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Douglas Fir Facts

  • Facing Cupping and Warping in Douglas Fir

    Posted on April 13, 2011 by nell

    Douglas-fir gets along with just about everybody. Builders rely on Douglas fir lumber for its stability and performance. Homeowners love its warm glow and natural charm. Mother nature respects it for standing its ground. The Douglas-fir is a popular tree because it produces a super likeable product. But, as much as we boast about this treasured tree, we also know that the Douglas fir isn’t fail safe. No wood is. And, we’re okay with that. We want you to be too. So, bear with us as we confront the sometimes disagreeable side of Douglas fir: cupping and warping.

    What is it?

    Both cupping and warping are a distortion of wood. The difference, however, is in the type distortion. Cupping happens when the sides of the wood curve up or down. In this case, you’re left with wood that cups from side to side, or its width. Warping, on the other hand, is when the board bends from end to end and causing its length to bow.

    What causes it?

    Cupping is caused by a moisture imbalance which is common in wet humid environment like the Northwest. In other words, the moisture makes the wood expand. When wood is exposed to water it compresses and leaves it uneven over time. Basically, the wood is wetter in the center than on its edges.

    Warping is also caused from a moisture imbalance but usually happens when the wood is no longer attached to its structure. In other words, it’s no longer tied down, under the influence of H2O, and free to do whatever it wants.

    Cupping and warping happens more often on wide plank flooring. Basically, there’s more space and opportunity for the wood to move across a wide plank. With Douglas fir, or any wood flooring, the wider the plank, the less stable the wood.

    How to detect it?

    It’s not a pretty picture, but let’s say you’ve got a Douglas fir floor which has developed an unpleasant “smile” over time that catches your toes as you walk around the house. Is it intentional? Well, sort of. The floor has a moisture imbalance, and the wood just isn’t all there; it’s wetter at the bottom than on the top. Water somehow found its way through to its grain. Is it too late? Well, let’s take some steps to find out.

    Step 1 – Find the moisture source. It could be a leak from behind the bathroom sink. Or, if outside, it could be rainwater runoff hitting the deck steps from a faulty gutter.

    Step 2 – Get rid of the moisture source. Tighten up that tiny water hose behind the pedestal sink or replace it all together. Or you’ll need to replace that faulty gutter and keep on it.

    Step 3 – Now it’s up to your flooring. Once the moisture is gone or controlled, the wood may dry up on its own and go back to being more or less flat. We’d like to add that Douglas fir is great at doing this – it’s a reactive wood species and does a great job adapting to its environment. Either way, an air fan can help speed up the drying time.

    When the wood’s moisture content is stabilized, either through moisture-testing or naturally flattening out, decide on your next step. You can leave the wood be, refinish it, or replace it. With any of the above make a conscious effort to keep an eye on it just in case that moisture creeps back.

    How to prevent it the first time around?

    Acclimate the wood prior to installation. It’s true that Douglas fir does a darn good job of retaining its shape and size which helps against cupping and warping. But, acclimatization is essential – it’s the number one step to ensuring your wood is in harmony with its new environment.

    There are two more things that play a role in how your wood performs. Consider these when selecting the type and grade of your Douglas fir to minimize the likelihood of warping and cupping:

    Opt for kiln-dried lumber. This process quickly removes excess moisture evenly from the wood in a controlled environment whereas air-dried lumber takes much longer to dry. Kiln-dried Douglas fir is your best bet to ensure optimal acclimatization prior to installation – its moisture content is stabilized during the process and so you’re left with a wood ready to install in your home after a week of acclimatization.

    Vertical grain Douglas fir is harder and more stable than mixed grain. Not many types of wood present the beautiful tight vertical grain Douglas fir does. Over time, the tight grain will perform better than the mixed grain, but either grain will last for 50-100 years depending on how well the floor is maintained. Items such as paneling are typically sold in a mixed grain as it does not have to take the wear and tear that flooring does.

    Last words

    1. Use a dehumidifier to control humidity levels in your home.
    2. Use minimal to no water to clean wood, especially flooring.
    3. Use a floor care kit with products recommended for your wood species.
    4. We’ve heard through the grapevine that adding water to a distorted board or bending it back by force reverses the damage. Don’t believe the hype. You’ll end up more frustrated than before.

    - Nicole Morales

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring, Care & Maintenance and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir floors, cupping, warping, cupping floors, warping floors

  • Douglas Fir Trim: Seasoning the Room

    Posted on April 8, 2011 by nell

    Did you know that AltruFir sells more than Douglas fir flooring? Indeed we do, and one of those additional products is Douglas fir trim.

    Adding quality Douglas fir trim and joinery to a room is like adding the perfect seasoning to a gourmet meal—when it’s done right, it provides a tasteful accent that plays up the flavor already there in the rest of your home.

    The terms “trim” and “joinery” refer to all those little accents around the edges of your home that add to the overall look without taking center stage themselves. Things like a mantelpiece over the fireplace, moldings and baseboards along the top and bottom of the walls, casings around the windows and doors, even the doors themselves—they make a room seem complete.

    douglas fir trim

    Douglas fir trim (1x4) available on our site.

    When you’re selecting a material for those elements, you need something durable, attractive, and adaptable. Good trim and joinery needs to stand the test of time, enduring throughout years of use and the whimsies of passing styles.

    Lucky for you, we have a material that fits the bill: the naturally beautiful but tough Douglas fir.

    First let’s talk about appearance. Trim ought to enhance a room without overwhelming it. Douglas fir’s natural color is a rich, warm shade with a rosy tint and a very straight grain pattern. Depending on the way the wood has been cut, you can find Douglas fir trim that showcases either the flat grain, which has a wider light to dark pattern and slightly more contrast, or the vertical grain, with a clean, straight-lined grain pattern and consistent color.

    The process that wood goes through when it’s being transformed from a rough, bark-covered tree into smooth, precision-made components for your home is called milling or machining. Craftsmen use specialized machinery to cut and plane the raw wood into boards of very specific sizes and shapes, in the process smoothing and shaping it. When Douglas fir is machined, it creates a very smooth, glossy surface on the wood that’s perfect for trim.

    Douglas fir is also a very adaptable wood—it will look good no matter what you decide to do with the rest of your room. Do you like the simplicity of Douglas fir in its natural color? A clear coating that showcases the wood’s beauty works well. If you want to stain it to complement furniture or fit with a specific color scheme, Douglas fir also stains well, accepting bright or subtle stains and tints. Want to change the color of your trim entirely? The smooth surface of Douglas fir is also easy to paint or enamel.

    If you walk the hillsides of the Pacific Northwest, you’ll see Douglas-fir growing in its natural habitat. And you may notice, if you come across a grove in which these trees have been growing for 10, 20, or more years, (these giants have been known to reach 330 feet in height and to live more than 1,000 years) that most of the Douglas-fir’s limbs are high out of reach, concentrated on the upper portion of the trunk, with long stretches of towering, limb-free trunk. That’s because Douglas-firs are a shade-intolerant species, self-pruning their lower limbs and reaching up for the sun. What does that mean for the woodwork in your home? It means Douglas-fir trees produce long expanses of straight, knot-free growth with consistent fibers.

    That’s important, because when you’re talking about trim, you need to select something with durability. Can you trust that the wood trim you install today is still going to look great five, 10, or 15 years from now? Or will you install it only to be surprised when your trim is exposed to variations in temperature and moisture and those nice, straight planks start to shrink and warp?

    The straight, tough fibers found in Douglas-fir hold fasteners extremely well, so you won’t have to worry about your woodwork literally coming apart at the seams. Douglas fir trim won’t crack or separate, and it’s great even for very high-traffic uses, like stairs, baseboards, and doors.

    In fact, although Douglas-fir is technically a softwood, that doesn’t mean it’s wimpy. It’s the hardest of all the softwoods, with a rating of 660 on the Janka hardness scale. Douglas fir products, even those that get a repeated pounding, like floors, are known to last 100 years or more.

    Douglas-fir is also unique among softwoods in a property called dimensional stability. That means it doesn’t shrink or twist as it dries. For precision products like trim and joinery, the wood is dried in temperature and humidity-controlled kilns until it reaches a certain moisture level. Kiln-dried Douglas fir is a very stable wood that will remain the same size and shape without warping, cupping, or otherwise wiggling itself away from the duties you have planned for it. If only you could count on the other members of your family to do their job that reliably—and look as good as Douglas fir while doing it.

    - Jennifer Rouse

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Trim and was tagged with Douglas-fir, douglas fir trim, wood trim

  • Kiln Drying Douglas Fir: An Essential Process

    Posted on April 5, 2011 by nell

    One of the greatest concerns in using Douglas fir for construction (and especially flooring) is the moisture content of the lumber. Wood can absorb and secrete moisture depending on its environment. For Douglas fir used in wood flooring, controlling the shrinking and expanding of planks is essential, which is why flooring should always be acclimatized before it is installed. If the planks swell too much, they can push up against each other or the walls, causing damage to the wood and moulding; if the planks shrivel up, the space between boards expands to the point of creating hazardous gaps in the floor.

    Each variety of lumber has a point of moisture equilibrium – the moisture level at which the wood is most stable (when the vapor pressure within the wood is equal to that of the ambient space above). When left to its own devices Douglas fir, or any lumber, will absorb or evaporate moisture until it reaches its equilibrium. To ensure the durability of the wood, planks should be at equilibrium before being installed.

    This can be problematic, however, when you consider that trees – especially Douglas-firs grown in the lush Pacific Northwest – have incredibly high moisture content at the point of being cut down. Something has to be done to the lumber before it is sold to ensure moisture equilibrium in the final product. Drying is an important step in the process of acclimating wood to a new environment (specifically, drier interior spaces). Drying reduces the moisture in lumber to replicate the future conditions to which the lumber will be exposed. This process can take place out in the open; this is known as air drying.

    There is also a faster, more precise alternative: kiln drying. Kilns for wood drying are typically large spaces with heated coils on the ceiling. Nearby fans redirect the flow of warm air evenly around the room. The heat greatly speeds up the drying process, and the stable environment allows for wind control (an important factor in effectively drying wood). Kiln drying can also be carried out in stages through environmental control, which is ideal for drying the wood at an optimal pace.

    There are other factors to consider in terms of kiln drying. One added benefit of the process is, for salvaged products, that the heat kills insects and their eggs. One drawback is the increased price of a product that has been kiln-dried. However, the benefit of kiln-dried wood is typically great enough to warrant the extra charge. The long-lasting effects of kiln drying – and the money you could save on avoiding frequent refurbishing or replacement of your Douglas fir floors – certainly make the process and the cost worth it in the long run. All of AltruFir’s Douglas fir products are kiln dried to ensure that a more stable product is made available to the consumer.

    - Ian Friedman

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim, Care & Maintenance and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir floors, kiln dried lumber, kiln dried flooring, kiln drying

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