Large wood, both live and dead, is essential for producing complex habitat in many streams, especially in forested watersheds that support salmonid populations. The addition of engineered wood structures is a common approach taken in many streams where past watershed management practices have resulted in reduced wood loading. We examined six 300-m stream reaches in the Lagunitas Creek watershed, Northern California, to determine (i) the distribution of large wood in the bankfull channel and 10-year floodplain, (ii) the influence of large wood on the size and distribution of pools and (iii) whether streams with engineered wood structures had greater diversity of pool habitat to support salmonid populations. We found that the amount of large wood in the bankfull channel and the amount available for recruitment from the 10-year floodplain were highly variable among and within reaches examined and largely dependent on the local geomorphic setting. Stream reaches with engineered wood structures had elevated pool frequencies relative to reaches without these structures, suggesting a higher capacity to support salmonids during critical life stages. Among large wood pieces that had a strong influence on pool formation, 23% had an attached root wad and 66% were part of a cluster. All of the study reaches we examined had lower volumes of large wood in their bankfull channels than similar stream types with natural wood-loading levels, suggesting that increased additions of large wood could provide ecosystem benefits over time. These principles can be understood and transferred effectively to other watersheds using a framework of wood-loading process domains. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.