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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

  • Douglas Fir Designs: The Latest in Architectural Ingenuity

    Posted on October 26, 2011 by Nicole

    Wood is wood. Right? Well, we beg to differ. Douglas fir has been made over, though you might not recognize the Old Fir from his usual rosy-hued self as flooring, trim, and paneling. But, today’s architects are using this go-to wood in new ways. These design wizards are concocting remarkable residential dwellings (and art) that are not only aesthetically-appealing, fashionably-fresh, and structurally-sound, but also environmentally-conscious.

    We at AltruFir don’t want you to be left out of the loop. We’re excited about how far this tried ‘n’ true timber has come since the days of David Douglas way back in the 1700's. These next five designs bring the best out of Old Fir.

    Design 1 – We’re crossing the Atlantic to London, England where Kyson Design worked wonders on Cadagon Corner. Located in the city’s tough east end, the Modern East-Ender hugs the street corner where Victorian terraced homes once stood but were destroyed in WWII. Today, three well-sheltered homes are banded together by a beautiful black palette of Douglas fir. The wire brushed and vacuum stained planks block out car noise and views of the nearby freeway. The horizontal position of the planks draw attention its natural vertical grain as does its juxtaposition to each unit’s oversized two-storied window facing the neighborhood park. Kyson Design tops each new home off with an atrium on the glass-constructed roofs. The London-based design team used sustainable materials when possible and incorporated a specialized air pump to reduce its home’s carbon emissions. Though not quite the Queen’s residence, we’d fancy a look inside the Modern East-Ender.

    Design 2 – Next, it’s down to Tours, France. This rustic open cubed home had us ooh là là-ing at every turn. Jean-Charles Liddell, from RVL architects, redesigned the original 1960 house that sits on a charming country orchard. Douglas fir dresses the refurbished home inside and out. Untreated exterior planks “float” above steel mesh sliding shutters that protect from the elements when closed and integrate living-space with the outdoors when open. Naturally finished Doug fir partitions and flooring – leftover from the exterior planks – create fluidity between living quarters. The result is an airy space based on a simple construction. We think Liddell’s lofty home looks like a breath of fresh air. And get this, it was delivered on a semi-trailer and assembled in two days…Gasp!

    Design 3 – Let’s bring it on back home to the good ole USA in Kansas City, Kansas. Studio 804 designed the green-building LEED Platinum Prescott Passivhaus. When we took a gander at this contemporary construction we thought it was the Modern East-ender’s twin – the dark Douglas fir clad home is located in an urban area undergoing transition. But, on further inspection, there were some notable differences. Being one of a kind in Kansas, it’s achieved a 90% reduction in the average use of heating and cooling energy, which is well above today’s green-building standards. The single residential home is equipped with multiple slats, super insulation, and high-performing windows. The Prescott Passivhaus is also equipped with thermal mass, which is the home’s ability to absorb heat into its material makeup. The foundation consists of laminated veneer, a key component in Studio 804’s design goal. The Prescott Passivhaus is also teaching the local community a thing or two about sustainable living. We couldn’t ask for a better multi-tasker.

    Design 4 – More and more people are living large by living smaller – literally. The design team at Alchemy Architects out of St. Paul, Minnesota has taken big steps in the micro-housing movement. Welcome the weeHouse, an adorable boxy pre-fab home designed with the environment in mind. Recycled paper and resin countertops, dual-flush toilets, and natural energy components like smart roofs and geothermal heat are just a few of the weeHouse’s earth-friendly features. These micro homes come super small as 435sqft. studios or larger in the two-story double-decker design at 1,335sqft. The original weeHouse, built in 2003, features an all-over Douglas fir interior. Pretty darn good-looking if we say so ourselves.

    Design 5 – We couldn’t help but mention how B&N Industries, INC. in California is bringing high school back and putting it in your home – though you wouldn’t know it at first glance. They’ve taken those dusty old Doug fir gym bleachers and made them into wall art. The B&N Iconic Panels are made by carving intricate designs into the reclaimed wood which are then covered with a protective laminate. Take your pick from paisley or geometric-inspired designs. The finished panels are easy to install and can also be used for shelving. The Douglas fir ones are beautiful and the patina really packs a punch. Besides being pretty cool, they’re really nice for the environment too.

    - Nicole Morales

    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 design, douglas fir cladding

  • Understanding Douglas Fir Flooring Profiles

    Posted on October 19, 2011 by Jennifer

    When it comes to Douglas fir flooring, board is a board is a board. Or is it?

    When you picture a board in your mind, you probably see a perfectly rectangular piece of wood, with squared-off 90-degree corners, flat on all sides. In reality, wood-workers for centuries have used special types of cuts and grooves on floorboards and paneling to ease the installation process and give you a better final product. These different grooves and notches, created during the milling process, are sometimes called the profile of the board.

    Douglas Fir Flooring.

    Tongue-and-groove is perhaps the most commonly known profile term. The tongue and groove eases the installation process, helping to ensure floor boards fit together tightly.

    Back relief refers to one or a series of grooves that run along the backside of a paneling plank or a floorboard -- it’s also sometimes called kerfing. Traditionally, taking some material from the back was done to relieve stress on the board as it contracted and expanded over time. Douglas fir, like all woods, does absorb moisture from the air, and warped boards that cup upward after installation are not what anyone wants to see. Today’s kiln-drying processes make moisture warping less of a concern, and Douglas fir is a very stable wood that maintains its shape well. If properly acclimatized, Douglas fir flooring is not prone to excessive warping, but back relief is still sometimes seen as a benefit to stability.

    However, there are other reasons for back relief. Removing some of the material from the backside of the board reduces the stiffness of the wood. That might sound like a bad thing, but it actually lends some flexibility to the boards. If you’re installing Douglas fir flooring over a subfloor that isn’t perfectly smooth, having a board with the ability to bend a little will make for a much easier install.

    A few other practical benefits: if you’re using an adhesive to attach flooring or paneling, the grooves along the back provide more surface area for the adhesive to attach to. And, a plus for the error-prone among us, having one side of a board with a smooth surface and the other with grooves along the back is an easy reminder about which way is supposed to face up. Of course, that means the opposite is also true: Douglas fir flooring or paneling with back relief is not reversible, but can be installed with only the non-grooved side facing up.

    Deep beveled edge.

    A beveled edge is a slight angled cut along the edge of a floor board or paneling board. Rather than having square corners, there’s a diagonal on either side. When two beveled-edge pieces are fitted together, a V-shaped groove is formed between them. A very slight bevel is sometimes called a “micro-bevel” or “eased edge.”

    Like back relief, beveling is helpful when you’re dealing with imperfections in the subfloor or wall surface. If the surface underneath them isn’t perfectly smooth, square-cornered boards or panels might not line up exactly level with each other, making the finished job uneven. The slight indentation from board to board in a beveled edge makes for a more forgiving surface.

    When choosing a beveled or square edged profile, think about how you want your finished fir floor to look. When the flooring is complete, a square-edged floor will be perfectly flat, with each board blending seamlessly into another. Flat edges also don’t allow any grooves for dust and dirt to gather—a plus for easy cleaning. Beveled edge is a typical profile for pre-finished floor boards. Pre-finished flooring is not able to be sanded after installation, and beveled edges won't give away slight height differences between boards laid next to each other. From an aesthetic standpoint, beveled edges provide a visual distinction from one board to another—each board is its own unique piece, not one single expanse of flooring.

    End-matching refers to the way the ends of boards or planks fit together. End-matched boards are specially machined to fit tongue-in-groove with each other. These custom-fitted pieces can make the installation process easier, and also helps reduce the likelihood of board ends warping upward over time.

    Whether you select a product with special profile options, or a simple flat-edged piece, Douglas fir flooring is a durable and beautiful addition to your home.

    -Jennifer Rouse

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Paneling

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