Whitewood: What Is It and Other FAQs

Whitewood: What Is It and Other FAQs

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When browsing wood materials and products from different species, whitewood comes up often, which can be confusing for those unfamiliar with the product. What does the term “whitewood” mean? Is it a description of a product or a specific type of wood?

Below you will find a summary of the basics of whitewood, including where it comes from, the advantages and disadvantages of the product, and how it is used. A short list of FAQs is also included at the bottom.

What Is Whitewood?

Whitewood refers to wood produced by a specific tree, liriodendron tulipfera. Other names whitewood may be referred to include tulip tree, tulip poplar, yellow poplar, American tulip tree, and fiddle tree.

It is a fast-growing eastern hardwood native to the U.S., growing over 125’ tall with a natural lifespan between 200 – 250 years. Whitewood is chosen for its light weight, straight grain, and ability to take on a smooth, fine finish. The wood from older, mature trees is naturally termite-resistant and is an excellent choice for both indoor and outdoor woodworking projects.

Having similar qualities and advantages of pine, there are some regions in the U.S. where whitewood is marketed as such. The key differences between the two include:

  • Price: Pine is the more expensive of the two kinds of wood.
  • Knots: An obvious visual difference between the two materials, pine has significantly fewer knots (which contributes to the higher price point. Though they don’t impact the strength or quality of the wood, knots are much more prevalent in whitewood.)
  • Weight: Both whitewood and pine have relatively comparable weights, with white pine and sugar pine coming in just a bit lighter than whitewood. Other pine varieties, however, are heavier.
  • Purpose: Whitewood is used for more general purposes, which will be addressed here later. Pine is more often used for building materials and more durable flooring.

Advantages of Whitewood

Whitewood is one of the most versatile woods available, giving it many advantages over other woods with similar properties. Let’s review advantages that include price, weight, availability, and malleability.


Whitewood is incredibly affordable. In 2022, a 1” x 6” x 8’ piece of whitewood board costs approximately $8. A 1” x 10” x 8’  piece is approximately $14. Boards are also available in a variety of widths and lengths.


Being a lightweight hardwood material, whitewood is excellent for furniture applications and general finish carpentry. One board foot of kiln-dried whitewood is typically around 2.8 lbs (or 29.4 lbs per cubic foot), which is comparable to white pine, but significantly less than other common woods such as yellow birch, white oak, and beech.

Availability and Hardiness

Whitewood is a widely available material due to its fast growth and hardiness. It has significantly fewer natural pests compared to other commercial woods, with only 4 out of 30 species causing significant damage.

In times when other popular woods are under siege, such as the severe pinewood shortages being caused by mountain pine beetles over the last 15 years, whitewood is stepping up as an extremely hardy and versatile option.

Softness and Finish

Though it is a hardwood, whitewood has a soft enough texture, making it incredibly workable. The straight grain allows for sharp, straight cuts, and planes well.

Compared to other woods with similar density, it has superior strength in terms of the bending breaking point and bending strength. It also holds stain and accepts paint well.

Disadvantages of Whitewood

Despite its many benefits, there are some disadvantages of whitewood to note. These include decay resistance, overall value, marketing, and durability.

Decay Resistance

Decay resistance varies in whitewood, depending on what part of the tree the material is sourced from and the age of the tree. Heartwood (wood taken from the center of the tree) taken from newer growth is rated with slight to no resistance to decay.

Heartwood from old-growth is much more resistant to decay, and also offers some termite resistance. Realistically, commercially grown whitewood is less likely to be sourced from old growth, so there may be less decay resistance than expected.

Newly cut wood is also susceptible to deterioration from fungi that feed on the starches and sugars in the sapwood.


The low cost of whitewood carries over into the value of the finished product. Products made from whitewood hold less value than other core materials. This is partly why lower-quality whitewood often finds its way into more commercial-type applications, such as pallets and crates.


Though not directly the fault of whitewood itself, a pitfall of the whitewood label is that not all wood sold as whitewood is actually from liriodendron tulipfera. Pine and spruce often find themselves marketed under this label.


Despite being a hardwood variety, whitewood is a soft material. It can be easily susceptible to damage such as dents, gouges, and scratches.

It is not the wood of choice for furniture and products that will be under frequent strain and heavy use. The material also darkens over time, which is why it is recommended to paint the wood as an extra layer of protection.

6 Common Whitewood Uses

As mentioned above, whitewood is a widely versatile material. Below is a summary of six common uses for whitewood.

Furniture and Cabinetry

Today, whitewood is a popular choice in painted or stained furniture and cabinetry due to its light weight, low cost, and comparatively high strength. Its relative softness makes it easy for whitewood to be worked into almost any shape, including coffins.

Historically, it has been used as material for veneer and paneling. Modern woodworking has replaced whitewood with other, harder wood varieties, though you may find this material used for this purpose in older homes and furniture.

Musical Instruments

The straight grain of whitewood makes it a popular choice to produce musical instruments, most often organs. It’s not used as a tonewood for instruments like guitars and fiddles, though it may be used in the tops and veneers of those items.


Lightweight and durable, whitewood is a common material used in children’s toys. It can be found in block toys, wooden marbles, wooden train sets, etc.


From baseboard to ornamental molding to crown, whitewood is commonly used for interior molding and trim. The wood’s softness and malleability allow for a large number of shapes and carvings, and the low weight of the final product has a serious advantage over other materials.


Sturdy with its straight grain and light weight, dimensional lumber such as wall studs can be found made of whitewood. It is also found as a core material in plywood.

Commercial Pallets and Crates

Lesser-quality (stained, extremely knotty, warped, etc.) whitewood has common use in pallets and crates. Despite the surface flaws, it still holds use in its strength and lightness.

Whitewood: Frequently Asked Questions

Below, we’ll go over some of the most frequently asked questions.

Is Whitewood Strong?

Yes, in comparison to woods of similar density, whitewood is very strong.

Is Whitewood a Hardwood?

Despite its soft properties that allow for easy millwork and carving, whitewood is technically hardwood.

The word “hardwood” refers to wood from angiosperms or flowering trees. It is common to find softwood species that are significantly tougher than some hardwoods. Whitewood is a hardwood that is low in density, or soft.

Is Whitewood Good for Framing?

Yes. Whitewood is an excellent choice for framing. It experiences relatively low shrinkage, and its straight grain has minimal warping.

Is Whitewood Good for the Outdoors?

Not necessarily. If finished with paint or some other outdoor-approved covering, whitewood can be a good choice for outdoor use. Old-growth whitewood is the best for outdoor applications, though there is no guarantee that anything you purchase from a lumber production company is made from old-growth wood.

Untreated whitewood isn’t rot-resistant, so it requires a coating or sealant to be considered an acceptable material.

Is Whitewood Pine?

No. Similar in their properties and appearance, real whitewood and pine are often interchangeably referred to as whitewood, though it is important to note that they are not the same thing.

Pine refers to wood sourced from pine conifer trees in the genus Pinus. Whitewood refers specifically to deciduous wood sourced from liriodendron tulipfera–the tulip tree or yellow poplar.

When shopping around for whitewood, make sure to look at the species of wood in the product description to verify whether you are actually receiving whitewood or a common lookalike.

Does Whitewood Stain Easily?

Yes. Whitewood accepts stain very easily. The low density of the grain allows for great absorption of the product, and its natural light color accepts a wide array of shades and colors.

It holds dark stain especially well, with lighter shades being a bit more challenging. For even staining, thorough prep including wood conditioner is highly recommended.

How Does Whitewood Compare with Other Types of Wood?

While whitewood has many uses, it might not be exactly the type of wood you are looking for. I wrote separate articles comparing it with other major species.

See how whitewood compares with: cedar | Douglas fir | pinepoplar | redwood | spruce


Not a description, but a specific type of wood from one very specific tree, you should now have an understanding of what whitewood is, where it comes from, and how it is used.

For any questions not answered by the sections listed above, the FAQs should have directly addressed your most common questions regarding whitewood. Will you be using whitewood in any of your future projects?