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Tag Archives: Douglas fir flooring

  • Douglas Fir Grades: C & Better

    Posted on April 11, 2012 by Nicole

    Douglas fir C & Better grade

    C & Better grade is the best Douglas fir grade available. But Doug fir buyers and browsers take note: C & Better grade can be many things to many people. So, here’s the lowdown on Douglas fir C & Better grade or C & BTR for short.

    Wait… what’s a ‘grade’ again?

    You may already be in-the-know about how the American Lumber Standard Committee (ALSC) sets the standards for and accredits wood grading systems in the US. You may also know that these standards are carried out by lumber agencies that inspect and grademark different wood species, creating a matrix of standards and grades and finishes that can confuse the heck out of people who just want good quality, good-looking wood.

    Clear Vertical Grain Doug Fir

    What does Douglas fir C & Better grade mean?

    Douglas fir with a C & Better grade has no visible wood-knots and has an even-complexion. Clear vertical grain (CVG) Douglas fir carries a C & Better grade because it is cut to accentuate the light and dark straight grain pattern of the wood fiber. In addition to wood grain clarity, C & Better Douglas fir is less likely to change (warp) – a straight grain stays straight even when its environment doesn’t. So, C & Better grade is your best bet when durability and appearance are important.

    Is Douglas fir C & Better grade the same everywhere?

    No, it’s not. Although the ALSC accredits wood-grading systems for lumber agencies, there is room for interpretation when it comes down to different lumber agencies writing their own set of rules (based on ALSC criteria) and inspecting their own stock of lumber.

    For example, the Western Wood Products Association is just one lumber agency in the US specializing in softwood lumber on the West Coast. The Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association or NELMA writes rules for wood-grading systems for softwoods on the East Coast. Essentially, wood-grading systems vary from coast to coast.

    But did you know that there is further variation with how wood can be sold? When it comes to Douglas fir wood grades, there are structural grades and appearance grades and within these two end-use categories, there are further delineations. For instance, Douglas fir appearance grades can be called Select, Finish, Common, and Alternate.

    So why isn’t Douglas fir C & Better grade the same everywhere?

    According to the WWPA, “color, grain pattern, texture, knot type and size are the factors that influence the grade. For this reason Douglas fir [is] marketed as a distinct species to allow for a larger range of visual choices.” So with the wide range of visual choices comes a wide range of visual appearances.

    There’s Douglas fir C & Better grade with a loose-looking grain or standard grain. There’s Douglas fir C & Better grade with a tighter grain or CVG grain. And then there’s Douglas fir C & Better grade with grain patterns somewhere in between.

    All in all, Douglas fir C & Better grade is more than skin…er, wood-deep. It’s a ‘grade’ that accounts for both durability and appearance.

    - Nicole Morales

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim, Douglas Fir Paneling and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir trim, douglas fir paneling, Doug Fir flooring, Vertical Grain Douglas Fir, Doug Fir paneling, Doug Fir trim, c and better

  • Clear Vertical Grain Douglas Fir: Where does it come from, and why?

    Posted on April 4, 2012 by Jennifer

    When you’re shopping around for Douglas fir, one of the things you’ll hear advertised often is “tight-grain” Douglas fir. Lumber suppliers like AltruFir pride themselves on the clear, tight, vertical grain of the Douglas fir they sell, and they should--this lumber is stable, strong, and beautiful--among the best building materials you’ll find anywhere. What you may not know is the story behind those claims.

    Much of the tight-grained Douglas fir that’s produced today comes from the forests of British Columbia. Why is that? Why are our neighbors to the north producing large, high-quality logs, while the Douglas fir grown in Oregon and Washington is mostly smaller-diameter? There are a number of reasons why the forests in the U.S. and Canada have developed differently.

    Sit back and learn the tale of two forests.

    Clear Vertical Grain Douglas Fir: Where does it come from? | Altrufir

    Douglas Fir Sapling

    If you were a Douglas fir sapling about 200 years ago, and you planted your roots in the fertile soil of Oregon, chances are you might not have lasted very long. Even before the arrival of European settlers, forests in Oregon and Washington were historically more affected by fire than B.C. forests were. According to a study on the history of old-growth forestsby the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pacific Northwest research station, frequent low intensity fires were a normal part of the landscape in many of Oregon’s forests. “As a result, trees regenerated almost continuously,” the authors wrote.

    But, if you were a lucky seedling, you might have survived to the early days of the twentieth century. Now it’s about 1920, and Oregon is booming. All the gorgeous Craftsman bungalows in Portland were built out of Douglas fir. Douglas fir that was cut during the early days of Oregon’s logging industry. Another study from the Pacific Northwest Research station puts it this way: “The prevailing harvest practice was simple liquidation.” Large tracts of Oregon forests were cut, slash burned, and left to regenerate naturally.

    And regenerate they did--for about 40 or 50 years, or maybe 75 or 80, at the longest. Then the stands were logged and replanted again-and again. Even as timber management practices have improved over the years, the demand for landowners to get repetitive harvests out of their land has not let up. An article in the Journal of Forestry, describes the race for harvest: “The intensively managed plantations being planted today in the Pacific Northwest are growing at rate on par with intensively managed conifer plantations being harvested today in other regions of the world, where the competition has continued to move ahead.”

    Here’s the thing about Douglas fir that’s harvested as soon as it reaches what’s considered “merchantable diameter”--it may be big enough to cut, but it’s not fully mature. A Forest Service study on the characteristics of old-growth Douglas fir forests says that trees younger than 75 are in the fastest-growing phase of their life. “Forests up to about 75-100 years old can generally be considered ecologically young in the Douglas fir region. This is the period of very rapid growth or ‘adolescence,’” the authors wrote.

    Douglas fir grows more slowly as it ages, and the slow growing phases are when it develops those tight growth rings. These adolescent trees simply haven’t had a chance to mature into the kind of trees that produce the beautiful, high-quality fiber we’re looking for. That kind of growth happens when a tree grows slowly and steadily.

    Now let’s imagine that our little Oregonian Douglas fir seedling did manage to survive fire and repeated harvesting. If that’s the case, it most likely means that this tree is by now in a forest owned by the federal government.

    In Oregon and Washington, most of the remaining old, large diameter trees are now on protected land. This isn’t a bad thing--old growth forests are a marvel that should be preserved for the health of the planet and for future generations. But it does mean that few large logs with tight growth rings are being harvested in Oregon and Washington these days. Federal timber harvests have fallen dramatically in the past 20 years. Instead, much of the U.S. Douglas fir is grown on private timberlands that are managed for maximum output, not slow growth and large-diameter trees.

    Cross-Cut Douglas Fir | AltruFir Doug Fir Flooring

    Grain on display in a Douglas-fir.

    Now let’s imagine that our hypothetical Douglas fir seedling instead found itself blown northward on the wind. Imagine that it grew, instead, in British Columbia.

    This western-most Canadian province is big. In fact, it’s larger than Oregon, Washington and California combined, and two-thirds of the province is forested.

    And the Douglas firs that grew here? They simply weren’t subjected to the kinds of disturbance that their southern neighbors were. The study on the history of Pacific Northwest forests, the same one that mentioned the fire disturbances in Oregon and Washington forests, notes that “fire was rare or absent...” In a natural landscape in this area, the small patches of old, young, and maturing trees create a nearly continuous old-growth forest with a fine-grained texture.”

    Basically, if you were a Douglas fir seedling growing up in British Columbia, nothing happened to you. Ever. To this very day, according to the best estimate of the Canadian government, 68 percent of the trees in British Columbia are 160 years old or older.

    That doesn’t mean that if you grew in Canada, you were immune from the possibility of harvest. On the contrary, logging has been historically and continues to be a huge part of British Columbia’s economy. The difference here is the sheer size of the province’s forests.

    The majority of Canada’s timber land--93 percent--is owned by the government, and it’s managed differently than the privately-owned forests in the U.S. The forests that are cut, planted with a single species, and then cut again in a few decades? They’re virtually non-existent here. In fact, B.C. does not have any “intensively managed” forests that meet the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s definition of a plantation forest. Even Weyerhauser, one of the largest timber companies in the world, says that it does things differently on its Canadian lands: “Because of differences in weather, soil conditions, and ownership, we manage land in Canada less intensively than we do land in the United States and Southern Hemisphere, working to maintain natural forest qualities and serve a wide range of community interests while still producing timber.”

    So, let’s sum up: if you’re a Canadian Douglas fir seedling, you’re much less likely to have been torched by fires when you were young; the land you stand on probably isn’t owned by a company that feels pressured to harvest as soon as you get to 40 or 50 years old; and there are so many millions of you big, old trees that the government is still able to harvest some of you without worrying that doing so is depriving the world of the last 100+ year-old trees in the province.

    Does this mean the second- and third-generation Douglas fir grown in the U.S. is worthless? Certainly not. Douglas fir is one of the best construction materials around, and the trees harvested today produce thousands of board feet of valuable timber each year.

    But when it comes to the lumber we favor at AltruFir, it’s the large-diameter trees from B.C. that are more likely to pass our inspections and give us the kind of tight grained, high-quality wood fiber help us live up to our advertising.

    - Jennifer Rouse

    This post was posted in Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim, History and Interest, Douglas Fir Paneling and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, clear vertical grain, douglas fir trim, douglas fir paneling

  • Douglas Fir in California Design: San Francisco Homes

    Posted on March 1, 2012 by Nicole

    Douglas fir in home design dates back before the days of the Gold Rush in 1849. Douglas fir had a big impact on San Francisco Victorian architecture from the 1850s to the early 1900s. The 1906 Earthquake and fire destroyed over half of the burgeoning Bay Area. Thousands of homes burned, including many Doug-fir-framed Victorians that dotted neighborhood streets.

    We’d like to look at the use of Douglas fir from the start of Art Deco in the 1920s on through the Great Depression, WWII, and through the 1970s to today’s New Modernism approach to sustainability.

    Douglas fir goes utilitarian

    We won’t bore with you the details, but there were a wide variety of architectural aesthetics popular in San Francisco beginning in the early 1900s on through the 1940s. Art Deco, Beaux-Arts inspired New Revival Mediterranean and Marina homes, and Art Moderne designs which all featured an eclectic mix of materials. New revival homes were outfitted with wrought-iron balconies and clay-tiled doorways which mirrored Spanish elements and emulated Beaux-Arts design with its brick and stone figural sculptures and classical details. If any wood was used, it was minimal in appearance – balustrades or wood shingles.

    Between the 1920s on through the 1940s, Art Moderne architecture reinforced innovation with design. The International Style became a façade trend in the mid-1920s, emphasizing a less is more aesthetic. The advent of new building materials - stainless steel, aluminum, Formica, and pigmented structural glass – figured prominently in these design movements. Meanwhile, factories churned out abundant supplies of steel in preparation for war and Old Fir went utilitarian, being made into automobile running boards, wall sheathing, and military applications.

    In response to a depressed economy, a Northwest fir trade association set out to promote plywood and the milling industry. Founded in 1933, The Douglas Fir Plywood Association –dubbed American Plywood Association today – sent out on a national mission to bring fir back.

    Douglas fir Boom and Bay Area Modernism

    After the war, the nation needed more housing to keep up with the 1940s baby boom. Thanks to the housing boom, Douglas fir was back in business. In 1955, the Douglas Fir Plywood Association put together 52 Fir Plywood Home Storage Plans. The 50 cent black & white booklet featured 65 do-it-yourself home projects based on a you-can-build-anything-with-fir-plywood motto. Crisp illustrations and clear plans outlined everything from drawer construction to edge treatments.

    In San Francisco, five years before the issue of 52 Fir Plywood Home Storage Plans, local architects were inspired by the old rural wood-clad buildings in the area. The decorated shed and building as billboard aesthetics turned into the next big design aesthetic and Old Fir had a home. Coined Bay Area Modernism – Third Bay Style, these wood-dressed homes featured wood paneling and flooring. Outside, vertical wood board siding, wood shingles, and vertical exposed sticks were dominant features. For wood enthusiasts, this was a welcomed change from the Art Deco and Art Moderne stucco-fashioned designs of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s.

    However, it was Joseph Eichler’s innovative use of Douglas fir post and beam construction, that popularized Old Fir into something entirely new. Starting in the 1950s, Eichler homes “invited the outside in” by using structurally graded 4 X 10-inch fir beams and 6 X 4-inch fir posts for the housing frames. Eichler’s signature fir grid held the expansive floor to ceiling windows – a second distinctive feature of his architecture. This allowed natural light in creating an airy living space. Mahogany was also used for interior paneling. Eichler’s aesthetic was seen in San Francisco homes until the ‘70s. Today, Eichler homes are just as important to the progression of San Francisco architecture as the city’s turn of the century Victorians.

    Eichler’s use of exposed post and beam construction influenced many residential designs across the nation during this time. In AltruFir’s own backyard, Portland home-builder Robert Rummer, inspired by Eichler’s post and beam grid, constructed 750 Rummers throughout the city in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And, perhaps in response to the Eichler fir grid trend in the Bay Area, the Douglas Fir Plywood Association put together its 1958 Leisure-Time Homes in Fir Plywood. The book was popular among families looking to build a second vacation home. Was it coincidence that the five models featured in the book featured fir post and beam construction? We think not.

    In 1965, 77 Ideas For Remodeling Your Home With Fir Plywood was published. The Douglas Fir Plywood Association promoted a variety of “worthwhile leisure-living projects you can make with fir plywood,” including a built-in book rack, demountable music wall, and a potting bench. As an introduction, the association wrote, “For remodeling… inside, outside, all around the house – there’s a fir plywood panel for every job!” A black and white diagram was included to pinpoint the places fir plywood fit perfectly in the mid century home. It’s no doubt that Douglas fir helped define mid-century modernism.

    Postmodernism and New Modernism

    Interestingly, Postmodernism and its contextual aesthetic, starting in 1960, retracted from Eichler’s signature fir post and beam construction. Postmodern homes emphasized a maze of juxtapositions in layout, materials, and motif. This aesthetic relied less on the durability of natural materials such as Douglas fir and more on flamboyance and cut-out construction.

    In 1980, Third Bay Style and Eichler designs gave way to New Modernism, which emphasized the use of modern materials and technology to their greatest advantages. Humane Modernism reintroduced nature into living spaces, similar to Eichler’s architectural achievement. Wood cantilevers and wood trellises shaded windows. A post and beam both supported the entrance awning and added structural expression to a home’s front porch. Stone, wood paneling, and stucco were distinctive elements used purposefully in these façades. And conscious use of naturally energy-generating methods were incorporated into homes and buildings – photovoltaic panels.

    Today, Douglas fir is very much a part of the architectural and design movements in San Francisco. Victorian homeowners rely on Old Fir to renovate and maintain the authenticity of say, an 1890 Queen Anne dining room floor. An Eichler enthusiast knows how to treat the fir post and beam frame when stripping paint to reveal its natural grain. Homeowners of a wood-clad Third Bay Style home trust Douglas fir to bring their home’s vertical board siding back to life. And, savvy first time homebuyers expect to see Old Fir show up in the reclaimed flooring of an industrial loft, a trellis shading the front window of a LEED-certified complex, or on the paneling of a secluded yet sustainable private residence. Douglas fir is as versatile as the homes in San Francisco.

    - Nicole Morales

    This post was posted in Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim, History and Interest and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir design, douglas fir beams

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