Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Long Squiggly Yellow Line

People often divide our country into North and South using a variety of metrics. There’s the Mason-Dixon line, of course. The Barbecue Line (the word means “grilled meat” in the North and “porky heaven” in the South). And so on.

I use the “Yellow Pine Line.” This fantastic material is difficult to find in many Northern climes, except as pressure-treated nastiness. And in the South, the stuff is so common that it grows on trees.

I think it’s an ideal workbench material. It’s cheap. It’s stable. It’s stiff. It’s easy to flatten. It’s available in wide widths. So it should come as no surprise that I get e-mails like this one from Paul:

I live in Aurora, Ill., a western Chicago suburb. It does not appear to be a location friendly to the Southern Yellow Pine that you’ve prized in earlier articles.  Home Depot/Lowe’s/Menards all stock, at best, SPF…so I don’t really know what I’m getting.

So now, the question , how might I best obtain woods with the density/strength that you recommend , in a land like mine that seems very un-woodworking friendly?

One note , one of your articles on Southern Yellow Pine suggested that, if it can’t be found, that we take the pickup truck down to Cincinnati. Unfortunately, that won’t be a good option for my Ford Taurus these days (though it would be fun to do).

I’ve thought of just dealing with the SPF that Home Depot offers, but I am afraid that I’d be disappointed with it in a year. I’d like my bench to last five, 10, or more years.

Well the easy answer would be to use “SPF” which is a grab-bag category for “spruce, pine or fir.” It’s certainly strong enough, though usually it’s a little soft. And some places don’t dry it as well as necessary. But the good news here is that you are actually close to the “Yellow Line.” You don’t have to come to Cincinnati to get Southern Yellow Pine. In fact, I know of some people in Chicago who have found it in the city at lumberyards (if you are out there, please chime in with the name of the yard!).

Even if you cannot find it in the city, you should be able to sneak over the border to Indiana and find some. It’s amazing how the wood choices can change radically by changing your geography slightly

And finally, let me repeat something that I’ve said about 100 times about workbench materials: Almost any wood will do. Pick something that is readily available, inexpensive, dry and stiff. You’ll be fine.

– Christopher Schwarz

Other Workbench Resources I Recommend

– Tim Celeski’s excellent workbench site:

– I actually still like my book “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use.

– We have a nice and inexpensive CD of many of the workbench and shop plans we’ve published “The Best of Shops & Workbenches.

– Watch Roy Underhill’s episodes (free!) where he builds a French bench.

26 thoughts on “The Long Squiggly Yellow Line

  1. Dave Odekirk

    Paul, two weeks ago I bought some SYP at New Glarus Lumber. For you that would be just north of the Cheese Line into Wisconsin, west of Janesville. Just follow all the tourists. Each 14′ 2×12 cost me just under $30 and they cut them into 7′ lengths for me. Compared to the equivalent amount of hard maple to build my bench, I think I got off cheap.

    SYP is as hard to find around here as are honest politicians!


    All, I just ordered the southern yellow pine to build my workbench from Fingerle Lumber in Ann Arbor, MI. John Fingerle was more then willing to order a small quantity (20 2x10x10), did not charge any special fees, and went out of his way to be helpful when other yards insisted I had to buy the whole bunk ($1,800 wholesale). He can be reached via there website at or:
    John Fingerle
    Fingerle Lumber Co.
    734 741-7721

  3. Clay Dowling

    Interesting to hear about all of the variation in quality at the big box stores, based on location. We have a lot of HD and Lowes stores in the Flint/Saginaw area, and they’re all pretty consistently poorer than Menards.

    I’m moving to Ann Arbor in the next year or two anyway, and my local lumberyard will probably become Fingerle lumber, significantly reducing my interest in what the big box stores carry.

  4. dave rodgers

    Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda)

    Loblolly pine, also called Arkansas pine, North Carolina pine, or oldfield pine, is the most important commercial timber in the southeastern United States. Over 50% of the standing pine in the southeast is loblolly. The species name, taeda, comes from the Latin word for torch of resinous wood.

    Loblolly pine is found throughout much of the southeastern United States from New Jersey to central Florida and west into Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, and Oklahoma. It grows primarily in coastal plains and some Piedmont regions.

    It is widely grown in plantations for commercial timber production.

    The wood, which is marketed as SOUTHERN YELLOW PINE, is primarily used for pulp and paper but also for lumber and plywood. It may be sold interchangeably with shortleaf pine.

    From a Univ of FL website.

  5. dave ball

    In Chicago, you can find Douglas fir at local lumber yards (not HD/Lowes/Menards) for rafter material in very long and wide lengths. Typically you can go to the yard and cut it up yourself into manageable sections or they will do it for a fee. This was the route I was going to go until a trip to Marc Adams school put me across the SYP line. I hit a Lowes on the way out of Indy, spent a ton of time picking through/bothering the help to open additional bundles, loaded my Chevy CO up, and then drove slowly back to Chicago.

    One comment on Menards around here. Lowes has much better quality construction lumber. Menards has better sheet goods. HD has something in the middle on construction lumber and worse sheet goods than both. I found the same thing in Indy, which is why I bought my SYP at Lowes.

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