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What Is Whitewood & What Is It Best For?

There are many wood options you can use for your home projects. One popular choice is whitewood. However, wood enthusiasts can have different interpretations regarding whitewood. This article will help you distinguish whitewood from other wood types and where to use it.

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True whitewood comes from the American tulip tree. Whitewood also refers to light-colored wood from spruce, fir, or pine trees. It is popular for indoor woodwork, such as furniture and decorations. If you want to use the wood outside, you need to treat it.

Using whitewood can enhance your interiors and add a natural vibe to your home. You must understand its characteristics so you can use it for suitable projects. Continue reading to learn what you can do with whitewood.

What Is Whitewood?

Whitewood is a light-colored softwood. The term even confuses woodworkers due to differences in interpretation. There are two interpretations of whitewood. 

Angled view of a white wood surface

First, you should distinguish true whitewood from other light-colored wood. True whitewood comes from the American tulip tree, which is deciduous in nature. Tulip wood has creamy white sapwood and pale yellow to olive green heartwood.

For the second interpretation, whitewood is the catch-all for pale-colored wood. Whitewood has the following characteristics:

  • Lightweight
  • Pale color
  • Porous
  • Smooth
  • Soft 
  • Straight grained
  • White grain isolated from tree saps

This wood usually comes from fir, pine, or spruce. Thus, you can refer to whitewood as coniferous wood. You will find initials like SYP or SPF when you buy this wood. The SYP, or southern yellow pine, is common in North America.

Although coniferous wood and tulip trees are different, they also have similarities. True whitewood will have more knots than coniferous wood. Regardless of interpretation, both produce the same results.

Read a comparison between the two woods: Whitewood Vs Pine: Which To Choose?

Best Uses Of Whitewood 

Freshly cut tulip poplar log, Best Uses Of Whitewood

You can create many things with whitewood. Working with this wood is easy because it is relatively soft. Here are some of the best uses of this wood:

  • Making indoor furniture (cabinets, chairs, tables)
  • Picture frames
  • Seal valves and pipes
  • Siding for clapboards
  • Storage boxes

Whitewood is popular for furniture because of its affordability and durability. You can get precise cuts and easy shaping with whitewood.

Lumber shops always have this kind of wood, so you can get an abundant supply. The color of whitewood is also appealing and will match most home interiors. 

The downside of using whitewood to make furniture is its lack of durability. Whitewood is a softwood, so it is prone to denting, warping, and cracking. But you can still find good quality whitewood that will last for years.

Is Whitewood Good For Framing?

Do not use true whitewood for framing. You can use white coniferous wood like Douglas fir, spruce, or pine for the framing.

The framework of your home should be stable and sturdy. The type of wood you use for it should be strong enough to support the weight of the house.

If you are searching for suitable wood, make sure that it has few knots, no defects, and is flexible to allow for temperature changes.

True whitewood has more knots than other framing wood. As a result, it will not qualify for framing.

The Janka hardness rating of true whitewood is 540 pounds per force (lbf). If you compare whitewood to others, it is low for home construction. 

If you have the budget, you should select hardwood for home framing. You should not compromise the safety of your family at home by using weak materials.

Is Whitewood Rot Resistant?

Homeowners should consider the rot resistance of the wood they want to use. Unfortunately, whitewood rots easily. This wood is like a sponge. You should not leave whitewood objects outside for too long, especially if during heavy rains. 

Whitewood will absorb water quickly. As a result, the wood will warp and crack. You should protect whitewood furniture and fixtures in your home by keeping them away from water. 

Is Whitewood Good For Outdoors?

Whitewood is an appealing wood and has many uses. But whitewood is not good for outdoor use. 

It is possible to place whitewood furniture outside if you treat the wood. You can place whitewood on concrete pavers or gravel, so the undersides will not rot. 

Aside from rotting and water damage, exposure to sunlight can darken whitewood over time. Untreated wood will darken faster, so you need to maintain its condition. It is best to keep whitewood away from direct sunlight.

Read on to learn about how you can treat whitewood.

Should You Treat Whitewood?

Applying protective varnish on a wooden furniture

Untreated whitewood will deteriorate faster when outside. Whitewood is not like hardwood, which can better endure changing conditions. 

As we mentioned before, exposing the wood to a wet, humid outdoor environment can cause rotting, and sunlight can darken the wood. 

Untreated wood may last for a couple of months or up to two years. But the damage can start early, in a few weeks.

If you plan to use whitewood outside, you need to treat it with an outdoor water-resistant sealant.

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Other outdoor-rated treatments you can apply are the following:

  • Clear coat (ex. spar urethane)
  • Epoxy
  • Exterior paint
  • Wood oils (such as linseed, teak, or Danish oil)

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You will need to re-seal wood so to its extend its lifespan. You can treat the wood by yourself as long as you follow the correct directions. 

How To Treat Whitewood

Once you have your sealant or similar wood treatment, follow the procedure below:

  1. Clean the wood. You will need to sand the wood only if the finish is old. 
  2. Check the instructions on the wood sealer. Lightly stir it to avoid air bubbles.
  3. When the sealant is ready, apply it evenly to the wood. You can use a brush or spray.
  4. Allow the sealant to dry. It will take 2-4 hours for water-based sealant to dry, and 6-8 hours for oil-based sealant to dry. Do not dry the wood under direct sunlight.
  5. Lightly sand the wood and remove the excess dust.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 to apply 3-5 coats.

If you use oil, you need to mix it with polyurethane and mineral spirits. The process is similar above. Remember to treat the wood before you stain or paint it.

You can also check out this article: 5 Best Sealers For Your Wood Deck.

Does Whitewood Stain Well?

Hand holding a brush applying varnish paint on a wooden surface

Whitewood can take on any color because its fibers absorb paints and stains well. However, staining can be a challenge with this wood because the result can be blotchy.

The wood is not consistent with soaking because of the wooden fibers. If you use a dark stain, blotches can be evident.  You need to be careful when applying stain to avoid unwanted marks. 

You need to find a suitable stain for whitewood. Stains have varying consistencies and characteristics. Whitewood stains should have the following attributes:

  • Penetrates the wood surface
  • Binds to wood fibers
  • Grain remains visible
  • Protects the wood 
  • Acts as a wood treatment

Below is our whitewood stain recommendation:

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After you buy the stain, you can apply it to the wood.

How To Stain Whitewood

Follow the process below for staining the whitewood:

  1. Sand the wood. You can use any sandpaper grit to achieve the texture you want.
  2. Apply a wood conditioner to control excess paint or stain. 
  3. Seal the wood with a sanding sealer or shellac. Apply two coats. Let the wood dry after the first coat before applying the second coat. 
  4. Stain the wood using a sprayer rather than applying it with a brush or cloth. Wipe off excess with a clean cloth. 
  5. After one coat, let it completely dry. It is up to you how many coats you apply to achieve your desired shade.
  6. If you use a brush, apply the stain evenly and try to avoid overlapping the stained areas.

In Summary

Freshly cut tulip poplar log

Whitewood can refer to tulip tree wood or to the catch-all term for light-colored wood. You can use whitewood for indoor furniture and woodwork. But you shouldn't use whitewood for your home's framing. 

If you want to use whitewood outside, you should treat it with an outdoor water-resistant sealant. Whitewood will rot if it comes in contact with water and darken if exposed to direct sunlight.

Follow the steps for staining carefully so you can effectively protect the wood. You can also stain whitewood if you want to add some color. Whitewood can definitely make your home more appealing.