The Beauty of White Pine

Recently, I was in need of some empty wine crates to fill in the bottom shelves of a wine cellar that I was building for Silver Oaks Chateau, a wedding venue just outside of Wildwood, MO. I picked up the wine crates for $5 each, which seemed fair, but only a couple of them had complete lids. The rest were destroyed when the cases were opened by the employees at the wine store.

My plan was to install the empty wine cases so they looked as though they were full and unopened, so the lids had to be rebuilt. All of the boxes are made from pine, and mostly Eastern white pine. I am guessing that a couple from France are some more exotic form of pine found only in Europe, but they looked a lot like Eastern white pine.

All of these wine crates needed new lids.

All of these wine crates needed new lids.

I worked through the stack of twelve cases and found three that had serviceable lids, which just need to be nailed on again. The others were broken or nonexistent, so I headed over to my rack of pine and grabbed a few boards to resaw and plane to 1/4″ thick. On my way to the table saw I thought to myself, “It sure is nice to have a bunch of pine just waiting around to be used like this.”

And, it wasn’t by accident.

I have white pine in the shop because I like it. I especially liked it because I had it when I needed it, but I like it well beyond that. White pine is easy to work with, lightweight, dries quickly and stays straight, it is easy to nail and screw, it is easy to plane and distress, and the trees can get big with beautiful straight logs. Plus, the wood smells great and leaves my shop smelling fresh and clean. It isn’t so great at resisting dents or Mother Nature, but those usually aren’t deal breakers for me.

White pine can be big and straight. Look at a 22' log on my 12' bed.

White pine can be big and straight. Look at a 22′ log on my 12′ bed.

 

They are not all straight. This white pine has a crazy shape and needed to be trimmed down to 60" wide to fit in the Lucas mill.

They are not all straight. This white pine has a crazy shape and needed to be trimmed down to 60″ wide to fit in the Lucas mill.

 

Tully's Tap Room bar top WunderWoods

Two big white pine slabs made this 32″ x 22′ bar top.

 

Urban Chestnut tables Goebel WunderWoods

All of these tables at Urban Chestnut Brewing Co. were made of white pine that we milled for Goebel & Co. Furniture.

 

White pine is great for these solid and hollow beams. The light weight makes the installation job a lot easier for the carpenters.

White pine is great for these solid and hollow beams. The light weight makes the installation job a lot easier for the carpenters.

 

This wine cellar features hand-hewn white pine for all of the shelving.

This wine cellar features hand-hewn white pine for all of the shelving.

White pine is usually poo-pooed by everyone and treated as a lesser wood. Maybe it’s because it is sold at Home Depot and it doesn’t cost too much, or maybe it’s because pine is thought of as a framing lumber. Either way, it seems like everyone thinks that nice woodworking isn’t done with pine. But, I say don’t blow pine off just yet.

Think about the things that pine is good for and focus on them. It is great for projects with big and long pieces since it is light, dries quickly and the logs can be big (the 16′ long tables for Urban Chestnut in the photos above are a great example). Pine is the perfect choice for anything with a rustic feel because it can easily be worked with hand tools, distressed with minimal effort and is naturally rustic in feel from the characteristic knot patterns. But, white pine isn’t always knotty. The big logs can produce completely clear lumber for projects with a more modern look, and even smaller logs can produce clear lumber between the knots, which can be used for smaller projects. White pine is also fantastic for woodwork that needs to stay straight, like interior doors, because of the trees normally straight up growth pattern which produces consistently stable lumber. I have built many doors with white pine, and I love knowing that the doors will stay very straight. Just think about all of the places that you could use pine and haven’t given it a chance.

Lastly, think of the joy of working with pine. Everything, except sanding, is easier with white pine – focus on that. Pull that handsaw off the wall and make a few cuts, just for the fun of it. Grab a hand plane and make long curls of shavings. Leave those shavings on the floor and feel how soft and fluffy it is, and enjoy the smell. Pick up a board and feel how the lumber is so lightweight and a joy to carry. Heck, grab a stack of boards and carry those around for a bit, and be thankful they aren’t oak. Imagine your shop is much older than it is, maybe with a water wheel powering the entire operation, and be proud to use a wood that has been making its way into furniture for hundreds of years.

Stop finding reasons to not use pine, and you will start to fall in love with it before you know it. All you need to do is spend some quality time with the white pine and keep an open mind.

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About wunderwoods

Hi! My name is Scott Wunder and I am the owner of WunderWoods Custom Woodworking. We build wine cellars, built-ins and furniture from local woods, here in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I finished a three-year term as the President of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, which had me writing a monthly article for our newsletter. I love to write, especially about wood, and found that I still had more to say. Every day I run into something wood related that I realize some of my customers don't know and this seems like a great forum for sharing what I have learned (instead of telling the same story to each person). The main thing to remember is that I try to keep it light and as my wife always reminds people that have just met me, "He is joking."

7 responses to “The Beauty of White Pine”

  1. Dan Fall says :

    Worked at Andersen Windows for many years milling Ponderosa pine..it is easy to recall the odor of thousands of feet of pine getting milled. Pine got its bad reputation from misuse. People still use pine and its cousins today in exterior applications for which pine is unsuited. And the same is true for the denting issue. If you make a pine table top and don’t bury it in a durable finish; it is going to dent and change. Pine is beautiful used right. Thanks for the post.

  2. thekiltedwoodworker says :

    I generally don’t use pine for my boxes, but that’s because I charge a premium price for them, so I like to use premium reclaimed or recycled lumber. Using 5,000 year old bog oak or 150 year old white oak from an old house on the family farm or using 50,000 year old Ancient Kauri wood carries a much higher selling value than 1 year old Eastern White Pine.

    I do manage to still use quite a bit of pine in the shop, though. I use it (and poplar) when I’m mocking up a new box idea to help figure out design issues and construction techniques. I use it for shop fixtures. All of the pine lumber I use for those things comes from the big box stores. I try and swing by the stores nearest my work and home about once a month or so. I dig through the stacks of wide 8′ pine boards, looking for riftsawn or quartersawn wood with minimal knots and no twist, bow, or cup. Most of the time, I walk away empty-handed, but every now and then I find a board or two that fits the bill. I buy it and add it to my stack.

    I do have two boards of 10′ long white pine that is a full 1″ thick and 18″ wide. It was pulled out of a 100+ year old house up in Massachusetts. The guy I bought them from said he found them in his dad’s house when they were cleaning it out. He thought he might be able to use them, so he loaded them onto the moving truck and brought them back to Missouri. After they sat in the garage for a year, he realized he wasn’t ever going to use them, so he listed them on Craig’s List for $50. I saw the listing an hour after it was posted and picked them up that next Saturday. (That was the first of many large pieces of wood I’ve been able to fit into my Toyota Venza.) I’m not going to use that wood for boxes, though. I was thinking it might make a nice traveling Anarchist’s Toolchest…

  3. Kyle says :

    Do you know what color was used on those beams on this page? I am about to start a faux wood beam job with some ponderosa pine. Having not worked with pine before trying to get a feel for what different stains will look like. Also what top coat is on those?

    • wunderwoods says :

      I am a fan of TransTint Dark Mission Brown, sometimes mixed with a little Black, sometimes mixed with a little Medum Brown, which is more red than the Dark Mission Brown. On the beams I use lacquer. It goes on fast and doesn’t need to be especially durable since it gets no wear or water.

      • Kyle says :

        What do you mix your trans tint in to use lacquer as the top coat. Been wanting to experiment with the trans tints but was unsure of its compatibility with the lacquer that I use.

  4. jenn says :

    Was wondering what you are putting on the sides of the bar? I am about to do a bar slab as well. Thank you.

    • wunderwoods says :

      I sand the live edge and then stain it to make everything consistent. I sand it lightly again to make it look more natural. The final color ranges in brightness depending on how much I sand it. I usually have to work a little extra on the edges because they take the most abuse before the log is milled.

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