Blog

March 09, 2017

Rubio Monocoat now at Sustainable Northwest Wood

By KC Eisenberg

Sustainable Northwest Wood is the new Portland-area dealer of Rubio Monocoat, a zero-VOC, all-natural plant-based wood finish that looks amazing on our wood products. Made from natural plant ingredients, this finish has virtually no odor. 

Flooring installers are encouraged to join us on Saturday, April 8 for a hands-on demonstration of proper floor finish application techniques. This demo is free to attend, but registration is required: Click here to learn more about and register for the demo.

Click here for more information about Rubio Monocoat finishes.

March 01, 2017

Project Profile: Building beautiful casework with basic dimensional lumber

By KC Eisenberg

We're loving this retail space recently completed in Portland by Furnish PDX. They paired our FSC White Fir dimenional lumber with reclaimed barnwood and exposed metalwork for a modern-yet-rustic, warm, and inviting vibe. It's a sign of vision, and no small amount of patience, to build such incredible casework out of basic lumber.

Our FSC White Fir lumber is sourced from Collins forests in Northern California.  

Visit Furnish PDX for more photos of this project.


March 01, 2017

The Juniper Story

By KC

As anyone who has ever travelled east of the Cascades knows, juniper is prevalent in Oregon's high desert.  Juniper is an ancient species that has been part of our landscape for millennia, but recently it has seen unprecedented population growth due to human interference with the natural fire cycle that used to keep young juniper trees in check. 

How much population growth?  A lot. Eastern Oregon's juniper has increased from about 1 million acres in the 1930's to more than 6 million acres today.

Juniper's success means additional challenges to the grasses and other plants that compete for space on the desert plains. Not only is there more competition for sunlight, but juniper is a thirsty tree that significantly depletes the groundwater table. The reduction in grasses results in increased erosion, reduced biodiversity, and more difficulty for desert wildlife to find the foraged foods on which they depend for survival.

In an attempt to restore the native grasslands, Eastern Oregon ranchers have for many years cut the trees and burned them, but today Sustainable Northwest and other dedicated groups are working hard to create new markets for the juniper wood to ensure that this useful and beautiful wood is put to use. 

This restoration work helps enable the grasslands to recover and helps keep Eastern Oregon sawmills, an important source of jobs in rural communities, generating income for these communities.  In general, the trees that are cut and milled as part of this restoration work are smaller, younger trees that have sprouted in the years since our fire restriction policies have been formed -- the older, grander trees that predate these policies aren't cut.

Juniper is naturally rot- and decay-resistant, more so than any other native Northwestern species, according to studies by Oregon State University.  It also offers a beautiful rustic aesthetic with warm cream, chocolate, and reddish tones.  Its durability, combined with its beauty and its environmental credentials, make it an excellent choice for decks, garden beds, fencing, and many other uses for homes in the Pacific Northwest. 

Click here to watch an excellent OPB report on juniper and the Eastern Oregon restoration work.

Photo at top: The Cottonwood Creek watershed near Fossil, OR, used to be rolling hills covered in grasses. Today, many acres of juniper woodlands can be seen from this viewpoint
Photos below: The Crooked River National Grassland was designated in the 1960's; since then, it has sprouted a dense juniper forest. The photo at bottom was taken near Burns and shows many infant juniper trees growing on the plains. 


February 13, 2017

Douglas fir for historic preservation, restoration, and replica finishes

By KC Eisenberg

Many old homes, and many new homes being designed in a historic style, make use of Douglas fir for trim, flooring, cabinetry, and other interior finishes. Douglas fir is an iconic wood for period homes and represents an important era in American history.

Douglas fir was a popular choice for homes built in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Its warm amber color tones, distinctive grain patterns, and high strength-to-weight ratio contributed to this popularity. An ample supply of high-quality old growth lumber coming from the vast forests of the Pacific Northwest also contributed: A market was built to capitalize on this prolific native species.

Over time, the market changed and tastes began to evolve toward the modern marvels of the twentieth century. Hardwood flooring was replaced with synthetic carpet; wood trim was covered in vivid enamel paints; and wood countertops and furniture were replaced with patterned, shiny laminates. Today, it can be hard to find the authentic Douglas fir finishes needed to replicate and restore the period homes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Fortunately, Sustainable Northwest Wood offers a wide array of Douglas fir products that can be used for historical preservation, restoration, and replica projects. And in a reflection of contemporary values, all of these products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to ensure the good management and sustainable practices of the forests that produce them.

Our Douglas fir products include:

  • 3 1/4” CVG (clear vertical grain) Douglas fir flooring, in stock and ready to go
  • Mixed grain and CVG plywood for cabinetry and furniture
  • CVG fir solid surfaces in butcher block and plank styles
  • Mixed grain and CVG lumber ready to be milled into trim, stair treads, decorative beams and mantels, and other interior accents

January 20, 2017

What is Struc 1 plywood?

By KC Eisenberg

If you're considering a seismic upgrade to your home, or building a new structure in a quake-prone zone, you'll likely want to use Struc 1 plywood. But what is Struc 1 plywood and why does it matter for seismic building performance?

5-ply Structural 1 plywood, also known as Struc 1, is the best kind of plywood to use for seismic resilience because it is made of Douglas fir throughout the sheet of plywood. This gives Struc 1 plywood more strength than typical plywood, which is made with softer, weaker cores of pine or white fir.

Sustainable Northwest Wood aims to offer high-quality plywood at an excellent price. This is why we stock 5-ply 1/2" Struc 1 CDX plywood -- which is, of course, also FSC Certified and contains no added urea formaldehyde (NAUF)

All of our 1/2" CDX is Struc 1 rated. We've got it in stock and ready to go for your seismic retrofit and other construction projects. Please contact us today for current pricing.

January 12, 2017

Is FSC Certified wood more expensive?

By KC Eisenberg

We get this question a lot. All the time. And the short answer is: Not always.

In fact, oftentimes our FSC certified, locally harvested wood products are less expensive than the same non-certified products, sourced from who-knows-where, at nearby Big Box stores.

Case in point: Folks are always surprised at how cost-effective our plywood options are. All of our plywood is FSC certified, locally manufactured, and contains no added urea formaldehyde.  We can trace it right back to the mill that makes it and the forest that provides the wood. And because the supply chain is so short, our plywood is often less expensive that the non-certified, mystery-origin plywood at other retailers in the Portland area.

Now with some products, FSC certification will add a bit onto the cost. Most rough estimates generally say between 10% and 20%. This is because the mills that provide FSC dimensional lumber (commodity products like 2x4s and 2x6s) add a certain percentage to cover the costs of the auditing and additional paperwork required to maintain the chain of custody. 

So with 2x4s, 2x6s, and other framing lumber, in general most projects should budget a little more to be able to use FSC wood.  These products can be combined with less expensive FSC products (such as plywood) to help spread the additional costs out over the budget and minimize or negate any extra costs.

Other FSC items that do not necessarily cost more are our FSC cedar and hardwoods.  Because we work directly with local mills, we eliminate the middle men, which works out better for our customers (and helps us ensure that our mills are operating in ways that meet our Triple Bottom Line goals).

Here are some ways that you can minimize any added costs of building with FSC lumber:

  • Order in advance.  Any time material has to be rushed to a jobsite to meet a tight deadline, there will be added costs for shipping.  Especially if it's an unusual item (24' beams or 2x14 lumber, for instance).  By getting orders in well ahead of time, shipping can be minimized.
  • Design the project to use standard materials.  While we are able to offer highly customized dimensions and specialty items for projects, these are going to cost more whether or not they're FSC certified. By designing around standard sizes and planning your project to make use of in-stock items, you can help keep the costs down.  Ask for a copy of our price list to see what standard sizes are.
  • Explore alternatives.  Sometimes using unconventional materials can help reduce overall project costs considerably.  For instance, maple is a very beautiful hardwood that is often used for cabinetry, furniture, and other interior finishes -- but alder is a less expensive option with a nearly identical look. 
January 03, 2017

Chainsaw Milling a Giant Myrtlewood: The Story of Epilogue Urban Lumber

By KC Eisenberg

As told to Sustainable Northwest Wood by David Barmon and Mark Parisien.

We began our urban log wrangling adventures in the fall of 2013, standing before a monster myrtlewood measuring four feet at the base, planning our attack. 

Intrigued by the idea of urban forestry, my friend and now business partner Daniel Baca and I had recently purchased an Alaskan Mill.  With only a few cuts under our belt and an under-powered electric winch, we were as green as the first crooked slab we’d cut that day.  

Fast forward to the fall of 2016 and our business has matured alongside our stacks of air-dried lumber.  Daniel and I joined forces with Mark Parisien to start urban lumber company ​Epilogue LLC.​  Now equipped with a Lucas Mill we have slabbed out several hundred such monster logs to date.  

But back our our first adventure…  

The myrtlewood was a beast, its lumber promising.  Its challenge?  No access. The tree’s owner had called some other companies who had passed for this reason. 

After an hour of set-up we were ready to make our first cut. Our new Logosol chainsaw mill, outfitted with a double-ended bar and two chainsaw powerheads, had walked a bit on our trial run a few days back.  Dials now tweaked and fingers crossed, we proceeded full throttle into the belly of the beast.  “Double Cobra” we hollered as we plunged into the log.  ​

Double Cobra​ would thenceforth be our name and battle cry;  a place-holder until we would refine our approach and become the strictly professional urban lumber troupe now known as ​Epilogue LLC. 

Five loud and stinky minutes later we had our first cock-eyed slab. Nuts!  The bar was walking again.  What started as a three inch cut became four inches by the end.  A mile outside the margin of error for many a skilled craftsmen known to round to the nearest 32nd of an inch.  I could hear my Dad, a contactor for 40 years, weigh in.  “Did a beaver make that cut?” 

We argued as to the cause.  Was it two powerheads with different amounts of power? Too much flex in the bar?  Who knows. We just kept going.  “Double Cobra!” 

Several hours later we had seven slabs from the main log and managed to wrestle around one of the leaders and cut three more.  By sundown we somehow managed to move and flat stack all the slabs, the largest weighing about 250 pounds (​photo at left​). Moving them just a few feet was difficult if not impossible but getting the slabs out of the backyard was a job for a few more hired guns.  

We now had a dozen or so spalted myrtlewood slabs, numb arms, aching backs, and a hunger for more!  

Three years have passed and the adventures continue.  And so have the challenges, whether it’s a wild goose chase leading to worthless wood, a perfect log full of nails, or a test of patience as we wait for our lumber to properly dry for yet another year.  

But every time we open up a log to reveal its distinct beauty, it’s worth it.  It also feels good to save a few of these giants from the firewood pile. 

Epilogue LLC’s new ​showroom at Sustainable Northwest Wood​ has those beautiful myrtlewood slabs ready for sale along with a variety of hard and softwood pieces ready for your crafty hands! Slabs have been patiently air-dried for one to three years depending on species and thickness, kiln-dried to below 10% moisture content, and surfaced on both faces to 120 grit.  

*Crooked slabs courtesy of Double Cobra Milling. 



Do you have an urban hazard tree that you'd like see turned into lumber rather than chips? If so, here are a few things to consider: 

1. We don’t buy logs, other than an occasional black walnut log. Why don’t we pay money? A load of logs bucked to saw log lengths free of metal is worth money. A log or two coming from a yard of variable quality is time consuming and expensive to pick up. A standing tree may be filled with metal, concrete, and have defects that can’t be oberved until the tree has been removed.  

2. A few photos showing the whole tree including the trunk and where it branches out is very helpful. The limbs and leaders generally don’t make good lumber. The trunk is what we are primarily interested in. If the trunk has a lot of branches or it is growing at an angle, we will probably pass.  

3. It’s easier to coordinate directly with the tree company doing the removal. We need to know the removal date, and the address of the property. Also, crane removals are much easier to execute.  

4. In general we are looking for hardwood species such as Black Walnut, Elm, Maple, Sycamore, Cherry, Oak, and Black Locust. There are some more unusual species such as Catalpa and Silk tree just to name a few. We also mill Deodar Cedar. At this time we don’t take Doug Fir or other native softwoods. We are looking for trees at least 24” in diameter.

5. You can contact us at davebarmon@gmail.com. Our apologies up front if you contact us and we are unable to respond. We do our best to get back to people but sometimes we are just overwhelmed with calls.  
January 01, 2017

Juniper Update: Niche market development for Western Juniper

By Renee Magyar, Communications Director, Sustainable Northwest

As printed in the Winter 2017 issue of Northwest Woodlands Magazine.

In the late 1800s, pioneers that arrived to settle in central and eastern Oregon, southeast Washington, northern California, and southwest Idaho saw a very different landscape than the one we know today. Rolling grasslands and sagebrush steppe provided adequate breeding habitat and forage for wildlife species like mule deer and sage grouse. Only the occasional Western Juniper tree was visible on the ridgelines.

Following this time, a period of overgrazing of domestic livestock compounded by federal fire suppression policies allowed the tree to thrive. Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) is a natural survivor and is well adapted to the high desert. Wildfire is its only natural predator, and without a regular fire cycle to clear out new seedlings, its presence has increased exponentially over the past 150-180 years from its historic recorded range of 1 million acres to nearly 9 million acres today.

New studies of sage grouse are showing the impact of juniper encroachment on nesting behavior. Predators perch on juniper, and researchers from University of Idaho and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)-led Sage Grouse Initiative found that hens avoided nesting where conifer cover exceeded 3% within 800 meters of their nests. Due to a significant decrease in habitat, in 2015, the bird came close to being added to the threatened or endangered species list.

Juniper also has a significant impact on soil moisture and groundwater. Long-term hydrological studies being performed in the Camp Creek Watershed, about 60 miles southeast of Prineville, Oregon, show an average 3 to 4 gallons per minute return of spring flow outputs after juniper removal. In the 60-day dry season, that adds up to nearly 260,000 gallons of additional water that is available for livestock, fish, or plant growth along the stream channel.

Western juniper is considered a native invasive, and there is widespread agreement that juniper needs to be thinned for grassland and hydrological benefit, wildfire risk reduction, as well as species diversity. However removal of acres of juniper is a costly endeavor in the absence of a commercial market for the wood.

For decades, there had been interest in developing a market for juniper to help fund landscape restoration work, but past efforts were unsuccessful. Landowners recognize that cost share dollars from state and federal agencies like Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board or NRCS that are used to fund juniper removal projects could be at risk of drying up, or are generally insufficient to treat all the acres of juniper. The common belief was a robust market could supplement or ultimately replace the need for public funding.

In 2011, the steering committee of Oregon Solutions, a state-backed organization that develops collaborative triple bottom line solutions to community-based problems, sought to reinvigorate interest in a juniper market. They saw the opportunity to educate consumers by rebranding products as sourced from “restoration juniper”.

Discussions kicked off an assessment of the current status of juniper in Oregon and the perceived challenges and opportunities to successful utilization of the available resources. The main issues and challenges identified were supply, technical information -- specifically the inventory of trees across eastern Oregon -- and the need for products and market development. They involved the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Association of Oregon Counties in the discussions, which culminated in an Oregon Solutions project designation by former Oregon governor John Kitzhaber in August 2012. With this, the Western Juniper Utilization Group (WJUG) as it was initially dubbed -- a unique and cohesive partnership of state and federal agencies, academics, wood products businesses, non-profits, landowners, and funders -- was formed. One year later, the 29 WJUG member groups signed onto a Declaration of Cooperation agreeing to create a scaled-up juniper restoration economy, and recommend solutions to key technical, social, and policy barriers through this shared commitment.

Sustainable Northwest was selected to house the project and act as the coordinating hub for the group, renamed the Western Juniper Alliance (WJA), as well as take lead on fundraising and policy advocacy for the initiative. To date, nearly $2 million has been raised for market and supply chain coordination, business development, product promotion, and research and development.

Part of these state and federal dollars are funding a study of lumber grades and engineering design values of Western Juniper. The lack of published data on these values up to this point has stunted market development efforts, as public and private engineers and architects looking to use the wood for structural applications are often forced to specify other wood species for which technical data are available. The study is currently underway at the OSU Oregon Wood Innovation Center. Mechanical property testing of the wood was completed in September of this year, and results are expected in the coming months.

The balance is going to training programs for workforce development, technical and business assistance, a mapping analysis to identify the supply of juniper and inform future public and private land management needs, a loan and grant program called the Western Juniper Industry Fund that provides investment and working capital for juniper business expansion projects, and ongoing support of the WJA. This project was funded in part through two complementary bills that passed the Oregon state legislature in July 2015, an effort that was highlighted at the 2014 Oregon Business Summit. As a result of this funding, two new juniper milling businesses have started up, with more in development.  

In 2014, the primary focus of the WJA was to grow market demand. Sustainable Northwest launched a brand and marketing campaign to build more market awareness and increase demand for juniper products. The heartwood is valued for its chemical properties that make it highly durable and resistant to rot or insect infestation, and a suitable local alternative to cedar, redwood, or pressure treated wood. Since the wood was primarily being used in outdoor applications in Oregon and Washington, the demand during the rainy winter season slowed. Suppliers and distributors saw the need to expand beyond the Pacific Northwest to markets with year-round application. California was the obvious next step for distribution, and sales there are growing. Sustainable Northwest Wood, a subsidiary wood warehouse business of Sustainable Northwest, has filled an important gap in the demand market by providing distribution and market outreach. By reaching out to new audiences like home and garden landscapers, organic vineyards and wineries, and home furnishing showrooms, they are educating consumers about the benefits of the wood and the benefits of harvest. Sales of juniper have grown 50% in the last two years, and that increase is projected to continue. 

Two years later, the challenge is consistent supply; a critical issue that has been identified as a factor in juniper market development for decades. The irony is there are millions of acres of juniper ready to be cut for restoration projects, however experts estimate only 10% of the trees are suitable for milling. Old growth trees are off limits for harvest, and the remaining distribution of suitable trees is widespread across the vast area. Landowners also often rely on state and federal funding to manage juniper on their properties, and those that do are not always aware of market opportunities to remove saw logs.

Climate has also played a significant role recently in available supply. Last year, eastern Oregon experienced compounded difficulties that proved to be the final straw for one Oregon juniper miller who went out of business because he wasn’t able to procure logs. A long fire season and the subsequent pine salvage operations had loggers and trucks tied up in the fall, and a prolonged wet winter prevented trucks from accessing juniper on public and private roads.

The supply shortage affects the logger as well; if he isn't able to sell logs to a miller, he's not able to pay his fuel and equipment bills. This has become a circular problem the WJA is trying hard to address. In fact, the problem has been discussed so much that some Alliance members are tired of hearing the “chicken and egg” metaphor used to describe the situation: loggers need a dependable number of millers to sell to before they can grow their numbers, and millers need a dependable number of logs from loggers before they can grow their businesses.

To overcome these barriers, Sustainable Northwest will be hiring a part-time forester to coordinate the supply chain and ensure a consistent flow of material from landowners to the mills. They will identify current and upcoming harvest operations, broker log agreements, and connect all the relevant parties to increase capture of logs from restoration activities. Doing so will retain and create manufacturing jobs and provide greater confidence to distributors as they seek to grow the market in new states and sectors.

Juniper is a specialty species that defies the conventional lumber manufacturing model used to produce and sell commodity products like fir or pine. The tree grows with gnarled, twisted trunks and branches, and deeply grooved bark and dense knots, making it very difficult to mill, with a lot of bark-embedded waste material that is not suitable for common byproducts like chips for paper or particle board.

However, for many of the same reasons the wood is hard to work with, it makes for a beautiful product for those who can successfully tackle the challenge of milling it. Its warm tones, alluring scent, and unique shapes and textures lend itself well to rustic furniture designs and attractive features in finer grade lumber. In addition to exterior landscape and decking products, builders are also sourcing for new uses like interior cabinetry and paneling, countertops, and flooring.

Juniper is unlikely to become a commodity product due to the challenging nature of the milling and the low yield from juniper woodlands compared to traditional forests. To make a viable juniper market at a quasi-craftsman-industrial scale that supports restoration activities will require a strong business sense on the manufacturing side.  In most cases, the complexity and challenge of coordinating everything from raw material, to marketing, state and federal regulations, employee relations, state employment divisions, workforce compensation, unemployment claims, and a reliable supply chain, all while running day-to-day manufacturing operations is overwhelming for some small businesses.

The BLM Boise Idaho District is also seeking a local market for early phase juniper to help incentivize further sage grouse habitat restoration projects, and utilize trees that are currently being burned in slash piles. They have a working group in place to look at potential methods of harvest that would make it economical for market and attractive to potential juniper business investors. However, the role the BLM can play is limited. They need a local champion to drive the market development, and right now progress is stalled. The BLM sees the progress Oregon has made, and is optimistic that juniper biomass energy development could work in Idaho if the processing of feedstock can happen locally. The engineering design values study shows a promising potential niche market for them as well; the Idaho Department of Transportation has expressed interest in the idea of juniper road sign posts. If projects pencil out economically, the BLM is optimistic that Owyhee County could get behind a juniper market.

Despite the variety of challenges to market growth in Oregon, stakeholders remain persistent in their efforts, emboldened by progress on the near horizon. Supply chain coordination is underway. Biomass energy products are in development that may broaden the market for non-millable juniper. And state procurement of juniper for roadway signs and guardrail posts are poised to take off once the engineering values results are published. With all of these pieces in place, there is a sound model for a juniper market that other states can replicate, for the benefit of the land, the wildlife, and the people. 

RENEE MAGYAR serves as Sustainable Northwest’s communications director. She can be reached at 503-221-6911 ext. 116 or rmagyar@sustainablenorthwest.org
December 20, 2016

Where to Buy Juniper Lumber

By KC Eisenberg

So you've decided to use juniper lumber for your landscaping projects. Good choice! You may have heard about juniper's legendary rot resistance or seen photos of its beautiful grain patterns and warm color tones.

Here's an interactive map that shows where to buy our juniper landscaping timbers. This map shows all of our current dealers in Oregon, Washington, and California.

If you're in an area outside the regions covered by this map, please let us know and we can discuss ways to get you the wood you need.

December 20, 2016

Project Profile: Custom Oregon White Oak Casework

By KC Eisenberg

A recent office remodel in downtown Portland was designed with elaborate custom casework that called for one-of-a-kind oak panels. The project architect wanted to use a locally-grown wood that would reflect a sense of place and add warmth and visual appeal to the space.

We were pleased to supply custom panels and slabs of solid Oregon white oak, milled to precise specifications, for the casework, interior panelings, and other office furnishings.

The results are stunning: Modern yet warm, inviting, and reflective of the special personality of the oak selected for the project!

More photos are available here.