Blog

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. 
October 27, 2016

What is the best wood to use for retaining walls?

By KC Eisenberg

Wood retaining walls provide structure, stability, and natural beauty to gardens and landscaping projects. They continue to be a popular choice because of the natural look they provide and because of their low price point, relative to expensive masonry and concrete retaining walls.

But there are so many options for choosing what wood to use for retaining walls. You know you want something durable, affordable, and non-toxic. But what?

Wood retaining walls must be:
  • Chemical free, not soaked in creosote or pressure-treatment chemicals
  • Extra durable in ground-contact settings
  • Non-toxic alternative to carcinogenic railroad ties
  • More affordable and longer lasting than cedar or redwood ties
  • Responsibly sourced
  • Beautiful!

Luckily, we have the perfect solution that fulfills all these criteria: our Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers.

Chemical-free: These untreated, completely natural timbers are ideal replacements for creosote-laden railroad ties and pressure-treated wood.

Extra durable: Juniper gets its remarkable durability from a high content of aromatic compounds that make the wood resistant to microbial decay for many decades. Juniper can last up to 30+ years in ground contact settings, according to studies from Oregon State University.

Affordable: Our juniper landscaping timbers are also far more affordable than using cedar or redwood, other long-lasting species that come with a high price tag. In fact, juniper lasts far longer than these species -- providing a lot more bang for your landscaping buck.

Responsibly sourced: Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers are sourced from grassland restoration projects in the high deserts of the West. Juniper is a native species, but decades of fire suppression and the unintended consequences of livestock grazing have allowed this species to grow unchecked, claiming millions of acres of sagebrush steppe and turning it into dense woodlands. These juniper woodlands suck up groundwater and are contributing to the decline of several key species, including the sage grouse. A collaborative group involving ranchers, loggers, environmentalists, and state government agencies is working together to harvest juniper trees, restore the grassland ecosystem and water supplies, and build a market for the wood. Your purchase of juniper lumber supports this effort.

Beautiful: Juniper also provides a rustic, organic look that is perfect for modern gardens and landscape design. 

Please contact us to learn more about Restoration Juniper for retaining walls and other exterior uses.

Photos, from top: A recently-constructed residential retaining wall built with 6x6 juniper landscaping timbers shows juniper's rich colors and grain patterns; steps and a small retaining wall built out of 5x5 juniper timbers show off the silver patina that will develop over the years if the wood is left unstained; a large retaining wall built with 6x6 timbers stands at the University of Washington-Tacoma (photo credit Place Studio).


July 25, 2016

What is the best finish to use for butcher block countertops?

By KC Eisenberg

Butcher block and wood solid surface countertops are a popular choice for kitchens and bathrooms these days. And for good reason: The wood adds warmth, texture, and natural beauty to the space in a way that other materials just can't.

But wood needs to be well protected to keep water and wine from staining or damaging it. There are, of course, many products available to help complete this task. So many products. Too many products! 

We break down the pros and cons of some of the most common choices.

Poly Vs. Oil

Polyurethane is a liquid coating that dries into a plastic film. This is great for sealing the countertop, but then there's a layer of plastic between you and your pretty new wood. Also, poly finishes generally have to be removed entirely before any scratches or worn spots can be repaired. Yes, the countertop will need to be sanded entirely clean before any new finish can be reapplied. Ugh!

Oil finishes penetrate down into the wood, bringing out the color and luster of the wood, and allow you direct contact with the warmth and distinctive texture of the wood. Oil finishes can also be spot-repaired without sanding the entire surface -- a huge benefit -- but they will likely require more frequent maintenance than poly finishes, especially in high-impact areas like around sinks or in food prep zones. 

What product to choose? 

We've used lots of products over the years on our samples and displays, and we've polled our woodworker clients on their top choices. We generally recommend modified natural oil finishes for our solid surface and butcher block products because of the ease of application and maintenance. Here are some of the common choices, and the pros and cons of each:


March 02, 2016

Sustainability: Our Definition

By KC Eisenberg

With a name like Sustainable Northwest Wood, we're expected to have some solid answers for what sustainable forestry entails. We are frequently asked this question by people who wish to learn more about where their wood comes from and how to make it better. 

In our view, sustainable forestry depends on four key criteria:

1. Regionally sourced - It is important to select building materials that require the fewest transportation miles in order to minimize the release of greenhouse gases. But regional sourcing is also important because it enables accountability: When the wood is coming from a forest or rangeland just over the mountain, the end users can verify with their own eyes that the type of forestry producing it isn't destroying an ecosystem. When the wood is coming from the other side of the planet, this level of accountability becomes challenging. All of the wood we offer is sourced from the Pacific Northwest; within a day's drive you can visit any of the forests that provide our wood. Regional sourcing also fosters sustainable economic development in the Pacific Northwest and supports the development of conservation-based jobs.

2. Restoration - Modern forestry must do more than just minimize the harm to the forests that produce our wood. We believe that in order for our forests to continue to yield sustainable quantities of high-quality, high-value wood, foresters must work to improve their ecological health. When poor forestry practices are implemented, unhealthy trees become prone to destruction from pests like the mountain pine beetle or from catastrophic fires. By working to restore the ecological health of the forest, we produce healthier, bigger trees that are more resistant to pests and fire. This is why we prefer wood from restoration projects like The Nature Conservancy's Ellsworth Preserve in Washington or Camp Adams in Molalla. This is also why we so strongly support juniper: its harvest helps restore the grassland ecosystem of the high desert.

3. Upcycled and salvaged wood - Many of our most beautiful madrone and maple logs are pulled from chip yards where they were sent to be turned into pulp. It astonishes people that such useful, valuable wood could be sent into the waste stream, but many commercial logging operations still focus nearly exclusively on softwoods like fir and pine. The hardwood logs are treated like so much by-catch: unwanted species that were just in the way. We believe that by instead creating a market for this hardwood lumber, we can reduce the demand for imported wood products while also creating a market-based incentive for land owners in our region to protect and cultivate a diversity of species on their properties.

4. Forest Stewardship Council™ - FSC® Certification is one of the best indications that the wood you're buying has been responsibly harvested. FSC is a third-party organization that carefully audits the practices of its members from the forest all the way through the retail outlet. FSC offers the most advanced forestry management of all certification agencies. The FSC properties we work with are all located in our region and often also supply wood from restoration projects

We encourage questions and conversations about sustainable forestry and wood products. If you have questions about this topic, or if you wish to share your ideas with us, please feel free to reach out to us with your thoughts.
January 26, 2016

What is a good alternative to pressure treated wood for raised beds?

By KC Eisenberg


You want to put in long-lasting raised garden beds, but you want to do it without chemicals, and for less money than cedar and redwood costs. How?

We get asked this question all the time. Luckily, we've got a perfect answer for you: Juniper!

Juniper is an ultra-durable softwood that is harvested from grassland restoration projects in central and eastern Oregon. According to studies at Oregon State University, it lasts more than 30 years in outdoor, ground contact settings -- much longer than cedar or redwood. It costs significantly less than cedar or redwood, and it is totally natural, untreated, chemical free wood.

On top of all that, it also happens to be gorgeous

Juniper is commonly used for raised garden beds, retaining walls, garden stairs, fences, decks, and many other outdoor installations. It is also a popular choice for interior projects, too. Click here to see our full gallery of juniper projects.

Juniper landscaping products are in stock and ready to go in the Portland and Seattle metro areas. If you're in another area, ask your local lumberyard to start carrying it, or contact us for a quote for shipping it to you. 

When our customers ask us for a good alternative to pressure treated wood, the answer is simple: Juniper.

March 26, 2015

Building raised garden beds with Restoration Juniper

By Tamra

Juniper raised beds

There are many benefits to constructing your raised bed with juniper lumber. Restoration Juniper is long-lasting, beautiful, and chemical-free lumber that supports family-run mills committed to restoring Northwest ecosystems. Juniper lasts much longer than cedar or redwood, up to 50 years or more in ground contact applications because of its naturally high oil content that is decay and rot resistant.

It is genuinely not a good idea to use pressure treated lumber for raised beds: the chemicals can leach into your soil and ultimately into your vegetables. So juniper is a good alternative for the environment AND your health.

Understanding juniper lumber is key to successfully building a raised bed out of Juniper.  Juniper landscape timbers come in a variety of sizes.  The most common sizes for raised beds are 2"x6"x8' and 2"x8"x8'.  Juniper lumber comes from a small tree that has a great deal of character.  Landscape grade lumber will often have some bark, wane, knots and is rough sawn. Understanding Juniper’s unique character before you embark on building your raised bed will provide a much more satisfying experience.  

Let’s take a look at what is required to build a 4-foot by 4-foot raised bed out of Juniper boards. I chose this size for our example raised bed because it makes sense from a materials standpoint, as there will be little waste. It’s always a good idea to sketch out your project first to take into account the ideal length of lumber you’ll need, as well as how many pieces you’ll need so you can get everything in one trip.

This project will require one 4x4x8 Restoration Juniper timber, four 2x6x8s or 2x8x8s depending on the height of the bed walls, coated (or stainless) 3/16” or 1/4”  (min. 3-1/2” long) flat-head or hex-head timber screws, a saw (circular or hand), measuring tape, a pencil, a carpenter’s square (or “speed” square), power drill, drill bit that matches the diameter of the shank (unthreaded portion) of your screws, a drill bit that MATCHES the diameter of the screw threads, and a driver bit (for the drill) or a socket wrench.

The first thing you need to do is decide on the height of the walls e depth of the beds. Beds that are at least 12” deep can support most vegetables.  Deeper beds with higher sides, those that are 16” to 18”, are wonderful for limiting back strain.  My own raised beds are 24” tall with a 6” ledge running around the top for sitting and for placing garden tools (and the taller beds are the perfect height for very young gardeners). 

To create a 12” deep bed you will need 2x6x8 Restoration Juniper, which can be found at Sustainable NW Wood. Our staff can help you select the Juniper that will work for your project. We’re using 8-foot long pieces because the raised bed will be 4’ long and 4’ wide. Two rows of 2x6 per side will get the 12” depth for your bed.  If you would like the walls to be taller, two rows of 2x8s will give you a 16” depth, which is close to standard chair height (for comfort). Using 8’ lengths helps to eliminate too much waste. 

Start by cutting the 4x4x8 into the correct length using a circular saw, four pieces at 12” long for the 12” walls or four pieces at 16” long for the 16” length. Many circular saws won’t cut all the way through a 4x4 post, so you will have to mark around to the opposite side to make your cuts on the opposite side line up properly.  If you don’t have a circular saw, you can also use a handsaw, it will just take some muscle.

Now measure your boards to make sure each cut will give you a 4’ section.  Make all your cuts at once so that everything will be ready to assemble. You will need to cut two pieces of 4’ for each side. You now have everything cut to the right lengths to get started on building your raised beds.

Fasten the 2x6 Juniper boards to the posts using the timber screws (which are very rust-resistant). You will need to be careful to position the screw holes so they won’t hit each other coming in from a right angle. To do this, you will alternate our holes at high and low points on the post at each corner for each 2x6. 

Since our screws are at least 3-1/2” long, we will take our drill bit that is the diameter of the SHANK of the screw and drill the FULL depth of the length of the screw. This is the PILOT hole; this is the hole that the screw threads bite into.  Then follow this with the larger drill bit (sized to the diameter of the screw threads) JUST to the thickness of our outside board. This is the CLEARANCE hole; this allows you to easily pass the screw through the first board and allows ALL of the attaching power of the threads to be applied to the second board (your upright post).
            
Screw the first board to a 4x4 post making sure it is flush with the bottom. Repeat this at the opposite end of the board with a second post.  Secure the second row in the same manner.  Now you are ready for the next side. As explained earlier, stagger the attachment holes on the right angle of the post and screw the bottom tier to the post and repeat with the second tier. 

Now you are ready to set the 90 degree angles of the two sides.  This can be done using a carpenter’s square, or, if you only have a measuring tape, the 3-4-5 method (SEE ILLUSTRATION).  It is important to make sure each corner makes a 90 degree angle or your raised bed will not be square. You just have to repeat these steps for the two remaining sides, making sure each board is secured to the post with two timber screws.

When you’re finished, get someone to help you position it where you want the bed, making sure it gets plenty of sun.  I recommend laying steel mesh (also called ”hardware cloth”) followed by landscaping cloth on top before you add the soil.  This allows for good drainage while keeping gophers and other unwanted critters out. Pick a screen size that is less than 1” squares; DO NOT use window screen. If you want to put a layer of gravel before the soil goes in, this will further aid drainage, also. I recommend 3/4–minus gravel (can be purchased in bags) about 2” deep.

Basically, you’re done. But if you want to add a sitting/tool ledge around the top, remember to figure in extra 2x6s for that; these can also be added later if you decide.

There you have it! Now it’s time to fill it up with your favorite mix of garden soil and other soil amendments and you’ll be ready to plant your healthy garden.  Your new Restoration Juniper raised bed will give you many years of gardening enjoyment and without the introduction of any harsh chemicals from the lumber.

April 11, 2013

Collaborative restoration rebuilds the forests of the Pacific Northwest

By KC

Our forest lands are caught in the middle of an epic struggle.  Demand for forest products is perpetually increasing, fueled by global market pressures and the thirst for economic growth and the jobs and prosperity it brings. At the same time, dedicated conservation groups are working harder than ever to protect fragile forest lands from potentially harmful harvest activities.

This discord frequently bubbles up in the public discourse, as proposals for new harvests are made and then lawsuits filed to prevent their execution, in an expensive and taxing process that ties up the legal system and breeds ill will between different groups of citizens.

Meanwhile, the forests of the American West continue to suffer. Decades of intensive logging practices and fire suppression, coupled with massive outbreaks of infestations and disease, have left vast tracts of forest unhealthy, overcrowded, undernourished, and at risk of exploding into flame at the first suggestion of a spark

(Photo at left: The mountain pine beetle has killed the majority of trees near Gearhart Mountain in southern Oregon, putting the area at risk for a major fire. Photo from summitpost.org.)

As our parent non-profit Sustainable Northwest has shown, there is a perfect solution that addresses all of these problems, with results that please all participating parties: Collaborative restoration.

Collaborative restoration brings industry, environmental groups, and local and federal government officials to the same table to work out solutions that benefit all of the stakeholders while improving forest health.  It sounds like a tall order, but it can be done -- and is being done, thanks to the dedication of Sustainable Northwest.

An example of the success of collaborative restoration can be seen in Grant County, Oregon.  Grant County used to support four sawmills, but as the economy contracted in the 80's and as the timber in Malheur National Forest became harder to procure due to increasing environmental pressures, three of those mills closed and hundreds of local families were left without jobs or a reliable income.  

(Photo at right: Sustainable Northwest staffers meet with members of the Blue Mountain Forest Partners to discuss forest restoration.)

In 2006, Sustainable Northwest stepped in and helped found the Blue Mountain Forest Partners, which consists of representatives from the remaining mill; environmental lawyers and non-profits that had previously filed suit against the Forest Service to prevent additional harvests; foresters from the Forest Service; local government officials; and other interested individuals. 

Together, these disparate groups worked together to draft a plan to restore forest health, reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire while allowing some logs to be harvested to feed the mill.

Because of the collaborative's work, no lawsuits have been filed in 6 years.  The restoration work has resulted in significantly improved forest health in the areas in which it has been done, and planned restoration work is growing to tens of thousands of acres in the coming years.  And the local mill has been able to stay open and provide jobs for many families in Grant County.  

The group has been heralded as a model for other regions, and its success has garnered the attention of Senators Wyden and Merkley, who have pledged support for collaborative restoration projects.

(Photo at left: Strawberry Lake in Malheur National Forest attracts many visitors each year and is home to a rich variety of animal and plant life.)

As Sustainable Northwest's president Martin Goebel says, "We must help timber communities flourish to restore the health and resilience of forests, watersheds and wildlife habitats. We all reap the 'harvest' from forest health--clean air, water, abundant wildlife and landscapes that define our love of place."

March 05, 2013

How do I find FSC certified wood products or lumber?

By KC

As more people learn about the benefits of FSC certified wood and seek to use it in their projects, we field questions from around the country about where to find these products. 

Whether you're a homeowner in central Florida or a cabinet maker in Queens, it can sometimes be a challenge to source the FSC wood you want -- or need -- to use in your project.

Rest assured, FSC certified alternatives do exist and can be found.  Here are some ways you can track them down in your area:

FSC provides a handy tool to help you search for certified products in your area.  Called the Marketplace, this handy tool is still in development, so if you can't find what you're looking for on this website, don't despair, it my still be available.  Here's the link: http://marketplace.fsc.org/.

The best tool might be right at your finger tips: A great way to find FSC products is to perform a Google search with area- or product-specific targeted keywords, i.e. "FSC lumber Orlando" or "FSC hardwood plywood."

The DIY set can inquire at their local Home Depot, which has been working with FSC certified products since the 90's. In most stores, their FSC offering is somewhat limited, so be sure to look for the trademark FSC logo.

Shoppers in the Bay Area can refer to the local Sierra Club chapter's handy FSC shopping guide.

Many locally-owned, independent lumber yards also can procure FSC wood, even if they don't stock it. So be sure to ask the sales staff for FSC, and be persistent in your queries. The more that folks like you demand FSC, the more it will be available across the country!

February 28, 2013

What is the best wood to use for raised garden beds?

By KC


Families across America are reintegrating home gardens into their lives, working to increase the amounts of health-giving homegrown fruits and vegetables in their diets. Because of this, folks frequently ask us about the best type of wood to use for their planter boxes and raised garden beds. 

Raised beds are a great idea because they protect growing plants from the scuffs and kicks of passersby while allowing the soil to warm faster in the springtime, generating an earlier crop.  They're also quite decorative and can add significant charm to vegetable gardens.

By building the boxes out of a beautiful, durable, and chemical-free material, you'll take an important step toward guaranteeing that your yard bears many decades of abundant and nourishing crops. (Click here for plans for easy-to-build, affordable juniper raised beds, and here for a Pinterest gallery of ideas.)

Here are the types of wood that are commonly used for this purpose, and the pros and cons of each:


The lifespan data above is derived in part from an ongoing study at OSU that tracks the durability of treated and untreated posts in ground-contact applications. Click here for full results.

Photo at top: Juniper 6x6 landscaping timbers used for retaining wall, raised beds, and stairs