Lodgepole pine: A strong and useful pine species
Lodgepole pine grain sample

Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) grows in the Rocky Mountains, from Alaska to northern New Mexico, in the Black Hills and on the Pacific Coast. Poles of this tree were used by Native Americans for structural supports for teepees and lodges; hence the common name of lodgepole.

Lodgepole pine trees are not very large. In the Rockies, they may reach 80 feet in height, but seldom exceed 14 inches in diameter. Oftentimes, lodgepole pine lumber and ponderosa pine lumber are grouped together. They are similar in processing and properties. Both are moderately strong softwoods, making them ideal for construction.

A special characteristic of this wood is that the tangential surface (the wide face of a flatsawn piece of lumber) has a multitude of dimples. These show up especially when the lighting is at a low angle or when the wood is stained. Ponderosa has very few dimples.
Historically, lodgepole pine has been used for railroad ties, mine timber, log cabins, furniture and cabinets, and a myriad of local uses. Today, knotty pine paneling is an important use, along with cabinetry and millwork.

Processing suggestions and characteristics
Density. The density of lodgepole pine is about 29 pounds per cubic foot at 10 percent MC. This means that a dried piece of lumber 1 inch x 6 inch x 10 feet (actual size ¾ inch x 5-1/2 inch x 10 feet) will weigh 8 pounds. This is about 15 percent heavier than eastern white pine, but is similar to ponderosa pine.

Drying. Drying is rapid, but the small trees and presence of compression wood mean that warp is often a possibility. Weighting the pile tops in drying is helpful, as well as good stacking and rapid drying. Blue stain can occur quickly, so the storage of logs and of sawn lumber before drying must be very short during warm weather. For this reason, most lodgepole pine lumber will be dried at the sawmilling site.

Gluing and machining. Gluing is fairly easy. Resin exudations will interfere with gluing if drying is not done hot enough. Machining is moderately good. Certainly sharp tools are suggested. Avoid drying under 9 percent MC at all costs, as drier wood machines poorly.

Stability. Lodgepole pine is a little more stable than many common species, requiring a 5 percent MC change or greater for a 1 percent size change in the width of flatsawn lumber, and 8 percent MC change in quartersawn stock.

Strength. The strength (MOR) of lodgepole is 9400 psi; the stiffness (MOE) is 1.34 million psi; and the hardness is 480 pounds. Corresponding eastern white pine values are 8600 psi, 1.24 million psi, and 380 pounds. In other words, it is stronger, stiffer and harder than eastern white pine. Ponderosa values are nearly identical (9400 psi, 1.29 million psi, and 460 pounds).

Color and grain. The wood is straight grained, has a medium to fine texture and has pronounced dimples on the split, tangential surface. The sapwood of lodgepole pine is nearly white to a pale yellow, while the heartwood is light yellow to a yellowish brown. In dried lumber, the sapwood and heartwood are not easily separated from each other. Lodgepole pine has a pleasant resinous odor; some may find that pine dust and the aroma cause allergic reactions.

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About the author
Gene Wengert

Gene Wengert, “The Wood Doctor” has been training people in efficient use of wood for 45 years. He is extension specialist emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.