Which Wood?

by | Feb 17, 2015 | 23 comments

When thinking of a new project to start a question which always needs to be determined is which wood to use. For personal projects the obvious answer for me is often pine, since I usually have some to hand or know it won’t be too expensive if I haven’t. But there’s a familiar feeling which comes with this decision, a kind of guilt I think, as I wonder is pine really good enough? Pine is often looked down upon by woodworkers as an inferior wood. It has certainly always been the lesser in value and durability compared to any hardwood and that will always remain, however I do tend to question its real value to us, particularly as hand tool woodworkers, and wonder if it deserves to be looked down on at all.

Pine is easier to work. This is the case for most tasks that we carry out with hand tools and as a result it can be less demanding on us and on our tools. Perhaps being easy to work has had a bearing on our attitude towards it, like we see a woodworker using pine and feel they’ve opted for the easy route. Should we not challenge ourselves to master our skills on difficult grains rather than cheat with the softwood?

Pine is easier because it requires less force than hardwoods, but creating a beautiful finish or crisp detail can in fact be harder than with any other timber, not to mention the inevitable knots to contend with. It may be easy to build with pine but not easy to build something beautiful. I like to think it offers us the best of both worlds, since it allows a fast and enjoyable pace for the work and any fine and well finished piece will display a true understanding of your tools and techniques. Work it well and it gleams. Work it poorly, and it more resembles a scrotum sack.
If you are in need of any other excuse to use pine then it’s likely to be one of the more sustainable options to go with, but that’s another topic which I’m sure I’ll get in to another time. pine pieceshavingPhotos from an upcoming video. Don’t forget to follow our sporadic Facebook page, for more sneak peeks of what we’re up to.


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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Jim Linn

    I know what you mean by being easy to work in general but difficult in places. Recently, I was practicing dovetails in some cheap pine (I haven’t done any for a while and wanted to work up before a project). It was easy to cut and plane everywhere except chopping across the grain. My chisel would pull out chunks of fibres rather than cut them. Compressed the fibres like sponges.

    I sharpened my chisel. Still the same. Then I reground my primary bevel way down below 25 degrees. As low as my eclipse jig would go. That did the trick. Nice clean tween tail end grain.

    • Richard

      Hi Jim, in the years when I used to do a lot more dovetailing I had a set of butt chisels with a very low bevel ground on them specifically for this purpose. I think that’s why pine is so good to learn with, it teaches you that sometimes you need more than just sharpness.

  2. Barry Lowis

    This is useful chaps. I have had exactly the same problem recently. I have just cut 144 dovetails by hand! (I must be mad!) I had the same problem with “chopping out”, same as you Jim. Finally I decided to get my act together and cut the tails and pin slots very accurately with my Knew concepts coping saw. I was able, with care, to cut dead on the line and after a bit of a tidy up with a triangular metal work file, it left the tails and pins slots ready to go.
    I will give the bevel change a go though, to see how I get on with it.

    • Richard

      Bloody hell Barry, that’s a fair amount! I’ve just popped out to the workshop to see what angle I’ve been using on my butt chisel recently, and it’s definitely below 25 degrees. I’m no expert but I know that some modern steels may struggle going that low, but it’s definately worth a try

  3. Craig

    Now there’s a word picture I really didn’t need. 🙂

    • Richard

      Sorry, strange things come in to my head 😉

  4. Chris Penny

    Hi, I also like working with pine, being on DLA I find I can afford to buy it more over say American White Oak, plus its easier to cut and do joints with, not fotgeting lamanateing with contrasting woods, I’m loving the hand tool/ crafted way of life, much more sense of achivment, Thanks.

    • Richard

      Thanks Chris, the sense of achievement is often one of the more important parts for all of us and hand tool woodworking can certainly bring a lot of it.

  5. Mihai


    You are right , Richard :Pine , like any other thing , is what you make of it….MMM…and those shavings smell so good !
    (sorry for the capitals)

    • Richard

      Oh the smell… you never tire of the smell!

  6. Mihai

    …I wanted to say [pine] , but the smiling face is OK there…

  7. Chris Buckingham

    Pine, I cant say I have ever liked working with it, ever since I first had to use it in school woodworking class, I always feel I have wasted my time when I make something from pine. However, since moving to France I have used lots of Poplar, and I find, to my surprise I really enjoy using it, there are no resinous knots to work around, and I find it surprisingly durable, very much more versatile than I had ever thought it to be, providing it is used indoors, I always thought of Poplar as wood for fish boxes!Now I have changed my mind.

  8. fred wheeler

    Don’t knock it. There can be snobbery over woods but all wood is good and has its place. Wood used can also be based on local sources. Go to Ireland and even the most luxurious houses have a pine farm house kitchen. I love it and it looks great, never ages in fashion – in fact as it ages and as it gains a few knocks through use the charm grows even more on me. Or what about a Welsh Dresser in pine….
    I love all wood and pine fits in the UK in all properties and looks great. Don’t be sucked in by fashions that come and go and look at each wood for the beauty it is… go for it – make it in pine. I love it.

  9. Paul Bouchard

    I love a lot of pine country antique furniture. I’ve seen lots of Hungarian stuff on the Internet that I’d like to copy.

    You should consider doing a video as a purchased download. I know I’ll buy it. Your corner cupboard videos had a ton of info I hadn’t seen other places.

  10. Mark Naylor

    Richard, I’ve avoided pine as well, but I do see some lovely furniture made from it by Schwarz and Saint Roy, so maybe I’ll give it a go. Great to see you putting blog entries on again – I hope this means you’ve got your internet connection sorted now!

  11. Michael Dickson

    Buying redwood today; you cannot source the quality anymore, it is wide grained, soft, difficult to hand plain, and warps and shrinks after a few months, its not as rewarding as it used to be in the 1970s.

  12. Kevin Gooch

    It’s the smell of pine when freshly cut it cannot be beat if I could bottle it I would sell it

  13. Bill on Vancouver Island

    Thought provoking as always! Shaker furniture, beautiful, practical, inexpensive, local material pine or spruce no need for exotic wood to produce classic timeless furniture. Keep provoking.
    Bill on Vancouver Island.

  14. Tom

    I always use Pine. But it can be a nightmare. Love your posts

  15. Marty Backe

    I enjoy using pine, but not all pines. I prefer tight grain knot free pine, like Sugar pine, or Eastern White pine. I don’t know what the equivalent pine is in England. I avoid the kind of pine shown in your picture (it looks nice though).

    The tools need to be sharper, and it’s the devil to keep from dinging the wood throughout production.

  16. Tom

    Hi; Richard, A little woodworking trivia: Nailing it. A dead nail was driven all the way through a board and subsequently bent at an angle on the back side of the board to make it difficult to remove. Before doors were made via frame-and-panel joinery, they were commonly constructed of boards held together by through nails deadened on the back side to keep the doors together long-term. Hence the phrase “deader than a doornail”

  17. Tom

    One more thing Richard. I remember the cabinet you build awhile back and you bent the nails over in the back and I thought about my Dad He use to do it that way. One day my dog was hit by a car and was killed. My dad said. He deader than a door nail. Anyway have fun

  18. Strap

    It’s obvious you’ve never worked with South Afrian pine. Pine trees grow here in 15 years as opposed to Canadian or Nordic Pine which takes 30 to mature. Which of course makes our pine very poor quality.


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