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  • Versatility of Douglas Fir: Use in homes, boats, and planes

    Posted on February 8, 2012 by Jennifer

    Clear vertical grain Douglas Fir.

    The Douglas-fir tree: it makes beautiful flooring, paneling, and other finish lumber. If you’re from the Northwest, you’ve probably stepped into a Craftsman Bungalow or two and admired the decades-old Douglas Fir floors under your feet. You may also know that it’s widely used for construction lumber, plus, it’s also great for...boats?

    That’s right. With its strength, durability, and attractiveness, Douglas fir is not only the choice for flooring and building, it’s also commonly used for furniture, boats and aircraft.

    What makes Douglas-fir such a versatile species? It’s all about the science. The way Douglas fir grows naturally means that this Northwest native also has some characteristics that make it fit for a variety of uses.

    The Douglas-fir tree sheds lower branches as it grows.

    Douglas-fir trees, when you see them growing on the lush mountainsides of the Pacific Northwest, may strike you for their towering expanses of limb-free trunks. Douglas-fir is a shade-intolerant species, which self-prunes its lower limbs. This means fewer knots, and long stretches of straight, consistent fibers. Those fibers also give Douglas-fir a superior strength-to-weight ratio and the highest modulus of elasticity of any North American softwood species.

    In simpler terms, that means it’s tough and durable. It can handle a heavy load without bending or buckling. These are important considerations when you’re building a boat or a home-built aircraft. When you’re taking to the sky or the sea in something made of wood, you better be sure it’s a wood that’s not going to fail on you.

    Let’s also talk about stability. Douglas Fir is known for being very dimensionally stable--that means that when it expands and contracts due to moisture in the environment (as all woods do), it holds its shape better than most species, another important characteristic if you’re building something like a boat or an aircraft, when holding a certain shape is crucial.

    Douglas-fir also has good rot-resistance--important for a craft that will be exposed to the elements.

    Sitka Spruce was traditionally used for both boats and aircraft, but over the years the Sitka Spruce has become increasingly rare and expensive, putting it out of reach for amateur enthusiasts. Douglas Fir, on the other hand, is plentiful and affordable. This custom sailboat, built by Nexus Marine in Everett, Washington, uses clear vertical grain Douglas fir combined with Brazilian marine plywood, all coated with layers of epoxy to make it completely watertight.

    For furniture building, hardwoods like oak, maple and walnut seem to get most of the glory. But Douglas Fir is also available in clear vertical grain lengths that meet the specifications of fine woodworking.

    Remember those long, straight fibers we talked about? Turns out they’re not only strong, they’re also quite attractive. Douglas Fir is hard enough that it can be difficult to work with hand tools, but it responds well to sharp power tools. Vertical grain Douglas Fir, once finished, has an extremely smooth, glossy appearance, with long, clean subtle lines running down its surface.

    Douglas fir also has a light, rosy color that’s unique and different from the more yellowish oak species or dark walnuts. You can simply seal it with a clean finish and leave its natural color exposed. If a different tone is required, Douglas fir is also known for holding all types of stains, finishes, and paints very well.

    This custom bedroom furniture set, by Portland-based Big Branch Woodworking, for example, showcases Douglas fir’s natural color and clean, straight lines.

    So whether you’re going for a sail, taking to the air, or trying to dress up your home, think of Douglas fir. It’s good for more than just finishing your home.

    - Jennifer Rouse

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim, History and Interest, Douglas Fir Paneling and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir trim, douglas fir boats, douglas fir planes

  • Stability in New and Reclaimed Douglas Fir

    Posted on January 21, 2012 by Nicole

    As it stands, Douglas fir is a trusted wood product for many reasons. Builders use Douglas fir because it’s dimensionally stable and has a high strength-to-weight ratio, important factors in structural framing and connecting components. Homeowners rely on Douglas fir’s versatility-a wood with both beauty and brawn. So when it comes down to choosing reclaimed or new Douglas fir, you might wonder which one is more stable. Reclaimed Douglas fir is more stable than new Douglas fir.

    Why reclaimed Douglas fir?

    Reclaimed Douglas Fir Flooring

    Most reclaimed Douglas fir is old growth timber harvested 50 or more years ago from Old Growth forests, dating hundreds of years old at time of harvest. The older the wood, the drier it is with a very low moisture content. That’s a really good thing in tree-talk because dry wood is stable wood.

    Stability aside, reclaimed Douglas fir helps “green” your home and commerical building projects. By giving new life to old wood, you help sustain our young forests by decreasing the demand for new wood. And to top it off, there’s the history behind each plank that truly distinguishes the old from the new.

    Be on the lookout for…

    As historic and sustainable as reclaimed Douglas fir is, there are some things that compromise its stability. AltruFir recommends professional grading of reclaimed fir and all reclaimed wood, especially when intended for structural purposes. You should ask the vendor about the condition of their reclaimed material. Be on the lookout for things which affect the structural integrity of the wood:

    • - Splits and splitting
    • - Loose knots
    • - Rot
    • - Warping

    Visible nail heads, bolt holes, and checking should not affect the structural integrity of reclaimed wood. However, err on the side of caution. Have all reclaimed wood professionally graded and read your vendor’s buyer guide on reclaimed wood.

    Does this mean that reclaimed Douglas fir with loose knots is bad? Nope. It simply means that old fir beam, for example, is better suited for a non-structural purpose, say as a mantelpiece or grand beam above a grand entryway.

    This post was posted in All Entries

  • Douglas Fir Trim and Joinery

    Posted on November 30, 2011 by Jennifer

    Everyone knows that a project is only as good as the materials that go into it. If you’re making a loaf of bread, you choose the right kind of flour. If you’re planting a garden, you select the right kind of seeds. But when it comes to picking wood for the trim and joinery of your home, how can you be sure you've chosen the right material for the job?

    douglas fir trim

    Vertical grain Douglas fir trim.

    Now, there may not be one right choice--selecting building materials is, as always, a matter of personal preference. But that doesn’t help the homeowner who is trying to narrow down the selection. The good news is, Douglas Fir is a very good choice for many applications, and it’s ideal for trim and joinery.

    Trim and joinery are the wood-working terms for the pieces of wood that surround the architectural features of a home--window casings and sills, baseboards and moulding, mantelpieces and stairway risers--all the detail items that help complete a room.

    Natural Appearance
    Appearance is paramount when selecting trim and joinery materials, because the eye is naturally drawn to these accent pieces. You need a material that looks good. Douglas Fir is an excellent choice because of the natural beauty of the wood. It has a rich, warm, reddish tone that lends itself well to either casual, rustic looks (think California mountain cabin) or clean, modern rooms (think soothing, Zen-inspired spa).

    Douglas fir is also known for its clear vertical grain. These subtle lines run along the length of each board, giving it a clean, natural look. When Douglas Fir is “machined”--that means cut and planed to a specific shape--a very smooth, glossy surface is achieved.

    If you like the natural look for your home, Douglas Fir works well. With only a clear coating or a transparent lacquer, Douglas Fir trim will be ready to showcase your house for years--no involved staining or painting process needed.

    However, if you do want trim that can be stained to a dramatically dark hue, or painted for a splash of color, Douglas Fir works well for that too. It holds all types of stains and finishes and accepts paint, enamel, oil, and wax easily. No matter what creative finish you’ve got up your sleeve, Douglas fir trim is up to the task.

    Durability and Stability
    Douglas Fir is known for its durability. In fact, it’s so tough that it’s used in all kinds of industrial applications ranging from gym floors to fabricating vats to trestles and tunnels. It has a very tough fiber, it’s very strong in relation to its weight, and it’s resistant to cracking and splintering. That’s important for trim and joinery, because things like baseboards, door frames and stair risers take a beating over the course of their life.

    Douglas Fir is also known for its remarkable stability. That clear vertical grain we mentioned before? It’s not just for looking pretty. All wood naturally expands and contracts in response to moisture variation. However, Douglas fir is unique among similar species because it holds its shape so well. When that naturally stable wood is kiln-dried, it becomes even more reliable. Vertical-grain Douglas fir that’s been kiln-dried is extremely resistant to shrinking, warping or cupping. Once you nail a nice, straight piece of Douglas fir baseboard around your floors, you can be sure that it will stay nice and straight--no shrinking or twisting out of place.

    Douglas Fir is also resistant to checking and showing raised grain. The layman may think checking is a kind of bank account, but to a wood-worker, checking is a defect that occurs when wood dries out. Cracks and splits can appear, due to the surface of the wood drying out at a different rate than the core.

    Raised grain is another problem that you won’t see with Douglas fir trim and joinery. Sometimes when wood is exposed to liquid, the cells that make up the grain swell, raising the grain up above the surface of the piece. However, since Douglas Fir is so stable, you can count on your trim staying smooth and sleek.

    An ideal choice
    Is Douglas Fir the only choice for trim and joinery? Maybe not.

    But is it an ideal choice for most homes? If you’re looking for a trim material that’s attractive, easy to finish, and extremely durable, then you can count on Douglas Fir to fit the bill.

    - Jennifer Rouse

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

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