I typically spend very long time in front of the lumber aisles inspecting boards. Many times I end up not getting anything after all because I thought all boards are imperfect.

I see pros spent few minutes next to me in the store or lumber yard, inspecting boards quickly and be gone.

What do you look for to decide whether to take a board or not? To scope down my question, let's take pressure treated boards as an example. Are cracks bad? Damaged Un-curved edges? Knots?

I'm new to woodworking. Thanks for your help

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    Shop at a quality lumber supply and tell them you want boards of a certain quality? Asking how to find good wood at Home Depot is like asking how to find good tools at Harbor Freight. Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 4:35

2 Answers 2


I literally buy pressure-treated wood sight-unseen.

I live near a chain of lumber yards that offers convenient delivery at a reasonable price. They offer pressure-treated fence posts with a consistent quality level, which is appropriate for my uses of the lumber. I can call them up, ask for a number of fence posts cut to a particular length, and arrange for delivery. The men at the lumber yard choose the posts (presumably from the top of the relevant stack), cut the lumber to length, strap it together, and put it on their truck. I receive it, verify that it looks okay, store it (with appropriate spacers between boards), and use it as I need it. I treat the cut ends of pressure-treated wood, either shortly after receipt, or before installation.

What I mean by "looks okay":

  • straight lines
  • no visible bow
  • no visible warpage
  • knots are not large enough to compromise structural strength
  • minor "checking" (shallow cracks at ends of posts) is okay
  • no deep cracks (that would turn the wood grain into a giant splinter)
  • no bark in the lumber
  • consistent grain width
  • grain direction is consistent with the shape of the lumber

@jasper has a good answer, but to address the actual "standing in the store" side of things...

First, know what you need in a board. Do you need the entire length, or are you going to be nipping some off? Do you need it to be straight? Do you need something that's more dry or more wet? Do the faces have to look nice or will anything do?

With the above in mind, pick up one end of the board. Look down the edge for unacceptable curves or twist. Look down the face for crown. (Twist is always a loser in my books. Curves of various types might work, but it depends on your application.)

You'll soon get a feel for how wet or dry a board is, based on weight. (Doesn't apply to PT, since that's almost always wet.) Wet wood is easier to nail, but more prone to changing shape as it dries out. If you've already built it into a structure and then it gets a chance to dry, this probably isn't an issue. If you plan to store it for a while, you should probably be trying to get dry-ish wood. (Dry-ish in a big box context is very different from "dry" in a furniture making context, btw.)

Last check is aesthetics... does it suit your application? Modest gouges/ mill marks/ etc don't really matter in structural work; they matter a lot if everything is visible.

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