Why use pine, plus bonus ruminations

Why use pine?

Pine shavings for lining coffins

Why use pine, in seven reasons, as follows. Most are poetical, as you’ll see.

First is for green burial: Pine degrades quickly in contact with earth and water. This trait is great for ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust. The second is for business. Pine is not expensive. The last five – the five senses of taste and touch, etc. – are more personal. You could sum it up by saying that every day I wake up, I wake up closer to needing a Piedmont Pine Coffin.

I’m only 45 now but am, you know, a mortal. Finally. Youthful illusions fade. My lower back is ascendant in my attentions. Ablutions and self-presentation take more effort for less effect. Also, I started a coffin business, so I have cause, mind you, to think about certain things.

Why use pine? The five senses

Delighting my five senses through work has been one of the great discoveries of living at Melleray Farmstead, the cottage industrial home of Piedmont Pine Coffins.

If you are new to reading these pages, know that we, like off-grid homesteads and monasteries down the ages, honor manual labor here and strive to make our daily bread by the work of our own hands. In particular, I make pine box coffins with hand woodworking tools like the brace-and-bit, coping saw, and plane.

Sensorily, I was hooked the first time I held a beehive smoker – back in the years before our colonies collapsed. We had named the farmstead after the bees: Melleray, in French, means “a place with honey.” So we were intent on our bees. We’d walk up to the hives with a smoker, this smoldering canister of pine needles attached to a bellows. And we’d puff that bellows like crazy, especially since we were new to beekeeping. (The smoke distracts the bees and gives you time to work in the hive.) We made the apiary thick with smoke like a pine needle cigar bar. My clothes reeked for days, and I loved it. I’d want to wear the same smelly sweater out in public from a sense of Christian beneficence and charity.

Working in pine wood affects me the same way. And if you want sensory thrills, a pine shaving is hard to beat. Shavings have it all. Those curlicues that peel off when you plane a long plank are a pleasure to your fingertips, your eyes and ears, your nose, and – sort of – even to your tongue.

why use pine

Creating curlicues


The plane shivers ever so slightly in slicing the wood, and the vibrato is pleasing. The texture of shavings is sandpapery. It’s fun to pick up big handfuls and squeeze.


The thinnest shavings are translucent like a leaf. Like prosciutto, Parmesan, and filo dough. The long ones curl like platinum tresses. Gorgeous. Marilyn Monroe.


The shavings buzz warmly as they unzip. So much more pleasant than the earplugged whine of a circular saw.


Wood smells good, especially pine and cypress and cedar, no matter how you cut it. But with shavings, you unleash oils along such a grand surface area, the aroma is in-your-face.


Yes, I have tasted the shavings, ones from heartwood and knotwood so saturated with oil they look like a salad topping. It’s too much on the tongue. For piney taste try a glass of retsina. That’s a Greek white wine resinated with pine that resonated with me during the time I spent in Crete and Athens.

Para mi solo recorrer los caminos que tienen corazon, cualquier camino que tenga corazon. Por ahi yo recorro, y la unica prueba que vale es atravesar todo su largo. Y por ahi yo recorro mirando, mirando, sin aliento.

(For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel looking, looking, breathlessly.)

Widening out from the wood

These days sometimes I stop myself – whether I’m working wood or not – for an interlude of delight in the impressions my five senses are receiving at the particular moment that presents. The input is lavish. Whatever awaits us after death – and I do believe it’s something – we won’t ever again be able to savor the luxurious input of our senses.

Not the way we do now, anyway. All these moments of the current “me” – unremarkable or no – are singular and unrepeatable. You might say that’s what MAKES them remarkable, each one. And if every moment, as they say, holds an eternity, then each eternal moment is a chance, be we sensate and attentive, to beat death back.