Whitewood and pine are two popular sources of timber. The two provide affordable, easily workable lumber that many woodworkers love. Moreover, both are fairly readily available, even though pine is more common.
Unfortunately, choosing between whitewood vs pine isn’t always a walk in the park as they share many many similarities. So, you may find yourself wondering which one to pick for your next woodworking project.
We’ve created this guide to make the decision a little easier and to make you know between whitewood vs. pine: which is better?
Whitewood vs Pine: Which is Better for a Woodworking Project?
Both whitewood and pine are durable woods that can last 15+ years with proper care. However, pine is just a little harder, thus more durable and more resistant to denting and scratching than whitewood. Therefore, it’s the better choice between the two, albeit marginally.
WhiteWood vs Pine: Overview
We have a head-to-head comparison coming up shortly. But, before we get there, perhaps we should take a few steps back to understand whitewood and pine separately, so we have a better idea of their unique backgrounds.
What is Whitewood?
Whitewood refers to the wood sawn from the tulip tree, also called the fiddle tree, yellow poplar, American tulip tree, or tulip poplar in some quarters.
All the names refer to Liriodendron tulipifera, the North American representation of the two-species genus, Liriodendron
Liriodendron tulipifera is the tallest eastern hardwood, growing to an impressive 160 feet tall. Below is a brief overview of the fast-growing hardwood.
Whitewood grows naturally in Connecticut and New York, all the way up to Canada in Ohio and Ontario. You may also find a few tulip tree forests in northern Florida. It’s a highly sustainable plant that regrows quickly.
It’s very easy to identify tulip trees as they have unmistakable leaf shapes. The leaves are twice as long as they’re wide and comprise four points, spread evenly from the stem, in almost a semi-circle pattern.
One of the biggest challenges when shopping for whitewood is confirming whether you’re indeed getting lumber from tulip trees.
Since it shares many characteristics with popular softwoods, many stores mistakenly or knowingly sell douglas fir, southern yellow pine, or spruce as whitewood. You need hawk eyes to spot the differences.
Anyway, whitewood has a creamy white heartwood, typically with a hint of yellow. It’s also characterized by a fine even texture and consistently straight grain.
Unfortunately, wood from tulip trees has very poor rot resistance. The heartwood is rated as being slightly rot resistant to non-resistant to decay.
The two main types of tulip trees are the American tulip tree, native to the US, and the Chinese tulip tree, native to China.
- American tulip tree: The American tulip tree is often referred to as either canoe wood or white wood. It’s a sturdy, tall, striking, and elegant tree that grows to 60 meters tall and can last 500 years.
- Chinese tulip tree: The Chinese tulip tree is almost similar to its American cousin. It’s a tall deciduous tree with a straight, tall trunk and dark brown furrowed bark. The main difference is that they only grow to about 40 meters tall and have much bigger leaves, nearly double in size.
Pros and Cons
- Soft and highly workable
- Aesthetically pleasing appearance
- Whitewood is very affordable
- Excellent finishing qualities
- It rots easily
- It’s prone to growth and warping
What is Whitewood used for?
Whitewood has many applications, especially in woodworking. However, it’s primary use for indoor applications, including;
Pinewood is a popular wood choice for woodworking jobs and light construction projects. It’s easy to cultivate and widely available. Moreover, pine is very easy to cut, shape, saw, nail, screw, and finish.
As a result, it’s one of the most commonly used woods in cabinetry and roofing. Knotty pine wood makes beautiful cabinets. Many woodworkers finish it in an orange-red hue that’s particularly striking.
The following are more details about these valuable timber trees.
Pinewood is a coniferous softwood naturally found in various locations in the northern hemisphere, including Mexico, China, Europe, and India. Afghanistan and Bhutan are other countries with significant acreage under pine trees.
Pine trees are fast-growing trees. The average pine grows one to two feet per year and is ready for harvesting in 20-30 years.
Pine has fine-grained and creamy white sapwood. A few species have yellower than white sapwood. You’ll notice many knots within the sapwood.
Often, the knots are dark, easily standing out from the light color of the sapwood. These sharp contrasts make pine a great choice for rustic decors.
The heartwood is darker, typically reddish because of the resin that resides within the grain. However, finding pure pine hardwood isn’t easy as it’s only available from very old trees. So, most people reclaim them from old houses.
Pine is surprisingly hard. For instance, the eastern white pine scores 1300 on the Janka scale while the southern yellow pine is rated 870 lbf on the same scale. It’s also highly resistant to bending and shrinking and is highly workable.
There are more than 170 species of pine globally. However, the most common species in the US include;
- Southern yellow pine
- Eastern white pine
- Sugar pine
- Caribbean pine
- Red pine
- Scotch pine
Pros and Cons
- Pinewood is inexpensive
- Pine is lightweight
- It’s stiff and durable
- High workability
- Shock resistant
- Pinewood requires treatment
- Poor tear and wear resistance
- Requires high maintenance
Pine wood uses
Pine lumber is a highly versatile material with many applications in woodworking and construction. Its common uses include;
- Pine furniture
- Pine cutting boards
- Making doors and windows
- Interior trimming
Whitewood vs Pine: Head to Head
Let’s now find out how pine and whitewood lumber compare. What are the differences and which one should you pick for your next woodworking project?
1. Hardwood vs softwood
The first and perhaps most significant difference between whitewood and pine is that one is a hardwood and the other a softwood. Though similar in many ways, softwoods and hardwoods are very different too.
Hardwoods are deciduous plants that lose some of their leaves annually whereas softwoods are evergreen conifers that retain their leaves throughout the year. You’ll also note that whitewood trees have broader leaves than pine trees.
Being a hardwood, whitewood is slower-growing compared to pine. Fortunately, it’s one of the fastest-growing hardwoods.
Hardwoods are also angiosperms that produce seeds within their fruits. Tulip tree fruits are known as samaras. Meanwhile, softwoods are gymnosperms, with no flowers or fruits. So, pines produce naked seeds on the surface of the leaves.
Unfortunately, it is practically impossible to distinguish between whitewood and pine on the basis of appearance. Both have light sapwood with a straight grain pattern.
Also, both have reddish heartwoods, especially in more mature trees. Therefore, it’s very difficult to tell one from the other, even if you’re looking at them side by side.
You may argue that standard pine wood is a little yellower than whitewood lumber. However, some pine species are creamy white, just like whitewood.
Fortunately, you can always turn to other appearance qualities, such as knots. Although both pine and whitewood are knotty, whitewood is practically overrun with knots. It’s hard to find a square foot of whitewood without a couple of knots.
First, remember that hardwoods are not necessarily harder than softwoods. Therefore, whitewoods aren’t necessarily harder than pine lumber. Instead, hardness is a measure of resistance to tear and wear as measured on the Janka scale.
So, which one is harder between whitewood and pine wood? Pine. Although whitewood isn’t a pushover either, more than 80% of pinewood species are harder than whitewood, which is rated 540 Janka.
For instance, red pine is rated 1630 on the Janka scale, making it harder than white oak (1360 Janka) and hard maple (1450 Janka).
The Caribbean heart pine (1280 lbf) is also an extremely hard hardwoods. Even the southern yellow pine (870 Janka) is harder than whitewood.
However, some varieties of pine are extremely soft. For instance, white pine (420 Janka) and eastern white pine (380 Janka) are both softer than whitewood.
4. Strength and density
Generally, tulip tree timber is stronger than pine wood. Although some pine species come close whitewood is superior in this regard.
For instance, the American eastern white pine is one of the softest woods on earth, with a compressive strength (modulus of rupture) of 3.5 MPa.
Meanwhile, the southern yellow pine has a compressive strength of 21.3 MPa. Strangely, the extremely hard red pine is also very low in compressive strength, scoring a paltry 1.79 MPa. Yellow poplar has a modulus of rupture of 69.7 MPa.
In terms of density, most pine species are within the same range as whitewood. For instance, whereas whitewood weighs about 455 kg/cubic meter when dried, eastern white pine weighs 349 kg/m3 while red pine weighs 401 kg/m3.
The only outlier is the southern yellow pine which weighs up to 670/m3.
5. Weather resistance
Weather resistance is a critical factor when shopping for wood for outdoor furniture and other outdoor projects. You want timber that can withstand extreme cold and extremely hot conditions.
Additionally, wood products must be rot-resistant, decay-resistant, and resistant to moisture. Unfortunately, whitewood isn’t very good in any of these respects.
First, whitewood readily absorbs water. Therefore, it easily warps and bends when exposed to rain or cold outdoor conditions. Additionally, it rots and decays easily.
Therefore, it makes a rather poor choice for outdoor applications. That said, though, treated tulipwood isn’t too bad a choice. Pine isn’t much better. Indeed, some studies show that it rots and decays faster than whitewood.
The only area where it beats whitewood is moisture resistance. It is more moisture repellant than whitewood. The good news is that pressure-treated pine is very durable. It doesn’t warp readily nor does it shrink or expand significantly.
6. Pest and Insect Resistance
Pest resistance is another critical consideration when shopping for timber for outdoor projects. Although insects will attempt to attack and bore all types of wood, pest-resistant wood puts most insects off through smell, natural oils, or other natural characteristics.
Here, whitewood wins. Whitewood is naturally termite resistant. It is also resistant to other common insects. This property allows whitewood products to live long enough.
It also makes whitewood furniture suited to rustic style applications, provided you keep the area warm and dry.
Pine, on the other hand, is highly prone to pest attacks. Subterranean termites happily feed on pine trees, pine lumber, and pinewood products.
Indeed, it’s among the wood types most favored by termites. Other insects that commonly attack pinewood and pinewood products are the European pine sawfly, weevils, borers, and caterpillars.
We’ve already covered the three main factors that impact the durability of a piece of lumber or items made from that wood. These are hardness and strength, weather resistance, and resistance to pests.
So, you can already guess which one between white wood and pine comes out on top. The short answer is – whitewood. This isn’t to say that whitewood is very durable.
It’s one of the most perishable hardwoods. For instance, oak, cedar, and walnut are all more durable than whitewood. They resist scratching and wear more than whitewood and withstand weather elements much better.
However, pine is worse. It’s prone to termite and pest attacks, rots readily (if untreated), and wears quickly as it’s softwood. Therefore, you should choose whitewood if you’re solely interested in durability.
Both pine and whitewood are highly sustainable. Both are available in significant forest cover in the US and across Europe and Asia. Moreover, both trees grow very fast.
Tulip trees are ready for harvesting within 15 – 20 years and pine trees often mature within around the same period. So, there’s no threat of depletion in both cases.
However, pine is slightly more sustainable. First, it’s a softwood. Softwoods grow much faster than hardwoods. Moreover, pine is known for “carbon-capturing” during its fast growth and “carbon storage” in pine furniture.
This makes it much more environmentally friendly than whitewood. Whitewood has the same qualities but at a lower degree. The trees grow pretty fast and tulip captures and stores carbon excellently, to the benefit of the environment.
Whitewood and pine are both mostly used in the woodworking industry, though you’ll occasionally find both in a few construction projects.
Tulip poplar is primarily used in projects where cheap, easy to use, and readily available timber is needed. So, it’s common in cheap wood flooring projects, siding, and furniture.
You can transform a whitewood board into pretty much any piece of furniture, from a dining room table to chairs and office furniture. Outdoor whitewood applications include exterior doors and outdoor furniture, such as garden benches.
Pinewood is even more versatile. First, it’s very common in construction projects. For instance, many people use it for wood frames in wooden-framed houses.
It’s also good for doors, windows, decks, partitions, railing, wall cladding, and interior trimming. Pine is also used in solid wood flooring and engineered wood flooring and in veneering and making plywood.
Above all, woodworkers love pine lumber. They use it to make doors,
You’re probably already wondering which one between whitewood and pine lumber is more affordable. The good news is that both are cheap lumber sources you can readily find at the next lumber store. However, pine is slightly more expensive.
The main reason pine is more expensive is that it’s one of the hardest softwoods. Additionally, pine is extremely versatile, with endless applications in woodworking and construction.
For instance, treated pine timber is excellent for outdoor furniture. so, it easily stands out from its category.
Whitewood, by comparison, doesn’t stand out as one of the best hardwoods. Although it’s harder than some pine species, many people, including customers, see it as a low-budget option. The poor perception hurts its value.
11. Finishing and maintenance
Both pinewood and whitewood are relatively easy to finish and maintain. However, the finishing and maintenance approaches vary.
Finishing whitewood is a little more challenging. First, whitewood boards are extremely smooth. Therefore, paint doesn’t stick to the surfaces well.
Moreover, whitewood, as we saw, absorbs a lot of water and paint. so, you may apply too much paint to the surface if you’re not careful. The same issues make staining difficult.
The wood may absorb too much stain, resulting in a blotchy finish. Therefore, it’s better to apply a pre-stain before staining the wood.
Finishing pinewood furniture is slightly easy. First, always use pressure-treated pine lumber for maximum pest and weather resistance.
Secondly, decide whether to stain or paint. Staining pine is better if you’re interested in the rustic, knotty appearance. Meanwhile, painting allows you to cover the knots.
Check out our guide if you are interested in staining pine to look like oak.
To clean whitewood and pine furniture, wipe them gently with a towel dipped in a mixture of one cup of white vinegar and two cups of warm water.
So, from the discussion, you can see that pine and whitewood share many similarities. In fact, they are nearly impossible to distinguish when comparing the wood pieces side by side as they have the same colors and grain patterns.
Moreover, both are highly knotted wood, though whitewood has more knots. However, there are also major differences between the two.
First, whitewood is a broad-leaved hardwood while pine is a coniferous softwood. Secondly, pinewood is harder than whitewood.
Although a few pine varieties are softer, the average pine lumber is harder than tulip tree lumber. Above all, pine wood is more valuable and more expensive than whitewood.
What is a whitewood board?
Technically, whitewood boards refer to wood obtained from the tulip tree. The wood is characterized by a creamy white color and straight grains. A whitewood board is easily cut, machined, sanded, and fastened with hand or power tools. However, beware that some home improvement centers sell pine and even spruce as whitewood.
Is whitewood pine?
No, whitewood is not pine. The two are completely different wood species. Whitewood refers to lumber from the famous tulip tree, a hardwood native to Connecticut and New York. Meanwhile, pinewood is a softwood obtained from coniferous Pinus trees. So, although both have a creamy white color, they are not the same.
Is whitewood hard or soft?
Whitewood is relatively soft. A Janka score of 540 lbf places it at the lower end of the lumber hardness scale. However, make no mistake about it; whitewood is a hardwood. Don’t confuse the two descriptions. Although it’s one of the softest hardwoods, it’s a hardwood nonetheless – not a softwood.
Is whitewood good for the outdoors?
Yes, your outdoor furniture will be perfectly fine if it’s made from whitewood. It’s a highly insect-resistant hardwood that naturally wards off termites and other insects. However, beware that only pressure-treated whitewood withstands outdoor weather conditions. Untreated whitewood lumber absorbs too much moisture, making it prone to warping and shrinking.
What is the difference between whitewood and pine?
The main difference between whitewood and pine is that whitewood has more knots. Pine is a knotty wood too. But it has significantly fewer knots than whitewood. Pine is also harder than whitewood. However, remember that whitewood is hardwood whereas pine is softwood.
Is whitewood good for shelves?
Yes, whitewood, also known as tulip poplar, is a very good wood choice for shelving. First, it’s affordable and readily available. So, you don’t need a big budget for your shelves. Secondly, tulip poplar boasts a creamy white color and straight grain pattern that’s characteristic of shelving in modern decor. Above all, treated whitewood is highly durable.
Is whitewood good for framing
Yes, many construction workers successfully use whitewood for timber framing. It’s a strong, dependable wood that makes sturdy and durable frames. Moreover, whitewood is naturally resistant to termites and many insects, and treated whitewood is moisture and rot-resistant.
What is the difference between white pine and yellow pine?
The main difference between white pine and yellow pine is that yellow pine is stronger and heartier but warps more than white pine. White pine stays true to its form even in extreme weather conditions. Interestingly, color is not a defining factor between white and yellow pine. Both are amber-colored, ranging from yellow to off-white.
The main takeaway from this guide is that it’s possible to mistakenly buy pine for whitewood and vice versa. Indeed, many stores sell pine as whitewood.
The differences between the two are so subtle that distinguishing between the two from a glance is near impossible. So, you must be extra careful when shopping.
When to Use Whitewood
We recommend using whitewood lumber (obtained from tulip trees) in indoor woodworking applications that require cheap, readily available wood.
So, dining room tables, indoor chairs, and office furniture are excellent applications. However, it’s not a great choice for outdoor applications.
When to Use Pine
Pinewood is best suited to rustic furniture projects and construction jobs. For instance, many people use it to build houses as treated pine wood is strong and highly weather resistant.
Pine also makes strong and beautiful doors, windows, and decks. Alternatively, use it for solid wood floors and engineered wood floors.