Lodgepole pine

Category: Softwood
Region: Interior
Title: Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia)

Lodgepole pine, the most abundant tree species in BC, is marketed with interior spruce and subalpine fir as the SPF (spruce-pine-fir) species group. Kiln-dried SPF lumber is used as a structural framing material in a wide variety of residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural applications.

Lodgepole pine is a highly adaptable tree that grows across BC’s interior, and is one of the first species to come back after a wildfire. It is used as a material in structural framing, composite boards, and high-quality joinery.

Where it grows

Lodgepole pine is a highly adaptable tree that grows throughout most of BC’s interior, from mid-elevation to subalpine sites. It thrives in all sorts of environments, from water-logged bogs to dry, sandy soils.

Lodgepole pine is one of the first trees to come back after a wildfire. Its cones are protected by a seal of pitch, and fire or heat is needed to release the seeds. This allows the seeds to stay on the tree or ground for many years until a disturbance such as fire or harvesting provides suitable growing conditions.

Did you know?

Lodgepole pine is one of the species found in dense thickets of small trees known as dog-hair stands, which grow very slowly because of their high density.

Identifiable characteristics

Lodgepole pine is a medium-sized evergreen conifer that can reach 30 metres in height and 20 centimetres in diameter at maturity. Its average life span is 150 to 200 years, but they can live as long as 400 years. A tall, slender, straight tree, it has a sparse, variable crown, spreading branches and a thin orangey-brown to grey bark with fine scales. The bark is thicker and more grooved on the coast. Small mammals, such as the snowshoe hare, vole and squirrel, feed on the inner bark.

The needles are usually dark green and grow in pairs. They are often twisted in a spiral with sharp points. Seed cones range from short and cylindrical to egg-shaped and are two to four centimetres long without stalks. The seed scales have sharp prickles at their tips.

Did you know?

The mountain pine beetle is a naturally occurring insect in BC’s interior. Since the early 1990s, it has attacked half of the total volume of commercial lodgepole pine in BC. The beetles carry a fungus that leaves a blue or grey stain but does not affect the wood’s structural performance capabilities.

Beetle-affected wood has been used in high-profile projects such as the Richmond Olympic Oval, a signature structure for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

Common uses and applications

Lodgepole pine is part of the SPF (spruce-pine-fir) species group. Kiln-dried SPF lumber is used as a structural framing material in all types of residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural applications. It is used exclusively in the manufacture of prefabricated housing, trusses, and other structural components.

Lodgepole pine can be made into composite boards because of its suitable wood density, tendency to plasticize when compressed at high temperatures, gluing ease, and uniform ring density. It is also a first-class joinery wood for furniture, windows, doors and shutters, panelling, edge-glued shelving, siding, mouldings and other architectural millwork and joinery items.

Lodgepole pine is used for telephone poles, fence posts and corral rails because of its small diameter and lack of taper. It is also used for mine timbers, railway ties and fuel. Additionally, it is mixed with spruce and fir to produce 100 percent bleached Kraft pulp and chemi-thermo-mechanical pulp (CTMP).

Indigenous peoples use lodgepole pine for a variety of purposes, including as poles for lodges, homes and other buildings. In the spring, they strip off long ribbons of the sweet, succulent inner bark (cambium layer) to eat fresh or store for later. They use the pitch as the base of many medicines, including chewing it to relieve sore throats, or boiling it and mixing it with animal fat to use as a poultice for rheumatic pain or aches and soreness in muscles and joints.

Richmond Olympic Oval
Photo credit: KK Law

Commercial properties

Lodgepole pine wood is light in colour, ranging from cream to yellow to pale reddish-brown. It is moderately soft and light, straight grained and nonporous, with a fine and uniform texture.

It has a high strength-to-weight ratio and is well known for its working properties. The wood dries rapidly with small dimensional movement and little tendency to check. It is relatively easy to work, with good machining qualities. It turns, planes and shapes well and can be sanded to a smooth finish. The wood glues easily, has moderate nail and screw holding ability, and takes a good finish.

Commercial availability

Lodgepole pine is produced predominately as SPF lumber in structural grades according to National Lumber Grades Authority (NLGA) rules for dimension lumber. The most common are Select Structural, #2 and better, and stud grades. Specialty in-house grades, lamstock and export grades are also available. Lodgepole pine is the largest component of the SPF species mix that is available preservative treated.

Lodgepole pine is dried according to end-use and customer specifications. Kiln drying inhibits natural staining of the wood, improves its strength and stiffness, enhances its appearance, and increases its resistance to decay and attack by insects.

Download our grading guide

Get acquainted with the most commonly produced and exported lumber grades in boards and structural dimension lumber from BC’s interior softwood species.

Lodgepole pine – physical properties

Density (kg/m3)Green410
Air Dry430
Specific gravity (12% m.c.)Standard0.41
Hardness (N)Side2190
End2990
MOE (Mpa)Green8760
Air Dry10900
MOR (Mpa)Green39.0
Air Dry76.0
Compression parallel (Mpa)Air Dry43.2
Compression perpendicular (Mpa)Air Dry3.65
Shear (Mpa)Air Dry8.54
Cleavage (N/mm width)Air Dry52.0
ShrinkageRadial (OD)4.7%
OD = oven dryTangential (OD)6.8%
air = air dry 12%Volumetric (OD)11.4%
Volumetric (air)6.6%
Tang / Rad ratio1.4

Lodgepole pine – visual properties

Colour
HeartwoodLight yellow to reddish/brownish-yellow.
SapwoodNearly white. Sometimes blue.
Heartwood / sapwood contrastThe sapwood is wide with a subtle, yet definite contrast in colour to the heartwood.
Latewood / earlywood contrastThe annual growth rings are distinct, defined by narrow bands of latewood. Transition from earlywood to latewood is abrupt in narrow rings and more or less abrupt in fast-growing, wide-ringed wood.
Grain
The wood is generally straight-grained with a fine, fairy even texture.
Figure
Plainsawn lumber or rotary-cut veneer: Distinct, with visible latewood bands; faint pocked appearance.
Quartersawn lumber or quarter-sliced veneer: none.
Other: When split along the tangential plane, it exhibits a prominently dimpled surface.
Resin canals are normally present, inconspicuous without magnification on the transverse section, but evident as brownish streaks along the grain on faces of boards.
Knots
The knots are intergrown and generally small and tight, but relatively abundant.
Other
Wood of lodgepole pine has a resinous odour especially when green. It is moderately soft and light. Wood is resinous, pitch pockets are infrequent.

Lodgepole pine – working properties

ProcessPerformanceComments
Machining
PlaningExcellent planning qualityRecommended planer settings: 20° hook angle and 8, 12, or 16 kmpi (knife marks per inch).
TurningMedium to low surface qualityCommon defects: torn out grain.
SawingEasy to work with toolsResin exudation can sometimes negatively affect sawing properties.
BoringMediumMedium boring quality with both brad and single twist bits.
MortisingGoodGood mortising quality when using a hollow chisel mortise. Common mortising defects: splintering on the out-going side of the mortise and crushed grain inside the mortise.
ShapingGood shaping qualityCommon shaping defects in the order of frequency: splintering at the corner, rough end-grain, fuzzy grain, raised grain, and torn grain. Recommended: the use of a counter piece for end-grain shaping.
VeneeringGoodSlight tendency to split during drying.
SandingGood
Fastening
ScrewingModerate to poor holdingAverage screw retention: 435 lb.
NailingModerate to poor holdingAverage nail retention: 132/116/85 lb holding (tangential/radial/end-grain).
GluingEasy
Finishing
StainingEasySurface is smooth with only two topcoats. Dark stain produces wild grain, but a wash coat can even out the colour. Recommended: light and natural stains.
PaintingAverage to good paint holding ability
LacqueringGoodPerformed well in the tape test (i.e. small flakes of the coating were detached along edges and at intersections of cuts) and in the pull-off test (i.e. average strength of 30 kg/cm2).
WaxingGoodBest results are obtained when using light-coloured waxes (e.g. mellow pine).
Drying
Ease of dryingEasy to moderately easy
Durability
Natural decay resistanceSlightly durable
TreatabilityImpermeable to extremely impermeableCan be improved by incising.