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Douglas Fir Facts

  • Douglas Fir Flooring: The wider the better?

    Posted on April 29, 2011 by Ian

    When selecting your Douglas fir flooring, the width of the boards should go hand-in-hand with both the interior design of the space and the appearance of the wood. The choice between narrow strip and wide plank flooring can achieve a remarkable effect on the overall feel of the room. Though both sizes have their advantages, wider planks are traditionally considered more attractive, especially with a wood as distinct and durable as the Douglas fir. Narrow strips, though more affordable, can’t match the historic feel of wider planks.

    One of the biggest concerns in choosing Douglas fir planks for your floor is the stability of the wood. The effects of temperature and humidity changing over the course of the year causes lumber to expand and contract. A wider board is more sensitive to climate changes, and is more prone to cupping, a process in which the board curves at its edges and at the middle. A narrow board may be preferable in areas of high temperature change. However, there are many ways to prepare wide planks for the effects of shrinking and swelling.

    First, boards with a vertical grain pattern are more stable, and a result of quarter-sawing. This process increases the grain density and therefore the stability of the wood. Flat grain boards, because of their curved end grain pattern, tend to cup far more easily than vertical grain products. Furthermore, the attractive surface of vertical graining is an ideal pair to the larger canvas of wide planks.

    The wood should also be kiln-dried. Woods are dried in this slow, exact process so that the shift in environments, from forest to home, isn’t so drastic. If damp wood is exposed to the relatively dry home environment, the quick shrinking of the product could be destructive, with the potential for splits in the boards.

    Once you’ve received the boards, you should acclimate them to the environment of your home. By exposing the boards to their new climate for at least a week, they should match the moisture content of the subfloor. This can be measured with an electric moisture meter.

    Lastly, once you’ve applied an effective finish (if the boards weren’t already pre-finished), proper care and maintenance of the floor will prevent warping and cupping. Liquid spills should be cleaned up immediately, as they could disrupt the natural shrinking and swelling of the boards, as well as stain the wood. Be careful of the type and amount of product you use to clean the floor.

    The type of wood you choose for your floor may be the most important factor in determining whether wide plank flooring is the right option for you. Douglas fir is an ideal variety for the luxurious look of wider planks. Not only does the Douglas fir provide stunning grain patterns, it is one of the most dimensionally stable woods used in flooring.

    - Ian Friedman

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring

  • Douglas Fir Flooring: Prefinished or unfinished flooring?

    Posted on April 26, 2011 by Nicole

    There are a lot of choices to make when you purchase Douglas fir flooring. What width? Length? Flat-sawn? CVG? Square footage? And then there’s the question of prefinished vs. unfinished. Why would you bother with unfinished? Isn’t prefinished simpler? At first thought, it seems like the way to go. You’ll save yourself some time and avoid doing a dirty job. And, who has time to think about what stain goes with what finish, right? While some of this may ring true, at AltruFir we want to give customers all the facts before they make their choice. And, we admit we are partial to unfinished flooring.

    Today, we’re going to focus on the benefits of buying unfinished Douglas fir flooring and finishing it on-site in your home. But first, what’s the difference? This one’s pretty easy. Prefinished flooring is sanded, stained, and finished off-site in a factory. It’s ready to install and enjoy when it arrives at your door. Unfinished flooring comes to you in the raw from wood stock. Before you can put it to use it must be installed, sanded, stained, and then finished in your home.

    The limits of prefinished flooring

    You might have heard that prefinished flooring is easy to handle, less labor-intensive, and cheaper to buy than its counterpart, unfinished flooring. This is true, and definitely a convenience for busy households. Unfortunately, the things that make it easy can also make it difficult.

    The factory finish on low-cost prefinished flooring often comes standard in a one finish fits all sort of way. If you do decide on a standard prefinished flooring product, you will have little say in how the manufacturer finishes its product, or the quality of the finish. Be sure to ask about the finish when shopping around.

    prefinished douglas fir

    Prefinished Douglas fir flooring with a square edge.

    The old adage of getting what you pay for rings true when opting for the cheapest of the cheap – manufacturers can often only offer low-cost materials by using mediocre products. This means you get a less durable product prone to scratching, scuffs, dents, and dings that will need to be sanded and refinished in short order. This, of course, defeats the purpose of wanting to save time and money in the first place.

    Another disadvantage of prefinished flooring involves dirt, and lots of it. Yuck! Prefinished flooring is machine-beveled, most often to an eased edge, to combat any height variance -– unevenness -- that happens when laying floorboards side by side. But, (and it’s a big one), bevels can easily collect and trap dirt below the surface of the floor, and between the floor boards. It’s hard to get that dirt out by sweeping or vacuuming, and gritty dirt is a floor’s worst enemy.

    Other things to think about

    - Manufacturers may discontinue their stock grades of prefinished flooring, which is a bummer if you want to extend your floor to adjacent rooms or repair a damaged area.
    - Damage to prefinished flooring requires a wider section to be removed and replaced.
    - Off-site prefinished flooring is more challenging to refinish. You’ll need to remove more wood to achieve a level floor compared to Douglas fir floors finished on-site.

    The truth behind unfinished flooring

    It’s true. There is more time and work required to install unfinished flooring. We understand how inconvenient that may be for your household. But, we swear by the payoff of opting to go with unfinished Douglas fir – you’ll have a floor that’ll do what it’s supposed to do, perform and last a lifetime. Or, as we like to say, a job done right the first time is a job done right forever!

    When you purchase unfinished flooring like CVG Douglas fir, it has been milled to a set thickness and width. As with any unfinished wood, minor imperfections appear when the Douglas fir flooring is installed. This results in slight height differences between tongue-and-groove boards, which need to be sanded to achieve a smooth surface. Sanding the flooring ensures a flat clean uninterrupted surface (i.e., no grooves equals no dirt). Because it is extremely tough for dirt or debris to get caught in seams between square-edged flooring boards, flooring finished on-site lasts a long time. Any dirt that gets caught in prefinished flooring can “break down” its finish and leave you with unprotected floor length edges, especially in high traffic areas like entryways and corridors.

    Douglas fir flooring installed and finished on-site.

    A note on sanding & finishing: It’s a dirty, tedious job that may call for a professional equipped with a dust free sander and filtering equipment. Skill is needed in operating the equipment and sanding the floor properly. There are more than a few DIY’ers who wish they had left that home project to an expert. Next comes the staining (optional) and the sealing (necessary). This two or three step process can take several days to complete. Again, it’s a short-term inconvenience with long-term benefits.

    The benefits of unfinished flooring

    Unlike prefinished flooring that comes in limited styles and finishes, unfinished flooring is available in more widths and wood species. This is a blessing when having to match an existing Douglas fir floor with new floor boards for a repair or restoration project, for example. Or, when your spouse’s heart is set on a color stain that isn’t widely available – it’s special, just like them.

    Another added benefit is the green-option. With more and more people choosing eco-friendly products, reclaimed flooring like salvaged Douglas fir, is marketed and sold unfinished.

    And, have you ever walked across flooring that reflects your image? That shine is the finish staring right back at you. Whether you like the shine or not, buying unfinished flooring leaves you with the decision to choose a glossy or “not-so-shiny” satin finish.

    Ultimately, it comes down to your needs and preferences. We want you to be happy with your flooring project. The Douglas fir floor you purchase and install should be an investment that lasts a lifetime. So, consider your options and let us at AltruFir know if you have questions.

    - Nicole Morales

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir floors, finished doug fir flooring

  • How Douglas Fir Makes the Grade

    Posted on April 21, 2011 by Jennifer

    We’re going to delve into the sometimes complicated world of grading Douglas-fir and other lumber. We all know about grades. In school, if you get an A, you’re the best of the best. But if you get a C, D or something lower, then you probably won’t be the valedictorian. In the lumber industry, grades don’t break down so simply. As it is in school, lot depends on who is handing out the grades and on what the purpose of the test was to begin with.

    Wood grades are a way of letting consumers know that the wood they’re buying meets certain guidelines. In order for any agency to grade lumber, they must follow rules set by the American Lumber Standard Committee (ALSC), a government agency run through the Department of Commerce.

    Underneath the umbrella of ALSC are numerous lumber grading agencies. When it comes to Douglas-fir, you’re going to see grades from agencies that specialize in softwoods from the western U.S., such as the West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau or the Western Wood Products Association. These groups grade the lumber based on its intended use.

    Douglas-fir that will be used for framing a house is called structural grade, and it’s subjected to intense tests to determine how strong and stiff each board is. Wood that will be used for things like paneling, flooring, and trim is called appearance grade, and as you might expect, that means it’s evaluated mainly on its looks.

    Timber graders visually inspect Douglas-fir and other lumber, assigning it a grade based on its color, texture, and grain. “Clear” is a term you’ll hear a lot—that means the wood is virtually free from knots, streaks, nicks and gouges from mill machines, or other blemishes. In the highest-level grades, moisture content levels also play a role.

    A "select" grade Douglas fir plank.

    The most perfect boards are known as “Selects” or “Finish” grade boards. Within those “Select” and “Finish” the grades have different names depending on which agency graded them. In general, the higher the letter grade, the less-knotty and more even in color it will appear.

    Boards labeled “Superior” “B & BTR” (BTR=better) or “C & BTR” are almost knot-free and evenly colored. “Prime,” “D Finish” and “E” Finish are still mostly clear, but might have some variation. AltruFir’s CVG Douglas fir flooring is a C & BTR grade, and is characterized by having 10-25 rings per inch and knots no larger than ¾” in diameter. B & BTR is not commonly sold in the U.S., as there is little market for it, but it is available.

    Anything within the “Select” and “Finish” categories makes good flooring, trim, cabinets, and paneling. There will be minimal color contrast, making each board look similar to another, which is good if you want your trim or paneling to have a formal, perfectly-matched look.

    “Select Merchantable” and “Common” grades have some small, tight knots visible. These grades can also be used for flooring, paneling or siding—it just depends on the look you’re hoping to achieve. Some designers and home owners like the character of a knotty Douglas fir, while others prefer each board to look smooth and uniform.

    flat sawn douglas fir

    Knotty, or rustic, Douglas fir is often used for paneling.

    “Construction” and “Standard” grade boards are going to have varying sizes of knots or knot holes, and are fine for fencing, shelving, sub-floors, or other uses where being pretty isn’t so important.

    “CVG” is another acronym you will see in wood grading—it stands for Clear Vertical Grain, and it has to do both with the way the wood grows and the way it was cut. In the simplest of terms, the grain of the wood is the pattern of alternating light and dark rings that develop as a tree grows. When a tree is cut down and sawn into boards, those bands of color become visible. When the cells of a tree grow in just one direction, up and down the trunk of the tree, that’s a straight grain, and it’s something Douglas-fir in particular is known for.

    The way the mill saws the wood affects what type of grain you see as well. We talked about this in our post about flat- vs. quarter-sawn lumber. Douglas-fir is known for exceptionally straight vertical grain, which makes it very good for flooring. When vertical grain boards contract and expand, as all wood does, they shrink less than a flat-sawn board and remain more stable. And even when they do contract, they contract evenly across the thickness of board, with minimal warping. Vertical grain boards in general stay flat, which is why it is a common choice for flooring.

    Grain also has to do with the type of cells in the wood—when you cut a tree into boards, the cells that were once used to transport water up and down the trunk are visible as tiny hollows called pores. Woods with large pores are called open grain, while those with pores too small to see with the naked eye are called closed grain. In general, conifers like the Douglas-fir have small pores, and therefore a closed grain.

    The texture of the wood plays a part too; wood with very small cells will be very smooth to the touch, and referred to as fine-grained, while a less-smooth wood with larger cells would be coarse-grained. Douglas-fir is a medium grained wood.

    In the end, the grade your board gets doesn’t matter so much as whether it’s suited for what you want it to do. A high-grade “select” board might be perfect for a glossy china cabinet, while “common” grade boards with visible knots might be perfect for adding contrast and interest to a room-size batch of flooring. So don’t worry if your Douglas fir didn’t get straight A’s. Just because it’s a B, C, or D doesn’t mean it won’t meet the qualifications for your project.

    - Jennifer Rouse

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir floors, fir flooring, grading douglas fir, douglas fir grade

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