We’ve written of hard and soft woods in the past, and each has its best uses in a woodworking shop. Don’t conflate hard and soft as strong and weak, though. When used in the right projects, all woods have strengths and weaknesses to be considered when choosing the right wood for the right job.
Woods are classified as hard or soft based upon seeds and not strength or weakness. Trees whose seeds have a coating are classified as hardwoods. The seeds’ coating will take the shape of a fruit or shell, which determines the classification. For a wood to be classified as a softwood, the seeds will not have a coating and are simply dropped to the ground and left to nature for care.
Examples of hardwoods are walnut, maple, and oak. We have all seen acorns or seen the squirrels burying them for winter food. The seeds are in the hard shells. Examples of softwoods are spruce and pine trees, evergreen conifers. Conifers produce, as you’d expect, cones, which have no hard shells surrounding the nuts.
But, is pine a strong wood? Is pine a hardwood?
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Pine Is a Softwood, But Is It Strong?
We’ve already established that pine is a softwood – – its seeds have no coating. But, pine is a stiff wood; this makes it both durable and strong when used in furniture making. Oak, a hardwood, is a stronger wood than pine, but both offer durability.
Pine can be broken down into additional categories that distinguish its use:
- Soft pine like white pine; and,
- Hard pine like yellow and red pine
White pine is the most common type of pine. It has a low density, a fine texture, and an even, knotty grain. Western white pine is slightly more dense than eastern white pine, but neither is particularly dense.
That low density makes it easier to dent, and scratch, which means it is not as good a choice for floors as a dense wood like oak would be. Nonetheless, with scatter rugs on the high traffic areas and because of its good finishing qualities, pine can still be an attractive choice for floors.
Pine wood properties make it a good choice for furniture. Its color, stiffness, and resistance to shock make it suitable for furniture makers, and even cabinet makers will often opt for pine wood. Pine wood won’t match the strength of a hardwood like oak, but pine wood strength is certainly sufficient for chairs and tables.
Is Pine Wood Stronger Than Plywood?
Generally speaking, no. Solid wood will always be stronger than plywood, most especially in terms of its stiffness. If you’ve used plywood for shelving before, you will have noticed that it will sag much more than a shelve of solid wood. This is as true of pine as it is of other woods.
What Are Pinewood’s Advantages and Disadvantages?
Again, this is a question that is project-determined to an extent. But, there are some advantages and disadvantages to consider when selecting among the common woods available for the home woodworking shop.
- Light in weight
- Easy to work with
- Nice grain
- Readily and steadily available
- Easily scratched and dented
- Defects and flaws, including knots and its tendency to rot
- Requires more regular maintenance and care, especially if exposed to the sun
What Is Pine Wood Best Used For?
We’ve already mentioned furniture as a good use of pine wood. However, if it is exposed to sunlight for a long time, it will crack and weaken.
And yet, it can be and often is a good choice for outdoor decking when pressure-treated. In and of themselves, pine woods do not have particularly good insect or decay resistance. But, pressure-treating pine adds water resistance, resistance to fungus, insects, and rot, fire resistance, and greater durability.
Inside the home, pine is also a good choice for trim and moulding – baseboard, window trim, door frames, chair rails, and picture frames.
In all of these uses, pine wood is easy to work with – light in weight, takes paint, stain, and wax well. Pine wood is also less expensive than hardwoods like oak and maple.
Matching the right wood for the right project is important, and the considerations include a wood’s strength, density, stiffness, durability, and price. Pine wood is a good choice for those projects mentioned and at a reasonable price. It will look good, serve you well, and save you money.
Does Pine Wood Really Make Good Furniture?
Pine furniture. What is it about pine that differs from the big players like cherry, maple and oak wood? Why does it cost less? Even at a lower cost, are you getting your money’s worth for furniture made with pine wood? Will pine furniture last? Is it versatile?
The direct answer: Yes, pine wood does make good furniture. Pine is durable, there’s room to get creative with it, and its versatile nature makes it friendly to existing wood furniture. Now let’s tackle some of these questions about what you’re getting with pine.
Characteristics of Pine Wood
- A common softwood
- Easy to work with
- Light in color offering various shades of cream, yellow and white
- Knots are present, adding to a rustic look
- Easy to stain or paint
- Looks attractive unfinished or with a natural varnish
- Less expensive than hardwoods
- Popular for country and rustic style furniture
Pine is a common softwood, but don’t let that fool you. Pine wood offers plenty of strength, making it a softwood that is used worldwide. Might pine furniture sustain nicks or dents more easily than other harder woods?
The answer is yes, but that does not take it out of the running for serving your home furniture collection well. When it’s built well, pine furniture can last for decades just like hardwoods.
What’s different about pine furniture compared to other wood furniture?
When you compare pine wood furniture to the heaviness of oak, pine is much lighter. This makes it easy to move when you decide it’s time to rearrange furniture.
It’s easy to stain or paint.
Pine wood has a straight grain with a fine, uniform texture. This combined with its light color makes it easy to stain or paint. Not all woods are candidates for a painted finish due to their wood grain. But pine makes it easy, opening up a whole new world of color for wood furniture.
Pine can go colorful or can look simply stunning in its natural state too. It can wear just a natural stain or a coat of varnish and look beautiful.
The different colors pine wood furniture can wear make it very versatile. Light or dark, stained, painted or unfinished give you lots to work with when matching a pine furniture piece with existing furniture.
*Important to note is the development of a yellowish resin on pine wood. Its a natural trait that contributes to pines unique character, but it may show through lighter finishes.
Pine wood furniture is excellent at blending in with other décor. It’s a good match for lots of different styles. While pine wood furniture has been more commonly used for country, rustic, colonial and cottage styles, it has since branched out to include contemporary.
It Loves Distressing
Pine wood furniture leans toward a rustic look, since pine wood features knots that give it a natural, rugged look. Distressing techniques create signs of age and wear, which the knots contribute to. Paired with the straight and fine wood grain, pine wood is a surface that’s easy to work with, including adding distressing techniques like eased edges, indentations, a rubbed paint finish or pin holes.
Why Does Pine Furniture Cost Less?
Pine wood furniture costs less because pine trees grow rapidly and are readily available around the world.
There are dozens of pine species, but the ones used the most for pine wood furniture are classified as white pine and yellow pine. White pine trees grow in eastern North America. They grow to be quite large and are a major source of high-quality wood. Eastern white pine trees can grow to over feet tall, producing long, straight boards with fewer knots.
Since pine trees grow so fast, any that are cut down are quickly replaced with new growth, making pine wood admirable for its contribution to the environment.
Is pine furniture durable enough to last?
Yes. While pine wood is softer than hardwood varieties, it offers a good deal of stiffness, strength and shock resistance.
Pine wood is also more resistant to shrinking and swelling. All solid wood will move in response to humidity, either expanding when its humid or contracting when it’s dry. Pine has minimal shrinking and swelling, maintaining its shape over the years quite well.
With all its positive characteristics, it’s important to note that pine could require more maintenance than other woods since it can scratch or dent more easily. By maintenance, I mean some possible refinishing over the years. (Unless you’ve chosen a distressed finish which hides things like scratches and dents since it’s part of the charm of an aged look).
The style, strength and durability make pine wood furniture a contender among furniture wood options. The fact that it comes with a lower price tag is an added bonus.
Differences Between Oak and Pine Furniture
amishoutletstore June 16, Tips & Tricks
You’re ready for new furniture, but what type of wood should you choose? Deciding between oak vs. pine furniture is a common dilemma for furniture shoppers. These two common options are vastly different in their characteristics, so it’s important to understand the difference between pine and oak wood before making a big investment in either type of furniture. Both options offer pros and cons. The decision often comes down to your priorities and preferences.
Oak Wood Basics
Oak is a popular furniture option for pieces throughout the home, including the living room, dining room and bedroom. Oak is a type of hardwood and is prominent in the U.S. In fact, it’s the most abundant hardwood grown in the United States. Oak trees grow slowly compared to pine trees. Because the trees need a longer growth period, oak wood tends to cost a lot more. That slow growth also produces dense wood, which creates a strong, durable construction that holds up well for many different applications.
Furniture made from oak is certainly not a new concept. The wood has been used in furniture making for centuries, making it one of the oldest material options. Oak was a popular option in England with the British Tudor monarchs, and it continues to appease consumers. You may see some style changes throughout the years, but oak has been a staple in the furniture world throughout history.
Oak is a very versatile wood when it comes to building furniture. It is often associated with traditional furniture styles, but it also fits into a modern aesthetic. The wood works for almost any style of furniture, from traditional to modern. It comes in a range of natural colors, from very light to dark. That color variation happens because oak comes in two different species: white oak and red oak.
White oak has the lightest color and is the more durable of the two types. It has a natural waterproofing quality that makes it durable for outdoor applications. Historically, white oak has been used for ships, barrels and other items kept outdoors and exposed to water.
Red oak has a darker color, which can range from cream to warm brown with reddish streaks. It is often used for cabinets, flooring and furniture. The grain looks similar for both varieties of oak with slightly longer, yellow rays and flecks noticeable in white oak and swirling patterns in red oak.
Pros and Cons of Oak Furniture
Oak is a popular furniture option, but it’s important to understand how it functions within the home. Looking at the pros and cons of the wood gives you a better idea of whether it’s the best option for your furniture needs.
Check out these pros of oak wood furniture:
- Hardwearing. Oak furniture is very hard, which means it is very resilient and long lasting. Pieces made from oak are less likely to show signs of wear or damage. This is a huge plus for active families, particularly for pieces that get used all the time, such as dining room sets.
- Versatile use. Oak wood works for almost any furniture application. While the hardness does make it a bit more difficult to work with than softer woods, oak has the strength to withstand use in seating, tables, beds and other furniture pieces. You can choose oak pieces for every room and purpose to create a coordinated look, all while knowing the wood is strong enough for all those different furniture pieces.
- Versatile look. Oak is used to make furniture in almost every style. The color and grain make it a versatile wood that works in almost any setting, from modern to rustic.
- Timeless design. Using oak in furniture is nothing new, and the trend isn’t going to change. That means choosing a piece of oak furniture is something that grows with you as your style changes. The timeless look you get from oak makes it a solid choice for any furniture application.
- Investment piece. Furniture made from oak has the potential to last decades. Many oak pieces are passed down through the generations because they are so strong and enduring.
- Distinct grain. Oak has a very distinctive wavy grain that gives it a unique look. Oak is considered a very beautiful wood for furniture. It looks great with a simple clear coat.
- Resistance to warping. Oak furniture resists warping over time, which adds to its longevity. The oak wood is cut to resist warping further.
- Low maintenance. Because of its resilient nature and durability, oak furniture is very low maintenance. It needs occasional cleaning and polishing, but it retains its good looks without a lot of care on your part.
- Readily available. You don’t have to look far to find oak furniture. Because of its popularity, furniture made of oak is easy to get for your home compared to more exotic or rare woods. That also means you can easily add to your oak furniture collection over the years while still getting that same signature oak look.
Be sure to look at the potential drawbacks of a particular type of wood to make sure you can live with them. Consider the following cons of oak furniture:
- Price. For some people, the cost of oak furniture is a negative. Oak wood does cost more than pine due to the longer growing time. However, a piece of oak furniture will last indefinitely with proper care. When you spread the cost out over the decades of use you get from the furniture, the cost is very reasonable.
- Weight. Oak is a heavy wood, which gives it a substantial, quality feel. That weight can be a problem when you want to move the furniture, though. Keep the weight in mind if you like to rearrange your furniture frequently or if you move a lot. Hiring movers to handle the lifting is well worth it if you have lots of oak furniture. If you don’t plan to move the furniture, the weight really isn’t an issue, and it can be a pro due to the increased stability and strength of the piece.
Is Oak Wood Good for Furniture?
The answer to this question is resounding yes. It has a few potential drawbacks, but, overall, oak is a very good choice for furniture. Oak is strong, durable and resists everyday wear and tear while offering natural beauty that fits into almost any home style. Its timeless design means you can keep your oak furniture pieces in your décor as long as you want them.
Pine Wood Basics
Pine trees are considered a softwood tree, which means the wood is softer than hardwood varieties. Pine trees grow around the world, not just in the U.S. Pine has a great deal of stiffness and resistance to shock, which makes it a solid choice for many furniture pieces. Pine tends to be easier to work with during the furniture building stage due to its softer nature.
Like oak, pine furniture has been around for some time. Traditionally, pine was used for Colonial, rustic and craftsman style pieces. That is changing, with pine working for a variety of furniture styles, including contemporary pieces.
Pine is light in color, usually with a creamy white look, although the specific shade can vary somewhat. Some varieties produce a very white color. Others lean toward a yellowish look. The light color makes pine easy to stain to achieve nearly any color you want, or you can simply use a clear coat to protect the wood while letting the natural light color take center stage. Pine also has a prominent grain with knots darker than the wood itself, which gives it a distinct look.
Pros and Cons of Pine Furniture
Pine furniture comes with its own set of pros and cons, depending on your needs. Consider the following pros of pine wood furniture:
- Price. Pine furniture is often much cheaper than oak versions of the same pieces. The fast growth of pine trees is the main reason for this price difference. Pine trees take less care and have a shorter time to market, which enables growers to sell the wood at a lower price. If you’re focused primarily on price, pine is an attractive option.
- Color. Because of its light color, pine furniture fits in well with other furnishings in your home. It has a versatile look that also pairs well with various wall colors, patterns and other details in your décor.
- Options to change the color. Pine is an easy wood to stain to achieve your desired color. This gives you a wide variety of finish options, including stain and paint. You can also stick with the natural color by opting for a clear coat. Pine takes various finishes well, so you get quality results no matter what finish option you choose.
- Stiffness. Pine is a very stiff wood. This makes it durable and strong when used in furniture. It’s not quite as strong as oak, but it does still offer durability.
- Lighter in weight. While furniture made from pine is still moderately heavy and sturdy, it is lighter than oak. That lighter weight is a pro when it comes to moving furniture pieces. Rearranging your furniture is easier with the lower weight, so consider pine if you like to change up the look of your room.
- Shock resistance. Pine is resistant to shock, which helps minimize the damage of impact.
- Distinctive look. Pine has a very distinct look with its dark knots and light wood color. If this style fits your preferences, that distinct look is a benefit worth considering.
- Less environmental impact. Because pine trees grow so quickly, the trees that are cut down are soon replaced with new growth. Pine trees grow well on plantations or farms with little impact on natural habitats, whereas oak used in furniture typically comes from old growth forests.
- Resistant to shrinking and swelling. While any wood can shrink and swell due to differences in humidity and temperature, pine is resistant to the damage. By minimizing that shrinking and swelling, pine retains its original shape.
There are also some cons to consider with pine furniture. Some of those potential negatives include:
- Less style versatility. While pine can work for most styles, it does tend to lean more toward a country or rustic look. If you prefer a more modern style, you may find pine doesn’t fit your tastes.
- Increased signs of wear. Pine does have a stiff quality about it, but the wood doesn’t offer as much strength and resistance to wear as oak wood does. Pine can dent and scratch easily. If you’re planning to keep the piece indefinitely, oak is likely a better choice.
- More maintenance. Because of its tendency to scratch, get damaged and gain a patina over time, pine often requires more maintenance than oak. If you don’t mind the aged look, you can get by with less maintenance. However, if you want to retain the pine furniture’s original condition, you may need to refinish the piece and repair the damage that occurs.
- Potential for excessive knots. When choosing pine furniture, watch for knots, particularly if they form a hole into the furniture. Excessive knotting can cause weakness in the furniture. Choose a reputable manufacturer to ensure you purchase a piece with quality construction.
Is Pine Wood Good for Furniture?
While pine is very different than oak, it is also a good choice for furniture, depending on your purpose. It may not last quite as long as oak, but pine is still a strong, shock-resistant material suitable for furniture, particularly if you like the rustic or country styles. Over time, pine gains a patina that gives it an antique-like quality, which is an appealing look to some people. The dents and dings that are bound to show up in the wood just add to that aged look.
Similarities Between Pine and Oak
These two wood types are very different in many ways, starting with the softwood vs. hardwood nature. Each has certain pros and cons that can sway your decision. However, they do share some similarities. Both oak and pine are durable. While oak has an advantage in the strength department, pine does offer strength and stiffness that makes it a solid choice.
Both types of wood are susceptible to damage from extensive exposure to moisture, heat and UV rays. Positioning either type in front of window may cause damage to the wood, as can placing the pieces near heat vents. While pine does resist warping and bowing, excessive moisture can damage any type of wood.
Oak and pine both have distinctive, beautiful looks. They may look very different from one another, but both feature detailing in the wood grain patterning that gives your furniture a distinct style. You can also stain either type of wood furniture to change the look or enhance the grain.
Wood for Outdoor Furniture
Selecting a wood type for outdoor furniture is a little more complicated. Outdoor furniture requires more durability to hold up to the outdoor elements, including UV rays, moisture, dirt and weather. Oak wood is good for outdoor furniture because it tends to resist water damage. White oak, in particular, is ideal for outdoor applications due to its tight grain and lack of open pores.
Red oak is more likely to rot and show wear, so it’s best left to indoor furniture applications. If you choose white oak outdoor furniture, a proper outdoor finish is still essential to preserve the wood. While the wood won’t weaken, it will darken in color over time, sometimes reaching a dark brown to black color without proper preservation.
Deciding if pine wood is good for outdoor furniture depends on the location. Pine furniture used in a protected outdoor area can hold up for a while, but using it for furniture exposed to the weather elements is a recipe for rot and damage. Pressure-treated pine wood that is sometimes used for decks and other outdoor structures doesn’t typically work well for furniture.
Deciding Between Oak Furniture and Pine Furniture
Oak and pine are both popular options in furniture currently. Oak has always been a strong contender in all areas of furniture making, and it continues to appeal to a wide range of consumers. Pine is expanding beyond its rustic origins with greater versatility in styles. Exploring the difference between pine and oak furniture helps you narrow down the selection.
If you’re still not sure which wood option is best for you, consider the following factors:
- Your budget. The amount you have to spend is a factor in buying furniture. If you have a small budget with no wiggle room, pine can be an affordable option. Oak furniture costs more than pine, but that doesn’t always mean it’s outside of your price range, even if your budget is limited.
You may be surprised at what you can find in oak in your target price range. Also, consider that oak is more of an investment purchase because it lasts so long. You pay more upfront for the furniture pieces, but you get your money’s worth because of the piece’s long life.
- Expected life of the furniture. How long do you plan to keep the furniture pieces? If you want a piece to keep indefinitely, oak is a good choice. In fact, with proper care, you can pass the oak furniture on to your children. Pine still offers years of use and creates strong, stiff furniture that is an affordable, quality option for pieces that don’t need to last forever.
For example, pine may be fine for kids’ furniture that may be replaced as your child gets older.
- Amount of furniture use. Oak is more resistant to wear, scratching and dents than pine, so it works well for furniture that will get heavy daily use. This is especially true for pieces such as desks or tables where you come into direct contact with the wood during the course of your activities.
- Location of furniture. Both pine and oak wood furniture pieces hold up well indoors under ideal conditions. Choose a wood type that fits well with our other furniture pieces. If you’re looking for outdoor wooden furniture, stick with white oak for the best results.
- Maintenance. If you want a low-maintenance option, oak tends to require less work to maintain the original appearance. Pine sometimes takes more work to prevent or repair the damage that sometimes occurs due to its soft nature.
- Your decorating habits. For larger pieces, how often you plan to rearrange is a consideration. Large oak pieces are very heavy, making them difficult to move if you want to reposition them. Pine is still a hefty wood, but it is lighter in weight to make moving easier. If you like to keep your furniture in one spot, the weight won’t be an issue for either wood.
- Type of furniture. While you can find almost any type of furniture in both oak and pine, some furniture pieces are better suited for a particular type of wood. Oak is a suitable option for dining tables that get lots of use. The heavy weight of oak is ideal for dining chairs to keep them stable and prevent tipping. Pine is often suitable for bedroom furniture, especially in children’s rooms.
After evaluating these factors, you may decide both pine and oak work for your lifestyle in various areas. For example, you might outfit your kids’ bedrooms with pine furniture and use oak in the dining room. You’ll find a wide range of styles and prices in both types. When choosing furniture, look for a reputable company that uses quality materials and reliable construction methods. This ensures your piece lasts longer no matter what type of wood you choose.
Whether you choose pine or oak furniture, you are making an investment in your home. Consider AmishOutletStore.com for your next solid wood purchase to ensure you get quality construction and premium materials. Sign up for our newsletter to learn more about our furniture.
by Eric Meier
Pine is pine, right? Not quite. Theres quite a range in density and strength when it comes to the Pinus genus. Take one of the species of southern yellow pine, Shortleaf Pine, for instance: it has strength properties that are roughly equivalent to Red Oak (with the notable exception of hardness)—and in some categories, such as compression strength parallel to the grain, the pine is actually stronger!
Yet there are also a lot of types of pine that are considerably weaker, and while they certainly have a prominent place in the construction industry, by using all species interchangeably with the generic name pine, we create a very inaccurate picture of this interesting wood genus!
It can help to know what youve really got, so lets go over some of the key types of pine seen today:
The Soft Pines
This group is characterized by pines with a low density, even grain, and a gradual earlywood to latewood transition. Species within this group can’t be reliably separated from one another, but it can be helpful to recognize their features in order to distinguish them from the hard pines.There are three principal species of soft pine:
Of the three, Eastern White Pine tends to have the finest texture (i.e., smallest diameter tracheids) and the smallest resin canals. Sugar Pine, by contrast, has the coarsest texture and the largest resin canals. Western White Pine falls somewhere between the two previously mentioned species. All species weigh close to the same amount, with average dried weights ranging from 25 to 28 lbs/ft3.
The fourth species in the soft pine group, not nearly as commonly used:
The Hard Pines
This group is somewhat opposite of the soft pines, not only in obvious areas of hardness and density, but also in regards to earlywood to latewood transition, and grain evenness. Hard pines in general tend to have a more abrupt transition from earlywood to latewood, and have an uneven grain appearance (though there can be certain species that are exceptions). Overall, average dried weights for hard pine species range from 28 to 42 lbs/ft3.
Subgroup A: Southern Yellow Pines
The major species in this group fit into the signature hard pine profile: they have the highest densities (between 36 to 42 lbs/ft3 average dried weight), very abrupt earlywood to latewood transitions, and are very uneven grained. All of the species in this grouping are essentially indistinguishable from one another—even under microscopic examination.The four major species of southern yellow pine are:
Additionally, there are a number of other minor species that comprise southern yellow pine. These species are used much less frequently for lumber than the major species, and have slightly lower densities as well (from 32 to 36 lbs/ft3 on average). Some of the minor species of southern yellow pine are:
Finally, one additional species is commonly grown on plantations and is nearly identical to the four principal species of southern yellow pine listed above:
Subgroup B: Western Yellow Pines
This grouping can be thought of as an intermediate position between the soft pines and the hard pines. Unlike southern yellow pines, this group doesn’t quite fit the bill of the usual characteristics of hard pines. Although the included species have relatively abrupt earlywood to latewood transitions, they tend to be lighter in weight, (average dried weights range from 28 to 29 lbs/ft3), and have a more even grain appearance. The two main species in this grouping are so similar in working characteristics that they are sold and marketed interchangeably. Construction lumber from this group is stamped with the initials PP-LP, representing the two species of western yellow pine:
Although these two woods are difficult to distinguish from an anatomical standpoint, (Ponderosa Pine tends to have slightly larger resin canals), they can sometimes be separated by viewing the wood on a larger scale.
Ponderosa Pine trees typically have larger trunk diameters than Lodgepole Pine (two to four feet for Ponderosa versus one to two feet for Lodgepole). Accordingly, the wood of Ponderosa Pine usually furnishes wider, more knot-free wood, and has broader arcs in the growth rings when compared to Lodgepole Pine.
A third, much less common species is very closely related to Ponderosa Pine:
Jeffrey Pine and Ponderosa Pine are anatomically indistinguishable, and no commercial distinction is made between the lumber of the two species—both are simply sold as Ponderosa Pine.
A few other miscellaneous yellow pines that are not quite western, but share many of the same traits as the species mentioned above are:
Jack Pine grows further east (and north), and is commonly mixed with various species of spruce, pine, and fir and stamped with the abbreviation SPF. Generally, dimpling on flatsawn surfaces will appear more subdued and less common in Jack Pine than in Lodgepole Pine.
Native to coastal California, today Radiata Pine is grown almost exclusively on plantations—most notably in Chile, Australia, and New Zealand. In the southern hemisphere, where true pines are essentially absent, it’s the most commonly cultivated pine, and is valued for its fast growth and utility—both as a source of construction lumber, as well as wood pulp in the paper industry.
Subgroup C: Red Pines
In the United States, this group is composed of only one species:
Theres also a couple of closely related species found in Europe:
Subgroup D: Pinyon Pines
Earlywood to latewood transition abrupt, narrow growth rings, numerous resin canals, increased weight, small diameter, interesting smell, seldom used for lumber.
With pine woodworking
When the early European explorers “discovered America,” one of the most important resources was eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) timber. These trees were tall, straight, and plentiful.
They would provide excellent masts for sailing ships (white pine is strong and limber) as well as much of the lumber needed for internal framing and sheathing for ships. This resource was harvested over the past years providing the housing, farm buildings, and furniture and cabinet needs of the growing U.S. population. Laura Wilder’s book “House in the Big Woods” is about this resource when it was just beginning to be harvested in the late s in Wisconsin.
Today, white pine is not a dominant tree in most of our forests, but it has been making a good recovery and now we are beginning to see some very nice size trees. About half of the pine lumber comes from New England and a third from the Great Lakes states; the remainder from the Middle Atlantic and Southern Atlantic states.
White pine furniture, millwork, and cabinets remain popular in the U.S. markets. Although pine can be used for structural lumber (2x4, 2x6s, and so on), the clearer wood is more profitable if used for secondary manufacturing. The knotty material, however, often is used in structural products. The key to profitable and wise utilization of pine timber today is to cut it efficiently into valuable lumber.
Processing Suggestions and Characteristics
Density. Eastern white pine is a light weight softwood, averaging about 23 pounds per cubic foot at 8 percent MC. This is one-half of the weight of oak.
Drying. Although EWP dries very quickly with almost no risk of warp and checking, drying must be carefully controlled, because of color concerns. Chemicals in the wood are oxidized, if drying is too slow, turning the wood rather dark brown. Such coloration is called brown stain, coffee stain, or kiln burn. Kiln-drying should begin ASAP after sawing, with relative humidities in the drier being quite low to avoid the stain. Low temperatures (under F when the wood is wet) are also required to avoid darker coloring.
Shrinkage in drying is under 4 percent.
Final moisture contents for EWP should be between 8 to percent MC. Slight MC variation is permitted due to EWP’s low shrinkage. Drying below percent MC increases the risk of shelling and grain tear-out; drying above percent MC increases the risk of subsequent shrinkage during manufacturing or in use.
Gluing and Machining. EWP is one of the easiest woods to glue; it is very forgiving if surfaces are not quite perfect. Pressure must be uniform and not too high. Any commonly used wood adhesive will perform very well.
Because of the uniform texture and low density, EWP machines well, provided the MC is correct. Tools must be sharp; likewise, sandpaper must not be worn. Due to swirly grain around knots, the rake angle is often a few degrees larger than for higher density hardwoods. Excessive pressures from knives or machine components can cause shelling or raised grain.
Stability. EWP is one of the most stable woods in North America, changing about 1 percent in size for each 5 percent MC change running across the grain parallel to the rings (tangentially), and about 1 percent size change for each 15 percent MC change across the rings (radially). This is one of the most stable woods.
Strength. EWP is one of the weaker native softwoods. Bending strength (MOR) averages psi. Hardness averages pounds. Stiffness (MOE) averages million psi.
Color and Grain. The wood of EWP does have obvious annual growth rings but not as obvious in contrast as some of the other pines. The wood will have red knots (the branch was alive when the tree grew around it) and black knots (the branch was dead and the knot is loose). The wood, when fresh, is very light in color. After drying the wood is typically very light brown with a reddish hue at times; exposure to light darkens the wood color further. The grain is usually quite straight; warping risks are minimal, except in areas containing compression wood.
Historical Tidbits. Eastern white pine resource in the northeastern U.S. was a critical resource for the sailing-ship dominance of the British in early European settlement of the U.S. Trees that were straight and branch free for many feet up the set, were marked by the Crown and could not be cut by the early settlers, even if the tree was in the middle of a farm field. Supposedly, there were a lot of trees cut down in the middle of the night. Also, some historians suggest that the famous Boston Tea Party was “fueled” by this harvesting ban.
After the Revolutionary War, the British moved their eastern white pine operations to the region we now call Green Bay, Wisconsin, and operated there for many years, shipping through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.
Woodworking With Pine
Pine is among the most common species of softwood available in home centers today. When woodworking with pine, there are many species from which to choose, but they all tend to get lumped in together and are commonly regarded as being somewhat utilitarian in nature (good only for building shelving, framing, or other projects not typically associated with fine woodworking).
While pine has its limitations, this is a rather unfortunate outlook. Stable pine, particularly that of a more antique nature, is among the most revered of wood stock and can be more stable than popular hardwoods such as maple or cherry.
In the US, the two most commonly available varieties of pine are Eastern white and yellow pine. Yellow pine is a bit harder than Eastern white pine and can be a bit more difficult to cut. However, when used properly, either can give fantastic results.
Most of the limitations fall into two categories. For one thing, pine tends to scratch or dent easily. Second, pine from the lumber yard is typically sold a bit wetter than optimum. This can lead to movement in the wood as it acclimates to the local environment. Fortunately, both of these limitations can be dealt with rather easily.
Pine (and it's cousins, Spruce and Fir, which make up the SPF triumvirate type of wood used to make most construction materials) is often kiln-dried but rarely is as dry as optimally needed for fine woodworking. As such, when this construction material reaches a job site, it is used as quickly as possible to avoid twists, bows, and cups. The old construction axiom of "use it the day you get it" really can't apply to fine woodworking applications of pine.
A better approach would be to pick through the stock at the home center for the best pieces you can find, then stack them carefully at your shop lumber storage location for a few months and allow them to acclimatize to the local environment. Look for a clean stock with as few knots as possible, preferably somewhat resembling quarter-sawn (with the grain lines perpendicular to the longer axis in the end grain). By allowing a stack of this wood to reach a state of equilibrium with the environment, aided by the weight of the other boards in the stack, you should have some relatively stable pine with which to work.
Of course, one should always be on the lookout for antique pine timbers. There is little more satisfying in woodworking than obtaining some year-old antique long-leaf pine from an old abandoned barn or house and turning that recycled lumber into works of art.
After your stock has had a chance to reach a state of equilibrium with the environment, you may still have some cupping or warping issues with which to deal. Fortunately, this is why we have surface planers and jointers.
Dealing With Pitch
Pine has a reputation for leaving a lot of pitch (or pine tar) on woodworking blades. While properly curing the pine will help immensely in dealing with excessive pitch, there are still a number of tips that can be used for removing pitch buildup from blades. For basic cleaning, use a quality all-purpose cleaner such as three tablespoons of a natural laundry soap mixed in a quart spray bottle filled with water. This does a great job of removing pitch from blades and bits, particularly before the pitch buildup has gotten too heavy.
Keep Your Tools Sharp
In addition to keeping your blades and bits as pitch-free as possible, you should also make certain that your blades and bits are quite sharp when working with pine. Because of the relatively soft nature of the wood, a less-than-sharp blade or bit will tend to crush the wood instead of cutting cleanly. This will lead to a lot of chipping and splintering in the cuts, and less than optimum results.
Scratches and Dents
As mentioned earlier, fresh pine also is relatively easy to dent and scratch. To address this when building with pine, keep a clean work surface, removing any loose wood chips, tools, or fasteners from the work table. When working on the shop floor, a cut-up cardboard box will protect the surface of the wood from imperfections on the floor quite nicely.
Should a scratch occur, you should be able to remove it relatively easily with a random orbital sander.
Dents can be a little more tricky to address. Old-school carpenters commonly use a generous dab of saliva to address a hammer dent in pine (that's a nice way to say that they spit on the dent). The moisture tends to fill the crushed stock, and 20 to 30 minutes later, the dent is barely noticeable.
While we're certainly not advocating a similar procedure in the woodshop on a fine woodworking project, the principle is similar. A damp cloth positioned over the spot covered with a hot iron for a few seconds will often remove the blemish. The steam works its way into the fibers and camouflages the dent.
When finishing pine, be certain that the wood has had ample time to acclimatize to the local environment. If you built the project before allowing the wood to reach a state of equilibrium, you'd be wise to allow that time before finishing. Without waiting for the wood to equalize with the surrounding environment, your finish will not be as durable as desired.
For painted projects, be sure to caulk all joints and fill all nail/screw holes appropriately. Then, after a final sanding, use a few coats of a quality primer before applying the desired layers of topcoat paint.
For stained projects on pine, it's important to use a pre-stain conditioner. This conditioner will even out the color of the stain across the project, providing a much more consistent color than a project not using such conditioner.
After applying the conditioner as recommended by the manufacturer, you can apply the stain and protective finish (such as polyurethane) of your choice.
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