Different Types of Softwood and Their Uses

Softwoods and their uses

Weights refer to kilograms per cubic metre (35.31 cu. ft) of air-dried timber (1 kg =2.2 lb.).

Douglas fir

Also known as British Columbian pine, Oregon pine.

Grown British Columbia; weight 500-575 kg; colour gold/reddish brown.

This strong, durable timber comes from a massive tree commonly up to 75 m. (250 ft) tall with a base diameter of 1500 mm (5 ft) or more.

The boards are straight-grained, long and even.

In recent years, Douglas fir has become popular for furniture making. Its even texture makes it easy to work, although tools have to be sharpened frequently. It makes excellent doors, frames and windows but must have a protective coating if used outside.

Use oval nails with this timber, as it is inclined to split. Beware, too, of needle-sharp splinters.

It is available in a large range of boards commonly up to 100 mm thick and 250 mm wide, and in veneer, plywood or decorative ply panels.

buying timber



Grown eastern Canada, north western U.S.A., British Columbia; 470 kg; cream/buff.

A good utility softwood, uniformly textured and available in long, wide boards. It is quite strong and is used for common joinery, ladder and step-making, and some panelling work. Hemlock is easy to work but has little grain character.


Grown British Isles. Europe; 700-770 kg; pale yellow, brown.

Basically an outdoor timber, larch is rather difficult to work.

It is extremely durable, tough and resinous, and is ideal for fencing posts, poles and big gates.

Parana pine

Grown South America; 470-550 kg; pale cream/brown with purple.

A tough timber with a fine, even texture used for interior joinery. It is available in wide, long boards, often without knots.

Parana pine shrinks rapidly during drying, and once it starts twisting may go into a propeller shape and never return. Splits down the centres of boards are common.

To reduce the risk of twisting, fix Parana pine in position quickly. Without a preliminary drying-out. If you are delayed in using it, store the timber flat, with an evenly spread weight on top.

Keep heat or strong sunlight away from Parana pine until it is fixed. Do not use it outside.

Pitch pine

Grown Honduras and Nicaragua; 800 kg; red, brown.

This wood is not readily available now. It has been used in great quantities in churches and halls for beams and pews.

It is highly resinous (and inflammable), heavy and very strong. In wet conditions, it has proved to be extremely durable.

The sticky resin has a wonderful smell when being worked, which almost makes up for the constant tool-cleaning required to remove it. The resin holds dirt unless protected with a surface finish.

Red Baltic pine

(Scots pine in the UK)

Commonly known as deal, red pine, red deal and yellow deal.

Grown Russia, Scandinavia, U.K.; 390-425 kg: pale yellow/cream to deep red-brown.

This is perhaps the most common softwood available. The grades likely to be bought for do-it-yourself work are:

Clear and better: clear of knots or with few knots;

Joinery: some ‘live’ or sound knots, which will not drop out after shrinking;

Carcassing: the lowest grade, used for jobs such as building a crate or coal bunker.

The building industry uses Baltic pine for joists, rafters, door- and window-frames and floorboards.

This timber is very pale when freshly planed but darkens quickly to a rich golden-brown on exposure to light. It shrinks a good deal if used direct from the supplier. When it is thoroughly dry, finishing is easy and the timber is a joy to work.


Commonly known as whitewood.

Grown British Isles, Canada, U.S.A., Europe; 400-470 kg; cream to light golden yellow, brown.

A wood for interior use only. It is suitable for joinery. Steps, ceilings and flooring.

Spruce has a long, tough and sometimes wild grain When wet, it is almost impossible to clean up.

Its advantage over redwood is that it remains much lighter in colour on exposure to light.

The surface sandpapers well. The wood nails. Screws, and glues easily, and is not inclined to split. Resin pockets should be cut out where possible to prevent dripping.

Western red cedar

Grown Canada; approx. 345 kg: pale yellow/pink to deep tan.

Natural oils in this timber keep it free from attack by insects and give it outstanding durability.

The giant trees yield long boards with an even, straight grain and few, if any, knots. The timber will stand up extremely well to central heating and can be used close to radiators without fear of warping.

Its main disadvantage is that it is not strong and its surface is easily dented. It is used mainly for ceilings, external cladding, sheds and greenhouses, and shingle roofing. When left untreated outside. It will turn grey as the natural oils wash out and bleach.

A plane leaves a silk finish on the long grain, but the end grain tends to pull out or crush rather than cut. You need very sharp tools for joint cutting. The timber machines very well.

As it will deter moths, cedar can be used, like camphor wood, for linen chests.

Yellow or white pine

Grown Canada. North-eastern U.S.A.; 390-425 kg; pale yellow when fresh.

This timber, one of the softest of the Canadian pines, works easily and takes a satin-smooth finish. Because of its reliability when dry, it is used by pattern makers. It changes colour quickly on exposure to light and perishes quickly in damp Available from specialist merchants only.


Grown British Isles, Europe; 750-780 kg; yellow to reddish tan.

The trunk has a spiral twist and deeply fluted section, and attains little height before branching. Long, clean boards have a lot of light-coloured sapwood, a number of large holes, and some unusable areas of big knots and splits. Allow for up to 50 per cent waste.

Yew, a very heavy softwood with a tight, firm grain, is best suited to turnery and small articles. It is difficult to work but well worth the effort, for it gives a beautiful finish.

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26. June 2011 by admin
Categories: Timber, Woodworking | Tags: , | Comments Off on Different Types of Softwood and Their Uses


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