The lake states' lumber tree.

Anyone who has spent time hiking the northern shores of Lake Superior and Lake Huron or in Michigan's Upper Peninsula finds memorable the vast stands of pine. Much of the spectacular scene, though, results from extensive plantation plantings by forest products companies, state forestry departments, and the U.S. Forest Service. And, while Mother Nature traditionally mixes white pine with red, spruce with fir, and adds dashes of birch, ash, and aspen, men planting forests for future timber production feel no such compulsion. That's why after the turn of the century's great log harvests, foresters replenished much of the felled forests with seedlings of red pine, a hard-wooded conifer trusted to grow quickly and straight. That's the reason the standing volume of sawtimber today in the Great Lakes states consists of great quantities of red pine. In Wisconsin, nearly 34 million board feet of red pine saw logs were harvested in 1995, a figure greater than that for any other of the state's timber species. The wood meets the needs for strong dimensional stock in construction and for flooring, door and frames, and other millwork. Red pine logs are also popular for rustic homes and cabins.

Wood identification

Commonly called Norway pine because of an early mistaken association with a similar-looking species found in that country, red pine (Pinus resinosa) is truly a tree of the North. Its primary range extends from eastern Canada to northern-most Minnesota and south to Pennsylvania and southwest Wisconsin. It thrives in the sandy soils of the Great Lakes region and does well in the dry gravels of New England. In prime conditions, red pine annually grows a foot in height for its first 60 years, then growth tapers off to maturity at 100 years. The tree can attain a height of 140' with a diameter of 4'. The average tree, however, runs 60-80' tall with a diameter of 2-3' at breast height. The most recognizable feature of the red pine is its reddish brown bark divided into flat, irregularly shaped, flaky scales. This thick bark protects the tree from fire and insects. Red pine's dark green, glossy needles of 4-6" in length appear in pairs. In the spring, small purple blooms occur near new growth followed by round, red flowers. Conical seed cones are produced every two to four years, and remain high in the tree's crown. Where the tree is grown for timber, the hard-to-gather seed cones fetch a good price. Although red pine's Latin name implies large amounts of resin, its wood is comparatively non-resinous. At 33 pounds per cubic foot air-dry, it's a bit heavier than either Douglas fir or eastern white pine. Bordered by a thick layer of light yellow sapwood, the light red heartwood is both straight- and close-grained, and moderately strong. When seasoned, the wood remains stable in use.


Uses in woodworking

Use red pine for the same projects as eastern white pine, with which it was once marketed. That means furniture and cabinets as well as doors, sash, shutters, and trim. Don't use outdoors unless treated.


As dimension lumber and boards, you'll find red pine at most outlets throughout its range. Boards in common grades (Nos. 1, 2, etc.) cost about $1.25 per foot. Wide boards (over 12") and clearer finish grades (C, C&Btr.) cost more.Although red pine will grow to 4' diameter, such a large tree is rare today. That's because most of the harvest comes from plantation plantings where trees run smaller. Therefore, wide boards prove scarce. But at the same time, plantation trees growing close together produce wood with fewer knots and straighter grain. With those positives in mind, pick boards for your project that contain the smallest amount of light-colored sapwood (unless you like contrast). You'll be lucky if you run across red pine that's been kiln-dried to 6 percent moisture content. In the construction industry, where most of this wood goes, 12 percent is considered dry. Look for the stamp "KD15" or "MC12" on boards that indicates a moisture content averaging 15 or 12 percent. Be sure to stack and sticker the wood in your shop for a week or two so it can acclimate before working it. Then, keep the following tips in mind.


Machining methods

  • Red pine may be strong and stiff, but as a softwood, it's not hard. So you can work it with either hand or power tools.
  • If you have worked white pine, expect more pitch in red. This means that to avoid burning and blade wander caused by pitch buildup during ripping or routing, you'll have to occasionally clean cutting edges with acetone or other solvent. A Teflon-coated blade or cutter also works well.
  • This wood will also chip and splinter on cross-grain cuts-always use a backing board.
  • Because of the pitch, drilling can also cause burning. Drill this wood at a faster speed than hardwood, but be sure to back the bit out of the hole every so often.
  • Only sap pockets in a joint will hinder adhesives. If you can't avoid it, wipe the pocket or knot with acetone before gluing.
  • Seal all knotholes or sap pockets with shellac before painting.
  • To reduce chances of blotchy staining, first seal the wood with a washcoat of thinned shellac, use wood conditioner, or rely on gel stains for even coloring.
  • Under a clear finish, red pine will darken and yellow with age.

Carving comments

  • Red pine has departures in softness between early wood and late wood, making detail work difficult.
  • Remember to clean gum buildup from power tool cutters.
  • Limit long cuts with the grain due to this wood's tendency to splinter.

Turning tips

  • Should resin droplets emerge on your work, let them dry, then scrape off before finishing.

Shop-Tested Techniques

Any exceptions, and special tips pertaining to this featured wood species, appear elsewhere on this page.

  • For stability in indoor projects, always try to work wood with a maximum moisture content of 8 percent. A 12 percent moisture content suits those projects built for the outdoors.
  • Feed straight-grained wood into planer knives at a 90° angle. To avoid tearing, feed figured wood or that with twisted grain at a slight angle of 15°, and take shallow cuts of about 132 ".
  • For clean cuts, rip with a rip-profile blade that has 24-32 teeth. For crosscutting, use a blade with about 40 teeth.
  • Avoid drilling with twist drills. They tend to wander and cause breakout. Brad-point bits work better. Always use a backing board under the workpiece.
  • Drill pilot holes for screws.
  • Rout with sharp, preferably carbide-tipped, bits and take shallow passes to avoid burning.
  • Carving softwoods generally means fairly steep gouge bevels-20° or more—and deeper cuts.
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