Southern Yellow Pine Vs. Douglas Fir: A Woodworkers Comparison

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Having worked with both Southern Yellow Pine and Douglas Fir, I’ve learned a lot about what makes each of these woods unique from a woodworking perspective.

In this article, I will share my experiences with these two types of wood. I’ll compare their strengths and weaknesses to help you decide which might be better for your own woodworking projects.

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Southern Yellow Pine is harder with a Janka rating of 870, ideal for furniture and decking. Douglas Fir, rated at 660, is great for flooring and trim, offering a more upscale look.

Southern Yellow Pine

Yellow Pine Board

In my experience working with Southern Yellow Pine, I’ve found it to be a robust and versatile choice for various woodworking projects.

Pros Of Southern Yellow Pine

  • Strong and durable, ideal for load-bearing structures.
  • Resistant to decay and insects, enhancing longevity.
  • Versatile for a range of applications.
  • Cost-effective and sustainable.

Cons Of Southern Yellow Pine

  • Pronounced knots and grain variations may affect aesthetics.
  • Potential for warping if not properly treated.
  • Limited aesthetic range for certain design styles.

Common Uses of Southern Yellow Pine

  • Construction: Ideal for framing, beams, and joists.
  • Flooring and Decking: Suitable for both indoor and outdoor settings.
  • Outdoor Structures: Great for fences, pergolas, and gazebos.
  • Furniture and Cabinetry: Especially in rustic or casual designs.
  • Interior Finishes: Used for paneling, trim, and moldings

Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir Board

Douglas Fir, from my hands-on work, stands out for its strength and aesthetic appeal. It’s a wood that brings its own set of advantages to the table:

Pros of Douglas Fir

  • Strong and durable, suitable for structural applications.
  • Fine and attractive grain pattern.
  • Easy to work with, both manually and with power tools.
  • Accepts various finishes well.
  • Generally more affordable than some hardwoods.

Cons Of Douglas Fir

  • Softer than some hardwoods, prone to dents and scratches.
  • Not naturally resistant to decay and rot.
  • Contains knots and natural imperfections.
  • Less exotic in appearance compared to some hardwoods.

Common Uses Of Douglas Fir

  • Construction: Commonly used for framing, beams, and joists.
  • Furniture: Suitable for both indoor and outdoor pieces.
  • Woodworking: Ideal for cabinetry, paneling, and trim work.
  • Doors and Windows: Durable for manufacturing these elements.
  • Interior Finishing: Enhances spaces with moldings, baseboards, and wainscoting.

Southern Yellow Pine Vs. Douglas Fir

We know these types of woods are both from the softwood family, and we have a sense of their strengths and weaknesses.

Let’s go a little deeper.

Comparison Chart: Southern Yellow Pine vs. Douglas Fir

FeatureSouthern Yellow PineDouglas Fir
Janka Score870660
AppearanceRich, warm color; more rusticLight brown, tight grain; more upscale
PriceGenerally less expensiveGenerally more expensive
Weather ResistanceLess resistant, prone to rot and shape lossMore resistant, better at retaining shape

Janka Score (Hardness)

The Janka scale measures the density and hardness of wood.  It does so by measuring the amount of pressure required to embed a half-inch steel ball halfway into the wood.

As between the two, Fir’s Janka rating is 660, putting it in the middle of softwoods; Pine’s Janka rating is 870, putting it in the higher ranking of softwoods.

Southern Yellow Pine ranks at the top of the list of woods with the strongest bending strength.

Douglas Fir is a bit behind in second place.

Their structural integrity is what makes them commonly used in framing on the construction job site.  I’ve nailed many 2 x 4s of each when framing out a new house, or at least I did when I was much younger.

One further wood on hardness:  by way of comparison, and since we mentioned it earlier, White Pine’s Janka rating is a meager 420, making it far softer than its cousin and Fir.

Looks

Most consider Fir to be more aesthetically pleasing, with its tight and smooth grain far less likely to warp or twist than Pine.  It is because of its even grain that Fir was prized for flooring.  It takes stains of all colors well and will offer you a more upscale appearance than Pine.

For a more rustic presentation, Pine is the better choice.  Its color is rich and warm, ranging from a lovely golden to deep amber.  Pine is the better choice if you are looking for a cabin, cottage, or farmhouse chic.

Price

Fir is generally going to cost you more for your project.  Yellow Pine is the more readily available of the two wood types, so supply is strong; demand is influenced by the disadvantages presented by Pine (knots, for instance, although Fir is not knot-free).

However, Douglas Fir’s availability, both as plywood and as regular lumber, is strong, too.  You’ll likely find both in your local lumber yard, but the fact is Fir will run you more money.

The sourcing of high-quality wood types in both wood species can and does affect the pricing of both.  Over-harvesting and demand can push the price of Fir higher.  Wider growth rings and more knots are the problems with younger Fir trees, while the preferred straight-grain wood from more mature trees can be difficult to source from time to time.

The wood industry is subject to the same economic and living conditions we all experience in the world today.  More people, more homes being built, more furniture being made, impatience to allow proper time and maturity before harvesting will all affect the price of anything, and all of the wood types are as susceptible to economic pressures as anything else.

Weather Resistance

Of the two, Fir is more weather resistant.  Weather conditions may cause some swelling in Fir; it tends to return to its original shape after it dries, whereas Pine will begin to rot and lose its original shape.

When its grain lines swell, they will hold that shape, and the swelling and misshaping will be a permanent condition. 

What Else Can You Use Besides Fir and Yellow Pine

Pine Trees

Just in case you are curious, there are alternatives to Douglas Fir and Southern Yellow Pine.  You have options if you can’t decide which is the better choice, or at least the less disadvantageous choice.  Spruce, ash, and poplar can fit your needs, and we happen to have written about each. If you are curious, click on the name and go to that article for more helpful information.

If you want to branch out even further (pun intended), you could turn to cedar, oak, or hemlock, each of which we have also written of in the past.  Click on the link for each to learn more. 

These wood types will all cost you more, but each has its own appeal in many projects.  This is not to suggest that either Fir or Pine are bad choices, and that is not why we are writing this piece.  We simply want your choice to be informed.  We’ve worked with both and likely will again in the future.

Video Info On Framing Wood Types

We’ve talked about framing in this article, and to offer further thoughts on the uses of both Fir and Pine in construction, we turn to a framer in this video for his thoughts.

As we said, we’ve worked with both Fir and Pine and have a sense of their strengths and weaknesses.  We’ve offered them for you to consider, although if you are here reading up on them, you probably already have some sense of what they are like from past projects in your shop.

They are both good woods for particular project types, so don’t shy away from them.

Please leave a comment to join the discussion