The Ultimate Guide on How to Pick Out Wood Boards

How to pick out wood at the lumber yard

So you’re at Lowes or Home Depot to pick up some wood for a project you saw on Pinterest. If this is your first time picking wood you probably did the same mistake I made and probably a few other first time woodworkers. Can you guess what that mistake is? It’s not knowing that you picked out some warped boards. I wish I knew about this when I first started woodworking. Or maybe I did, but can’t remember. My high school woodshop class was probably 10 years ago and the teacher was like “oh my god your a girl don’t touch anything. You will hurt yourself.”If only he could see me now. Anyway, here is my first post on basic woodworking series.

You’re probably wondering what is a warped board. To be frank its exactly as it sounds. It’s a board that has been twisted or reshaped by humidity, moisture, and other factors. Also if a piece of wood dries unevenly this makes the wood misshapen. Some are pretty obvious, but others you have to know what you’re looking for. There are a few wood terms to know and understand before picking out the wood at your local home improvement store. Lets get into it. 


Types of Wood Warping

So I could illustrate these boards via some kind of software, but nothing beats a good ole paper and pencil sketch. Fun Fact: I took art AP Art all through High School, so I kinda know how to draw a little. I used Copic markers to color the boards in. These things are bomb for sketches. You’ll see them in illustrations, room rendering, fashion sketches and more. They just take a sketch a level up.

Types of Warped wood

First image is bowing of the board. This is the curving of the board lengthwise from the facing. Same concept as a bow and arrow.

The second image demonstrates a kink. Did you ever have a kink at the end of your hair when you straighten your hair? Well, same difference. It’s basically a deviation of the board edgewise from a straight line. 

The third image shows a twisted board. Its exactly like when you twist a long rectangular paper. The four corners of the board are no longer on the same plane. (Bet you didn’t think you would use geometry again after high school huh?)

The fourth picture is called cup or cupping of the board. I usually call this the happy or smiley face, depending on how you look at it. The deviation runs the length of the board.

And finally, the last image demonstrates the crook. The curvature of a board that is along the edge. Basically another happy or sad face but through the hole side of the board, or a crooked board. Don’t mistake this one as bowing, which is the curvature through the face not the edge.


Lets get a Close Up

Now that you got a basic knowledge of what a warped board is, its time to put it into practice. 

Exactly how does one find these defaults. Well, there are the obvious ones where clearly there is something wrong with that board. An then there are the sneaky SOBs that you won’t know that they are warped till you get home uggghhh anyway I digress. After so many failed attempts I am with a shadow of a doubt more confident it picking my own boards. 

To really get a good vantage point to see the defects of the board you want to hold the board up to your face and look down the length of the board. Do this for both faces and the edges. I tend to squint a little to really focus of the edges and the to see if there is any curvature in the faces.

Okay don’t judge I look like crap, I am hella tired from working on a ton of pieces in this Texas heat and I don’t feel like putting on my shoes just to demonstrate this easy tip. 

how to pick out wood

This board is a good example of a straight board edge wise.

twisted wood board twisted wood board

This board is an example of a twisted board. If you can see in the second picture. The end closes to me is flat on the floor while the other end is has a point flip up to the right. In the first picture the end facing away from me is perfectly on the ground on both points, while the end towards me is slanted. This is a type of board you defiantly don’t want to get. Oh and another tip, watch for splits at the end of the boards. That sucker will keep growing depending on the movement of the wood. 

Wood warping is a common problem and some things you able to fix it with either a planner or some heavy weights. But when you don’t have that option it’s best to get the straightest boards at the yard. Now that’s not to say that they still won’t warp once you get them home. Storage also plays a role in warping. Depending on the humidity and moisture content in the wood. Next time I will go deeps on the different types of lumbar what what kinds of projects would work best with each so stay tuned. Hope this was helpful and that it gives you more confidence on your next shopping trip to Home Depot. Till next time amigas adios!


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