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What Is Spruce Lumber?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Spruce lumber is made from one of the more than 30 varieties of tree in the genus Picea. A strong and relatively light wood, spruce lumber has many uses in a variety of industries. It is perfectly possible to have a box, a piano, and a full-sized boat all made from spruce.

Spruce lumber is made by refining raw spruce logs into more uniform and usable forms. Generally, spruce logs arrive at a lumber factory or mill just after felling, and still retain their original shape. Most commercial lumber is refined by machine, using a variety of high powered saws and shapers to create uniform boards. Boards may be treated with chemicals to be made more durable or fire-resistant. Spruce is either sold by the mill or shipped to lumber suppliers for public sale.

Most spruce lumber is light in color, with a even and fine grain to the wood. Even though there are many different types of spruce trees, many varieties will appear nearly identical when milled into lumber. Spruce is noted for having a very high strength-to-weight proportion, making it ideal for situations where the wood required is both lightweight and load-bearing.

One of the most interesting uses of spruce lumber is in the building of wooden airplanes. The sitka spruce tree in particularly is noted for airplane use, thanks to its fine grain, light weight, and wide availability. Some lumber mills set premium spruce wood aside specifically for airplane use, since only a small amount of lumber will have the requisite strength to withstand aircraft forces and pressures. Ironically, one of the most famous wooden airplanes in history, Howard Hughes' “Spruce Goose” relied heavily on birch wood, having only a few spruce parts.

Sitka spruce is also a frequent part of boat building, particularly when the primary concern is keeping weight low. It is important to note that very few varieties are good for outdoor use at all, since many types of spruce does not stand up well to weathering and is subject to a relatively fast decay. Sitka spruce is used to build masts and spars, thanks to the tree's durability and natural height.

For furniture, crates, barrels, and musical instruments, some spruce lumber may be ideal. Common types of spruce used for indoor furnishings include Eastern spruce, red spruce, black spruce, and Engelmann spruce. These types of lumber are also frequently used for house construction as interior timbers, but are generally not placed in areas that would expose them directly to the elements.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for About Mechanics. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By jcraig — On May 13, 2012

@Emilski - I've also heard the reasoning behind spruce lumber being good for instruments, but I don't remember either. Besides guitars, the famous Stradivarius string instruments also included spruce wood. I wouldn't have any idea what kind it was, though. I'm guessing it wasn't Sitka, though, since Stradivari was Italian, and I doubt there was a lot of travel to Alaska during the 16- and 1700s.

I had never heard of spruce being a good lumber to use for boats. Given what the article says, I am willing to guess that a lot of the Native American tribes in that area use boats that have been carved out of spruce logs.

Since the wood is soft, I wonder how good it would be for wood carving and whittling. Does anyone have any idea?

By Emilski — On May 13, 2012

@Izzy78 - Actually, given it's very light size, spruce is very strong. A lot of wood strength just depends on the width of the tree rings. Since spruces are found in cold climates, they typically grow very slowly, which means their rings are close together. I was a demonstration once where a spruce board was just as strong as a piece of pine lumber. Still, though, spruce isn't nearly as strong as something like oak lumber of another hardwood.

I believe some of the best acoustic guitars in the world are made of spruce. I've heard the science behind it, but something about spruce wood carries sound waves differently than other woods.

By jmc88 — On May 12, 2012

@Izzy78 - I think I might be able to answer a couple of your questions. You are right that spruce typically grows in the north, although that is not always the case. I'm not a lumber expert, but I believe Sitka spruce is one of the biggest types of spruces and probably has the best lumber, which makes it a popular tree. I know for a fact it grows very well in Alaska and Canada, because I lived there for a couple of years, and it was everywhere.

As far as using spruce for lumber, I am even less sure of that. I don't recall ever seeing it being sold anywhere, but I might not have noticed it. I believe as far as strength goes, it must be at least strong enough to support a house if it is able to be used as framing lumber.

By Izzy78 — On May 11, 2012

Interesting. I am not very familiar with spruce wood at all. All I really know is what the article mentioned that it was a popular wood for airplanes before they were made of steel.

Where does spruce even grow? I know it is an evergreen, so it would probably be in the north, I would guess. Is there any certain kind of spruce that is normally sold in on the market? The article mentioned Sitka spruce, and this is the only one I have heard of.

In terms of building strength, is spruce weaker than pine or Douglas-fir since it is lighter? Where can you even buy it? I am pretty sure I've never seen it in stores.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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