Telling Red Pine from White Pine Logs

Branch whorls aren't much help, but compare early and late wood growth. February 26, 2005

I have access to a mixed pile of barkless pine that has air dried for about a year. I plan to build a barn for myself and an addition to our mill. How can I tell which is the red pine? I want to use it for the rafters and headers. The other pines are white and maybe jack. Can I tell without cutting the logs?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Is this a pile of lumber or a pile of logs?

From the original questioner:
This is a pile of logs. Most do not have any bark.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
First, you will probably have a lot of blue stain. You may also have some insect damage (holes). Finally, dry logs are very difficult to saw as the wood is much stronger and the dust tends to spill more easily.

Regarding ID, we separate the pines into two groups... hard and soft. Within those two groups, it is typically hard to separate them accurately with visual examination, even under 10 magnification. I do not believe that anyone can separate red and jack. However, white pine has more gradual transition from early wood to latewood than red or jack.

Bruce Hoadley's book "Wood Identification" will guide you well.

From contributor D:
It is very easy to identify red from white pine logs. Red pines grow a new ring of branches every year. If you count the branch groups from the bottom of the tree to the top, you can tell how old the tree is. Since the branches all come out as a group around the circumference of the tree, it creates a weak area in the boards if they are to be used horizontally for support. You'll see what I mean when you look at the rows of knots across your boards every so many feet. The wood is better used vertically, like studs, in a wall and sheeting. The blue stain and pine bore beetle holes won't hurt a thing if you don't see it. As for white pine, the branches grow out anywhere on the tree.

From contributor J:
I thought red pine would be better for rafters and headers than the white, but maybe I should use tulip poplar instead.

From contributor L:
If we are talking about eastern white pine here, it has annual branch whorls. All yearly branches are at the same spot for that year's growth . I'm not real familiar with red pine.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Both eastern white and red pines have whorls annually, so the knot pattern cannot be used to separate.