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What is white wood?

Have you seen “white wood” at the home improvement store and wondered what it is? Let’s talk about what is white wood, compare it to pine, and see how you can use it on your projects!

Beginning woodworkers are easily overwhelmed in the lumber aisles of hardware stores.

And, seriously, we get it. We started DIYing and woodworking in 2012 based off of YouTube videos and a few quick Google searches.

But, over the last decade, we have learned a LOT about woodworking and different kinds of wood.

Read our comprehensive guide to shopping for lumber for DIY projects here!

Whitewood lumber is a type of wood sold by many home improvement stores. It is usually the cheapest possible option for wood, which makes it appealing to people on a budget or who are un-confident in their DIY skills and don’t want to waste “nice” expensive wood.

But – what even is white wood? Unlike pine or oak, there isn’t a “whitewood” tree in your local forest or tree identification booklet.

Let’s talk about what white wood is, when you should use it, and how to finish it when you do work with it!


What is a whitewood board?

Technically, whitewood refers to wood that comes from the tulip tree. This tree is also known as:

  • Liriodendron tulipifera
  • American tulip tree
  • Tulip poplar
  • Fiddle-tree
  • Yellow poplar

These trees are very tall hardwood trees. They grow naturally in the North Eastern and Midwestern regions of the United States.

Tulip trees are fast growing and regrow quickly after being harvested, which makes them appealing to lumber companies.

This wood is creamy white, soft, and has a straight grain. It’s a nice soft hardwood to work with.

The truth about whitewood at hardware stores

For better or worse, most hardware stores use “white wood” as a generic marketing term for their cheapest possible soft wood. This isn’t tulip wood – it’s just whatever they have in that week.

Historically, it’s been a super cheap option. However, as the cost of construction lumber increased, hardwoods didn’t actually go up in price proportionately.

So, be sure to price several lumber types before assuming that white wood is always the cheapest! We find that poplar has actually been a cheaper option for small furniture builds lately.

Here’s our tips for getting lumber for free or cheap.

What is considered white wood?

White wood can be many types of wood but is usually:

  • pine woods
  • spruce
  • hemlock
  • fir

If whitewood is labeled as “whitewood SYP” this means Southern Yellow Pine, a super popular white wood.

If whitewood is labeled as “whitewood SYF” this could be pine or fir.

If whitewood is labeled as “whitewood SPF” it could be spruce, fir, or white pine.

This really varies regionally based on the wood that grows naturally in your area. On the east coast, you are almost always going to get pine boards.

What is Lowes whitewood?

Online, Lowes says about their white wood that “species may vary among spruce, pine and fir.”

What is Home Depot whitewood?

Home Depot says that their white wood is a variety of spruce, pine, and fir.

Common soft wood lumber on shelves at Home Depot
White wood boards listed as “common boards” at Home Depot.

In the aisles of Home Depot, their white wood is usually referred to as “common boards” and is the largest section available. The boards (especially with the current lumber crisis) are usually the worst shape compared to other boards available because they are getting whatever they can.

Is Whitewood cedar?

No, cedar is not a typical white wood.

Is Douglas fir a Whitewood?

In certain parts of the country, douglas fir is a common choice for whitewood in lumber stores. This is usually in the western part of the United States.

Is white wood a hardwood or softwood?

Tulipwood whitewood is technically a hardwood, but it is one of the softest hardwoods that there is.

White wood that is sold in hardware stores is a combination of soft woods, depending on the region you are in and where the wood is sourced.

Is whitewood strong?

Whitewood is not considered to be as strong as comparable pine wood. White wood cracks and splits very easily and it is common to find these problems in boards at the home improvement store.

Read more about how to buy wood for DIY projects here!

Crack in white wood board

White wood usually has a lot of knots and thick grains, which can make it less strong.

Is white wood rot resistant?

White wood is not naturally rot resistant and will need to be treated with an outdoor sealant to be water resistant. You are best off using pressure treated wood or naturally water resistant woods like cedar if your project will be outdoors.

Being such a soft wood, whitewood is very absorbent and will absorb moisture, and then rot, more quickly than some other harder woods.

How long will whitewood last outside?

Untreated white wood will rot in 1-3 years outside. This will depend on where it is, if it’s touching the ground, and how much moisture it is exposed to.

Treating white wood will extend the life – but it will need to be re-sealed periodically to keep it in good shape.

See how we treated white wood when we built our outdoor potting bench!

Is Whitewood good for furniture?

The problem with home improvement store white wood is you don’t know what you are getting. It’s not consistent between stores or from one month to the next at the same store.

That being said, soft woods usually aren’t great for furniture. They show dings and dents much more than hardwoods.

Curved white wood board at the home improvement store

Soft whitewoods are also often bent or warped straight off the shelf. It’s important to shop carefully and select straight boards.

We have made plenty of furniture from pine and white wood – you just have to go into it with the expectation that it’s not going to have the highest end look.

However, if you are going for a farmhouse or rustic look and you take the time to pull good, straight pieces off the shelf, you can create great projects like this farmhouse console table!

Projects we’ve made with white wood:

Can you paint whitewood?

You can paint whitewood, but it does have a lot of knots and that texture will show through the coat of paint. Be sure you are OK with that and look for pieces with less knots if possible.

What should you know when staining whitewood?

White wood is a soft wood that can sometimes stain in a splotchy looking way. I suggest using a pre-stain wood conditioner on white wood!

See our favorite stains on white wood here.

White wood vs Pine: What’s the difference?

White wood and pine are not technically the same thing. But, remember – many hardware stores are labeling pine as white wood, in which case it would be the same.

Usually, Lowe’s and Home Depot have a section called “premium pine” that is separate from the white wood or “common boards” section. If there is a premium pine section, that is actual pine wood.


The most noticeable difference between whitewood and pine is the number of knots – real white wood has a lot more knots than pine when laid side by side.

Knots in white wood at hardware store
Knots in white wood


True Whitewood is in general a lighter white compared to pine.

Water absorption

Whitewood is more absorbent than pine wood and more likely to rot quicker if wet.


In general, real whitewood tulip wood is lighter weight compared to pine wood.

Is whitewood stronger than pine?

In general, pine is considered stronger than whitewood. White pine is often sold for house framing and large building projects. For this reason, pine is often more expensive than basic whitewood.

Any more questions about white wood?!

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