Types of Wood | What is Softwood Lumber

Types of wood

What makes a softwood a softwood? Interestingly, it’s not because the wood is soft.

Softwoods come from conifer trees, or cone-bearing trees, and North American softwood species have needle-shaped foliage instead of the leaves found on hardwood trees.

Softwood lumber is highly versatile and beautiful, making it ideal for structural applications, along with interior and exterior designs and projects. Here, you’ll find everything you need to know about softwood species that can be used for building and designing in, on and around the home.

WESTERN RED CEDAR

Properties

Cedar is a highly revered, durable wood that’s naturally resistant to rot, decay and insect attacks.

Western Red Cedar is pitch and resin-free, which means it’s ideal for accepting and holding a wide range of beautiful finishes including elegant dark stains, shabby chic bleaches, traditional solid colors and naturally beautiful semi-transparents. Western Red Cedar also offers a wide range of lumber dimensions, surface textures and grades so it works in many different applications.

Uses

While the most popular uses of cedar are decking, siding and outdoor structures, such as pergolas and gazebos, you can enhance the beauty and elegance of your home with cedar molding, windows, doors, posts, beams, paneling, interior projects like feature walls, saunas, and almost anything else you dream up. You can even use cedar for acoustic insulation, as cedar walls and ceilings provide sound insulation necessary to quiet rooms.

Because cedar is pitch and resin free, the wood easily accepts a range of finishes, from fine oils and stains to solid coatings and paint. And the natural compounds that give this wood its fine scent also make it resistant to rot, decay and insect attacks, so it’s low maintenance.

Due to its low density, Western Red Cedar is a natural thermal insulator, which can help keep energy costs in check.

Appearance

Imbued with decidedly crisp yet superbly rich tonal properties, real cedar can create sublime outdoor sanctuaries, embolden traditional home decor, provoke cutting-edge architecture and inspire innovative interiors.

Cedar complements any architectural design – from turn-of-the-century to contemporary. It has richly textured grain with colors ranging from mellow ambers to reddish cinnamons and rich sienna browns. Its warm coloring is complemented by a uniform, fine-grained texture with a satin luster.

Sustainability

Western Red Cedar is renewable, recyclable, biodegradable and harvested from some of the most sustainably managed forests in the world.

Cedar species readily propagate, though in recent years there has been a strong emphasis on planting. An average of 8.0 million seedlings are planted each year on the coast, where cedar thrives. As forests regenerate, they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen as they grow, resulting in fewer greenhouse gases. Western Red Cedar is considered a desirable tree species for reforestation due to low numbers of insect pests, tolerance to wet soils and flooding and shade tolerance.

Resources 

Western Red Cedar Lumber Association:

Brochures & Literature

CAD Files

Useful Links

Frequently Asked Questions

Cedar Books

Glossary of Terms

“Real Cedar 101” Video

Western Red Cedar YouTube Channel

SPRUCE-PINE-FIR

Properties

Spruce-Pine-Fir is a grouping of wood species that grows in both the northern regions of the U.S. and throughout Canada. The grouping includes species such as Balsam Fir, Red Pine, Red Spruce, Black Spruce, Engelmann Spruce, and Lodgepole Pine. Lumber manufactured from these species is commonly found in building supply stores throughout the U.S., identified on the grade stamp as either S-P-F or SPFs.

Uses

Most of the Spruce-Pine-Fir species is manufactured into 2×4, 2×6, and 2×8 products, which are used in the framing of homes as wall studs, roof rafters, and floor and ceiling joists. However, some of the grouping’s species are sawn into beams and used for both appearance and structural purposes in timber frame type construction.

Appearance

Given its typical end-use application as framing material, the grades of lumber produced from Spruce-Pine-Fir species are based upon strength-reducing characteristics and not for appearance-grade type uses. Material sawn from these species have a wide variety of colors and textures.

Sustainability

The Spruce-Pine-Fir species are abundantly grown within the vast forested areas of the northern U.S. and much of Canada. Smart forest regeneration practices coupled with the prolific self-seeding nature of the species ensure their sustainability as a construction material for generations.

Resources

International Association of Certified Home Inspectors: Lumber Grade Stamps

Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association: Lumber Span Tables (Spruce-Pine-Fir South)

USDA Forest Products Laboratory: Wood Handbook

Western Wood Products Association: Western Wood Species Book

SOUTHERN PINE

Properties

Southern Pine lumber products provide great value in a wide variety of applications. From framing a house or building a deck to adorning a ceiling, adding beautiful siding or creating a warm and inviting floor, Southern Pine is a dependable choice for most any project.

There are a variety of grades, which offer users a wide range of dependable strength and stiffness properties to meet the needs of any project.

Uses

Southern Pine lumber features excellent fastener-holding ability, providing framing components with strong connections. Its inherent strength contributes to long, clear spans that reduce the need for intermediate columns and load-bearing walls. Using today’s design technology, creative roof and ceiling styles are possible using Southern Pine.

Using Southern Pine lumber for a raised wood floor foundation simplifies construction on sloping lots or in flood-prone areas, when compared with slab-on-grade construction. Enhanced curb appeal, energy efficiency and value are added benefits.

For wall framing, Southern Pine is available in wide widths for improved insulation. Southern Pine walls withstand high wind and seismic design loads, too. Its strength supports the latest design trends for nine- and ten-foot walls.

Southern Pine is often pressure treated for outdoor use in decks and other structures, like gazebos, docks and piers.

Appearance

With its distinctive grain pattern, Southern Pine complements any décor, adding character, elegance, warmth and beauty.

Sustainability

Southern Pine forests are some of the most productive and sustainable timberlands in the world, capturing large amounts of carbon from the air and storing it in lumber used every day. Southern Pine is grown and manufactured from East Texas through Virginia, further improving local economies, reducing transportation costs and minimizing impacts on the environment.

Southern Pine is America’s first lumber, used since Colonial times. Prudent forest management practices have kept America supplied with this quality building material for generations.

Resources

Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association: Wood. It’s Real.

Southern Forest Products Association:

Southern Pine Patterns

Southern Pine Flooring

Southern Pine Decks and Porches

Southern Pine Use Guide

RaisedFloorLiving.com

 

REDWOOD

Properties

Natural stability is the key to redwood’s long-lasting performance. Redwood is less likely to warp, cup, check and pop nails because it has less shrinking and swelling. Stability and little or no pitch content also help redwood hold finishes well. Redwood’s stability is a guarantee of long-lasting beauty.

Redwood heartwood provides resistance to decay from fungus and damage insect attack.  The cinnamon-colored heartwood provides decay resistance throughout the lumber, not just on the surface.  Redwood also offers sound insulation properties that make it a favorite for use where sound is a consideration.

Uses

For exterior projects, redwood decking, siding and trim complement most other building materials. Redwood gives designers a unique opportunity for integrating interior and exterior spaces with a common material.

The rich beauty of redwood interior paneling provides an atmosphere of warmth and luxury for the interior of any homes. Working with redwood, you have a choice of color, dimension, texture, grain and pattern.

Fine-grained redwood’s excellent workability makes it an ideal material for highly detailed patterns, molding and cabinetry. The extra-long lengths available facilitate work on high ceilings or long walls of custom homes.

Appearance

Natural beauty is integral to every piece of redwood lumber. Redwood beauty is typified by rich cinnamon-colored heartwood, cream-colored sapwood, distinctive grain and performance that keep projects looking good for years. Redwood offers a broad array of appearances, giving specifiers several choices in color, visual texture and scale.

Sustainability

Four of every five acres of commercial redwood forest are now independently certified as well managed and harvested on a sustainable basis. The major redwood lumber mills and landowners have completed independent third-party certification of their redwood forestlands. As a result, over 1 million acres, or approximately 80 percent of the available redwood commercial forest, are certified under one of the two most widely recognized certification programs: Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) program.

Resources

California Redwood Association:

Redwood Architectural Guide

Redwood Technical Data Sheet: Redwood Forests Certified for Sustainable Harvests

PRESSURE TREATED WOOD

 

Properties

Pressure-treated wood is wood that’s been treated with preservatives. This protects wood from insects and decay and is ideal for projects where wood is exposed to the elements or excessive moisture. Wood preservatives are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency for their safe use. Pressure-treated softwood lumber includes Southern Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Douglas fir and Hem-fir. Typical residential applications include:
  • Decks
  • Fences
  • Walkways
  • Retaining walls
  • Landscaping structures
  • Permanent wood foundations
  • Docks and piers
Plus, treated wood is used for any kind of general construction where lumber is exposed to the elements. Pressure-treated wood is labeled for above ground or ground contact. When you purchase pressure-treated lumber, be sure to let the salesperson know your intended use so they can recommend the best product for your project. Common sense safety practices apply when working with any building material. When working with treated wood, it’s important to wear a dust mask, eye protection and gloves. Dispose of treated wood scraps using normal trash collection methods; do not burn treated wood.

Pressure Treated Wood Decking vs. Composites

There are numerous life cycle assessments and studies on the environmental impacts associated with the national production, use, and disposal of treated lumber decking, especially when compared with non-lumber alternatives. The results for treated wood decking are significant:
  • Less Energy and Resource Use: Treated wood decking requires less total energy, less fossil fuel and less water to produce than composite decking.
  • Lower Environmental Impacts: Treated wood decking has lower environmental impacts in comparison to composite decking when all five of the impact indicator categories are considered.
  • Less Fossil Fuel Use: The fossil fuel footprint of a treated wood deck is equivalent to driving a car 38 miles/year. In comparison, the fossil fuel footprint of a plastic composite deck is equivalent to driving a car 540 miles/year.

Resources

Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association: It’s Real Southern Forest Products Association:

Pressure-Treated Southern Pine

LCA Report – Treated Lumber vs Composite Decking

Marine Construction Guide

Western Wood Products Association:

Treated Products: Douglas Fir

Treated Products: Hem Fir

Treated Products: Ponderosa Pine 

USDA Forest Products Laboratory

Durability and Wood Protection Research

American Wood Protection Association

Use Category System

Treating Standards

Western Wood Preservers Institute

PreservedWood.org

Today’s Wood Preservatives

Environmental Benefits of Preserved Wood

Building Tips for Pressure-Treated Wood Video Series economical-video-3 Wood: The go-to choice for your outdoor oasis Watch video Select the Right Preserved Wood for Your Project Select the Right Preserved Wood for Your Project View Infographic pressure-treated-wood-side-bar-3 Pressure-Treated Wood: Common Misuses & Related Best Practices Read More

PONDEROSA PINE

Properties

Ponderosa Pine takes most finishes beautifully, including paint, stain, lacquer and varnish. It is well suited for remanufacturing that requires clear, splinter-free wood, with a minimum of knots, resin and other unwanted characteristics.

Ponderosa Pine can be treated for above ground or in-ground contact, and it can be pressure treated for in-ground use without perforating the wood. The waterborne preservatives leave a clean, dry, odorless surface ready to be painted or stained.

Uses

Ponderosa Pine is prized for molding and doors, windows, frames and drawers where durability under movement is essential. It has the ability to withstand scuffs, shocks and jars without splitting, which makes it desirable for these and other applications such as sashes, jambs, shutters, screens, columns, staircases and fascia.

Pine paneling is often associated with Early American decor in kitchens, family rooms, dens and bedrooms. However, new finishing techniques and patterns make it appropriate for contemporary or traditional settings, as well.

Cabinetmakers and woodworkers appreciate the wood’s uniform cell structure, scarcity of resin pockets, and resistance to splitting. Finished parts fit together snugly without binding. The lumber is easy to work with either hand or machine tools and converts readily into fine molding and cabinetwork.

Honey-toned Ponderosa Pine is a natural accompaniment to the country look, while simply-styled bleached pine is appearing with increasing frequency in contemporary finishings.

Appearance

Ponderosa Pine has a small amount of reddish-brown heartwood and exceptionally wide sapwood that is honey-toned or straw-like in color. It has a straight, uniform grain, which machines to a clear, smooth surface. When freshly sawn or surfaced, its pleasant smell is reminiscent of the forests where it grows. Ponderosa Pine is often specified when appearance is of primary importance.

Sustainability

Ponderosa Pine is one of America’s most abundant tree species, covering approximately 27 million acres of land. Trees can be found from Canada to Mexico and from the Pacific Coast eastward to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Its growth range covers an area encompassing more than 35 percent of the total acreage of the U.S.

Ponderosa Pine forests are usually selectively harvested rather than clear cut. This method of logging removes only the mature trees and leaves the other trees to re-seed and mature.

Resources

Western Wood Products Association: Ponderosa Pine

HEM-FIR

Properties

Hem-fir is a species combination of Western Hemlock and five of the True Firs: California Red fir, Grand fir, Noble fir, Pacific Silver fir and White fir.

The Hem-fir species combination is one of the most important in the Western region, second only to the Douglas fir-Larch species group for abundance, production volume, strength and versatility.

Uses

In products graded for appearance, wood-savvy architects and designers often choose Hem-fir for trim, fascia, paneling, molding and millwork, as well as for exposed wood ceilings.

Hem-fir is also useful for a multitude of general-purpose framing applications and is capable of meeting the span requirements of many installations.

Hem-fir is also used for exposed ceilings, as its face, or better side, conveys its sophisticated elegance. Its moderately light weight makes it easy to handle and install.

It is also a practical choice for roofing, flooring or subflooring, and is commonly used for structural decking for its strength and beauty.

Appearance

Hem-fir lumber is light and bright in color, varying from a creamy, nearly-white to a light, straw-brown color. It can be as light or lighter in color than some of the Western pines and is often considered, by those seeking a strong wood with a very light color, as a desirable Western softwood. Sometimes Western Hemlock may have a slight lavender cast, especially around the knots and in the transition area between the spring and summerwood growth rings. Attractive, delicate, dark grey or black streaks may be apparent in the wood.

Sustainability

Hem-fir is abundant in managed forests, and accounts for 28 percent of Western lumber production annually. It is estimated there are more than 380 billion board feet of Hem-fir saw timber on the managed timberlands of the Western region.

Resources

Western Wood Products Association: Hem-Fir

EASTERN WHITE PINE

Properties

Eastern White Pine offers a uniform texture, shapes easily, stays true to form, and holds finishes extremely well.

Uses

Design applications for Eastern White Pine include interior walls, ceilings, floors, millwork, and furniture, in addition to exterior siding. You’ll find an array of standard patterns and profiles available for use in any style of home, from contemporary designs to historical renovations. Eastern White Pine’s interior and exterior versatility, along with ready availability, enhance its popularity for today’s designs.

Appearance

This wood species has a fine grain and offers designers an endless variety of looks. Eastern White Pine heartwood is light brown, occasionally having a lightly reddish tone. Its sapwood is pale yellow to almost white. This wood’s color tends to darken with age.

Sustainability

The Eastern White Pine natural growth range is primarily within the Mid-Atlantic and New England states. The species played a significant role in the early beginnings of the U.S. as the primary building material for all things during the growth of the American colonies in the 1600s.

Eastern White Pine is adept at naturally reproducing itself. In fact, today, the total forested acreage in New England is greater than it was in the 1930s, thanks to its regeneration ability and smart sustainable management practices implemented by the forest industry in the Northeast. It continues to create a sustainable forest products resource for future generations.

Resources

Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association:

Grades of Eastern White Pine

Standard Patterns of Eastern White Pine

Siding Installation Facts & Tips

DOUGLAS FIR

Properties

Douglas fir is North America’s most plentiful softwood species, accounting for one fifth of the continent’s total softwood reserves.

Not only is it plentiful, it’s dimensionally stable. While all lumber benefits from some degree of “seasoning,” i.e. letting it adjust to the humidity conditions of its surrounding atmosphere before it’s installed, Douglas fir seasons well in position and can be cut, nailed and fastened in “green” then allowed to air dry during construction. When dry, it retains its shape and size with minimal seasoning checks and raised grain.

Uses

Designers appreciate the rich visual quality of Douglas fir texture and grain as well as its response to fine craftsmanship and finishing. A favorite wood for custom cabinets, furniture and millwork, it works easily and resists wear. And its characteristics make it ideal for joinery: doors, window and door casings, mantels, stairs and baseboards.

Douglas fir’s strength, beauty and old-fashioned toughness are all prime reasons for choosing this long-lasting wood for flooring. Douglas fir provides a tough surface that will hold a finish, maintain its appearance under extreme wear and remain level without cracking, scuffing or splintering.

Additionally, Douglas fir has an excellent performance record when used in exposed applications for exterior trim without ground contact.

Appearance

Douglas fir’s light rosy color is set off by its straight and handsome grain pattern and will “redden” over time when exposed to light. It is also tight knotted and close-grained, adding the bonus of beauty to its structural capabilities.

Sustainability

Douglas fir timberlands are the most productive softwood timberlands in the U.S in terms of volume per acre. There are approximately 34.6 million acres of Douglas fir managed primarily in natural stands, on long rotations. Douglas fir, along with the species combination of Douglas fir, and Western Larch account for more than 55 percent of all Western softwood produced annually.

Resources

Western Wood Products Association: Douglas Fir & Western Larch