The effects of silvicultural practices (regeneration method and young stand management) on the stand characteristics of young Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris (L.)) stands were studied. Stand density, mean diameter, crown ratio and external quality of young Scots pine stands were analysed on the basis of extensive inventory data. The study material consisted of 181 stands containing inventory growth plots, representing the most common site types for Scots pine and covering all the important wood production areas in Finland. Intensive management practices, i.e. artificial regeneration and precommercial thinning, clearly enhanced mean diameter development of the stand. The overall stand density of the crop trees was relatively low in the material (1925 trees ha–1). In more than one third of the stands, the stem number of crop trees was below 1500 trees ha–1. Stand density was not affected by forest management, but it was slightly higher in Southern than in Northern Finland. The geographical location, in terms of annual effective temperature sum, affected the average slenderness and crown ratio. At a given mean stand diameter, the dominant height of the stand was lower, and the mean crown ratio was higher, in Northern than in Southern Finland. The average external quality of the Scots pine trees was relatively low. The proportion of trees without any observed defects was 54%. The most common external defects were curved stems (23%) and branchiness (9%). Branchiness was more frequent among the largest trees, while curved stems were more common in smaller trees. Defects were the most frequent in planted stands, and in stands growing on fresh sites. The defects were more frequent in Northern Finland than in Southern Finland. The relatively low stand density and poor external quality of the young stands emphasize the importance of stem quality as a tree selection criterion in commercial thinnings of Scots pine stands, if the goal is to produce high quality timber.