Pine in the Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Centuries

The third in the series of British furniture timbers of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries.

Britain had an insatiable hunger for foreign timber during the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries and her appetite for pine in particular placed her in a strategically dangerous position.

The Trees

Norway spruce (Picea excelsa)

Norway spruce.

Evelyn refers to this tree as “The Spruce Fir-Tree”. Norway spruce can grow up to 60 metres (200 feet) in height. The timber varies from almost white to a pale yellowish-brown with straight grain and a fine texture. The wood is slightly resinous and weighs around 470 kg/m³ (29 lb/ft³). Workability is good, but tools need to be sharp to cope with a slight wooliness.

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)

Scots pine.

Evelyn calls this tree “The Wild Pine, or Scotch Fir”. Scots pine is probably the most widely distributed conifer, ranging from within the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia to southern Spain and from Ireland to eastern Siberia. Trees can grow up to 36 metres (120 feet) in height and up to 3.6 metres (12 feet) in girth. The Scots pine is unusual among conifers in having a number of different growth forms, ranging from tall, straight-boled forest trees with few side branches, to lone, broad, spreading trees. The timber varies from pale brown to reddish brown, but due to its broad geographical distribution, the wood ranges in strength and appearance, from knotty to tight, fine grain. The wood is resinous and weighs, on average, 510 kg/m³ (32 lb/ft³). Workability is excellent.

The oldest recorded Scots pine is 727 years old (as of 2010).[1]


Deal is described as “… a slice sawn from a log of timber, a plank of Pine or firwood”.[2] Evelyn describes deal as Scots Pine – “The timber of this tree [Scotch Fir] is what we call Deal, which is sometimes red, sometimes yellow, but chiefly white”, [3] and white deal as spruce – “The Spruce Fir is a beautiful tree, as well as a valuable one for its timber, producing the white deal”.[4]

Standardised dimensions of deals were specified by the London Rebuilding Act of 1667[5] and by Customs.[6] Deals of 1in. thick commonly appear in furniture-makers’ inventories in widths of 9in. and 11in. and in lengths between 8ft. and 14ft. Deal ‘ends’ were under 8ft. in length.[7]

Norway spruce, also known as white deal or whitewood, is lighter in weight than red deal and has a somewhat woolly nature that requires the keenest edges to work cleanly. White deal was preferred by cabinetmakers for carcasses on which to lay expensive veneers. [8]

White deal.

Scots pine was also known as yellow deal[8], red deal, or redwood.

Red deal.

.Deal Imports

Britain’s continually expanding naval and commercial fleets consumed enormous quantities of timber including deal (red deal was particularly desirable as its high resin content made it naturally resistant to decay and eminently suitable for decking, masts and spars). British domestic pine stands were heavily depleted by the early seventeenth-century through felling, burning and overgrazing and Britain turned to its immediate (lowly populated, but densely forested) eastern neighbours for high quality deals.

Britain’s dependency on Baltic timbers in the seventeenth-century and the foreign domination of the Baltic timber trade (particularly by the Dutch) was of constant concern to Britain. The inclusion of timber in the 1651 and 1660 Navigation Acts went some way to address the issue by excluding the Dutch from any dealings between Britain and the Baltics, thus opening the door for Danish, German and Swedish shippers. British shippers didn’t see the one-way Baltic timber trade as profitable (at this time), understandably preferring the more lucrative two-way trade with the colonies.

The Anglo-Dutch wars of the late seventeenth-century (on and off between 1652 and 1674) and later, the War of the Spanish Succession eventually prompted Britain to seek alternative supplies of pine from British America. Initially, inducements were offered to encourage the use of American timber, but later, exports of American timber to destinations other than Britain were prohibited. The incentives and ban didn’t have the desired effect due largely to the cost of shipping loads from the Americas being three times that of loads from the Baltics.

The threat to Britain subsided with the end of The War of the Spanish Succession in 1714 and her naval domination of the North Sea secured timber supplies from the Baltics for the remainder of the eighteenth-century.

Britain had established saw mills in Archangel (Arkhangelsk – a Russian port on the White Sea) in the seventeenth-century, exporting mainly deal back to Britain. However, their trade with Russia declined in the early eighteenth-century, not only as the result of Dutch competition, but because trade with Scandinavia was simply more economic – and the port of Archangel was also ice-bound for an average of five months of the year. Norway became the principal source of red deal and white deal due mainly to its proximity to England, though, because of the sheer demand for deal, it was also imported from Sweden and the Eastern Baltics (Latvia, Poland, Prussia etc.).

The eighteenth-century Baltic pine trade routes.

Britain’s voracious appetite for Baltic pine continued to grow, accruing a massive trade deficit with Scandinavia. Enormous quantities of pine in the form of masts, baulks and deals were imported, mainly to feed the ship yards, but the burgeoning building and furniture trades also absorbed substantial amounts. By the middle of the eighteenth-century, 20,000 ship loads, each of 50 cubic feet per annum, were imported into Britain at a cost of around £1.00 per load (although this figure rose due to war and higher shipping costs).[10] The average annual imports of all Danish-Norwegian commodities during the period 1755 to 1764 were rated at £78,000 of which more than 80% was timber from the Norwegian forests.[11]

[1] Forfjorddalen Nature Reserve, Norway.

[2] 1402, in C. Frost, Early History, Hull.

[3] Silva: or, A discourse of forest-trees, and the propagation of timber in His Majesty’s dominions, as it was delivered in The Royal society, on the 15th of October 1662, by John Evelyn, third edition, volume 1, York, 1801, p. 281.

[4] Ibid, p. 284.

[5] Adam Bowett, Early Georgian Furniture 1715-1740, Antique Collectors’ Club, 2009, p. 310.

[6] H.S.K. Kent, War and Trade in Northern Seas: Anglo-Scandinavian economic relations in the mid-eighteenth century, Cambridge University Press, 1973, p. 41.

[7] Adam Bowett, Early Georgian Furniture 1715-1740, Antique Collectors’ Club, 2009, p. 310.

[8] Clive Edwards, Eighteenth-century furniture, 1996, p. 80.

[9] “Scots Pine was known as red Deal in the east coast ports and yellow Deal in London and elsewhere.”
H.S.K. Kent, “The Anglo-Norwegian Timber Trade in the Eighteenth Century” Economic History Review, 2nd series, 8:1 (Aug. 1955), p. 62.

[10] H.S.K. Kent, War and Trade in Northern Seas: Anglo-Scandinavian economic relations in the mid-eighteenth century, Cambridge University Press, 1973, p. 41.

[11] Ibid.


About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Furniture Timbers and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Pine in the Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Centuries

  1. That’s interesting. I always thought ‘deal’ was a term for a specific section of timber (something like 4″x3″ or 5″x3″ – I forget which)… :-)


    • Jack Plane says:

      As I mentioned in the post, the word ‘deal’ used to quantify regulated sections and lengths of boards of fir, pine and spruce, but latterly, ‘Deal’ is used to describe all and any timber of the family Pinaceae.


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  11. palaudio says:

    I have used poplar for my secondary wood but have decided to try using pine, my local merchant sells red deal rough but only in ‘fifths’ grade. They don’t keep unsorted grades it seems….

    Would you consider the lower grade suitable for carcass work that will later be veneered ?

    Cheers, Richard


    • Jack Plane says:

      ‘Fifths grade’ is an alien term to me (I presume you are in North America), but as many eighteenth-century carcases were constructed from fairly ordinary looking pine, I guess your red deal would suffice.

      If you can rub the boards together and plane them flat, you should be all right.



  12. palaudio says:


    I think it’s grade V ( roman numeral ) as opposed to unsorted ( grade I-IV ) although I could be mistaken…..or as the timber merchant said ” Grade V is standard grade and not too knotty” ?

    In any case as you mentioned if they can be rubbed together and planed flat it will work. That’s what I find so refreshing about your blog and writings, emphasizing simple, uncomplicated and excellent techniques that have been proven by past cabinetmakers for centuries.

    Thank you


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