Walnut and pine are two types of timber that have quite stark differences. The qualities that define them mean that sometimes it’s much better to use one instead of the other. In fact, using pine instead of walnut, or the other way around can have big consequences in the wrong situation.
This article will discuss pine and walnut and which one to use for certain projects. So read on to find out more about these two fascinating types of wood.
What Is Walnut?
For centuries, the walnut tree has been an important part of European development and culture. Originally, the tree was native to Greece and Asia.
However, many people consider the walnut a native tree to their own country as well, even if this is not scientifically correct. The walnut was deliberately planted and spread throughout Europe because it has two distinct qualities that make it a very useful tree.
The first is the quality of the timber it produces, and the second is the food source from the nuts. There is more than one type of walnut tree. In fact, there are 21 types of trees in the walnut family. For woodworking, there are two main types of walnut tree that are most commonly used – the European walnut and the black walnut. The European walnut is lighter than the black walnut, which has darker, richer shades.
Walnut is the favorite tree of a lot of woodworkers. It is used in a lot of high-end work, where the close grain can polish to a very high gloss.
What Is Pine?
Pine is a softwood that grows fast and is one of the most commonly used types of wood in the world.
Depending on the authority you talk to, there are between 105 and 124 species of pine tree. Pines are coniferous, evergreen trees that have leaves shaped like long needles.
Pines grow all around the world in the northern hemisphere, as well as in select locations in the southern hemisphere.
Originally, pine trees were found in colder and higher climates than other types of deciduous trees.
Walnut vs. Pine: What Are the Differences?
Walnut and pine are two very different types of wood. In this section, we’ll discuss some of their key properties.
In general, walnut is much stronger than pine. Although, some pine species, such as Douglas fir, perform exceptionally well in strength-to-weight ratios and make it acceptable to use for timber frame construction.
Some species of pine trees are very soft between the summer and winter grain, causing them to bruise and dent.
Pine cuts easily and is light work for sharp tools. On the other hand, walnut is more resistant to impact, and sharp tools are essential to cut walnut cleanly.
Pine does not resist moisture well, and without protection, it will rot, especially if used outside or if it’s in constant contact with water.
Oils, waxes, lacquers, varnishes, and paints will all protect pine and also provide a final finish to the wood, which can dramatically change how it looks.
Walnut is more resistant to water than pine. However, walnut isn’t used outside and should be reserved for interior projects.
Appearance and Color
Pine trees can vary quite a lot in terms of appearance and color. However, the color is usually between yellow and white, with darker elements of grain.
Pine grows quickly, so the grain can often be quite spread out and visibly stripy. Its knots are very dark and stand out in contrast to the yellow and pale timber.
Walnut is a dark, rich, timber that is frequently described as a chocolate color. Walnut trees grow very slowly and the grain is close and straight.
The black walnut is darker than the European, and sometimes has inflections of purple within it.
Pine wood is by far cheaper than walnut. Pine is used in everything from construction to paper.
In comparison, walnut is only selected if it is directly specified, is much less readily available, and will cost more.
When to Use Walnut Wood?
Walnut is considered a luxury material. It is expensive to work with and even more expensive to make mistakes on.
Even with the cost and trouble of sourcing, walnut is a favorite timber of a lot of woodworkers. The appearance is striking and interesting.
Also, walnut is fantastic to work on, particularly with hand tools. It smells delicious when cut and also feels great as the tools cut it.
Traditional applications for walnut are mainly high-end products. Cabinets and furniture like chairs, tables, and dressers are regular uses for walnut.
However, some other uses for walnut are veneers, gunstocks, flooring, instruments, and paneling.
When to Use Pine Wood?
Pine is the most widely used timber in the world. It is cheap and inexpensive, meaning that people can afford it more readily.
Alongside this, because pines grow quickly, the timber is more sustainable. Well-managed forests of pine can get replenished much quicker than slower-growing trees, such as walnut.
In construction, pine is used for joists, beams, rafters, purlins, noggins, stud walls, architraves, skirting, and door linings.
This is alongside using it for joinery projects such as stairs, windows, and doors. Pine is also used for some furniture, with tables, chairs, and cabinets constructed out of the wood.
Pine is used in a lot of carpentry and joinery education. This, however, is not only because it is cheap. Pine is more fragile and prone to break-out and bruising than a lot of other timbers a woodworker might end up using.
Because of this, pine is very instructive when learning to use hand tools and machinery.
For example, you can see exactly where the back of a chisel has pressed against the shoulder of a joint because the bruising is obvious.
Similarly, proper chisel clearing out and paring down techniques must be followed, or else the joints will have a lot of breakout.
For delicate and difficult joints, if you can produce clean and tight work on pine, then with a little adjustment, it’s possible to do it on a lot more hardwoods.
Alternatives to Walnut and Pine Wood
Sometimes it is difficult to buy the timber we need, it might be poor quality, there may not be enough of it, or it may cost too much. In these situations, there are multiple pine and walnut alternatives to consider.
Basswood is a very accommodating timber, it is light and easy to work, making it a favorite of many carvers, whittlers, and green woodworkers. In a separate article, I wrote more about basswood’s strength and other properties.
Cheery is another luxurious hardwood. Its grain is close, tight, and usually straight.
This means that it polishes exceptionally well to a high sheen. The red tint to cherry wood also brings a lovely color to projects.
Maple can be an exceptionally pretty timber. The tones range from very light to almost red, depending on the particular tree.
It is also fairly hard and can sustain impacts well, making it suitable for flooring and projects where the wood could be under stress.
Walnut and pine sit at two different ends of the spectrum. Generally, walnut is considered a high-end product that is only used if specifically asked for.
On the other hand, pine is usually the go-to timber if nothing else is specified. Both types of wood, however, can be extremely handsome and sturdy if used in the correct applications.