If you are looking to build something around your home out of solid wood, then you are already on the right track. However, you do need to decide what type of wood to use. There are dozens, if not hundreds of types of wood out there, and they all have different properties.
Today, we will compare two popular types of wood found in North America, which are often used for construction and woodworking purposes. These two materials are pine and spruce. Let’s see which one is the better option for your next big project.
What Is Pine?
First, we have the pine tree, and today we are referring specifically to the eastern white pine. This is because it is one of the most commonly found varieties in North America, and it’s very popular for basic woodworking and construction purposes.
Keep in mind that this is a softwood evergreen tree that grows in North America. The eastern white pine typically has a straight and even grain, along with a medium texture, a lot of gaps and knots, and many large resin canals. The heartwood of the eastern white pine tree has a light brown appearance, with the sapwood being paler yellow.
The eastern white pine tree isn’t the hardest type of tree in the world, or in North America for that matter, so it’s not too resistant to denting, scratching, or physical impacts. The unfortunate reality is that eastern white pine, and pine trees in general, just aren’t overly resistant to moisture, pests, the elements, decay, or the outdoors.
That said, it is affordable, and it is more than structurally sound enough to make furniture and cabinetry out of.
Therefore, it is most often used for basic indoor utilitarian purposes, such as for millwork, pallets, boxes, carvings, crates, decorative pieces, and relatively low-end furniture and cabinetry.
What Is Spruce?
We then have the spruce tree, and here we’re talking specifically about the red spruce. Although this tree can be found in most temperate and boreal climates in the Northern
Hemisphere, which includes North America, Asia, and Northern Europe, the red spruce specifically is found in eastern North America. Keep in mind that the spruce is both an evergreen and coniferous tree, as well as a type of softwood.
The red spruce tree is definitely not the hardest or densest type of wood in the world, although it isn’t the softest either. Therefore, it has a decent amount of resistance to physical damage such as scratching and denting.
With that being said, most types of spruce are not very resistant to moisture or pests, and although it doesn’t really absorb water, it will shrink and warp.
In the grand scheme of things, spruce is just not something that you would usually use for outdoor purposes. That said, people do usually like the appearance of it, as it looks quite nice.
It doesn’t have any gaps or knots, it has a straight grain, medium texture, and a beautiful reddish-brown color.
Keeping in mind all of its physical properties, red spruce is a type of wood that is generally used for basic indoor utilitarian purposes. This includes but is not limited to, veneer, trim, joinery, musical instruments, and a variety of other projects that don’t require too much structural soundness or weight-bearing capabilities.
Pine vs. Spruce: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know all of the basics about both eastern white pine and red spruce, let’s take a look at the factors that make them different from each other.
Eastern white pine features a Janka hardness rating of 380 lbf, while red spruce comes in at 490 lbf. Although the difference here is not massive, red spruce is a little bit harder than eastern white pine.
Both aren’t the most durable in terms of being resistant to physical impacts, denting, and scratching, but red spruce is a little stronger on this front.
The story for the density of these two kinds of wood is more or less the same as for the hardness. First, eastern white pine comes in at roughly 25 lbs/ft3.
On the other hand, red spruce comes in at 27 lbs/ft3. As you can see, red spruce is just a little bit heavier or denser than eastern white pine. In the grand scheme of things, this might mean that red spruce is a little bit more structurally sound, but not by much.
Pest and Moisture Resistance
Although this is not a difference per se, it is still worth mentioning. The simple reality here is that neither red spruce nor eastern white pine is ideal for outdoor use, as they are just not very resistant to moisture or pests.
In a separate article, we wrote about pine’s water resistance (or lack thereof).
If we take a look at all of the different factors that determine the overall strength of wood, which include the compressive strength, the modulus of elasticity, and the modulus of rupture, it is clear that red spruce is just the stronger type of wood.
Although the differences aren’t huge, there are differences nonetheless. This means that technically speaking, red spruce is more structurally sound, can handle more pressure, and can bear more weight as well.
Generally speaking, both red spruce and eastern white pine are fairly easy to work with. Neither of these two types of wood is very hard or heavy, which certainly helps make things easier.
With that being said, eastern white pine often has a lot of gaps, knots, and resin canals, which can make things a little difficult when attempting to saw it apart. However, other than that, both are fairly easy to work with.
Appearance – Color and Grain
Both red spruce and eastern white pine are fairly similar in terms of the grain. Both have a fairly straight and even grain combined with a somewhat smooth or medium texture.
The biggest difference here is that red spruce tends to have a darker reddish-brown color, whereas eastern white pine is much paler, even light yellow.
Most people would say that red spruce is by far the better-looking type of wood, although this is of course a matter of personal preference over everything else.
What is also interesting to note is that although red spruce seems to be the better type of wood, it also appears to be less expensive. For your average piece of red spruce, you’ll pay around $7 per board foot, whereas you’ll pay up to $10 per board foot for eastern white pine.
When to Use Pine?
If you need a type of wood that works well for indoor purposes, and you like the appearance of eastern white pine, then it works just fine. It’s ideal for basic utilitarian purposes and for relatively low-end applications.
Just make sure that you don’t use it outdoors because it’s not at all resistant to the elements.
When to Use Spruce?
If we are talking about spruce, this is also a relatively good choice for indoor use, but a bad one for outdoor purposes. Just like eastern white pine, it’s relatively affordable, it looks good, and it works well for basic utilitarian purposes.
However, red spruce is generally structurally sound enough to also be used for actual construction purposes, such as for supportive beams for your house.
Alternatives to Pine and Spruce
There is no denying the fact that both pine and spruce varieties in general just aren’t very resistant to the elements and are not ideal for outdoor use.
Therefore, if you want a type of wood that is better for outdoor applications, go for something like cedar, teak, or mahogany. All of these types of wood have excellent moisture and pest resistance.
When it comes down to it, eastern white pine and red spruce, as well as pine and spruce trees in general, share a whole lot of similarities.
They both tend to be quite affordable, they look quite basic, they’re somewhat soft and lightweight, and they’re not really resistant to the elements at all. They are just affordable types of wood that work well for basic practical and low-end purposes.