Western (Pinus monticola) and Eastern (Pinus strobus)
Illustration by Mike Del Rizzo
Across Canada there are nine species of pine, of which four are referred to as the ‘soft’ or ‘white’ pines, which have leaves (needles) in clusters of five. The other distinct group of pines are the ‘hard’ or ‘yellow’ pines, characterized by leaves in clusters of two or three. As the name suggests, western white pine grows in western Canada, primarily in British Columbia and Alberta. Eastern white pine is found in the Maritimes, Newfoundland, Québec, and Ontario. White pines are statuesque, with the eastern pine reaching heights of 100’ and diameters of 3′, while its western cousin can grow between 90 and 110′ and 2 to 3′ in diameter. In rare situations western pine can known grow to 200′ and a whopping 8′ in diameter.
As white pine has a fairly uniform texture and low shrinkage, it is widely used in the construction and cabinetry industries for window sashes, frames, mouldings, trim, doors, paneling, cabinetry work, and furniture, as well as in the manufacture of matches, caskets and boxes. It is also a popular wood for making patterns and for wood turners. Because it holds on to its needles for quite some time after cutting, Eastern pine is a popular Christmas tree.
White pines are soft, light, and not very strong, and have fairly low resistance to shock and decay. However, the wood is stable and resists warping. When it comes to appearance, the pines have a straight grain and uniform texture. The eastern pine has creamy white sapwood with yellowish white or light brown heartwood. Western pine has white sapwood and a pale to light red-brown heartwood that darkens with exposure to light. When working with pine you will find that they have resin fragrance. The wood may stimulate an allergic reaction in some people.
In addition to its affordability, there are many other good reasons to work with pine. It works well with most hand tools and machines; has stellar nail-holding properties, so it doesn’t require predrilling; glues easily, and has good steam bending properties. However, the wood can splinter when routing, so watch for possible tear out. Although, you will find that pine sands and finishes beautifully, remember to apply a sealer topcoat (such as shellac), as resin pockets in the wood can bleed to the surface. Likewise, seal the wood before painting, as the sap can create a brownish stain through the paint.