Douglas fir wood is a wood type with endless versatility. It is most common as a construction material in architecture and in transportation vessels like boats and aircrafts. This is because of the properties of Douglas fir wood itself and because of the abundant supply.
Even though Douglas fir wood is a soft wood, it has amazing strength. According to Sustainable Lumber Co., Douglas fir wood has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any wood on the earth. It is well known for its strength, beauty, and versatility.
What is Douglas Fir Wood?
Douglas fir wood comes from Douglas fir trees, the Pseudotsuga menziesii. They are a native tree of North America. These trees are not true fir tree as the name suggests. This is why the name is also written as a Douglas-fir tree. They are a distinct coniferous evergreen in the Pinaceae family.
The tree was first documented by David Douglas, a Scottish naturalist who discovered them on Vancouver Island and for whom the tree bears its name. He sent the seeds back to his homeland where they took root and is one of the most fast-growing timbers in the UK. You also find it in places like Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
The Douglas fir tree is useful for both animals and humans. Old-growth Douglas fir forests are the habitat and food source for many animals. Douglas fir trees live on average around 500 years though there are some as old as 1,300 years old. These mature forests house the red tree vole and the spotted owl among many other animals.
Douglas fir wood has endless application of uses for humans. There are old traditional health remedies that use bark, resin, and pine needles. Its strong but light wood is used in building applications of all kinds including as the basis of the only wooden ships in use by the U.S. Navy.
How To Identify Douglas Fir Trees
Douglas fir trees are medium to large-sized evergreen trees from 70-330 feet tall. They have a wide diameter from 8-16 feet in size. The trees have needles that are soft, flat, linear leaves from ¾”-1 ½” long.
These leaves encircle the branch rather than grow in bunches which is useful for Douglas fir identification. The cones of Douglas fir trees have three pointed outer cone scales that protrude from the cone scales. These cones preserve their scales when they mature and fall to the ground.
Quick Details of Douglas Fir Wood
|Ranges according to the location in the tree from light brown to yellowish with hints of red
|Course texture with a moderate luster
|Straight grain with a moderate save
|Moderate rot-resistance, can be prone to insect attack
|Easy to work form with power tools, but difficult to work with hand tools, porous texture makes it more difficult to stain
|Distinct resinous odor
|Uncommon allergic reactions, but there are some reactions to the sawdust including skin irritation, nausea, giddiness, runny nose
|Modest pricing, although old-growth and reclaimed Douglas fir is more expensive
|Lumber and veneer have adequate supply
Douglas Fir Characteristics
Douglas fir wood has characteristics that make it one of the most used varieties of wood for builders and craftsmen.
Douglas fir, like all conifers, is a softwood with a hardness rating lower than many other woods like hardwoods like cherry and maple. Though, compared to other softwoods like some types of pine, it is stronger and more durable. It has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any other wood.
It is known to be one of the strongest woods on the earth including compressive strength and bending strength. The strength and flexibility of the wood fibers mean that it is a superior building material.
The color of Douglas fir wood ranges depending where the wood is located inside the tree. The wood nearest the bark, we know as the sapwood. This wood has a white to light brown color. The heartwood, the wood that is near to the center of the tree, has a reddish hue. The color of Douglas fir lumber will change and become more muted and gray once it has been exposed to sunlight.
Douglas firs has a coarse grain and an open and porous texture. This means that it is important to prepare the wood before you finish it in order to achieve a good finish.
There are also light and dark growth rings that can make the surface appear blotchy when finished.
There are two main varieties of commercial Douglas fir wood. These are coastal and interior Douglas fir. The coastal variety is the most popular as these trees grow larger, have a lighter appearance, and a more uniform texture.
Sustainability of Douglas Fir Wood
Douglas fir trees are a sustainable resource for supplying lumber. They are a fast-growing tree at 13-24 inches per year. These trees grow tall and survive for many years which means that they can remove carbon out of the air and store it.
There is an ample supply of Douglas fir lumber. These trees make up around 20% of America’s softwood reserves. To make sure that you are getting your trees from a company with ethical practices, make sure that you look for certifications that check their practices.
A good place to start is with the Forest Stewardship Council and the Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification. The bodies award certifications based on practices that promote sustainability in forests and communities.
Douglas Fir Wood Pros and Cons
Consider the pros and cons of the versatile wood before you decide if you should use it for your next building project.
- Strength – Douglas fir wood has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any other type of wood.
- Sustainable – Douglas fir trees are fast-growing and plentiful. Great carbon sequestration in the trees and lumber.
- Flexible – Douglas fir wood is flexible and bendable.
- Availability – There is a plentiful supply of Douglas fir lumber.
- Durability – Douglas fir wood is not as durable and rot-resistant as other wood varieties. It has the tendency to insect attacks.
- Coarse Texture – Douglas fir wood has a coarse texture. It is difficult for beginners to stain Douglas fir wood as it does not finish in an even way if it is not prepared well.
- Cost – Douglas fir is more expensive than other softwoods like pine. It costs from $4.24-$14.00 per board foot.
- Hardness – Douglas fir wood ranks lower on the hardness scale, so it is more prone to scratches and dents than other wood varieties.
Douglas Fir Wood in Home Design
Douglas fir wood is versatile in many types of home design from contemporary to rustic.
Douglas Fir Windows
These Douglas fir windows in the Paul Moon design give this contemporary cabin a rustic but refined style.
Antique Douglas Fir Floors
Douglas fir wood floors were a popular wood variety used in historic homes. Martinez Hardwood Floors refinished these wood floors in this 100-year-old home.
Douglas Fir Veneer Cabinets
One of the most popular products for Douglas fir wood is veneer. The Douglas fir veneer used in this kitchen from Birkwood has a distinct ringed grain.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ
What is the difference between Douglas fir vs pine?
Douglas fir and pine are both coniferous softwoods. In general, douglas fir is harder than most species of pine, but Yellow Pine is harder than Douglas fir. These woods are both inexpensive varieties of wood.
Is Douglas fir a hardwood?
No, Douglas fir is a coniferous tree. Therefore, it is a softwood. It may not be as hard as other varieties of wood, but it is a very strong wood.
What is Douglas fir used for?
Douglas fir trees have an endless variety of uses from architecture to ancient medical remedies. It is popular in architectural products like beams, millwork, windows, and doors. It was also used to build ships. Ancient people used the bark, resin, and needles for herbal remedies for various diseases. The wood has a distinctive and astringent smell that people used to freshen rooms.
What type of tree are Douglas firs?
Douglas firs are a distinct coniferous species of tree that is not a true fir, pine, or spruce variety.
Douglas fir is one of the most plentiful types of wood in North America. It is not even close to one of the hardest or more durable wood types, but it has a weight-to-strength ratio that is higher than any other. It is bendable making it an excellent construction material. It also has an even wood grain which makes it versatile and flexible for different types of projects.