Southern yellow pine (SYP) consists of four major species: loblolly, slash, longleaf and shortleaf. They grow abundantly throughout the 13 southern states. In fact, over 15 billion board feet of lumber are produced every year when the economy is strong. Some of the growing sites have been harvested five times over the past 200 years. The soil nutrients are in the needles and small twigs, so soil depletion is not an issue when logging these lands, as long as the small items are returned to the site and soil.
This fast-growing species produces some of the strongest wood in North America. Structural uses, such as roof trusses and decking, are the more common uses for this wood. Estimates are that over 60 percent of the SYP lumber is treated to resist decay and is then used outdoors, where it will last for centuries. Due to SYP’s high weight and difficulty nailing, some of the lighter weight Canadian species (spruce and fir) are preferred for 2x4 and 2x6 studs for house walls.
Note that most SYP on the market will be loblolly. Longleaf pine was abundant when the Europeans first came to North America, but it is no longer harvested in any quantity today, partly due to environmental concerns. Occasionally an old building is demolished and the beams and lumber, which are often longleaf, are recycled, especially when building authentic historic buildings.
Uses for furniture, cabinets, and millwork are limited, as the wood is prone to warping, has very heavy grain, and presents special problems in processing, compared to our native hardwoods. Also, drying seldom achieves the low MCs required for furniture and cabinets. Yet, with experience, this wood can be an excellent wood, especially where strength is critical or when the heavy grain appearance is needed. The key is proper drying, using many of the techniques that would be used for hardwood lumber drying.