What is Knotty Pine?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Knotty pine is a type of timber frequently used to construct houses with country accents or a rustic or Western theme. The wood is very distinctive because of its large knots, or defects, which make a striking pattern when the wood is used on walls, flooring, or cabinetry. Most varieties of pine also have a strong scent, which some consumers find pleasant, and others dislike. Knotty pine is sold in a variety of forms, ranging from pre-finished tongue and groove pieces for wall paneling to decorative columns and beams.

For decorative purposes, knotty pine is quite suitable.
For decorative purposes, knotty pine is quite suitable.

Knotty pine is not generally used in vital structural applications, because pine is a very soft wood and the knots may cause it to split, break, or bow. For decorative purposes, however, this wood is quite suitable, although it can be overwhelming when used to excess. It is particularly popular in cabins and other rural retreats, and many manufacturers of artificial wood paneling copy the distinctive bulls-eye look of knotty pine.

There are over one hundred species of pine across the Northern hemisphere, and a number of species that grow in Southern climates as well. Pine trees are evergreen conifers and highly resinous, which accounts for their distinctive odor. The sap can be made into turpentine and other products, and it is quite difficult to remove from clothing or hair, so most pine used in construction is aged. Most species have scaly, grayish bark and needle-like green leaves. As the trees mature, they grow outward as well as upward, ultimately subsuming branches in their trunks, and this is how knots are formed. The scarred areas around knots are unusable for structural timber, and it’s likely that builders attempting to make use of otherwise nonfunctional wood realized the ornamental properties of knotty pine.

Knotty pine is most commonly used on walls, though it also appears in flooring. Because pine is a soft wood, floors made from it are not advisable unless they are carefully conditioned and varnished to prevent dents, scarring, and other damage.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I really like how you mentioned the smell of knotty pine lumber in this article, because that was one thing that I had no idea about when I installed my first knotty pine.

Just to emphasize again, knotty pine has a strong pine smell -- not a light, pine scent, but a strong, possibly overbearing smell.

So just remember that before you start putting up that knotty pine beadboard that you're so excited about. If you can't stand the smell of pine, then knotty pine wood is not for you because it is a strong smell that does not easily fade.

So just be prepared to deal with the smell -- like the article said, many people enjoy it, but if you're borderline about whether to use knotty pine or not, then you should certainly take the smell into consideration.


How well does knotty pine lumber work in a bathroom? I really love the look of it, and we're redecorating our cabin to have a more rustic look, so I thought that knotty pine would look really great in the bathrooms.

Would knotty pine panels work in a bathroom, or would it be too soft, do you think? I wasn't sure if the resin would keep it from getting too moist and possibly molding, or if it would actually work the opposite way.

Has anybody reading this ever used knotty pine in a bathroom? If so, how did it work out? Would you recommend it?


I love knotty pine wood in a house, but it has to be the real thing -- none of that fake knotty pine-look paneling.

One good use for knotty pine if you want to use if on your walls without having to worry about it splitting or collapsing under the pressure is to use knotty pine for wainscoting.

That way you can still get the feel of a knotty pine wall with that great pine scent without worrying about whether it's going to split on you.

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