2X4's Spruce?

chris pearson

Michigan Canoe Nut
OK, so if I want to do some splicing in of gunwale ends and some splices midway, is it ok to use 2X4 stock? I assume that it is spruce and will be close enough for splicing? I'm going to even try to match the grain the best I can. If they advertise "Fir", isnt Spruce a sub-sect of Fir?

I have some old sitka and can probably find a piece that would work if you want to drive down to pick it up.

Jan Bloom
Spruce and Fir are both in the Pine Family but in different genus. Firs are in the genus Abies while the Spruces are in the genus Picea. Spruces are much lighter than the firs and generally with finer hard winter growth rings. Firs tend to have a wider hard winter growth ring. I think Fir feels more brittle when worked with hand tools. However, I have more experience with the Spruces than with Fir.
Up here (Canada), 2x4s are sold as SPF (spruce, pine, fir). You get whichever of those was available when they were milling. The price is cheap, and you can find lengths up to 16'. With careful selection, you could get a length that is knot free. Note; this is also cheap material to make a canoe pole.
Here in the U.P. 20 footers or more are available. I would, however, look at the larger 2x material like 2x8 which is also available in long lengths. The probability of getting clear stock out of the wider material is greater. Learning the differences between Fir,Spruce and Pine would help. There is a book by Bruce Hoadly on wood properties which would help.
When I was looking to learn how to determine the different between fir and spruce, I couldn't find anyone, from lumberyard workers to FS lab workers who would claim to know the difference.

Sorting out the pine is relatively easy.

I also have Hoadley's book on wood identification, but the bottom line is that, IIRC, you have to make a thin specimen and look at it under a microscope, not very suited to picking a 2x piece at a lumberyard. It's still worth reading though.


Also, at least here in the midwest, "most" of the larger/longer stock sold as SPF is hemlock fir, usually with very wide grain. The less common alternate in large/long stock here is doug fir.


btw, I save old, replaced rails to use as stock for replacing rail tips, as at least so far, it seems easier to find a good match with grain and wood color.
Yes, pine is the easiest to sort out. But spruce and fir are not that hard to distinguish. However, as many of our canoes were trimmed in Sitka that means buying from a yard that ships in from the west as Sitka does not grow in the UP or the Great Lakes area.
My goal is to match the grain pattern as best I can, The pcs arent going to be very long, so not replacing with the exact species isnt that critical. I will stain to match as well. I'm not talking about replacing spruce with oak or another wood "family", just stay in the pine/fir family I guess.

More than likely I have a block of sitka that will come very close to matching grain and color providing you are matching old sitka. I have some from the 30s and 40s. Again if you want to drive down to Paw Paw you may have a piece.
OK, I will call you, thanks a ton for the offer. You also left the keel for the White at my house, I could bring it with me. Perhaps Saturday morning?
Not that it makes a difference to what Chris is doing but did the Maine builders use Sitka or was it a local spruce? Inquiring minds want to know. :D
Fir and false fir

I get confused often by the wood terms used. Being a timber grower in the Pacific Northwest I recognize our prized Douglas Fir is in fact not a fir but Pseudotsuga, (Pseudohemlock?) or "false hemlock" I think is the translation. White fir, grand fir, noble fir etc are "true" firs and classed with hemlock for grade since they are weaker than Doug Fir. As with all conifers, what ring count are we talking? There is a big difference between 80 rings per inch and two rings per inch both in looks and durability. I always wonder how and where the New England canoe builders got their Pacific Coast wood. Of historical interest, the very origins of the Great Northern Railway are said to be in an agreement between James Hill (GN) and Weyerhauser that the Great Northern would ship Eastern manufactured goods to the West coast and the cars would bring fir and cedar cut by Weyerhauser back to the East. Lots of homes built of Pacific wood, mostly in the mid-west I believe.
Historically, spruce had no real use that I know of, being relatively weak, until WWI. The fledgling aviation industry needed spruce for its great strength to weight ratio. Thus were formed the "spruce brigades," Army units formed to cut spruce trees on the coast of Washington. My grandfather did this. When the war was over there must of been a lot of excess capacity since it takes a special set-up for cutting spruce, at least now. Maybe they marketed spruce to canoe builders.
Interesting subject

I always wonder how and where the New England canoe builders got their Pacific Coast wood.

The two pages attached below might answer some of this question for you. They appear to show the woods that Old Town purchased in 1914 by date, supplier, type, railroad it shipped on (if any), number of board feet, and the price. It might be tough to figure out some of the abbreviations though.



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You state that spruce is a "weak" wood. In what relation do you mean? As a log builder in the Midwest the most desirable wood for log rafters is Black Spruce. It has rupture strength of 71,000 Kilo-pascals when at 12% moisture content with a specific gravity of .40. For comparison Sitka has a rupture strength of 70,000 Kilo-pascals at 12% and a specific gravity of .40.
These stats come from page 4-48 of the Wood Handbook, U.S Dept. of Ag. Forest products Lab.
If you compare the spruces to White Ash for instance they are weaker but also lighter .60 -106,000.
Great price!

Very interesting ledger. I'd love to go back in time and get the prices OT was getting back in the day. .03 cents a foot for ash! It reminds me of my wife's grandfather telling us about going out on the full day boat to fish for .25 cents back when he was 18... That would have been 1918. Amazing!:)

Hello Benson, Those are very interesting pages. Looks like three freight cars of red cedar from the west coast every month. Spruce for paddles must be local from the amount and frequency.
Hello Denis, Old growth Doug fir was used in flooring. Spruce would never stand up to that. Spruce is just too soft. For tensile strength I think you'll find fir the stronger of the two woods but spruce is much lighter and that is why it got used in aircraft. Sort of like steel and aluminum. Rot is also an issue. Doug fir was used for wood stave pipe and lasted many years. Some might still be in use even will they ran out of that quality wood about 1950.

I waited for your call saying you were going to come down and get a block of spruce. Did you misplace my phone number?