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Ponderosa pine: the star of the western pines.

Ponderosa pine: The star of the

The generic term pine refers to any one of a group of evergreen trees distinguished for its bear cones and needlelike leaves. Of the 100 species of pine worldwide, some 65 species originate in North America; 36 grow in the United States.

This column deals with the pines of the western United States and Canada, of which a few stand out for their commercial value. Ponderosa pine is one of the most valuable pines. Others include lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta, Idaho white pine, Pinus monticola, and sugar pine, Pinus lambertiana.

Ponderosa pine is classified as a hard or yellow pine, a botanical designation based on its number of needles, three, as well as the hardness and density of the wood. Other names include: western yellow pine, bird's-eye pine, knotty pine, California white pine, and Columbia soft pine.

The supply of Ponderosa pine is substantial. According to the Western Wood Products Assn., "in pure or nearly pure stands of Ponderosa pine there is a standing inventory of approximately 188 billion board feet of lumber; in mixed stands there are additional billions of board feet in unmeasured inventory. Most Ponderosa trees grow, mature, and survive for 125 years before they are lost to natural causes such as rot, insect damage, fires or wind throw." The WWPA adds that some trees live as long as 200 years on semi-arid plateaus and slopes, surrounded by jupiner and sage. Typically, forests are selectively harvested instead of clear cut, taking only mature trees and leaving the rest to reseed and mature.

An imposing figure

Mike O'Brien, manager of product publicity for the WWPA, calls ponderosa pine a "beautiful wood" with a long list of uses. Ponderosa pine has long been used for residential construction such as light framing, spaced sheathing, floor and roof decking. Other uses include doors, windows, mouldings, paneling, soffits and fascia, furniture and cabinetry. Industrial uses include pallets, concrete forms, crates and boxes, dunnage, hives, partitions, and foundry patterns.

Ponderosa and sugar pine, as well as English and European pines and antique pines like heart pine, are the substances Richard Howell of Pine World Antiques, uses for his furniture designs. "Some of what I use is reclaimed, the rest is new, depending on the style of the pieces which range from antiques being restored to new furniture and store fixtures."

Ponderosa pines are imposing trees, attaining heights of 100 to 160 feet with diameters of 2 to 4 feet. They characteristically have large plates of orange-brown bark. The wide sapwood is pale yellow and the heartwood ranges from deep yellow to reddish-brown; brown lines in the cut wood are caused by resin ducts. Mature trees yield a honey-colored wood uniform in texture and are non-resinous. The average weight for the tree is 32 pounds per cubic foot with a specific gravity of 0.51.

Ponderosa pine seasons fairly well. The WWPA recommends drying it before surfacing to assure uniformity of the finished size. Seasoning is in temperature and humidity-controlled dry kilns or stacked and air-dryed to a moisture level from 12 to 19 percent.

Wide sapwood is susceptible to fungal staining, so care should be taken in stacking wood for air drying. According to the WWPA, ponderosa pine is "subject to blue stain if a felled tree or green lumber becomes too warm before it is dried." The blue stain will not affect strength and is used in some lower grades of lumber, where it can be hidden with paint or ascented with a clear finish.

Grades are as varies as its many uses. The WWPA's certified inspectors participate in supervising grading for most pine production in the 12 Western states that make up the prime growing area. The grading is generally broken down into three main groups: appearance, structural and factory, with many grades in each group.

Ponderosa pine is also pressure treated for uses involving exposure and ground contact. A growing market, uses include fences, planters, storage sheds, play structures, decking and deck railings.

Mechanical properties include low stiffness and resistance to shock loads, with both medium bending and crushing strengths. Ponderosa pine does not steam bend well but the wood works easily with hand and machine tools. Resin can be a problem to cutters; the wood may need treatment for gumminess for some finishes. Knots are usually sound. The WWPA recommends sealing knots before painting to "prevent them from bleeding through the finished surface."

Approximately 95 percent of Seattle, Wash.-based Timeless Design's lumber is ponderosa pine, said Dan Conway. "From a designer's standpoint, ponderosa pine is nice to work with. It takes a variety of finishes: traditional with painted ornaments or clear wood and it works well with white wash. It also machines easily. However, an occasional and ongoing problem we have is pitch build-up on tools."

Radiata - a distant cousin

One of the original Western pines is radiata, a tree native to California. It has been successfully transplanted to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa where it has been commercially successful.

The wood, also known as Monterey pine, thrives in warm temperate climatess like New Zealand; it is a lot like ponderosa pine in looks and applications. Outside the United States, radiata pine (Pinus radiata) is often grown on plantations. Gerald Hunt of Montueka, New Zealand, is head of the Radiata Pine Remanufacturers Assn., working with the New Zealand Trade Development Board to find new world markets for this plentiful wood. Hunt said the current export market is mostly two by four sawn wood for construction and logs, exported to Australia, Asian countries, and some to the United States.

"We have huge stands of radiata pine and we have not taken advantage of the many diverse markets. Our association represents some 50 or 60 companies and will highlight the greater use of radiata pine to world markets," Hunt said.

Supplies of radiata pine are used for construction lumber, housing, dimension uses, edge glued panels, kitchen cabinets and doors, floors and cladding, boxes, packing cases, turnery, and furniture. Selected logs can be sliced as decorative veneers for paneling. It also is used for paper pulp. Hunt and his U.S.-based partner, Dennis Wood of Coulee Region, Bangor, Wis., hope to develop a market for the plantation-grown New Zealand wood.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Wood of the Month
Author:Kaiser, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:column
Date:Aug 1, 1991
Previous Article:NEOCON 23 spotlight is on 'Responsive furnishings.' (National Exposition of Interior Contract Furnishings)(part 1; includes related articles) (column)
Next Article:Highlights from Ligna.

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