Is pine wood strong? Let’s see what we have…
Pine wood is a popular building material today because it is affordable and easy to find.
It also has an attractive wood grain and is lightweight, making it ideal for all sorts of woodwork projects.
Besides affordability and attractiveness, the one other thing that most woodworkers want is to build structures that are stable and durable.
And to do that, they require strong building materials, thus prompting the question, is pine wood strong?
Pine wood is strong, and its strength is mainly attributed to its tightly packed grain.
The closeness of the grain allows it to absorb any shock and distribute it quickly and evenly across the surface.
As a result, it won’t break easily, making it perfect for making furniture, paneling, decors, and other woodworks.
However, the close-tucked grain system does not make the wood’s surface hard enough to resist dents and scratches.
For this reason, you should not use pine in high-traffic areas or projects where appearances matter.
In this article, I will focus on pine wood and its features.
I’ll discuss which projects are suitable to complete with pine wood and where pinewood won’t suffice.
I’ll also compare the strength of pine wood to that of other popular woods on the market to help you make informed choices.
What Is Pine Wood?
Pine is a softwood, meaning that it is sourced from conifers, aka the “evergreen” trees that produce seed-bearing cones.
These trees grow fast and are ready for harvesting in 30-40 years.
They grow naturally and in plenty in the northern hemisphere, but people have also transplanted them worldwide as wood sources.
For this reason, there is an endless flow of pine wood; thus, you can easily find it in all lumber stores.
Pinewood has a straight or wavy grain pattern depending on the species, but it could also appear flat depending on how you cut and slice the wood.
Moreover, it has a white or pale yellow color that you can easily customize with stains or paint.
You can also apply clear finishes on it if you want to maintain the light color.
The texture of pine wood varies by species, from rough to fine.
It has a knotty appearance, a detail often desired by woodworkers who want a rustic aesthetic for their finished product.
Furthermore, pine wood has low density, meaning it is lightweight and easy to carry around as you work.
This weight will also transfer to your finished products allowing you to move them easily.
The biggest strength of pine wood is its ability to bend without breaking easily.
This feature, coupled with low density, makes pine wood the ideal choice for making turned furniture and objects.
It is also easy to carve and slice with hand or power tools, adding to its superior workability.
The features above generally describe pine wood, but there are a few common subspecies with varying colors, strength levels, and basic properties.
You must clearly understand all these to select the best one for your project, so let’s discuss them individually.
Types of Pine Wood
There are four subspecies of pine wood – western yellow pine, southern yellow pine, red pine, and white pine.
The White Pine Wood
As the name suggests, this subspecies of pine trees produce white-colored timber.
They have white or pale yellow sapwood and light brown heartwood, which sometimes can be challenging to tell apart.
White pine wood has a low density with a fine texture. Its grains are also straight and even, giving it a beautiful soft appearance.
The Southern Yellow Pine
This wood is denser and harder than most pine woods, but the higher density does not affect its workability.
You can still carry the southern yellow pine around easily and use hand or power tools to carve and slice it.
Regarding color, you can easily confuse this subspecies with the white pine because of their identical pale hue.
However, if you have used pinewood for a long time, you will notice that the southern yellow pine is a little more golden than the white pine.
If you cannot tell them apart by color, the varying densities should be enough to help you.
The Western Yellow Pine
This wood has the same color as the southern yellow pine, but it’s even grain pattern sets it apart.
Its density and hardness fall right in the middle of southern yellow and white pine; therefore, it is neither too light nor too dense.
The Red Pine Wood
The red pine has the darkest color of all the subspecies I’ve listed above.
It is also the strongest, making it the ideal choice for construction projects.
You can use it to make railway ties, cabin logs, poles, and any other application that requires durable materials.
Pros of Pine Wood
- It is light; hence, it is easy to move and manipulate.
- It grows worldwide; thus, it is easy to source.
- It is more affordable than most popular wood species such as teak and mahogany.
- It is flexible enough to resist splitting and breaking.
Cons of Pine Wood
- It is susceptible to scratches and dents due to its low density.
How Strong Is Pine Wood?
We cannot express the strength of pine wood or any other type of wood as a single measurement.
We must take several individual measurements of different features, then use the information to determine if the material is strong enough for our project.
The individual measures that we use to determine wood strength are:
- Density: The weight of wood per a specified volume.
- Hardness: The wood’s ability to resist denting and scratching.
- Compressive Strength: How much weight the wood can bear parallel to its grain before it ruptures.
- Bending Strength: How much weight the wood can bear perpendicular to its grain before it breaks.
Let’s look at each of these factors in-depth to understand the full strength of the different types of pine wood.
The density of a piece of wood is determined by the amount of wood fiber in its structure.
We know that wood is a porous material, meaning that it has air spaces between its fibers.
Some woods have more space than fibers, while others have more fiber than air spaces.
Woods with more fibers are significantly heavier than woods with fewer fibers.
Moreover, the abundance of fibers in a given wood area makes the wood surface harder.
The density of pine wood ranges from medium to low depending on the species.
The southern yellow pine has the highest average density at 39lbs/ft3(624Kg/M3), followed by the red pine at 34lbs/ft3(545Kg/M3).
The western yellow pine follows closely at 29lbs/ft3(464 Kg/M3), while the white pine is the least dense, weighing only 25lbs/ft3(400Kg/M3).
The moisture content of wood also determines its overall density.
Wood with a high moisture level will be significantly heavier than wood with little moisture.
However, unlike wood fibers, more moisture in wood weakens the structure instead of adding to its strength. Let me explain.
Wood swells when it absorbs moisture, and the swelling causes the bonds between the fibers to weaken. As a result, the lumber’s overall strength reduces.
Therefore, you must always state the moisture conditions of wood when specifying its density.
Note: The measurements specified above describe the wood’s density at 12% moisture content, which is the workable moisture level of wood.
The wood industry rates the hardness of a piece of wood using the Janka Hardness Scale.
The scale determines how many pounds of force (lbf) you need to drive a 0.444-inch steel ball halfway into the wood’s surface grain.
The harder the wood, the more force it will take to drive the ball into the surface fiber; therefore, the higher the Janka rating.
The Southern Yellow Pine is the hardest pine on our list with a Janka rating of 870 lbf, followed by the western yellow at 690 lbf.
The red pine comes next at 560 lbf, and the white pine is the softest at 420 lbf.
Note: You will notice that red pine wood is denser than the Western yellow pine but has a lower Janka rating.
The reason is that wood density depends on the amount of wood fiber in a given area.
On the other hand, hardness depends on the elasticity of the wood fiber.
In the case of pine wood, red pines have more fibers, but the fibers are more elastic; hence, it is easier to push a steel ball through its surface.
In contrast, the western yellow pine has fewer fibers, but they lack the elasticity of red pine fibers; hence there is more resistance when pushing a steel ball through its surface.
Compressive Strength and Bending Strength
Wood fibers aside, the strength of wood also varies with its grain direction, meaning that wood is stronger in certain directions than others.
When you look at a piece of wood, you will notice lines going in one direction.
These “lines” are the wood grain, and the direction they face is referred to in the wood industry as “with the wood grain.”
Any other direction is considered as “against the grain, and when it comes to strength, wood is always stronger with the grain.
Even though wood is stronger with the grain, you cannot always cut it or use it with the grain facing in one direction.
For this reason, you must determine the amount of load it can bear “against the grain” before the fibers break or sag.
The Compressive Strength of wood tells you how much weight/load the wood species can withstand parallel to its grain.
For instance, this measurement will give you an idea of how much weight the legs of a pine table or chair will support before they buckle.
On the other hand, the bending Strength of wood tells you how much load it can withstand perpendicular to the grain.
A good example would be to ask how much weight you can hang on a wooden pine peg before it starts to bend.
The figures below summarize the compressive and bending strengths of the pine subspecies I’ve mentioned in this article.
Bending Strength -11,000 lbf/in2
Compressive Strength – 6,070 lbf/in2
Bending Strength – 9,400 lbf/in2
Compressive Strength – 5,320 lbf/in2
Bending Strength – 13,100 lbf/in2
Compressive Strength – 7,270 lbf/in2
Bending Strength – 9,700 lbf/in2
Compressive Strength – 5,040 lbf/in2
Is Pine Strong Enough for Furniture?
Yes, pine wood is strong enough to make durable furniture.
It offers excellent shock resistance and has higher compressive strength than most hardwoods.
Moreover, pine wood is resistant to the shrinking and swelling caused by changes in moisture levels in the atmosphere.
For this reason, your furniture will maintain its shape quite well over the years.
The critical aspect to consider when choosing wood for furniture.
Apart from appearance, is the material’s compressive strength—all furniture, whether desks, chairs, beds, or cupboards, have legs that support their weight.
The weight applied to these legs often puts slight pressure on them parallel to the grain.
So, if the wood you use has high compressive strength, your furniture will likely sustain more weight before it breaks.
The Southern yellow pine is the best for furniture because it has the highest compressive strength of all the subspecies mentioned in this article.
It can withstand larger loads for longer; therefore, it is best for making furniture that carries a lot of weight daily.
The red pine is a close second in compressive strength, producing relatively strong furniture.
The white pine and the western yellow pine have the lowest compressive strengths.
Therefore, it is best to reserve them for more miniature furniture like kiddie tables and chairs or furniture that serves more of a decorative purpose.
Although pine wood passes the compressive strength test, it still has a soft surface texture.
Therefore, it is still prone to scratching and denting, which could ruin the appearance of your furniture.
However, if you want a more rustic aesthetic for your furniture, surface weakness should not be a problem, as rustic wood furniture looks more beautiful with age.
Before working with pine wood, ensure that your cutting or carving tools are well sharpened.
Also, ensure that you do the cutting, drilling, and sanding slowly to prevent the surface from tearing and splintering.
If you follow these simple guidelines, all your pine furniture will turn out strong, durable, and beautiful.
Is Pine Wood Strong for Bed Frame?
Pine wood is strong enough for a bed frame because of its marginal stability.
Marginal stability means the wood won’t swell, shrink or warp when moisture levels in the atmosphere change.
As a result, the bed frame will remain steady.
The other feature that adds to the strength of pine wood is its compressive and bending strength.
High compressive strength ensures that the legs of the bed frame do not break easily.
On the other hand, a high bending strength ensures that the bed slats do not sag or break when you apply some weight.
However, there’s one crucial thing that you must always keep in mind when making a bed frame using pine wood.
You should never use too long planks when making the frame, especially when fixing the support components.
The reason is that long pine wood planks do not have enough strength to support heavy weights.
Therefore, you should always ensure that your boards are of an optimum length to build the strongest bed possible using pine.
If you are not sure about the plank length to use, I recommend that you only use pine wood to make beds for your kids.
This way, the beds will be relatively small, so there is no chance of accidentally using overly long planks.
Moreover, kids are not that heavy; hence, they will not exert enough weight on the frame to break it.
The best pine species for bed frames are either the southern or western yellow pine.
They have very high compressive and bending strengths and the highest Janka rating of the four species discussed in this article.
The bending and compressive strengths will keep the bedframe from breaking and sagging.
However, the hardness will ensure that the surface does not incur any dents or scratches.
Even though these two species have general high Janka ratings, you still need to protect their surface to prevent blemishes.
On the bright side, pine wood readily accepts all kinds of finishes, so you can protect it however you want.
You can apply a clear protective coating on the bedframe to maintain the natural light hue of pine.
You can also apply stain or paint to match it to the rest of the decor in your bedroom.
Is Pine Wood Strong for Stairs
Yes, pine wood can make durable stairs, especially if the stairs are indoors and in a low-traffic area of your home.
I do not recommend them for outdoor stairs because pine is not strong enough to withstand harsh outdoor elements unless it is treated.
The Southern yellow pine is the best choice to build your staircase because it has the highest Janka rating and bending strength of the four pine subspecies.
The high hardness rating allows the wood to resist dents and scratches better than the other pines.
Hence, you won’t have to worry about denting the stair treads when you accidentally drop something on them.
The hardness also prevents scratches that could form when your pets run their claws over the treads.
Even if you use the Southern yellow pine to make the stairs, there are still a few things you must remember to ensure they last long.
If you abide by these simple rules, you can get away with using pine wood for all your stairs projects.
- First, ensure that you use the appropriate number of stringers to support the stair treads.
Stair stringers are essential because they provide a strong foundation for every step on the staircase.
When building the stairs, you will attach the treads and risers directly to the stringers to hold them in place and provide the necessary support to hold up some weight.
To support the treads, you will need at least one stringer for every 12-16 inches of stairs.
- You must remember to avoid subjecting your stairs to significant weight strains, such as moving heavy objects or appliances.
Pinewood may be strong, but continuous subjection to heavy items cause the treads to wear out faster and may make the staircase break before serving you for a long time.
- Lastly, when buying the wood, you must ensure that your lumber yard carries a stock specifically meant for the construction of stairs.
Pine wood is naturally knotty and tends to have a few voids in its structure.
These knots may give the wood a beautiful rustic appearance, but they also cause the wood to be a little weaker.
So, if you use the wood to make stairs, you may have to replace the treads frequently due to cracking and breakages.
Purchasing pieces of pine wood cut specifically for building stairs will give you an edge because you will have the strongest possible planks for the job.
Comparing Pine Wood Strength and Other Alternatives
Here are some of the alternatives to pine wood that we shall discuss:
Pine Vs Cedar
Like pine wood, cedar has four subspecies, each with a different strength level.
For each measure of strength, I’ll compare the subspecies with the highest or the lowest figures to determine which wood is stronger.
The Southern yellow pine has the highest density of the pine subspecies at 39lbs/ft3.
On the other hand, the densest of the cedar wood subspecies is the eastern red cedar, weighing 33lbs/ft3.
These numbers show that pine wood weighs more than cedar wood at workable moisture content.
However, the white pine is an exception as it weighs 25lbs/ft3, far less than the eastern red cedar.
The hardest pine is the southern yellow pine with a Janka rating of 870 lbf, while the hardest cedar is the eastern red, with a rating of 900 lbf.
From these two measurements, we could conclude that cedar is harder than pine wood.
However, the eastern red cedar is the only subspecies with a Janka rating that surpasses that of pine.
All the other pine subspecies have ratings higher than cedar; therefore, pine is more resistant to scratches and dents than cedar.
- Compressive and Bending Strengths
The southern yellow pine has the highest compressive and bending strengths at 7270 lbf/in2 and 13,100 lbf/in2, respectively.
On the other hand, yellow cedar has the highest figures, with a compressive strength of 6310 lbf/in2 and bending strength of 11,100 lbf/in2.
From these figures, we can tell that pine wood can withstand heavier loads against the grain without breaking.
Conclusion: Pine is stronger than cedar.
Pine vs Poplar
There are several types of poplar wood.
However, for this section, I’ll compare the strength of the white poplar to that of the western yellow pine because they are the most common of each species.
The white poplar and the western yellow pine have a very slight gap in their weight difference.
White poplar has an average dried weight of 28 lbs/ft3, while the western yellow pine weighs 29 lbs/ft3.
Therefore, they are both lightweight and easy to manipulate with hand or power tools.
The western yellow pine has a Janka hardness rating of 690 lbf, higher than white poplar’s 410 lbf.
They both have relatively hard surfaces, but the western yellow pine is more resistant to dents and scratches.
For this reason, it will serve you better in high-traffic places than the white poplar.
- Compressive and Bending Strengths
Like the hardness, these two types of wood also have very little difference in the weight they can withstand against their grain before they break.
The white poplar can take more weight than the western yellow pine. However, since the difference is almost unnoticeable, you can use them for similar projects without problems.
Bending strength – 9430 lbf/in2
Compressive strength – 5540 lbf/in2
Western Yellow Pine
Bending strength – 9400 lbf/in2
Compressive strength – 5320 lbf/in2
Conclusion: They have similar strengths. However, pine is more resistant to scratches, while poplar can take more weight against the grain.
Pine Vs Plywood
Unlike the other woods on this list, plywood is not solid wood. It is a material manufactured by gluing thin layers or “plies” of wood under high pressure.
Manufacturers place the plies perpendicular to each other to alternate the direction of the wood grain – a trick that makes plywood stronger than solid woods.
Layering the plies with the wood grain perpendicular to each other isn’t the only thing that makes plywood strong.
Other factors affect strength, but they are not the same as the factors we look at when determining the strength of solid wood.
So, in this section, I’ll discuss all the things that affect the strength of plywood then I’ll compare the relative strength to that of pine.
Factors that Affect the Strength of Plywood
- The Number of Layers
The total number of layers in a piece of plywood is the best indicator of its strength – the more layers it has, the stronger it is.
The weakest plywoods have four or fewer layers; we refer to them as “shop grade” plywood. It is the most affordable and the easiest to break.
A moderate-strength piece of plywood has five to seven layers, while the strongest ones have more than seven layers.
So, when you compare the strength of plywood and pine, solid pine is always stronger than shop-grade plywood but weaker than the ones with five layers and above.
As expected, the thicker the plywood, the stronger it is. Let’s take a 3/4-inch-thick piece of plywood, for example.
At 3/4 inch, the plywood is strong enough for some heavy construction projects and can easily withstand an average of 50 pounds in weight.
However, a 3/4 piece of solid pine wood would break or bend when you put that much weight on it.
- Wood Species and Adhesive
The wood species that manufacturers use to make plywood plays a significant role in determining its overall strength.
You can use either hardwood or softwood pieces to make the plywood.
Plywood made from hardwoods such as oak or teak is much stronger than those made with softwoods like pine and cedar.
However, manufacturers often overcome the potential weakness and level the strengths by gluing the softwood pieces together using exterior glue.
The exterior glue helps to prevent the plywood from absorbing the moisture that could cause its layers to separate.
Plywood made using hardwood or softwood pieces is much stronger than solid pine.
However, if you use interior glue on the softwood plywood, its strength level could easily match that of solid pine or even become less.
Pinewood has all the great qualities of building material. It is affordable, easy to find, and has a beautiful color and grain pattern.
However, great appearances aside, the most crucial thing that woodworkers want for their structures is durability and stability.
They want to know if the wood will hold up when you put a little weight on it or crumble a little every time you put it to use.
Thus the burning question remains…
Is Pine Wood Strong?
Pine wood is strong because it has closely packed grain that prevents it from breaking when you put a little stress on its surface.
However, the strength of pine wood varies by species, so your structure will only be as strong as the type of pine you use to build it.
The four common subspecies of pine are the southern yellow pine, the western yellow pine, the white pine, and the red pine.
The Southern yellow pine is the strongest overall because it has the highest Janka rating and can hold more weight against the grain before breaking.
This makes it perfect for all projects, including building furniture, stairs, decks, and paneling.
The weakest pine is the white pine because it has a very soft surface that is easy to dent.
Furthermore, it easily breaks when you put too much weight on it; therefore, you should only use it indoors and in low-traffic areas.
Moreover, you must protect its surface with a clear coat to minimize damage to the surface.
Thank you for reading this article, and I hope you now know if pine is suitable for your future projects.
If you need me to clarify anything or need more information on anything, feel free to reach out in the comments below.