All posts by Jacob Bushnell

Western Red-Cedar

Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), we offer the inland variety of this species, which is prized for its light, dry fiber and small tight knots. An aromatic, shade-tolerant specimen, it grows throughout the Idaho panhandle, especially in low lying land, northern slopes, and deep draws. While not a true cedar of the genus cedrus, it has been known to the Pacific Northwest (and indeed all throughout North America) in the building trade as the only cedar builders know. The lumber from this tree is beautiful, rot resistant, and very workable and stable. It is a leader in exterior applications such as fencing, siding, power poles, and shake roofing. Pergolas, outdoor furniture, decking and docks are some of the other uses that benefit from its natural rot resistance. Inside of homes and commercial buildings, it is often used as a paneling, and also for timbers, where its reputation for staying straight and minimal shrinkage has made it popular for visual applications.

douglas fir on hillside

Douglas-Fir

Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) also known as Oregon pine or Douglas spruce, is an evergreen conifer species native to western North America. Not actually a true fir, it is closely related to the hemlock tree, which is also native to North Idaho. We offer the inland, or Rocky Mountain variety of this species. It is one of the most important species to the local timber industry. It is widely used as framing lumber, in plywood and engineered products such as glue-lam timbers, BCI joists, etc. It is commonly grouped with Western Larch in the industry because of the similarities between the two species in strength and appearance.

We have been cutting Douglas-fir timbers for almost as long as we have been in the business. The wood is blonde or light brown, with slightly darker knots. It is resinous, and needs to have the resin (pitch) “set” in the kiln before being used in interior applications. Its clear grades have been used for many years already in ship building and for flooring. Vertical grain or quarter-sawn lumber has a timeless beauty, and has held high respect in the international market for decades.

larch trees

Western Larch

Western larch (Larix occidentalis) is a species of larch native to the Pacific Northwest. The largest of the larches, it is the most important species of its genus. Larches are a deciduous conifer, meaning that while they have cones and needles like the evergreen trees around them, they turn yellow and lose their needles every year like their leafy cousins. The larch turning color on the mountains is a beautiful sight, one that those living in their habitat get to witness year by year. While intolerant of shade and swampy ground, it is highly tolerant of fire, and will live for centuries under the right conditions. Like the White Pine, it has suffered a regression in the more recent years in inland northwest, being replaced by Grand Fir, Douglas Fir, and some other shorter lived species that are less tolerant of fire. One of the possible reasons for this phenomena is our fire control, made necessary by our living in close proximity to our large forests. The largest known Western Larch is about 7′ through, and over 150′ tall, located in Seeley Lake, Montana.

As a lumber, Western Larch is grouped (and sold) with Douglas Fir because of its similarity in color, workability and strength. In many cases, it takes an experience woodworker to tell the difference between Western Larch and Douglas Fir in the lumber, even though in the tree it is quite simple to tell the difference. Its lumber is very straight grained, resinous, and a yellowish golden color.

We have worked for years to develop a lumber program in the select grades of Western Larch, trying to “rescue” the big, old logs on their way to the dimensional mill, or worse, the pulp mills for paper! Our flagship boat project was cut out of old-growth larch logs, and at its best it has a timeless beauty that is hard to surpass.

 

Western white pine

Western White Pine/Idaho White Pine (Pinus monticola)

We prefer to call this species Idaho White Pine, for obvious reasons. 🙂 This is a beautiful tree with an interesting history. Prior to European settlement of this area, it was the most abundant tree in our forests, but its numbers have shrunk to less than 7% of its volume just 40 years ago. The main culprit is a blister rust that was accidentally imported in 1910 on French white pine ornamental shrubs. Efforts have been and are being made to help the species generate a natural resistance to the disease, but forests are not altered greatly in a few short years. Likely there will not be a significant comeback of the species in our lifetime, and probably there will never be the volumes that used to live in the Idaho forests. Today in the Idaho panhandle White Pine are harvested mainly when mixed species forest are harvested from State, private and Federal lands. There are just a handful of mills left who run exclusive White Pine runs.

Here in our small town of Bonners Ferry, our Idaho Department of Lands office has a stand of these beautiful trees planted in front, as part of that re-forestation effort. I have enjoyed watching those trees grow for well over 20 years.

White pine is a soft, straight fibered wood with a milk-white color and red/brown knots. The logs are beautifully straight and round, the bark thin and smooth, and they are a joy to saw. The knotty grades make some of the best paneling that can be found in the Pacific northwest.

Lodgepole Pine

Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) is a somewhat shorter lived pine tree native to Idaho. One interesting fact about this species is that its cones will stay on the tree and tightly closed until the heat of fire causes them to open. For this reason, lodgepole pine tree stands will be the first to come back after a burn.

The trunk of the lodgepole is usually small, straight, and holds its diameter well with minimal taper. For this reason the native populations prized it for teepee supports and travois poles. Today it is still used often in round-wood applications; such as rails, logs homes, log furniture, etc. The wood of the lodgepole pine is similar to others of the pine species, and its small, tight knots make it a good choice for paneling and other visual products.

Aspen

The Quaking Aspen (Populus tremeloides) is one of the most plentiful species found in North America. It can be found from Northern Canada and Alaska all the way to Mexico. Its name is derived from its leaves, which tremble (or quake) in the slightest breeze.

The trees themselves reach a mature height of 50 to 80 feet, and a trunk diameter of 24 inches and more. It is a short lived tree, dying sooner than 150 years in most cases, but the root system continues to live and shoot up suckers, making wild aspen extremely hard to transplant.

The wood is white, with red knots, and dark brown color around the knots and in the center. Crushing strength is low, wood fiber is tough and tangled, which resists splitting. The wood can be very beautiful in paneling applications as a rustic grade. In a clear grade it is even colored without much grain distinction. It is commonly used for Finnish saunas and Russian banyas because it is non-allergenic. It has a low flammability level, which makes it a very poor choice for firewood. Once sawn and dried, it actually weathers very well, turning a silver gray and then lasting for many years. One of the world’s most amazing wooden buildings is the pogost of Kizhi, (Russian Orthodox Church) built of aspen in the 18 century and still beautiful after all those years.

cottonwood trees

Black cottonwood

Black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa), is one of the three cottonwood species of North America. The largest of the three, it also holds the distinction of being the largest hardwood tree in western North America. It grows in moist lowlands, mostly along streams and rivers. The wood of black cottonwood is fibrous, light and tough. It has a reputation of being temperamental in the dry kiln, with stories among the “old salt” of tipping over whole loads in the kiln, and, in one instance, sending a board clear through the kiln wall. We have found, however, that with a gentler, lower temperature kiln cycle, it behaves itself fairly well.

2nd blog post

We hope that you all had a nice Christmas, and every success in the new year. I did not get out Christmas cards to our customers, so here is a belated Merry Christmas to our customers. Christmas time is special to us here at the mill, and we have had extended family out to visit, some nice times ourselves. Some days the fire barrel around which we eat has been crowded at lunch time, but there is always room for everyone who comes!

We got a deck of oversize cedar logs from Alta, much of which is product logs, normally slated for shingles, shakes and fencing. But Randy has been working miracles with them on the Lucas mill, and the result is some really beautiful vertical grain clear cedar.

We are working on an order of over 37,000 board feet of larch timbers, bound for a barn project in Wyoming. These timbers range from 4x6x8 to 10x16x26, and are getting dried and surfaced.