Chris Schwarz's Blog

‘When Beetles Attack’ Vol. I

Our shop is thick with the sweet odor of Eastern white pine this week as I’m milling about 70 board feet of the stuff for the next issue of Woodworking Magazine. The smell (Megan Fitzpatrick would say “redolence”) is worlds better than the funky fish and burned popcorn smell that wafts daily from our cafeteria.

But with that great smell comes great mystery.

In the first batch of Eastern white pine we brought into the shop, the sapwood was streaked throughout almost the entire load. The streaks are gray-blue and end abruptly at the pine’s darker heartwood.

The streaks brought on a little debate in the shop. Some of us think the streaks are mineral deposits that the trees got into. I suspect a fungus among us. After doing some poking around the U.S. Forest Service web site, I suspect we have some trees that were attacked by fungus. The Forest Service says the fungus attack could have come after a beetle infestation. Check it out here.

The staining doesn’t appear to have compromised the strength of the wood, so I’m going to use the stained pieces on the inside of the 18th-century dry sink I’m building this week.

But the stain marks did make more work for Senior Editor Glen D. Huey. He’s the one who scored the pine for us. To get us some clear wood for the exterior of the piece, he ended up having to go back to his (super secret) source and climb over another seven stacks of wood to find what we needed. As a bonus, he found a couple boards that were 16″ wide in the rough. He’s a good guy to have around.

– Christopher Schwarz

12 thoughts on “‘When Beetles Attack’ Vol. I

  1. farms100

    My grandfather that had a logging businees back during the depression years, always said pine can me harvested in any month with an "R" in its name.

  2. Andrew Stevens

    You certainly can’t beat the smell of white pine, I worked in a sawmill in Northern Ontario for 4 summers and I can still recall the wonderful aroma. Something I’ve always been curious about is that I never see red pine at the retail stores. The mill I worked at cut thousands of feet of the stuff, where does it go? I know it is a lot heavier than white pine, would it be suitable for a work bench like SYP is?

  3. Steven

    I have recently made some things from Elm which had the black and blue streaking through it! Cause was a piece of metal in the wood which the tree had reacted to and spread the colours from it. Close to the metal was black but changed to blues and greens further away. Have a picture of the quarter sawn board in a raised panel if anyone wants to see? but dont know how to post it here.

  4. David

    Chris – I’ll confirm Dave’s comments. While certainly possible, beetle attack is not necessary to stain the sapwood of eastern white pine. I mill a fair amount of my own wood from downed urban trees, and eastern white pine absolutely requires at least a week of clear, dry weather after it’s sawn, otherwise you can pretty much plan on the sapwood being ruined (I’m not one to make lemons into lemonade…). Just a day of rain, high humidity and temps over 40 degress will do the trick.

    Better be careful, though. In NC we’ve both SYP (in abundance) and some eastern white pine. Eastern white pine is very addictive – it saws, planes, and chisels far, far, FAR better than southern yellow pine or cypress. Both of the latter suffer from hard, dense, latewood that EWP lacks, and that latewood/earlywood contrast tends to make chisels do a start/stop action that’s difficult to control. It’s little wonder that the secondary wood for New England antiques was white pine, though "southern" yellow pine grows all the way to Maine.

    It’s also a superb carving wood, and in my opinion superior to basswood for the purpose, as long as it came from a big tree with few knots.

  5. John Cashman

    It’s strange to hear someone going to a "secret source" for eastern white pine. Out here (in the east), it seems to be all over the place. Go figure. I wish we had some (any) SYP up here (in the north), but we have none. Maybe we could trade a load of EWP for SYP. Whaddaya say, we meet in western Pennsylvania or Virginia? Gas is cheap.

  6. Steve

    Nice to see a use for this species other than turning it into house logs as we do.

    I can still see my younger brother twitching out Eastern White Pine Logs with his oxen year ago. Great memories.

    Steve

  7. Larry Marshall

    Another perspective would suggest you got a bonus with your white pine. "Blue pine" is bought and sold as a specialty commodity to those doing Intarsia which provides them with a grey-blue wood. Popular when doing bluebirds, jays and maybe even sky.

    Cheers — Larry

  8. Christopher Schwarz

    Dave,

    Thanks for the details. This is actually the first time we’ve had the Eastern pine in our shop here. It’s uncommon in these parts (hence my affection for yellow pine).

    Chris

  9. Dave Anderson NH

    Hi Chris,

    It’s common heere in New England to see EW Pine that has what is referd to as "blue stain". It also happens to spruce and hemlock though not to the degree seen on the pine. You are right that it is a fungus. It’s common in wood that was cut in any warm weather and then let sit too long before being sawn and kiln dried. It is one of the many reasons that most white pine is harvested in the winter when the sap is down, the humidity and temps are low, and fungus doesn’t grow or spread well. The loggers have more time to get the wood to the mill and have it sawn and dried. Sometimes (rarely), bleach or oxcalic acid will remove the stain, but most of the time all you can do is try and hide the discoloration. Even maple will blue stain though it usually is actually a gray to black in color.

    Nothing smells quite so nice as freshly sawn Eastern White Pine in the woodshop.

    Best regards,

    Dave Anderson NH

  10. Lyle

    Late to the party Chris! 🙂

    This is a big issue up north. Entire forest tracts in BC and Alberta (now) have been laid waste by the Pine Beetle.

    The Beetle is native to these forests. What kept it in check were the severe winter cold snaps (minus 30 degrees Celsius or lower) for two to three weeks that killed off the larvae. With global warming these cold snaps are getting rare. Although there is a glut of pine now as Forestry companies scramble to cut the dead / dying trees, I would not be surprised if Pine becomes a scarce resource like Chestnut 30 years from now. I could be wrong and I hope I am however, without any active interventions from nature or man (vaccine?), the future looks grim.

  11. Mattias in Durham, NC

    You guys have to start charging more for shipping if you’re going to make the magazine out of pine. I like the idea though.

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