Pick your wood quicker with less sorting, stacking, squinting, or straining.
Log cut in sections

The deep, often-dark bins of a hardwood retailer aren't always the best environment for choosing the perfect board for your project. Without unstacking and restacking hundreds of pounds of lumber, your best view of the wood is often a small cross-section of end grain. How much can you really tell about the wood with just that glimpse? We sliced into a walnut log to get some answers.

Want to know what a work-from-home day looks like for WOOD designers Kevin Boyle and John Olson? Hint: It involves this log and a bandsaw mill. woodmagazine.com/loglessons

End grain at a glance

Like a palm reader who can tell your whole life story by looking at the lines in your hand, you can learn the story of the board from the end-grain lines. As you can see below, reading the curvature of the growth rings lets you estimate the size of the tree, where the board came from in the tree, as well as letting you predict what that means for the grain appearance and stability of the board.

Log cut in section with part view of it

Look for layered logs

While examining a bin of boards, pay special attention to any boards in which the end grain aligns as if the boards came from the same log, because they probably did. Mills often bundle boards as they come off the saw, and a sequence -- the sliced-up boards making up a complete log—will often end up in the same bin. It's your opportunity to snag boards with consistent color and complementary grain patterns. Confirm your find by pulling the boards and comparing their lengths; lumber from the same log will be the same length.

Final checks
After you zero in on a few likely candidates for project stock, pull those boards into the light for a final check. Does the grain match your expectations? Is the color consistent between boards? (If not, a stain or dye job might be in your future.) Sight down the edge to check for defects. And when you're done, proper lumberyard etiquette dictates that you neatly restack any rejects back in the bin.

Man looking down a board
Sight down the board to checkfor twist, cup, and curl. Somedistortion might be acceptable ifyour cut list calls for short, narrowworkpieces; otherwise, set asideany warped boards.