Pine is pine, right? Not quite. Different species of pine trees can produce very different qualities in lumber, so they’re not all suitable for the same uses. Southern yellow pine, for instance, has a high load-bearing capacity, but it can be difficult to work with, and if you want to stain it, results can be unpredictable. Deal pine, which is often imported from Europe, has very pronounced grain and rings.
Eastern white pine (pinus strobus), on the other hand, has a more delicate grain, excellent strength for its weight and a fine texture ideal for detailed woodworking. It’s used for both structural and secondary purposes, from timber frame houses and barns to fine millwork and cabinetry.
A lightweight softwood, Eastern White Pine dries very quickly with little risk of warp or checking. The sapwood, which makes up most of the tree, is a lovely pale yellow-white that darkens naturally with exposure to sunlight, but also takes stain nicely. Affordable and readily available, it’s used extensively in all facets of woodworking and carpentry. If you’re new to woodworking and want to give it a shot, here are some tips to get the best results possible.
Source your Eastern White Pine straight from lumberyards, if you can, where it has been professionally dried and stored, and look for clean, straight stock. It’s best if you give your lumber some time to acclimate to your shop environment after purchase, which will make it stronger, drier and more stable when you’re ready to use it. Keep your work surface free of debris to avoid unwanted dents, but if you do have a dent or two, just position a damp cloth over the spot and heat it with an iron for a few seconds to allow the fibers to swell back into place.
Eastern White Pine absorbs stain easily, which is a great quality, but you’ll want to finely sand the end grain to keep its color even with the rest of the wood. Use good quality stains and consider using a pre-stain conditioner for the most even results. If you’re worried about resin, you can buy small pieces of pine from craft suppliers that are already cut and milled to size, but the sap wipes up with a dab of “Simple Green” or commercial pitch and resin remover.
“When people are learning to use hand tools, I often recommend that they start with Eastern white pine, and here is why,” says Vic Tesolin of Fine Woodworking.
“Pine is soft. Because of this this softness, you need an extremely sharp blade to cut it well. A dull chisel will mash its way through pine but only a keen edge will slice through it, leaving a clean, crisp surface. Having sharp chisels for any woodworking task is critical and the best way to ensure that your sharpening game is up to snuff is to trying paring pine. If you can flawlessly pare pine, you can pare anything and should get clean surfaces.”
Check out some amazing examples of intricately carved Eastern White Pine by Mendota Mantels.
More tips for working with Eastern White Pine: