Is Pine a Hardwood?

Is pine a hardwood? The answer is not as simple as you might think.

This post covers everything you need to know about pine wood- from identifying it to selecting the right type for your project.

We’ll also discuss the benefits of using pine, money-saving shopping tips, and more. 

Is Pine a Hardwood or a Softwood

Yes, and no. It depends because there are both softwood and hardwood species. Try not to get caught up in the categories hardwood’ and ‘softwood.” The following sections go into more detail about hardness rating standards and explain the difference between hardwood and softwood.

How Hard Is Pinewood?

Pinewood varies in the range of hardness depending on the species and its age. Generally, pine is considered to be a softwood because it does not have as tight of a grain pattern as hardwoods like oak or walnut.

However, certain subspecies of pine (such as sugar pine) are quite dense and durable. The southern yellow pine species is the hardest, strongest, and most durable of all the pinewoods.

This variety of pine wood pine is also interchangeable with hardwoods such as oak, walnut, and mahogany. It also takes a finish well, so you can easily use it to repair flooring or furniture. 

Hard pines include:

Two of the most common pine trees producing hardwood are Southern Yellow Pines and Western Yellow Pines. Southern Yellow Pines include:

  • Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris)
  • Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)
  • Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata)
  • Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris)
  • Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata)
  • Slash Pine (Pinus elliotti)

Western Yellow Pines include:

  • Pinyon Pines
  • Red Pines
  • Western Yellow Pines
  • Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta)
  • Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)

Soft Pines include:

Most people are more familiar with softwood varieties of pine wood, such as sugar pine or White Pine. Remember, just because a type of wood is in the ‘softwood’ category doesn’t mean it’s less dense than hardwoods like oak.

Softwoods such as Sugar pine and Heart Pine are denser than White Oak or Red Oak. Below are a few of my favorite softwood pinewoods to work with:

  • Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana)
  • Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana)
  • Western White Pine (Pinus monticola)
  • Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
  • Western White Pine (Pinus monticola)
  • Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

See also: How hard is cypress wood?

Is Pine Better Than Hardwood?

Every species has unique qualities that make it ideal for a particular application. Whether pine is better than hardwood or vice versa depends on the project and species you’re working with.

Hardwoods often come with a higher price tag, but they tend to be more durable and can last much longer than softwood over time. Pine, on the other hand, is generally cheaper than hardwoods and is easier to work with.

Depending on what you need the wood for, either one could be the better option. Some defining properties of wood are color, strength, grain pattern, and texture.

Pine can come in a variety of colors, from yellow or green to deep reds. It also has a distinct grain pattern that can be used to create interesting patterns in design.

Is Pine a Good Quality Wood?

Pine is often dismissed as a lower-quality wood, but this isn’t necessarily true. Pine is lightweight, easy to work with, and relatively inexpensive compared to other woods.

Pine also has good staining and finishing qualities that make it the preferred choice of furniture makers (see: best stain for tongue and groove pine ceiling). One of the reasons people don’t like working with pine is because it can be a nightmare to plane and finish. 

I didn’t discover the true beauty of working with this wood until I experimented for about six months. As a beginner, working with certain varieties of pine wood can be frustrating to work with, but once you get enough experience, you can really start to appreciate the unique qualities of this wood.

What is Considered Hardwood?

Hardwoods are generally denser than softwoods and have tighter wood grain patterns. Examples of hardwood species include oak, walnut, mahogany, ash, beech, and maple wood.

Wood hardness scales are used to compare different wood species and can give you an idea of how hard wood is. The standard wood hardness measurement scale is the Janka Hardness Test.

This test measures the force required for a half inch steel ball to penetrate. This measurement also determines how fast a wood species will dull tools over time and the ability of wood to resist denting or wear.

Read also: Is ash wood a hardwood?

Is sycamore tree a hardwood?

What’s The Difference Between Softwoods and Hardwoods?

As we mentioned earlier, the categories’ hardwood’ and ‘softwood’ don’t account for the actual density of wood in every case. Eastern white pine has a Janka rating of 420, red pine is 1630, and heart pine is 1225.

To put that in perspective, one of the hardest woods, Brazilian walnut, has a Janka rating of 3680. Hardwoods and softwoods have many distinguishing properties that set them apart.

Hardwoods are wood species with a slower growth rate and denser wood that is more difficult to work with and requires specialized tools. I recommend that beginners get some experience working with harder wood like walnut before moving on to denser pine wood.

What is the hardest type of pine wood?

The southern yellow pine may be the hardest type of wood in the pine family. It is known for its strength and durability, making it a popular material for decking boards and fences. (Read also: What is the best redwood sealer for decks and fences?)

The longleaf variety is rated at 1010 on the Janka Hardness Scale, making it one of the harder varieties of wood and among some of the hardest woods generally. This variety holds up extremely well.

It is naturally resistant to decay and insect infestation, making it an ideal choice for outdoor projects in areas with high humidity. The phrase “you get what you pay for” applies here.

The lumber can be quite expensive compared to other types of pine, but the durability makes it worth the cost for many homeowners.

How do You Identify Pine Wood?

It’s not difficult to identify pine wood by sight and touch. Pine wood is also known for its distinct pine aroma, which is especially noticeable when freshly cut and very easy to identify.

In addition, pine has a coarse texture, and its straight grain can be easily distinguished from other wood species. Southern yellow has a warm yellow to reddish-brown hue and is one of the strongest pine species.

Western yellow pine is softer than its southern cousin, with a light yellow to reddish-brown color. White pine has a light yellow to white hue and is the softest pine species.

How do You Identify a Pine Tree?  

While you probably aren’t going to cut down your own tree, it is important to understand the limitations and characteristics of the different pine species to get the most out of pine wood.

There are over 30 species of pine—fortunately, they are categorized into three groups: southern yellow pine, western yellow pine, and white pine.

Pines are deciduous conifers native to most of the Northern Hemisphere. These evergreen trees have a distinctive cone shape and are generally characterized by their needle-like leaves.

Pine needles can range from 5 – 10 cm long and come in clusters of 2 – 5 needles. Many pine species produce cones that are oval or cylindrical in shape and range from 1.5 to 20 cm long.

You can often identify pines by their bark, which is scaly and red-brown in color. The cones of each species are also unique and can be used to identify what kind of pine tree it is.

Rather than cover all of them I chose to focus on the most common commercial species.

White Pine

  1. Botanical Name: Finue etrobue
  2. Characteristics: Straight grain; even texture; light-yellow to reddish-brown heartwood.
  3. Alternative Names: Eastern white pine, northern white pine, northern pine, Quebec pine, soft pine, balsam pine, Canadian white pine.
  4. Weight: 28 Ib./cu. ft.
  5. Price: Inexpensive

Yellow Poplar

  1. Botanical Names: Liriodendron tulipifera 
  2. Characteristics: Straight grain; fine, even texture; white sapwood to pale-brown heartwood with green or dark brown streaks.
  3. Alternative Names: Canoe wood, tulip poplar, tuliptree. 
  4. Weight: 30-35 Ib./cu. ft.
  5. Price: Inexpensive.

Douglas-Fir

  1. Botanical Name: Finue ponderoea 
  2. Characteristics: Wide light-yellow sapwood; darker yellow to reddish-brown heartwood; generally straight grain, even texture.
  3. Alternative Names: Big pine, bird’s-eye pine, knotty pine, pole pine, prickly pine, western yellow pine.
  4. Weight: 32 Ib./cu. ft.
  5. Price: Inexpensive. 

Ponderosa Pine

  1. Botanical Name: F’mue spp.
  2. Characteristics: Straight grain, coarse texture; yellow-brown to reddish-brown heartwood.
  3. Alternative Names: Pitch pine, short leaf pine, long leaf pine, loblolly pine, and several other tree names.
  4. Weight: 30-33 Ib./cu. ft.
  5. Price: Inexpensive.

Southern Yellow Pine

  1. Botanical Name: F’mue spp.
  2. Characteristics: Straight grain; coarse texture; yellow-brown to reddish-brown heartwood.
  3. Alternative Names: Pitch pine, short leaf pine, long leaf pine, loblolly pine and several other tree names.
  4. Weight: 30-33 Ib./cu. ft.
  5. Price: Inexpensive.

Read also: Pine vs Poplar

Pine vs Douglas fir

What is Pine Used For?

There is a type of pine wood for almost any use. Pine is one of the top choices among cabinet makers and furniture makers. Softer species like white pine are very easy to work with (great for beginner projects).

Although white pine is the least durable of all three groups, eastern and western white pine are ideal to work with because they are attractive, available, and relatively inexpensive.

The southern yellow pine species is the hardest, strongest, and most durable of all the pinewoods. It is a pleasure to work with and is interchangeable with hardwoods such as oak, walnut, and mahogany.

This type of pine is mostly used for timber framing and construction, furnishings, plywood, flooring, and other uses. The dominant species of southern yellow pine are ponderosa and lodgepole leaf.

These are common at lumberyards and home centers. Both species share similar characteristics, and they are both used extensively in construction, furniture, flooring, and other applications.

Both of these are easy to work with, with more early wood than the other pine species.

Selecting Pinewood

In order to get the best boards, consider the following characteristics:

  • Grain and Texture
  • Odor
  • Rings

Grain and texture

I usually look for a consistent grain pattern when selecting pine wood. This is important for veneers and edge banding. Pine has a prominent figure, and the pine grain should be uniform.

This is the “soul” of the board and will determine its appearance. Closely inspect the patterns on the growth rings, mineral streaks, and how the board was sawn.

Odor

The nose knows. The oils in the wood usually determine the odor. Pine is an aromatic species that has a distinct, piney smell.

If you get a whiff of something that doesn’t smell fresh and piney, it’s time to find another. If you smell a musty, moldy odor, then the pine wood may have gone bad.

Rings

Porus hardwoods have a fine texture, while diffuse-porous hardwoods have a coarse texture. The pine grain can be used to identify the species of pine. Growth rings should be visible, even on pine wood that has been milled.

Counting the number of growth rings can indicate how old the tree was when it was harvested. Look at the transition from early wood to late wood. Abrupt transitions produce strong color and figure variations.

Read also: Is whitewood the same as pine?

What’s the Best Quality Pine?

While there is no such thing as a “best pine wood,” there are several species of pine that can be used for various applications, and each has its own advantages.

The quality of the wood is based on the density and durability of the pine, as well as its color and grain. Let’s look at how quality is determined.

Lumber: Hardwood grades vs. softwood grades

What are lumber grades?

Lumber grades are how the quality of a piece of wood is classified. This system is based on the number of defects found in the lumber and assigns a letter grade to each piece accordingly.

Unlike hardwoods, softwood species are graded differently from species to species. For example, the grade for a redwood board may be different from the grade for a pine board.

Hardwood grades are more universal, as most hardwoods are graded using the same criteria set out by National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) grading system.

Quality Grades: Select, Finish, and Common 

There are three primary grade categories for woodworking: select, finish, and common.

Select grades are the most desirable and are nearly free of knots and defects.

Finish-grade lumber has some small blemishes in the form of pin knots, mineral streaks, and small splits.

Common grade lumber is the most economical because it can contain larger knots and other defects like discoloration, warping, and sponginess. It is also great for building materials like keyword cardboard.

What is Select Grade Pine?

Select grade lumber is the highest quality lumber and is most suitable for furniture making. In softwood, select lumbar is pine wood that is free of defects and grouped in order of quality by first and second select (FAS), C select, and D select.

For hardwood, select is one of seven standard grades set out by the NHLA grading system. The top grade is FAS, followed by #1 common, #2A and #2B Common. Many yards sell #3A and #3B Common and Utility grades.

Interesting read: Can You Use Pine for a Cutting Board?

Money Saving Tip

For many projects, you want the best wood you can find at the best price. Paying for better grade means you are getting wood that is more consistent in size, shape, and color than lower-grade pine.

But it’s not always the most affordable option. Pine offers a great balance between cost and quality. The knots are fewer and wood is generally straighter.

I’m not picky when it comes to grades. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and knots can add character to any piece of pine furniture. Installing and painting knotty pine paneling is a great way to make use of lower-grade wood.

Even softer pinewoods are structurally sound and offer a nice natural look. When selecting pine, ensure the knots are not loose and at least one inch away from the edge. 

Read also: Is Sycamore a Hardwood?

FAQs

Is yellow pine a hardwood?

Yes, yellow pine is a hardwood. In fact, of all the pine boards you will find in the lumber yard, yellow pine is the hardest. This is because of the high density and uneven grain properties. While other species of pine have stiff quality, yellow pine offers more dense quality and strength.

Is white pine a hardwood?

No, white pine is not hardwood. Hardwoods are usually associated with trees of the angiosperm species in the family Fagaceae, while white pine belongs to the gymnosperm family Pinaceae. It also belongs to the softwood category because it is less dense and has less intricate grain patterns as well.

How strong is pine wood

Pine wood is strong and durable enough to last. It may not be as hard or durable as oak or maple, but it certainly has a lot of strength and dependability. Plus, its strength will hold up well under normal circumstances, such as creating furniture items like chairs or tables.

Is pine softer than redwood?

Yes, pine is generally softer than redwood. Pine has a lower Janka hardness rating, measuring wood hardness. Redwood Janka hardness is higher, making it relatively stronger and more durable for certain applications like outdoor construction and furniture.

Next read: Is maple hard or soft wood?

Conclusion

Overall, pine is a pleasure to work with. It’s versatile, easy to get, and beautiful, and most varieties are easy to work with. Whether you want to make a simple box, birdhouse, chair, or deck—there’s a piece of pine with your name on it.

Now that you’ve taken a crash course in all things pine, you can easily find the perfect piece of wood for your next project. Good luck!