What is Whitewood? – The Ultimate Guide

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You probably know that getting the right wood for your furniture determines the quality of your project.

When planning for a project, you may have realized just how much whitewood is loved for its unique qualities in making furniture and are wondering: what is whitewood? Here’s all you need to know about it including the types, grades, applications and how to work with it.

So, what is whitewood exactly?

Whitewood is a light-colored wood often used in furniture making because of its clean appearance. This unique quality allows for staining, varnishing, and painting. Whitewood offers you a finishing like no other.

In case you’ve been thinking of making a cabinet, chair or table, you best option is probably some beautiful whitewood. It is usable for a variety of indoor furniture and home improvement needs delivering quality results.

Where do I buy whitewood?

Whitewood is available in many countries and getting a hold of some is not hard at all.

Make your way to the lumberyard or a home center and sample out what you need. The only challenge comes when choosing the type or grade that you will use, but don’t worry about that; below are the types and grades you will come across.

What are the types of whitewood?

The kind of project you are working on will determine the type and grade of whitewood that you’ll use.

Whitewood is not a particular tree species but rather a category of trees with similar properties. They include the following trees:

  1. Pale wood trees – yellow pines, spruces, silver firs, basswoods, tulip trees and others.
  2. Southern yellow pine – found in the southern areas of North America including Georgia, Alabama, and others.
  3. Spruce, pine, and fir – often called SPF, a term used interchangeably with whitewood.
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Spruce is an example of a whitewood tree

What are the grades of whitewood?

When in a lumberyard or home center, you probably won’t see the wood type labeled but rather the grade.

You need to be sure of what grade your project will require before choosing it. The grades you’ll come across do depend on the place you’re shopping for your whitewood.

In the lumberyard, you will come across the following grades:

  • select
  • common
  • C & better
  • clear

However, in the home center, the grades you will find are quite different and include:

  • SPF – composed of spruce, white pine and Douglas fir. This is the most common grade you will find.
  • SYF – made up of pine and fir.
  • SYP – made up of the Southern yellow pine.

What are the reasons to use whitewood?

Here are some of the most compelling reasons to use whitewood:

  1. It produces a clean and fine look that allows for staining, varnishing and painting without losing the original quality.
  2. It’s versatile and therefore can be used in customized furniture.
  3. It has a soft texture that quickly absorbs moisture.
  4. It’s easily available in most places from Europe to America, with most home centers and lumberyards stocking it.
  5. It’s less expensive than other woods that can be used for the same project.
  6. It’s easier to work on, allowing both novices and the skilled to get their desired quality.
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Lumber yards are a great source for whitewood

Working with Whitewood

Working with whitewood is not as difficult as many people think. If you’re careful and follow the following steps then accomplishing your project should be very easy.

Before embarking on the steps, you will first have to assemble everything you will need. The steps are:

1. Whitewood Cutting and Building

A critical step that will define the quality of your work is the cutting.

You need to try as much as you can to make clean cuts and nice finishes. That will not be possible when you use a handsaw which will often result in irregular lines. Thus, you’ll need one of the following saws:

Portable Band Saw

This saw allows you to move freely giving you the freedom to work in your workspace. You can place it within your reach and use it as you need it, and your back is spared as you can choose whichever working position your body feels most comfortable. The drawback of this saw is that it’s less powerful.

Band Saw Table

If you need to work more quickly and efficiently, the stand band saw is your best option. It’s a powerful tool that allows you to cut all your pieces at once. Cutting everything at the same time will enable you to progress to the next step faster. However, it confines you to one position whose disadvantages you are aware of by now.

Band saws are ideal for cutting whitewood | Santeri Viinamäki CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Depending on availability and your preferences, you can settle on the band saw that is best for you as you get the cutting completed.

2. Whitewood Sanding

This step depends on a few key factors that will determine the quality of your outcome.

Don’t just use any sandpaper; proper sandpaper will make a big different in you getting your desired outcome.

The sanding technique is critical because if not done correctly you may scratch or ruin the wood and have to start over.

Amount of moisture in the wood is also important. The more moisture, the longer the process, and hence less moisture is preferred.

Sanding can be simple or complicated depending on your approach. Always rely on your skill to make the right choices or ask for advice when shopping for sandpaper or whitewood. Don’t hesitate to quickly pick up the phone and call someone knowledgeable when you find it hard to decide on the proper sandpaper, technique or amount of moisture.

3. Staining and Finishing

The last step is the staining and finishing which is an opportunity to capitalize on the uniqueness of whitewood. It may be tricky sometimes because of the open cell structure of the whitewood that makes it very absorbent. You may need to use a sealant to combat this issue and give your project a more even and finer finish.

When the sealant is dry, you are now ready to stain. When staining, the following tips can help you get a better finish:

  • Avoid overlapping your stain to prevent different degrees of stain.
  • Maintain an even stroke.
  • Allow the stain to stay wet while you work.
  • Keep the whole brush wet and make sure you finish your project in one session to achieve a more even finish.

If you’re wondering when you should start varnishing, now is the time. Most people find it challenging, but with the right skills, it could make a huge difference in the final result.

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With whitewood, staining and varnishing don’t compromise quality

You need to be cautious because varnish is a potent chemical; you’ll need to work with out in the open where there’s good air flow.

You also need to realize that the quality of staining and finish depends on your desired goal and skills. By skills, it’s not so much about extensive knowledge and experience, but rather the ability to take good strokes and pay attention to detail.

Whether you’re doing it for the first time or you’ve done it countless times before, your outcome will depend on these two qualities.

Problems with Whitewood

Despite the fantastic qualities of whitewood, there are several problems with it, including:

  1. Being a softwood, it absorbs a lot of paint and stains which may make the finish not as appealing as intended. This is why using a sealant is important.
  2. It easily absorbs water and thus can easily crack, warp or get ruined.
  3. It can easily rot when rained on or exposed to moisture in the air; this is why it’s not a good outdoor wood.


You now know what exactly whitewood is. With this information, you’re now one step closer to getting the right wood for your project.

I’m sure at this point, you can understand why most people opt for this kind of wood. When shopping for whitewood, you’ll see that whitewood boards and other products are stocked more because more and more people are opting for them. When you understand the uniqueness of this wood, then working with it becomes very easy.

Did you know there’s a special machine you can build cheaply at home that can completely change the way you work with whitewood, decorate your home, or work on any DIY Project? You can find out more in this review!

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2 Responses

  1. Devon says:

    Great read Scott. I use whitewood in a lot of my projects, and it’s true that it’s relatively cheap, but what I like most is how awesome it looks once it’s finished and sealed. How much do you use whitewood in your woodworking?

    • Scott says:

      Thanks Devon. Indeed, whitewood is an attractive option in many cases. I use whitewood often, but only indoors under controlled humidity. As I’m sure you know, it’s not a good idea to build outdoor projects with whitewood because it’ll rot quickly.

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