Tips For Selecting Lumber

Posted Monday, May 20, 2013 by Ryan Lew

Selecting lumber for your next carpentry project may not be as easy as it seems. There are many aspects to take into consideration while selecting the proper wood for a project. Here are some things to keep in mind while at the lumberyard.*

Look for Visual Defects

It is important to check all four sides of your lumber for any defects that you can see with the naked eye. These defects may be caused by knots, fungus, insects, lightning strikes, growth issues, or improper drying or milling techniques. These defects can hinder you depending on the project. It is easy to learn how to spot a defect because they simply don’t look right. Trust your instincts.

Conversely, not all defects can be a problem. A recent trend is to take reclaimed or recycled wood for projects. Carpenters will then keep many of the holes left by nails or screws as a design element. To that effect, defects can add character to a finished product. Ultimately, this is a matter of preference.

Finding the Bows and Twists

Any curving found down the length of a stock is called a bow. To check for bowing, place one end of the stock on the ground or flat surface. Then position yourself at the other end of the stock and look down the length of the axis. Check all four sides of the lumber to make sure they are relatively straight. A single bow in the wood may be acceptable depending on the project, but multiple bows in the wood should be avoided.

While you are looking down the length of a stock, keep an eye out for twists. Twists are often the most difficult form of warping to cope with and should be avoided. This is particularly important during structural elements of projects.


Cupping is a form of warping similar to bowing, except it occurs along the width of a stock rather than down the length. The curvature of a cup can be measured using a surface planer. Cupping is caused by the nature of the wood and is exacerbated through the milling process. It is also important to check the end grain of a stock. Even if your board isn’t cupping at the moment — if the end grain is curved — cupping is likely to occur in the future.

Checks and Cracks

It is important to examine the end of a board for checks and cracks. Checks are small cracks from the wood fibers separating caused by drying. Checks can turn into larger cracks as the wood adjusts to the environment and gets dryer.

For this reason, it is important to check the moisture content of the wood you are buying. You can establish the relative dryness of the stock by asking an employee of the lumberyard how long the wood has been there. You should also store your lumber for a few weeks before working on it to allow it to acclimate to the local climate.

Examine the Grain

Finally, it is important to look at the cut end of a piece of wood.** The grain should be vertical or horizontal, but never diagonal. Also look for tighter growth rings, as they are preferred. It is also imperative to use the outer rings because they are better than the round inner pith of the tree. The outer part of the tree is sturdier than the pith.

Carpentry Program at Everest’s Houston Bissonnet Campus

Now you know how to select the right lumber, but you can learn even more carpentry skills in the Carpentry program at Everest’s Houston Bissonnet campus. You will train with industry professionals in current technologies and carpentry fundamentals. At Everest, you will get hands-on experience in the following areas:

  • Basic Construction Core
  • Intro to Carpentry, Tools and Building Materials
  • Reading Plans and Site Layout
  • Framing Floors and Walls
  • Framing Roofs and Roof Coverings
  • Windows and Doors and Exterior Finishes
  • Stairs, Interior Walls and Ceilings
  • Cabinets and Countertops
  • Flooring and Interior Finishes

Everest’s Houston Bissonnett campus offers quality carpentry training that doesn’t end at graduation. Career service representatives offer support throughout your career in resume building, interview skills, job placement and many other aspects

Contact us to learn more about what Everest can do for you.


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