by Eric Meier

Pine is pine, right? Not quite. There’s 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 you’ve really got, so let’s 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:

There’s 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.

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29 Comments

  1. Kristin May 6, 2018 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    Would you use southern white pine for flooring? Can it be stained dark?

    • Eric May 7, 2018 at 10:37 am - Reply

      No, the wood is too soft for flooring.

  2. gj March 17, 2018 at 6:06 am - Reply

    any information about Russian pine for building construction

  3. anne J January 23, 2018 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Hi..I bought a bedroom set called ‘Corona Mexican Pine.’ Unfortunately one of the shelves split in two,and I would like to know if there is any way to fix it,as it doesn’t seem I can replace it.
    Ideally I would want it to be weight-bearing, tho’ I realise this may not be possible.
    Would some type of glue fix it,and if so,which one?
    Ideas much appreciated.:)

    • Jim Kilbert February 19, 2018 at 11:04 am - Reply

      I have a thick cherry wood coffee table that was salvaged from an old home.It came with a split but had been “repaired” by cutting several bow-tie shaped pegs to keep table together. Hopefully, a woodworker near you can help. If you decide to glue it use elmer’s wood glue and it will need to be clamped tight together to dry… Hope this helps

  4. burak January 15, 2018 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    any data on Pinus brutia? the lumber I have come across has seemed pretty hard for a pine.

  5. Timothy Taylor January 10, 2018 at 11:32 am - Reply

    Does linseed oil make a good sealant under oil-based paints for exterior wood window? Seems the oil-based primers just don’t seem to hold up well with water penetration in wet/dry cycle environments.

  6. Barbie doll November 14, 2017 at 6:52 am - Reply

    Pitch pine can it with hold weather conditions .rain,sun etc..

  7. Kuldeep Yadav September 5, 2017 at 2:32 am - Reply

    what are the uses of Pine burada?

  8. Annu April 20, 2017 at 4:57 am - Reply

    Its good that u shared the variety of pines that would be beneficial for us.Thankyou for sharing.

  9. gdod25 March 11, 2017 at 11:18 am - Reply

    If your doing a dark finish the difference in color can be extreme as the softer absorbs and the harder does not. Even a stain blocker will not help much.

  10. ????? ????????? March 2, 2017 at 9:00 am - Reply

    Hi there.

    I happen to have some pinus pinea (stone pine) and I intend to use it for making a guitar. Unfortunately I did not see any reference in your website in this species. Do you have perhaps any information on this tree? Or maybe any information for which of the species you describe best fits the characteristics of this tree?
    Thanks for the great job you have done so far!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_pine

    • ejmeier March 2, 2017 at 10:18 am - Reply

      I don’t have any direct experience with this wood. It appears that, at least botnaically, it is closely related to Maritime Pine, so if I had to guess, I’d say that its properties were closest to this species. http://www.wood-database.com/maritime-pine/

      • ????? ????????? April 20, 2017 at 7:39 am - Reply

        Thank you very much for quick answer! In case you want a sample of this wood I will be glad to send you one. Just ask.

  11. Nathan Howard January 6, 2017 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    Any identification questions can be answered here http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/DENDROLOGY/factsheets.cfm also you can check out the Virginia tech tree id app it’s very informative. Pines are actually a lot easier to identify than most people think, but once you know what to look for you will be able to identify them from a 100 feet away just by looking at the growth form.

  12. Ron December 20, 2016 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    what is mexican pine?

  13. josh September 20, 2016 at 10:13 am - Reply

    Hi there. I will be making a double loft bed in my boys room, so they can keep the floor open for a play area. Wondering about the strength and durability of a southern yellow pine (like sold in the large chain DIY stores.) I would go with an oak or something nicer, but my wife and boys want to paint it rather than stain. Does anyone have any experience with this? Should I expect it to sag over time or should I spend extra time drying it?

    Thanks,
    Josh

    • John Nephew June 16, 2017 at 8:21 am - Reply

      Southern yellow pine lumber should be great material for building
      lofts/bunkbeds. Look for straight grain and avoid large knots, around
      which the wood may twist as it dries to indoor equalibrium moisture
      content. Even better is to buy wider boards like 2×10 or 2×12 and rip
      the boards you need from them, using the clear straight-grained parts.
      Remember to avoid any piece that includes the very center of the log
      (the pith), around which you’ll tend to see cracking and unpredictable
      twisting.

  14. Posy Evans Parsons September 15, 2016 at 6:44 am - Reply

    What about outside front doors? Would a southern pine be hard enough wearing and robust for the weathering of a well-used main access door to my house? It has full sun and rain exposure.

  15. Adeline See May 19, 2016 at 2:20 am - Reply

    Which types of pine is suitable for horse bedding?

  16. Girish Lashkar September 18, 2015 at 2:40 am - Reply

    How to identified pinewood and hardwood

  17. Roger August 23, 2015 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    Does anyone know the characteristics of Oaxaca pine from Oaxaca, México? It is harder and denser than pine we get here (Puebla, Mexico) from Brazil. It sounds like Oaxaca pine is similar to Southern yellow pine. Thanks!

    • Stephanie Briggs March 23, 2016 at 11:25 am - Reply

      i know that this pine from puebla always seems to crack in the furniture when brought up to Canada… LOL it is also redder than the one used in the south america.

  18. frai October 20, 2014 at 11:17 am - Reply

    I heard parana pine although knotty is a cheap alternative to ash or alder.
    for building guitars..

    • liz March 31, 2015 at 4:07 am - Reply

      swamp ash is a really nice body for a guitar, I made a 72′ thinline from Warmoth with a swamp ash body

  19. dan October 11, 2014 at 8:15 pm - Reply

    good question timberjax! i was wondering what type is typically referred to as “heart pine” when you see reclaimed pine.

  20. Timberjax August 25, 2014 at 2:21 am - Reply

    what are the common features on all of these pine species

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