Pine remains one of the most popular woods for building projects. Pine is readily available, sold in a variety of sizes, and is relatively easy to work with. Pine does present some challenges, though. Here are some tips that will help ensure that you have great success when building projects from pine.
In lumberyards, buying pine is fairly straightforward because the boards will be labeled by their grade, such as “Select,” “#2 Common,” “C & Better,” and “Clear.” These grades define the nominal sizes, moisture content, and the nature and number of defects in the boards.In home centers, buying pine can be a bit more challenging because many of the boards that look like pine may actually be another type of wood. You’ll often find boards labeled as “whitewood” that may be pine, spruce, fir, hemlock, or another similar species. You’ll also see studs and construction lumber labeled as “SPF,” which means they could be spruce, pine, or fir.
This may all seem confusing, but the bottom line is that these boards will all have a similar appearance, and will work fine for most projects. There are a couple of exceptions. First, if you’re building a structure, such as a wall, shed, etc., make sure you select from the construction grades. Second, if you’re building an outdoor project, pine or whitewood isn’t a great choice (unless it’s pressure-treated pine) because it will rot quickly. Otherwise, for projects such as tables, benches, bookcases, etc., you can generally use pine and any of the “whitewood” boards interchangeably.
Next, you need to know how pine and whitewood boards are sized. They’re sold as “dimensional lumber,” with sizes listed as 1×4, 2×4, 2×6, and so on. These are the “nominal” dimensions of the boards—their size before final milling. The “actual” dimensions are smaller. For example, a 2×4 actually measures 1-3/4″ x 3-1/2″. When you’re setting up your Kreg Jig, and when you’re working with measurements in plans, be sure that you are using the actual size.
Most pine and whitewood boards have a lot of knots. Depending on the project, this can enhance or detract from the appearance. “Select” grade pine boards have very few knots, but are expensive. Other grades, especially in 1×6 and wider boards, usually have quite a few knots. You may be able to lay out parts on these wider boards to avoid the knots, but this requires a lot more cutting and means you’ll have a fair amount of waste.
Knots in pine and whitewood may also have cracks or even be loose. Cracks don’t necessarily present a problem, but a loose knot may actually fall out, leaving a hole in your project. In either case, you can repair and stabilize the knot by filling the crack or void with epoxy adhesive. Be careful not to get too much epoxy on the surrounding area, though, and be sure to sand off any excess, because the epoxy won’t absorb stain.
Speaking of stain, that’s an area where many people run into problems with pine and whitewood. Because the wood is soft and the grain varies, it absorbs stain unevenly, causing blotchy, inconsistent color. The trick is to first coat the wood with a “wood conditioner.” It partially seals the wood pores, so the boards absorb stain much more evenly.
Finally, when you’re building projects with pine, be sure to choose the right screws. Pine is a softwood, so you’ll generally want to use screws with coarse threads, rather than fine threads. You can go online to find more information about choosing the right Kreg screws.