway, once the cuts are done the lumber will go back on your cart, and you’ll head to checkout. The lumber employees who are really on top of it will put the piece with the sticker facing outward so that it’s easy for the checkout person to find.
Tips and Tricks for Getting Sheet Goods Cut
I’ve mentioned before that stores reserve the right to charge after the first two cuts, but I’ve never actually been charged. Most of the time I try my best to ask for modest cuts, but there have been a few times when I’ve had a big ask.
My biggest ask was when I put up faux shiplap in my living room, which required ripping 5 or 6 pieces of plywood into 6″ strips. At the time, I didn’t have a table saw, so if Home Depot and Lowes wouldn’t do it, I was out of luck.
So I called up Home Depot’s ProDesk, and asked if this was something they could do. She told me it was no problem, wrote down what I wanted to have done, then had me order the plywood online right after we got off the phone.
When the order came through to her, she had the lumber employees cut it like I’d asked. Two days later, I picked up the order, and it was all cut into strips exactly how I’d requested, without a single extra charge.
Obviously, this is going to vary depending on the store, but I think calling ahead is a great strategy if you have something that’s going to require a lot of cuts. That way, the lumber people can cut it during off times, and not hold up themselves and the equipment on a busy day.
Cutting Wood At Menards
First off, if you don’t know what Menards is, it’s a major home improvement chain in the Midwest. The stores are direct competitors to Home Depot and Lowes, but they’re only present in about 15 states.
As I mentioned back at the beginning of the article, Menards does not cut wood. Between that, and the fact I have to order my lumber from a person inside and pick it up outside (weird and annoying!) I rarely purchase wood from Menards.
That said, I love Menards for small supplies like caulk and paintbrushes, because they have good rebate sales on those types of items. So I’m in the stores pretty frequently, both in St. Louis where I used to live, Minneapolis where I live now, and Wisconsin where my family has a summer cabin.
And while Menards doesn’t cut wood, I have spotted a self-serve miter saw station in a La Crosse, Wisconsin store.
I was surprised to see it, given the liability issues associated with allowing customers to operate power tools in-store, but my dad and I reasoned that this was a small city where a larger percentage of people were power-tool trained than say, St. Louis.
Also, we were about an hour and half from their headquarters in Eau Claire, WI. Maybe that had something to do with it too.
Either way, next time you head over to Menards, take a drive around their lumberyard and see if you have a miter saw station.
Other Goods Home Improvement Stores Cut
Lumber and plywood aren’t the only things that home improvement stores are able to cut for you. Here’s a running list of some other customizable items:
If you purchase pipes from Home Depot or Lowes, they will cut them to size and thread the ends for you.
I had this done once (I moved a gas line successfully! It’s still one of my greatest accomplishments…) and it took about 20 minutes.
This isn’t necessarily all blinds, but for certain brands that are advertised as customizable, Home Depot and Lowes will cut them to size.
In fact, when I ordered blinds I didn’t need customized, the online order pickup lady was really surprised.
Home Depot doesn’t cut glass, but Lowes does! Just like with lumber, the glass needs to be purchased from Lowes.