Douglas fir is a valuable resource for construction, furniture and more. But this is more than just your average building material. This blog will go over everything you need to know about the Douglas fir, from its numerous advantages to its many uses.
What is Douglas Fir, Exactly?
If you live in a rural part of western North America, you’ve probably seen plenty of Douglas fir trees—even if you couldn’t tell them apart from other types of pines. These immense conifers grow up to 85 metres tall on the coast of British Columbia (and about half that height in the interior of the province), with a diameter of up to 2 metres! Sporting a classic Christmas tree shape and rough, uneven brown bark, the Douglas fir has relatively thin and sparse needles, and boughs that tend to curve upwards at the ends. These trees give off a strong and pleasant piney scent with a touch of citrus. The scent of the wood itself is also quite distinct and resinous.
Douglas Firs: Hardwood or Softwood?
Douglas firs, like all conifers, is a softwood. That means the wood from these trees is less dense, more flexible, and lighter in weight than the wood from hardwood trees. In construction, the widespread availability of Douglas fir and its ideal physical properties make it a standard option for framing, roof trusses and interior mouldings. With a maximum strength of 12,400 pounds per inch, it’s easy to understand why this type of wood is so ubiquitous in the industry.
Is Douglas Fir Easy to Source?
Douglas fir trees are native to North America and grow abundantly. Introduced to Europe for reasons of reforesting for lumber and environmental maintenance, these firs are one of the most prolific trees in France and Germany. Not listed on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) website, nor marked as a species of concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, there is no current concern about the overuse of this species for logging. It is easy to source, quite inexpensive compared to other options, and it weathers well.
Is Douglas Fir Timber a Good Option for Decorative Builds?
Yes! A builder’s top choice for interior crown moulding, this softwood lumber undergoes a kiln drying process to set the natural colour and prevent future decay. Following this process, Douglas fir accepts paint and stain readily. If the look of wood grain delights you, this is definitely the lumber for you—the variegated growth rings of this species vary from light yellow to dark reddish-brown. The overall look of Douglas fir timber can be described as warm amber.
As a lightweight and easy-to-work wood, Douglas fir is a popular option for decorative builds that call for exacting trim and joinery work, such as windowsills, window cases, mantelpieces, baseboards and stairway risers. A Douglas fir beam is another beautiful option for homes and large builds that call for maximum strength and appealing design. A similar result can be designed around Douglas fir posts.
In addition to these traditional uses for Douglas fir, the wood has also become a frequent choice for furniture makers. Though normally hardwoods like oak, cherry and maple are selected by furniture makers, the softwood Douglas’ affordability and relative sturdiness have seen it rise in popularity. Particularly in table making, this wood’s durability and beautiful natural grain are making it a new favourite.
Carving, Sculpting, Woodworking with Douglas Fir
The experienced woodworker could take a raw block or plank of Douglas fir and create works of art—durable art. Newcomers to the craft, however, find this particular species to be a tough customer. In learning how to manipulate wood with a variety of tools such as the lathe, chisels, knives, gouges, etc., the apprentice has difficultly with the brute strength of this apparent softwood. In time, however, the skill to work with Douglas fir can result in stunning pieces of art and building décor that will last and last!
To make the artistic process go as smoothly as possible with this type of wood, look for green, young, undried blocks that will still have less resistance than their dried counterparts. Keep in mind that the wood may warp as it eventually dries, and that to hold significant weight it should be thoroughly dried in the same way as normal timber.
Of course, you could take up the art of chainsaw carving, if you’re set on using Douglas fir to create art!
Most Common Uses of Douglas Fir
Douglas fir (though technically a type of spruce!) is a water-resistant material that makes it a great choice for common projects such as flooring, window frames, siding, and even boat making. In fact, when the British finally reached the western coast of Canada they immediately used the dense pine forests as a source of timber for their shipping industry—most likely targeting the towering Douglas fir trees we still see there today. That very species, sourced from Vancouver Island, would have been used by British explorer Captain James Cook and his crew to make repairs to both the HMS Resolution and the HMS Discovery in 1778.
We at Timber Frame Solutions in Niagara on the Lake and Fenelon Falls would love to talk with you about your construction plans, and help you incorporate Douglas fir and any types of wood you prefer into the project! Get in touch with us today via our website or give us a call at (905) 341 5768 (Niagara on the Lake) or (905) 341 5768 (Fenelon Falls). We’re also happy to receive emails about potential projects and answer any questions you have about the planning and building process.
Visit the Timber Frame Solutions website to see our portfolio of pergolas, porches, gazebos, interiors, trusses and more!