Pine Wood: An Overall Guide

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.

Get the hard copy

wood-book-standupIf you’re interested in getting all that makes The Wood Database unique distilled into a single, real-world resource, there’s the book that’s based on the website—the Amazon.com best-seller, WOOD! Identifying and Using Hundreds of Woods Worldwide. It contains many of the most popular articles found on this website, as well as hundreds of wood profiles—laid out with the same clarity and convenience of the website—packaged in a shop-friendly hardcover book.

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Stacy

Is Larch a pine? Does it have another name? Is it a hard or softwood?

Ed B

I wasn’t able to upload pics from my phone, but this is what it looks like.

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Gemma

We have sanded this outdoor table back to its natural look. What type of wood do you think this is?

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Mary

I have just moved to Ireland and have not yet investigated which categories are available for flooring. Plan on having the same pine flooring throughout the house other than the bathroom. If I have a choice what would you recommend? Thank you, Mary

abolfazl

hey is sasna a pine tree ?

Milan

Yes indeed, “sosan/sasna” i Slavic languages means “pine”

Charlotte

Why does the grain in pine have a strong contrast between the light and dark stripes. Why are the stripes wide apart and also why are the light stripes wider than the dark ones? For a school project. Any help at all will be greatly appreciated.

Carla

If my very old pumpkin pine floors (1800’s) are sanded, will their patina be lost? And what final seal coat would you recommended for these floors?

jeff lachapelle

I’m wondering why the pine I just milled is so heavy? I know its green, but the 1×4″sI’ive cut are extremely heavy and need to know if there may be too much sap content in the wood to use for furniture building?

Steffen Saabye

Here’s a small, 5.0 cm x 13.5 cm x 9.0 cm, Egyptian jewelry box in Persian ‘khatam’ design and technique from late 20th century. On the bottom you can see the wood it’s made of. It looks to me like Pinus sylvestris. But is that possible ? Do they grow that kind of wood in Egypt or have they imported the box without decoration and decorated it themselves ? What do you think ?

DHW

I need to rebuild a 3 season porch- is there an eastern pine species that would be a good choice to tolerate New England weather?

Brie

I have a knotty pine armchair that is approximately 65 years old. I believe the pine was sourced from East Texas. The chair has always seemed quite sturdy and there is no sign of warping anywhere. However, there are a few shallow indentations in the arms (which are wide and flat), almost as though someone was using them as a writing surface and pressing hard with a ballpoint pen. Is the chair worth restoring, or does the type of wood make that impractical? Thank you in advance for considering my question.

David

Eric has a point. The huge majority of antique furniture is rarely worth as much as people hope. Almost never the value of new made, especially by hand. So, the true value in a given piece is sentiment. If you want the piece, restore it. If you wanna turn a profit, forget it.

Peter Fenwick

In South Africa we have Pinus Radiata, how does that compare? It’s a relatively soft wood as it grows quite quickly here in the heat.

Tania

i need someone to explain to me why people get confused when i ask for clear pine lumber and hem fir lumber?

Gary Davis

We are shopping for home office furniture. We found a desk and other items we like the style of, however, it is made from Vietnamese Pine. We are afraid it will be really soft and not durable. Do you know anything about the characteristics of this pine?

Don Keith Opper

Does anyone know anything about Italian Stone Pine?

Wm

Doing a patio room with exposed ceiling of 2×6 SPF tongue and groove, that we plan to stain. Would the appearance of the Ponderosa Pine be worth the apparent extra $ 0.40/ lf? thanks

Jen

My home has a large sunroom with a vaulted pine ceiling. Above it is an attic space with blown-in insulation. The room always has an odor to it in hot weather (never in winter). It’s really bad when we turn the ceiling fan on and but then it dissipates. We’ve had the roof replaced, and the contractor saw no sign of water damage or mold. An air quality specialist couldn’t determine the source, either. Now, someone has suggested the odor is from “off-gassing” of the pine, especially if the underside was not coated with anything. Does this sound feasible?

Nazar

Hu,

Could you please recommend any other pine to replace Kiln dried US southern Yellow Pine with similar density and screwing capacity from South America or Europe.

Andrei

Caribbean pine

Lina

Is the Rusian Pine resistant enough for an outdoor furniture, and strong enough to hold
300 Lbs. (approx. weight for 2 adults)?
I am Planning to buy a hammock base made with this wood and is expensive, so i would like to know more about the qualities of this wood, before making my final decision.

John Nephew

I would imagine that “Russian Pine” is probably Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), which is found from western Europe to Siberia and is the pine you typically find across Scandinavia and northern Russia. Look at its individual page for characteristics: https://www.wood-database.com/scots-pine/

My guess is that this pine is good for building construction (and has been used for it for thousands of years). As for its longevity for an outdoor use, you might check to see if it’s pressure treated with chemicals for rot resistance, if it’s intended to have direct contact with the ground.

Dhaval P Shah

any information about( Russian )pine for building construction

Kristin

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

gj

any information about Russian pine for building construction

anne J

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

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

burak

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

Timothy Taylor

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.

Barbie doll

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

Clint Youngblood

comment image comment image comment image

How can i visual distinguish between New Heart and Yellow pine?

Kuldeep Yadav

what are the uses of Pine burada?

Annu

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

gdod25

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.

????? ?????????

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

????? ?????????

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.

Nathan Howard

Any identification questions can be answered here https://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.

Ron

what is mexican pine?

josh

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

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.

Posy Evans Parsons

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.

Adeline See

Which types of pine is suitable for horse bedding?

Girish Lashkar

How to identified pinewood and hardwood

Roger

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

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.

frai

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

liz

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

Nosch

parana pine is very dense and hard wood , does not filter as high frequencies , is not good as a tonewood , very heavy for stratos and teles, and will not sound good as a ash and alder

dan

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

Timberjax

what are the common features on all of these pine species