Why? Because Douglas Fir sparks joy.
What do we mean*? Well, let’s just run through the high points quickly…
it’s homegrown, it’s sourced from well managed forests, it’s tough, strong and durable, it’s lighter than the hardwood alternatives, it’s straight and stable, it has a reliable supply chain, it’s fit for purpose with a single conversion process, it doesn’t require toxic treatment for external use and is low maintenance in situ.
That’s enough to spark joy for anyone considering timber in a building project. (more…)
Douglas Fir, friend of forester, sawmiller and woodworker alike.
Overlooked by most for it’s more notorious redwood cousins, Larch and Western Red Cedar, poor old Douglas Fir is taken for granted in it’s own backyard!
Until now… because once you’ve heard the story of dear old Douglas you may never go Larch or WRC again 🙂
Sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin.
The story of fresh sawn cladding timber is centuries old. It’s about a local existence, people using using the materials at hand to create shelter from the elements, creating a home or a school or a communal village building.
It’s a simple tale.
A book all about the properties of homegrown Douglas Fir including seasoning, strength, durability, working properties & uses.
Or “How to Embarrass Your Husband in Front of a Room Full of Belgians”
So the story starts on a gloomy November evening with Gus and I rolling down the A26 in France heading for the beautiful south. Google map in hand with chambres d’hotes location in pink highlighter we stumble around the Reims periphery until we find ourselves in front of a pair of very smart but very closed gates.
We were late for a change (never underestimate how long it takes to install a pair of headlight deflectors !!!!) so we buzzed the intercom and as the gates slid open and we rumbled forward, this completely unexpected sight greeted us.
We looked at each other bemused (the american car*) and then, as usual, at the sight of a timber building I got ridiculously overexcited and forgot that I hadn’t eaten for 7 hours,was desperately in need of tea and that probably everyone was in bed. Unfortunately for me Gus was not as inclined to forget and I got short shrift when I asked if I could get the’ big’ camera out and was instructed to get my bag from the car before it was locked.. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6… lockdown!
You have to admit it’s a pretty cool building. I could hardly have just pretended like it wasn’t there! I immediately started to mentally measure the bays, span, sections, determine the method of construction, timber species … you know the drill.
And back in the room Sarah….
We didn’t find a cup of tea – way too late – but we did find the most glamorous hostess ever who had just flown in from selling her champagne in New York. Didn’t we know it was a domaine for champagne? No!.. how exciting! Gus groaned (after picking his jaw up off the floor) and I could see him holding on to his wallet for dear life.
Anyway, the point to all this is … shattered, we went to our room in the dark with no idea of our surroundings. Just that it was warm and clean and cosy and that the room we were staying in measured 4.2m x 6.5 = 27.3m2!,minus 4m2 for the bathroom…
I admit I was a teeny bit like a child at Christmas when I woke up. Really tired from driving but too impatient to hang around for long in the room, I was out with the camera regardless of the dreadful light conditions, moist air and grumbling stomach. And this is what I discovered.
A huge timber building that houses a drive in warehouse for storing the champagne, once crated in bottles, a bottling/labelling room, a shop and the offices. All in the village of St Thierry just a few miles of Reims, where most champagne comes from I suppose.
I climbed the wooden steps up to a viewing patform (a timber deck that interestingly wasn’t the slightest bit slippy, even though it was wet and leafy) that looked out over vineyards, but not just any vineyards, oooooh no, Veuve Cliquot vineyards!
There was a lovely view of the obligatory** abbaye where monks historically ‘invented’ bubbly fermented white grape juice. The domaine explained they have a close relationship with Veuve Cliquot who process and bottle their champagne for them. What a very civilised way to do business! So I traipsed up and down the wet grass photographing Veuve Cliquot vines until my shoes squelched.
Suitably sodden I decided I was hungry enough to give up the photography in favour of food and caffeine and went to hunt breakfast.
I was drawn towards some double doors on the timber deck and fell into the room to find a typically continental spread i.e. a table laden with enough bread products to sink a batteship, which I promptly forgot about as I looked out across the vaulted interior of a timber frame barn!
When I say barn I mean barn with a capital B for huge. And not Oak, not Chestnut.. Douglas Fir! Yep you guessed it, out came the camera again folks (the ‘small’ camera.. I wasn’t allowed the ‘big’ one), and I set about trying to capture every angle and joint detail… bolted, sometimes pegged… with dedication and determination.
Meanwhile my sadly neglected husband was an island in a sea of Belgians on a buying trip, sitting alone but for his bike magazine with his breakfast finished and a large, cold cup of coffee opposite him for company. But did that stop me? No I’m afraid it didn’t. I had a deadline to meet, a 9am departure for the ‘portes du soleil’. I only had so much time and I couldn’t fritter it away scoffing brioche.
So here it is ladies and gentlemen. This is the best I could come up with I’m afraid, thanks to a room jam packed with Belgian breakfasters, a time constraint (and a pesky Canon ‘small’ camera that manages to bend every straightline it’s presented with – don’t buy a G9!) and a glorious Douglas Fir timber frame that’s been around for an age… and some.
It’s been renovated, restored but not replaced.
They’re not big sections, they’re not long lengths.
It’s a very attractive timber frame made of modest dimension timbers with intelligent use of triangles… and pegs… but there’s not even a massive amount of joint cutting here either.
I have to say, I can get excited about a lightweight timber frame. I mean I love the big dims of traditional Oak structures but .. there’s always a but with me…
I actually like the slightly less monoliothic construction of this frame, don’t you?
I mean this is a massive building, getting on for 30+ metres long I’d say and you can see the height for yourselves. It’s a big two storey. And the bays work really well, not too awkward or close together at all and the tie beam’s pretty high up, so even before it was a fancy breakfast room it was alot of space for hay and straw storage, with animals down there too, and the people used to have a floor on top of the tie’s and that’s where they lived, so that post’s at least 2 to 2.5m high.
Maybe we should all be thinking about these small dimensions, make the timber work harder. Small dimensions can do the heavy job when used in multiples. It’s got to be more economical on so many levels? Smaller section round timber = use less = less waste = lower cost?
Lighter & smaller = easier to transport = cheaper & faster. Lighter & smaller = easier to handle = cheaper & faster. Smaller dims round logs = quicker to grow = faster to harvest = cheaper. Smaller dims round logs = faster & easier to convert = cheaper.
But it’s not just about the money.
There’s alot more small dimension timber out there than there is big… big is harder to come by and more expensive when you do, so the supply is so much easier for the smaller stuff. And you have more choice!
Tonnes of our lovely Douglas Fir of course… but sweet Chestnut could get in on the act too and other forestry thinnings that have structural properties like Oak & Larch, all excellent in small dimensions.. and super sustainable, both locally and from our European sources.
I’ve gone way off topic here, I know, but It get’s you thinking doesn’t it? Looking at what is effectively a lightweight timber structure, built in who knows when give or take a century or two.
Are we as intelligent as we can be now with our use of timber?
It’s a renewable resource, yes, but in the long term not in the immediate future so we have to ‘make it count’ between now and then. When it’s gone it’s, it’s gone.
We puzzle over the best and most economical use of timber, and sometimes the answer is just staring us in the face, or hovering over us at breakfast.
But then, I say that and across the yard from the barn they already did use less. The modern interpretation of the barn structure does it. They made a large commercial/light industrial building using small section timber. Not exactly because they’re glulamed up but even those sections are not big.
It is another lightweight timber frame with a big roof and an cantilever/overhang.
Why do you think we don’t see more of this kind of construction in the UK?
Somebody tell me pleeeease (comment below)
* you wouldn’t believe the number of times we’ve booked places to stay in France where the owner has displayed a penchant for les voitures americaines! – for example see the Chateau de Prauthoy below…
** All abbayes had monks that brewed stuff didn’t they? Here’s another one I know of.. St Hilaire, near Limoux,Blanquette region, the original Champagne!
P.S. How do I know it is Douglas Fir? The Madame who served breakfast told me… I had my doubts. Not sure about those knots. I wondered about Larch, but she was adamant.
P.P.S. I forgot to say… I love metal guttering. But not as much as I love hidden guttering… I mean really???? Design a beautiful building and then stick black plastic tubes all over it.. really???? Ok I’m done.
MORE about ‘stuff‘
Douglas Fir – we’re building the profile on good old Douglas, he deserves some attention, he is a nice local lad afterall… https://www.englishwoodlandstimber.co.uk/species/douglas-fir/
Images of Douglas Fir trees http://bit.ly/VMvc1F
Bit of a tree spec from the Woodland trust http://www.british-trees.com/treeguide/firs/nhmsys0000462103
Lightweight timber where it counts by humanitarian architects article 25 http://www.e-architect.co.uk/images/jpgs/haiti/pakistan_building_a010210_10.jpg
This is what I’m talking about people… http://www.giannibotsford.com/project/casa-kike/ no concrete pad.. just mini piles baby!!! with a timber structure built in no time plonked on top – lightweight and beautiful. Enough said.
Champagne anyone? Rude not to really isn’t it? Here’s a list to be going on with, I suggest you get in the car and go check them out and report back… it’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Champagne_houses http://www.reims-tourism.com/reims-champagne/champagne.aspx
Blanquette.. don’t knock it.. it’s pre-Champagne ‘champagne’ i’ll let this lovely lady tell you all about it.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87KvdlAgeig http://abbayedesainthilaire.pagesperso-orange.fr/
Our fantastic B&B at Mont D’Hor Champagne Domaine at St Thierry nr Reims (5 minutes drive.. not even.. from the motorway and the city of Reims.. roughly 2.5 hours from Calais) http://mhchampagne.com/3-le-clos-du-mont-dhor
Another of our B&B stops that loves american cars http://www.chateaudeprauthoy.com/ sweet people, grand rooms & wierd grottos off the A31 near (I say near but I’m using that term loosely.. this is France) Langres.
If you read all the way down to here.. SURPIRSE..!!! You’re invited to afternoon tea on Friday 11th January afternoon at 3pm.. you’re tempted aren’t you? expect chocolate cake in the kiln dried shed!
RSVP and I’ll make sure there’s enough tea in the pot for you.
Douglas Fir, friend of the forester, sawmiller and woodworker alike but taken for granted in it’s own back yard! Once you’ve picked it up it’s hard to put it down!
Douglas Fir is the strongest of our homegrown softwoods. It’s nearly as tough as nails! It can cope with heavy duty framing, groundworks, cladding and landscaping. Like Oak, there’s not alot it can’t be used for externally, it is naturally durable and will fare better than another softwood in the ground, but it can be difficult to treat due to it’s density and resin content.
Dare I say it.. it’s also the most inexpensive of all the fresh sawn softwoods we do!
What’s in a name?
The name Douglas Fir includes the following species Pseudotsuga menziesii, Pseudotsuga taxifolia, Pseudotsuga douglasii. Other names used for what amounts to the same timber species are British Columbian pine, Columbian pine, Oregon pine.
Heart wood is light reddish brown when dry (although quite pink when fresh sawn) with contrasting creamy white sap. There is a strong contrast in colour between early and late growth which gives prominent growth rings resulting in strong grain pattern and figure. Uk trees seem less resinous than imported and are probably faster growing.
Technical Info from TRADA
Mechanical Strength: Compared with European redwood (usually called’ unsorted’ softwood) it is some 60 per cent stiffer, 40 per cent harder and more resistant to suddenly applied loads, and 30 per cent stronger in bending and in compression along the grain.
Durability: Homegrown = slightly durable, Imported = moderately durable
Treatability: Extremely difficult although sapwood easier (maybe UK will be easier re: less resin?)
Moisture movement: Small
Density: 530 Kg/m3 (dry)
Fresh sawn: (Homegrown) Custom cut and commonly available in widths or sections up to 300mm and 6m long but ‘bigger’ is always possible if there’s a tree to get it from. Douglas does grow long and straight so getting above 6m isn’t so much of a problem depending on your widths. Widths are trickier. If you need it don’t be afraid to ask… and then we’ll ask the foresters!!
Dry: (Imported) Usually available ex 25, 50, 65, 80 & 100mm thick. Boards are not terribly wide but decent lengths with max 5ish metres
Fresh sawn Douglas is good for structural work, cladding and external landscaping – we recently sent some down to a Southampton boatyard for a drydock.
Dry, Dougls Fir is a good all rounder really. Good for most joinery or furniture work – it’s at the high quality end of softwood joinery material if anything. Superb for flooring – ask Dinesen! Also excellent air dried external cladding , looks great with a machined profile because it has a nice machined surface, not splitty or draggy (you know what I mean) and it’s a mellow colour, not orangey – here’s some in this project by Rupert Scott at Open Practice Architecture
We supply FS Douglas Fir to order but we do keep a little stock for emergencies. We’re planning to cut and dry homegrown Douglas Fir for use as air dried cladding, decking and, potentially, for flooring in extra special wide boards. Exciting stuff!
Use the links in our menu to explore the STOCK or to GET A QUOTE
Neat little reference booklet by Forest Products Research Laboratory from 1964 on Home-Grown Douglas Fir in the document library
The most recent blog post on FS Cladding.. DO Douglas Fir
Douglas Fir for Breakfast features a timber frame using small section Douglas Fir
Find more Wood Species data on TRADA’s website
THE DOUGLAS FIR GALLERY
This black painted Douglas Fir feather edge cladding job from a few years ago is looking very healthy.
We love the detail (a beer bottle!) added by the builder to close out the gable, very cute considering this little barn is attached to a pub.
More satisfying is that this Douglas Fir cladding came from forest a few miles from the pub and local forest workers cut it in situ on a mobile bandsaw.
This particular cladding probably travelled a maximum of 10 miles as part of our Grown in Britain supply chain.
Sometimes the sustainable answer is much closer than we think. And much easier.
Our Douglas Fir species page
Fresh sawn structural timber has been a constant feature of the English architectural landscape, whether as single beams and lintels or full green oak frames.
Timber framed buildings are a beautiful, popular, economical sustainable and speedy method of construction for homes, garages, barns and garden buildings.
Fresh sawn (green) Oak, Chestnut and Douglas Fir structural timber sections for building timber frames are available as custom orders, cut to size to your dimensions for use as beams, posts, curves, crucks & bracing for traditional heavy timber frame building, for glulam or gridshell construction method.
Our Beam yard has stock of green Oak in standard (ish) sizes to satisfy short notice requirements. We try to keep a varied selection of sizes in the hope that we’ll have close to what you’ll need when you’re in a tight spot.
Every beam has been measured tagged and listed as per grade for you to select from.
If you’re not in a hurry for your green Oak then ordering your timber as a custom cutting list for us to is the easiest way to buy your beams. Just give us a list of components – Qty x Th x W x L – and that list will be cut to your specification and be delivered to our yard or to your site.
From time of order to collection from our yard from species to species as follows:
Oak: 7 – 10 working days
We bring a lorry of green Oak beams into the yard every Monday (usually) so we close the order list for that lorry on Wednesday mornings to give the sawmill time to cut the orders and load the lorry for Friday morning of the following week. If you’re unsure of your exact cutting list but you have an approximate idea of the volume of green oak you’ll need you are welcome to book that volume on a particular incoming lorry for a date that suits your build schedule, then you have until the Wednesday morning cut off point to submit your exact cutting list.
Douglas Fir: 10 -14 working days
Our Douglas Fir is usually cut very locally. Although it doesn’t travel very far it is usually milled by a two man team who fell, handle the logs, operate the portable bandsaw onsite in the forest and then hand load and transport the cladding in to our yard. It’s pretty onerous work and they love it, but they’re only human. We choose to source locally from well managed woodlands and support responsible foresters. We hope you’ll appreciate what they do, even if it take a few days longer. Your planet will love you for it.
Structural Chestnut can be supplied in the round from coppice sources, as well as regular cut sections, for the more recent revival in round timber framing for ecological building works. For more information on round timber framing see our case study 02 Lucy Wall Palmer working with Ben Law to build her family Ecohome.
Use the links in our menu to explore the STOCK or to GET A QUOTE
Use the links in our menu at the top of the page to explore the structural STOCK or to GET A QUOTE
See more on TRADA certified visual strength grading for structural timber HERE
Or for more about certified timber Grown in Britain, FSC & PEFC
FRESH SAWN STRUCTURAL TIMBER PRODUCT INFO
FRESH SAWN STRUCTURAL TIMBER GALLERY
Oak beams & posts
When you want a smooth planed finish…
When you want an interlocking, rainscreen or moulded profile. When you want stable, seasoned timber. When you want longer lengths and a systematic, low maintenance installation, or when you just prefer the aesthetics.
That’s when you opt for air dried timber cladding over fresh sawn.
Grown in Britain Week is an opportunity for us all to celebrate homegrown timber.
When we say celebrate we really mean it. We love our homegrown timbers. We know that they’re becoming more and more sought after by woodworkers and woodfans everywhere which makes us incredibly happy. We can’t help but think that this welcome change has been energised by the work of the team at Grown in Britain. (more…)