Differences Between White and Yellow Pine Wood

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Eastern white pine trees overlooking water.
Image Credit: BrianLasenby/iStock/Getty Images

With more than 100 types growing worldwide, almost everyone gets pine confused. Only a handful of domestic pines commonly are used and may be separated into hard and soft -- or yellow and white. Yellow pine, consisting of shortleaf, longleaf, slash and loblolly, is classified as hard. White pine, consisting of sugar, eastern and western, is classified as soft. Both groups generically are referred to as white or yellow. If you desire a certain species, specify it upon ordering.

Yellow Pine Durability

Yellow pine is a native of the Southeastern United States, growing naturally on plantations as far west as Mississippi and south to Virginia. It is one of the least-expensive applications for flooring that requires durability in high-traffic areas. Yellow pine has excellent strength-to-weight ratio. For this reason, it's used more often than white pine for structural members such as trusses, joists, poles, sheathing, subfloors and plywood.

White Pine Workability

White pine grows prolifically on the East and West coast of the United States, and in Canada and Mexico. Lightweight and soft, white pine is even textured and easily milled and carved. White pine is used for items such as carvings, molding, millwork, trim, boards for boxes, crates and specialty items such as knotty pine paneling, cabinetry and furniture. White pine is the least resinous of all the pine species, lacking the pitch pockets found on other pine varieties.

Color Blind

Color is not a deciding difference between yellow and white pine. All of them are amber colored, ranging from yellow to off-white. Grain patterns are a bit more obvious, and all of them are relatively straight. Yellow pine tends to have a bolder, more pronounced grain pattern than white. Density is the deciding difference. Yellow pine has a density rating of about 870 on the Janka scale,, which ranks it up there with cedar at 900. White pine, with a density rating of only 380, is one of the lowest-rated woods on the scale.

Those Blue Streaks

If you've worked with pine to any extent, you've noticed blue streaks. It's more common on white pine than yellow. Blue streaks have no effect on the integrity of pine. Use blue-stained pine as you would any other type of pine. The blue stain originates from a fungus deposited on the tree by beetles. The fungus is killed when the lumber is kiln dried and remains dry. The blue stain stops growing and the blue streaks remain. When finished with lacquer only, blue stains add character to pine projects.

Pine or Not

Fir often is confused with pine in regard to construction-grade lumber. With the prevalence and availability of Douglas fir, the use of yellow pine -- which is harder than fir -- is declining. If you live on the West Coast, its likely you'll use fir for your framing needs. If you live on the East Coast where yellow pine is prolific, it's more likely to be available -- but it's becoming harder to find. If you have a preference, make it clear when ordering that you want yellow pine for your construction needs.

references & resources

Wade Shaddy

Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.