Is all pine created equal?

quandaryNovember 15, 2009

I recently bought some pine and had to use conditioner to keep the stain from splotching. However, when I've refinished pine shelves in my 1964 home, I didn't bother to use a conditioner and they stained beautifully -- I used a spar urethane finish and they looked like fine furniture. Before I re-installed the shelves, I googled the name stamped on the back, and it was a mill in the northwest United States (didn't write it down).

These pine shelves are 11.5 inches wide and some are as long as 7 feet. They are original to the 1964 home, and aren't warped. My neighbor is getting ready to gut her kitchen, and I'm tempted to save the pine boards from her shelves. Her house has the same cabinets and was built at the same time by the same builder.

I don't have a handy place to store them and can't think of any immediate plans for them. I just really love how beautiful and functional my kitchen and bathroom shelves are. Is it possible that pine from that era is better? When I refinished mine, it didn't seem as soft as the newer pine I've worked with.

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Pine from that era was absolutely better, on average. Wide boards (of any species) without knots can only be gotten from really big, old trees. We've been cutting those big trees faster than they can grow back, so wide, clear boards have gotten progressively rarer and more expensive. You could probably still order some from a specialty supplier, but it's no longer in the budget for typical home builders so your local lumber yard won't stock it.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 7:07AM
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Hardwood dealers often have very high quality softwoods also.
Pine, cypress, etc.

Expect to pay prices that are at the lower end of hardwood, and more than even 'D select,' often the best grade at a large lumber yard.

Clear pine used to be pretty common, but is now not stocked much at all, especially in larger widths.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 9:34AM
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There are several different types of pine as the following descriptions show:

Pine - Eastern White (Domestic): This light colored wood resembles straw in appearance. Soft straight grained and even textured wood weighing 2.2 pounds per board foot. Works very easily with hand and machine tools. Glues well and takes stain, paint very well. The most valuable softwood in North America, as it can be used in almost any piece of furniture or most any form of general carpentry.

Pine - Ponderosa (Domestic): Light orange brown to reddish brown. Fine to medium texture and straight grained. The most resinous of the pines. Easy to work with, although finishing can be tricky due to its gumminess. Uses include furniture, construction, window frames and interior trim. Weighs 2.2 pounds per board foot.

Pine - Sugar (Domestic): Cream to light tan in color, it has a soft fine texture and straight grain. Large trees result in better width and length averages than other pines. Its characteristics make it especially suited to the pattern industry. Weighs 2.6 pounds per board foot.

Pine - Yellow (Southern US): Creamy white sapwood, yellow red to reddish brown heartwood. Very resinous, conspicuous growth ring figure, course texture. Weight 4.21 lbs./ft. Dries well with little degrade and is stable in service. High bending and crushing strengths, high stiffness, medium resist to shock. Holds screws and nails firmly, glues with out difficulty, takes paint and finishes satisfactorily.

Plus, some hardwoods like aspen, firs, or birch are sometimes mistaken for pine.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 10:09AM
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Thanks for all of the good information. I had no idea there was such a variety of pines. I think I'll do some dumpster diving as my neighbor demolishes her kitchen. Even if I can't find a use for those boards, maybe I could give them to someone with a woodworking shop. It seems a shame for them go to a landfill.

The cabinets themselves are mahogany (except for the shelves). I've refinished my kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and was pleased with how they look. I think the mahogany is really beautiful and warm looking. The trim, baseboards and all of the built in cabinetry throughout our houses is the same mahogany. It must have been inexpensive when the houses were built in the early 1960s. I wish I could save my neighbor's kitchen cabinets, but it's just not practical to store them.

I don't know much about wood, but I'm wondering whether those of you who do appreciate the different qualities find it a little sad that some really beautiful wood is discarded during home renovations.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 11:12AM
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Sure, it's sad to see once-precious material thrown out, but it's the sort of thing your average woodworker has to get used to if he wants to make any money as a woodworker. Those old cabinet parts aren't such a joy if you try to actually use them for something else. They've already been cut to size, so they're too small for many projects. They're covered with finish that must be removed somehow. They've got nails or screws embedded in them, and if you miss one then you can wreck a machine blade when cutting them apart. You might not have enough to build what you have in mind, and be unable to supplement it with new material that looks the same. In other words, recycled material, even "free" recycled material, is typically more expensive to work with than new material you have to pay more for. If someone wants to knock together some quick utilitarian shelves for the garage or basement, then the old material may be a fine choice. More often than not, people who save old lumber end up with a pile of old lumber and not much else.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 11:59AM
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I was at the Home Depot this evening planning what lumber I would purchase for an upcoming project. The pine there is some of the worst wood available and not to just throw HD under the bus, Lowes isn't any better (Lowes has the audacity to call theirs "Top Choice"). If this is the pine that Quandry is trying to use pre-stain conditioner on, I would say - "save your money and don't use the conditioner". This wood can be so unpredictable - I have literally poured conditioner from the can (repeatedly I might add) onto the face of a board and watched every bit of it soak into the wood - on two different boards.

The pine available at the home centers - I would not call it pine, especially since they call it "white wood."

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 10:32PM
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Dang, throw it away?
I'm a cabinetmaker/woodworker, and I have no problems at all with recycled wood. A quick buzzover with a metal detector will spot most if not all hidden screws, staples, nails, etc. And while one generally doesn't get long clear boards, not all projects require long lengths. Old growth pine is often quite worth a little extra effort to use. One of the reasons this reclaimed wood often sells for two-three times as much as a "new" board of similar dimensions in cabinetmakers supply houses and such.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2009 at 3:18PM
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There is much wisdom shared on this board. I have no immediate use for 11.5 inch wide pine boards, so I was going to let them go. However, my neighbors offered extra space in their storage unit, so I pulled the nails and stacked them there.

I purchased a wide pine board at Lowe's to add a shelf to my TV cabinet recently. It broke under the weight of some equipment, because it was actually just narrow strips glued together -- not really a wide board at all.

These pine boards that I've salvaged are really nice wood. They don't warp, but what surprised me most was how evenly they took stain, even without using a conditioner. Maybe the old pine was harder wood?

I've given myself a deadline. If I don't come up with a use for it by March 1, I'll call and offer it to local woodworkers, put it on Craigslist or freecycle, or haul it to the landfill myself.

It's good wood and there's a lot of it. I'd like to use it or offer it to someone who could use it. However, as jon1270 said, a pile of lumber won't do anybody any good.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 3:44PM
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