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Tag Archives: 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

  • 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

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