The story of Red Pine begins in 18th century. This was a time when Eastern White Pine was the dominant export timber. Massive amounts of trees were cut and when the demand leveled off, large areas of forest were left barren. Red Pine was the answer. This fast and straight growing pine was planted in large plantations to replace the Eastern White Pine.
Red Pine is found in the sandy soils of the states and provinces surrounding the Great Lakes, east to the Atlantic Ocean. Within its geographical range, Red Pine plantations are now a major source of lumber often out producing the natural stands. The tree typically grows to 60 – 80 feet tall with diameters approaching 3 feet. The common name derives from the reddish brown bark that distinguishes it from other pine species.
Red pine end-grain
The heartwood is a red to reddish brown with a white to creamy yellow sapwood. The grain is usually straight and even. Red Pine possesses distinct growth rings with a darker band of summer wood. The wood has an oily feel with a distinct resinous odour. It is denser than Eastern White Pine and is stronger and stiffer as well. Volumetric shrinkage is high but it still dries with relative ease. The early juvenile phase of growth can occasionally show evidence of compression wood. This can cause the wood to bow during drying. Woodworkers can avoid this by culling boards that show the pith of the tree or uneven growth rings.
Red Pine is an excellent candidate for structural timbers, poles, log cabins, beams and trusses. It is also used in doors, frames, shutters and other interior trim. Furniture, woodenware and toys are other common uses. It is not considered durable, so it is not a good candidate for exterior work. However, it is easy to treat with preservatives, which allows for its use in some exterior projects.
Red Pine is easy to work with hand or machine tools. It is a resinous wood so pitch can build up on saw-blades and tooling. This can cause burning, so blades and router bits should be cleaned as necessary either with acetone or a blade cleaner. This applies to all drilling operations as well. Routing or feeding stock too quickly into machines can also cause burning, so feed rates should be monitored. When cross cutting, the use of backing boards will help reduce splintering.
The distinct growth rings of Red Pine can be of concern when carving. The growth rings offer areas of unequal density which will yield to the knife or gouge differently. These areas of different densities can also produce a scalloped surface when sanding as the softer material is removed more easily by the sandpaper. Patience is required, and the use of flat sanding blocks will help. Don’t forget to change the sandpaper frequently, as the resin will quickly clog it up.
When it comes to finishing, stains are the way to go. The high resin content makes painting difficult; it will cause to paint to peel. Blotching can occur when staining. A wash coat of shellac or the use of a pre-conditioner will help alleviate the potential for blotching.
Red Pine is available in all grades. The common grades are the least expensive although they will contain knots. Most knots are stable but beware of encapsulated knots. These knots have a distinct black line encircling the knot. These are the knots that are most likely to fall out. Clear grades are available and are more expensive. Woodworkers should also be aware that softwoods are often dried to 12% moisture content. Wood at this moisture level will need further seasoning before it can be used.
Lets face it though, most woodworkers prefer hardwoods and will only use softwood for a secondary wood or for rough use. I think its time for a rethink. Red Pine is readily available and supplies are secure with no environmental concerns. It’s easy to work and a great choice to work on those hand skills. Plus, nothing beats the aroma of fresh Red Pine and a large amount of fine wood shavings on the shop floor.
Peter MacSween - [email protected]
Peter's woodworking journey began with a career in carpentry followed by a decade buying and selling veneer. His spare time is spent abusing his guitars and exploring the great outdoors.