To the uninitiated woodworker, the term “whitewood” that is often thrown around in the woodworking supply industry can be confusing. The fact that “Whitewood” can mean different things in different contexts only adds to the complexity of the situation. Where does Whitewood come from, and how can it be used?
Whitewood is a generic term for any light-colored wood that is sold by retailers as low-priced lumber. Pine, fir, and spruce are the most common types, but the American tulip tree, also called whitewood, can be used in its place. If cared for properly, it can be used to create furniture, decorations, and even outdoor projects.
Although the term “Whitewood” may refer to a variety of different woods in various contexts, it is commonly used to refer to a group of woods that share many common characteristics and applications. In other parts of the world, however, the term whitewood does refer to a specific species of tree that is used to great effect in the construction of furniture.
What Is Whitewood?
Many carpenters find the term “whitewood” baffling because it can mean so many different things.
Lumber yards may define “whitewood” as any piece with sapwood, regardless of whether or not it also contains heartwood.
Whitewood is often a catch-all category for any coniferous wood that a big-box store can buy in bulk and resell at a low cost to their customers, including fir, pine, and even spruce.
Unless the species is specified on the label or you can identify it yourself, it will be difficult to determine the wood’s specific qualities in this setting. To learn more about where and how to get wood for your woodworking projects, read the article I wrote.
Abbreviations on whitewoods’ labels are commonplace in many hardware and big-box stores. Abbreviations like SPF, SYF, and SYP help identify the species of tree from which the lumber was sourced.
White pine, Douglas fir, and spruce—abbreviated SPF—are the most common species of lumber sold in these stores. Fir wood is designated by the SYF grade, while Southern Yellow Pine is designated by the SYP abbreviation.
Depending on where you live, the tree species that fall under this umbrella term may vary greatly.
The Whitewood Species
When a manufacturer claims that their product is made from 100% Whitewood, they are almost always referring to the American tulip tree, also known as Liriodendron tulipifera. This tree is widespread throughout North America and goes by many local names.
Although it is not related to the true poplar, this tree goes by several names: Yellow-poplar, fiddle tree, tulipwood, tulip poplar, and of course, Whitewood.
Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana all recognise this tree as their official state tree. Although it matures quickly, unlike many other fast-growing trees, its wood is exceptionally strong and durable.
Wood from either the tulip tree or the whitewood tree is exceptionally smooth and light. In the United States, the wood is commonly referred to as “poplar,” a word borrowed from another name, “yellow-poplar.” This wood is sold as American tulipwood when shipped beyond the United States. Because the trees are quick to replenish themselves, the wood is both durable and inexpensive to deal with.
Similar in appearance to white pine, this wood is sometimes grouped along with other species under the umbrella term “whitewood,” which is used by many home improvement businesses and timber yards. The top stores to stock up on lumber from
Pros And Cons Of Whitewood
Most tree species sold as whitewood have comparable wood properties, which allows them to be grouped together under a single umbrella term.
This means that if you buy something labelled “whitewood,” but don’t know for sure what kind of tree it is, you can rest assured that it will have qualities that are quite consistent across all whitewood species. It also means you have some idea of the characteristics of the wood, how it will perform, and the kinds of projects that will benefit from using the timber.
We’ll look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of working with whitewoods, and since the wood of all species in this group is so similar, our discussion will be applicable to all of them.
Pros Of Whitewood
First, we’ll talk about why Whitewood is a good choice for your next project, how it will perform, and the kind of quality you can anticipate when you’re done. Whitewood is sometimes used as an accent material in place of more expensive woods throughout a project.
Also, it can be used as a substitute for more expensive wood in areas that won’t be seen, such as the interior of a cabinet. When working with more expensive wood, this helps keep costs down.
Whitewood is typically not obtained from trees that are exceptionally hardwood. Quite a few of them are even considered softwoods. This feature of the wood’s natural character can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on the context.
One advantage of softwood is how simple it is to shape and finish. It’s simple to work with in terms of cutting, drilling, and sanding. These qualities make the wood easier on your equipment and abrasives, as well as speeding up the overall process.
This means it won’t dull your cutting tools, and you won’t go through your entire supply of sandpaper trying to get a smooth finish.
The Light Color
The wood’s natural light hue makes it a versatile accent for darker wood, and it can be stained to practically any shade to blend in with the rest of the materials.
Stain adheres nicely to whitewoods, and the wood’s softness allows the stain to penetrate deeply, creating a deep, rich look. This means that the stain will last longer and be less likely to be removed by sanding or other finishing methods.
Whitewood Accepts Finishes Very Well
The whitewood’s pliable fibres make it an excellent substrate for coatings like varnish and paint. The many benefits of these finishes are due to the fact that they penetrate deeply into the wood.
Since the finish had penetrated so deeply into the wood, it would provide excellent protection.
Due to the deep penetrations, the finish will last longer on the wood and will not need to be touched up as often.
Because of the way the wood accepts the finish, your projects will look great once they are done. The finish will be much smoother and give more vibrancy, richness, and depth.
Do you know that darker wood can be lightened by applying a stain? If you’re interested, read this article.
Suitability For Outdoor Projects
Outdoor coatings that are designed to seal the wood and keep the elements out perform exceptionally well on Whitewood because the finish penetrates so deeply into the wood.
If you properly seal your whitewood project, it will last for years in the elements. In order to prolong the life of the wood and prevent it from deteriorating, frequent maintenance on an outside project is essential.
Whitewood timber’s low cost is undoubtedly one of its most appealing features. The low cost is largely attributable to the fact that the majority of the trees that fall under this category are fast-growers that are cultivated in special plantations for the purpose of supplying the timber industry.
In particular, the American tulip tree, which is a common whitewood timber tree, can easily reach a height of 40 feet in just 15 years. These trees are also very sustainable because they regrow quickly after being cut down.
These fast-growing trees can be found in many different regions and are relatively simple to cultivate.
Due to these factors, the timber can be purchased at a very low cost from a lumberyard or from the shelves of discount retailers.
Trees that produce hardwoods and more exotic woods are typically slow-growing trees and also have much more limited distribution. These factors, combined with the fact that hardwood is more difficult to mill, contribute to the high prices of hardwoods. Discover how much it really costs to set up your woodwork shop.
Cons Of Whitewood
Products that are sold in large quantities at discounted rates relative to other, similar products typically have significant shortcomings. As a woodworker, you should be aware that whitewood has its own set of drawbacks.
You Don’t Know What You Are Getting
The difficulty in knowing with absolute confidence what type of wood you are purchasing is a major drawback to a broad category of lumber that includes many distinct trees.
Matching wood grains, colour variations, and other characteristics in a finished product or piece of furniture can be challenging under these conditions.
This is especially frustrating if you need to match the wood exactly in order to fix a piece of furniture so that it doesn’t stand out too much.
Whitewoods supplied to big market distributors are typically sourced from trees with a high propensity for knots in the wood.
Some knots can actually enhance the look of the wood and give the final product more personality. However, knots in the wood might be an issue, and if the wood has many knots, it can become tough to deal with.
Because of the difference in density between the knot and the rest of the wood, knots can cause weak points in the wood and are often the location where cracks in the timber begin, leading to warping.
Knots in wood are extremely tough, making the wood difficult to work and potentially damaging or dulling woodworking tools.
Because of this, many carpenters who purchase this kind of wood take their time selecting individual planks to ensure they get the fewest possible knots.
The wood of the American tulip tree, a common whitewood species, is notoriously riddled with knots, even more so than pine, which is itself notoriously riddled with knots.
Because of their softer nature, whitewoods are able to soak in a lot of liquid. As mentioned before, this helps stains, coatings, and paints penetrate the wood deeply.
This is great for protecting the wood, but it also means you’ll need to use more of the substance and apply more coats.
This will increase the amount of those goods you need to utilise, and it could also raise the overall price of doing a project using that kind of wood.
This wood also tends to absorb water and moisture, which is another drawback of its absorbent nature. If the wood isn’t protected from water or moisture, it can quickly warp and split.
In light of this, it is crucial to preserve this wood correctly using high-quality sealants and finishes if you intend to use it outdoors. The wood will then be protected from the elements and will last for many years outside.
Water can be absorbed by untreated whitewood due to the wood’s high absorption rate. This can lead to the growth of mould within the wood, which speeds up the rotting process compared to using other types of wood. In my latest essay, I’ll show you how to prevent mould from growing in wood.
Consequently, whitewoods are better suited for indoor projects, though even then, you should apply a good sealer to the final product to prevent moisture absorption.
The decaying, however, is usually only an issue if the wood has been kept outside in harsh weather for an extended period of time, or if the sealants and protective coatings were not applied properly.
What Can You Use Whitewood For?
Whitewood is a versatile wood that can be used for a wide variety of indoor and outdoor applications with the right preparation.
It’s important to remember that even with proper treatment, outdoor projects built from this wood may not last as long as those made from more durable woods like cedar. The cost of premium outdoor timber may be too high for your current budget.
Whitewood is versatile and can be used to make just about anything from storage units to furniture to picture frames to shelves. Moreover, the wood can be used to construct load-bearing furniture like beds.
Smaller items like nightstands, trays, jewelry boxes, wine racks, and cutting boards also benefit greatly from its use.
Wooden coffee table in a white finish
Because of its adaptability and its receptivity to stains and finishes, this wood can be used to fool the eye into thinking that your finished product was crafted from a more expensive species of wood.
Porch benches, picnic tables, and even smaller projects like bird feeders and planter boxes all benefit greatly from the wood’s durability and versatility in the outdoors. Learning about the top ten woods for workbenches is a valuable skill.
Many people don’t realize that these whitewoods, despite having the occasional knot, have a very attractive grain that can be finished to bring out the wood’s natural beauty or to give it a rustic, farm-house vibe.
Because of its light color, this wood can be used as a striking accent piece in a room filled with darker woods.
Whitewoods are a sustainable resource that can be replenished over and over again. These ubiquitous woods can be found everywhere and grow quickly in a wide range of climates.
The wood is popular among amateur woodworkers because it is cheap, widely available, aesthetically pleasing, and functionally adaptable.
Commercial enterprises are drawn to this lumber because of its low price; it is put to good use in the construction of kitchen cabinets, built-in cabinets, and even ornamental pieces like coffee tables and bookcases.
Your creativity is the only limit to the uses for this wood. Now there’s no reason for you to put off working on a wood project at home. Visit your neighborhood lumber yard and pick up some whitewood; you’ll have a blast putting your ingenuity to work with this versatile material.