In the world of urban lumber, most wood from tree removal is turned into firewood or mulched. For a long time, I had assumed most logs harvested in industrial forestry were turned into lumber. It turns out that a lot of wood from logging projects doesn't make grade for various reasons and is sent to the pulp mill and turned into chips for paper.
In the fall of 2015 my business partner Mark and I went to a pulp mill between Detroit Lake and Salem Oregon. We heard rumors that mixed in among low grade pulp logs one could find some awesome oversized wood. In short, an exciting treasure hunt! Up to this point, we had been spending an average of 4-6 hours on urban tree removals getting one or two logs at a time. Having 20 or 30 logs on hand seemed like a proper log deck to us.
Upon arrival, we came face to face with the sheer volume of logging that goes on in Oregon alone. Giant front loaders unloaded whole log trucks in one scoop. Log decks were piled 20 feet in the air that went on as far as the eye could see. The mill or should I say wood shredder aka log eater, churned nonstop, grinding log truck loads of wood into chips in record time.
In and among the piles of wood, we saw 48" plus diameter old growth fir logs and huge decks of big leaf maple. How could this be? Chipping old growth fir? Upon closer inspection, we found defects like white speck, root rot, and excessive ring shake. A lot of mills have also retooled to cut smaller logs and actually don't want large, old growth logs.
After a frenetic and excited romp around the piles of wood, Mark and I decided to buy a 40" diameter big leaf maple log. It was probably 30 feet long and we had to trim off the end so it could fit on the trailer! Getting it off the trailer with an underpowered front loader proved to be quite a challenge as well!
Cutting and stacking the slabs was a lot of work. Our equipment struggled to load the log as it weighed 10,000 pounds. Pulling each slab off the mill took some ingenuity, leverage and sheer physical exertion. After a day and a half, we had an amazing stack of 18' long big leaf maple slabs!
Fast forward a few years and the next step I had been dreading arrived: Surfacing all of the wood. From one end of the stack to the other between the planing machine took about 70 feet. Over and over as we ran the slabs through the machine, revealing the amazing color and art of nature. There wasn't much time to appreciate all this as I had to repeatedly muscle each slab off the outfeed table onto a forklift.
Eventually, we won the battle, bringing in one slab at a time into the Epilogue showroom at Sustainable Northwest Wood. Three years after starting this harrowing task, the wood is finally for sale!
For the pulp mill, selling one log to a couple of guys with a small flatbed and trailer is pretty much a nuisance. But as Mike, the mill manager said, "God didn't grow that tree to be turned into toilet paper!" We tend to agree and think you will too!
Living in the Pacific Northwest instills a bioregional pride. We have the best forests, most beautiful coastline, rich river ecosystems and great homegrown beer, wine and food. It’s no secret that Native Americans sustained for millennia from the bounty that is provided by the forests of the Northwest. What is a secret is the abundance of hardwood species that are naturally growing in these forests.
With forests that are filled with Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii), Red Alder (Alnus rubra), Myrtlewood (Umbellularia californica), Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana), and Big Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum), it’s a wonder anyone would specify or build with a hardwood that was grown elsewhere.
However, hunting for hardwoods in the Pacific Northwest, which is dominated by conifers, is a challenge. Hardwood trees in our forests are unfortunately cut and left to rot, burned in a slash pile, or chipped for paper mills. Very few ever get to display their beautiful grain pattern and natural wood tone.
With this in mind I drove to Oakland, in southern Oregon's Umpqua Valley, to get a first-hand look at one of our sources of these great wood products, Oregon Hardwood Company. John Rideout of Oregon Hardwood Company was kind enough to take me for a tour of their facility.
We met in the sorting facility and perused some beautiful Walnut lumber that had been salvaged from an agricultural use. Early settlers brought Walnut to Oregon, so it’s not a native species, but the milk chocolate swirling grain pattern stands out amongst other native species.
John walked me from building to building explaining the complexities of milling and drying Pacific Madrone, Oregon White and Big Leaf Maple. Much of the lumber units we inspected were destined for our warehouse in SE Portland.
John filled my head with so much knowledge that the next day I had lots of questions for Rod Jacobs of Unique Woods in Elmira, near Eugene. Unique Woods provides us with FSC Big Leaf Maple slabs from an FSC forestland near Rainier, Oregon, and other hardwoods that have been rescued from a chip facility.
Rod explains the dilemma for most loggers in western Oregon well. He told me that none of the larger mills that do the majority of purchasing will buy native hardwood logs, so those logs usually end up in the massive log decks of a chip facility near his house, where they are destined to become paper.
After touring Rod’s kiln drying operation we drove to the chip facility to scrounge for some choice Madrone, Oregon White Oak and Big Leaf Maple logs. On a cold winter morning we made our way through the log decks spray painting those logs that met his specification. He showed us how to tell if there was going to be spalting and burling in the log. We were basically dumpster diving for logs that would make a beautiful desk or dining room table, saving the most incredible hardwood logs from becoming paper.
Once Rod was satisfied that our hunt was successful I thanked him for the species and product knowledge that he provided me. The next customer that asks me where our hardwoods come from I will be able to share that knowledge and connect them to a place in our region where the wood originates. You can’t say the same for other surface materials like stone or hardwoods from another region.
Our live-edge maple slabs are remarkable not just for their size and their beautiful grain patterns, but also for the way in which they come to us:
Generally cut and left as collateral damage from agricultural or timber harvest operations, these maple logs are too big to go to a regular lumber mill. In our post-old growth era, most sawmills have been sized for smaller diameter trees, and logs measuring 20" or more across are simply too big for most mills to bother with.
Instead, these grand trees end up at pulp yards, where the incredible grain patterns, impressive sizes, and rich history of these trees become fodder for the paper-making process. Yes, that's right: these mighty old hardwoods are on the path to becoming paper.
Luckily, our sawyer stalks the pulp yards and rescues the biggest and most beautiful logs, then saws them up into unique and beautiful live-edge slabs, diverting this valuable wood from the waste stream.
These big leaf maple slabs have the warm, rich color for which this species is known, with incredible luster and frequent quilting, curl, and other special grain patterns.
We stock 10/4 live-edge maple slabs in a variety of widths and lengths, each with its own one-of-a-kind grain pattern and edge detail. We can also provide custom sizes for special projects.
Visit our warehouse today and pick out the slab for your special project!
Photo above left: This giant hardwood log is saved from destruction at a pulp yard in the Willamette Valley.
Photo above right: A 36" diameter big leaf maple log awaits the saw and kiln after its rescue from the pulp mill. Many of our slabs still have their moss clinging to the live edges.
Above: Big leaf maple slabs are used extensively throughout the new Danner Boot store at Union Way in Portland.
Above: This one-of-a-kind coffee table by Portland woodworker and carpenter Paul Johnson shows off the exceptional grain patterns for which maple is known.
Above: A transparent stain adds depth and sophistication to this conference table, built by Windfall Lumber.
When builder James Arnold was discussing ideas for a custom home in Southwest Portland, he was overjoyed by his client's excitement to go for the Living Building Challenge.
The Challenge is a strict rating system that leaps far beyond LEED in its requirements for non-toxic, locally sourced materials for every component of the building. One of the standards for the Challenge is that all of the wood in the space must be either reclaimed or FSC certified, and it must all be sourced from within 200 miles of the job site.
James and his crew at JRA Green Building Construction knew all he had to do to meet this standard was reach out to Sustainable Northwest Wood and we could outfit the house with all the local, FSC wood he'd need.
And we did! From the framing lumber and plywood to the hardwood flooring and cabinetry, every piece of wood in this house was sourced from our network of small mills and meets the stringent criteria of the Living Building Challenge.
For the interior finishes, the builder and homeowner chose FSC Big Leaf Maple, which we custom-milled into flooring, trim, and architectural panels for the cabinetry and interior doors. We especially love the show-stopping floating staircase, custom crafted from maple (see photos below).
The home also features FSC Western Red Cedar decking and siding, which add a natural touch to its clean, modern lines.
The home was designed by Michelle Jeresek at Departure Design. In addition to its beautiful lines and functional space, it is net zero water and energy: It generates all of its own electricity through its solar panels and passive solar design, and all of its water through an advanced rainwater harvesting system.
Autumn always reminds us of the generosity of our region's agricultural lands through the bounty of our crops and the promise of nourishment through the winter.
The forests surrounding our cities are no different: They generously provide the wood for building our shelters and keeping us warm and protected through the colder seasons.
This is why we are pleased to introduce new Oregon Hardwood Butcher Block counter tops made from sustainably harvested local hardwoods!
By sourcing our wood from salvage sources and respectful, small-scale harvesting, we are paying our respects to the forests that sustain life for so many species, humans included.
Now available in:
- Madrone (Salvaged, Central Point)
- FSC Big Leaf Maple (Hyla Woods, Gaston)
- Oregon White Oak (Zena Forest, Rickreall)
- FSC Doug Fir (Zigzag Doug Fir, Zigzag)
Our Oregon Hardwood Butcher Blocks are:
- In stock and ready for installation
- Kiln-dried, solid hardwood
- Made from FDA-approved adhesives
- 1 1/2" x 26 1/2", ready to be trimmed to fit your space
- Lengths up to 10'
- Custom dimensions available
Photos, from top: Oregon White Oak butcher block features a unique grain pattern reminiscent of wine country; a Madrone butcher block counter top provides a perfect warm dining surface at a restaurant in Portland.
We recently developled a breathtaking new product that pushes the boundaries of sustainable and truly triple bottom line materials.
Previously, the only FSC maple plywood and panels we were able to find were made from Eastern Maple, which is known for its clarity and pale blonde color. While Eastern Maple is beautiful, and very commonly used, we needed to provide an alternative that is made entirely from wood grown in our region.
Behold: Our new Big Leaf Maple architectural-grade panels are FSC, local, and Red List Ready -- perfect for LEED, Living Building Challenge, and other cutting-edge green projects!
We started with FSC certified Big Leaf Maple hardwood from a small, family owned and operated forest just south of Portland that mills their wood on-site. These beautiful book-matched slabs were then applied to PureBond plywood, which hails from Klamath Falls, OR, and is made using an advanced alternative to urea formaldehyde adhesives. The glue-ups were completed in Eugene, OR, and then brought to our warehouse in Portland.
This short supply chain and collaboration with businesses in our neighboring communities helps keep our investments in the Pacific Northwest, right where we want them, and ensures that our products are not only environmentally sustainable, but also socially responsible and economically beneficial along each step of the chain.
We now stock the panels in 1/4", 1/2", and 3/4" thicknesses, perfect for cabinetry, doors, furniture, and other applications.
Photo, top: The photo at the top righ shows the new maple panels with Osmo Polyx-Oil (background), which brings ou the red tones in the wood, and Vermont Natural Coatings (layer with logo), which softens the warm tones of the wood.
Photo, below: This robust Big Leaf Maple is growing in the small, family-owned FSC forest where the maple in our new architectural panels originates.
We love to see our local hardwoods turned into beautiful, functional fine furniture, and few do it better than our friend Jonathan Nussbaum.
Jonathan works with many species of wood to create classic fine furniture that highlights the beauty and individual characteristics of each piece of wood. A dedicated participant in the Build Local Alliance, Jonathan is fully committed to using local, responsibly harvested wood and helping to influence others to make the same good choice.
Be sure to check out Jonathan's website at www.nussbaumfurniture.com.
From top: Jonathan at work on a set of Oregon White Oak dining stools in his Portland studio; a Big Leaf Maple kitchen that traveled a total of 60 miles from forest to installation; a walnut and spalted maple media console.
It's Michael Appreciation Day at Sustainable Northwest Wood. Michael is our awesome and talented warehouse manager who is always building us pretty things out of our wood: Samples, flooring displays, and now this beautiful table.
Michael gathered scraps of our Willamette Valley Walnut, Big Leaf Maple, Myrtle, and Doug fir and laminated strips together to make the butcher-block-style top, which was then sanded and finished with Osmo Polyx-Oil.
The legs are made out of Clear Vertical Grain Doug fir with a coat of Osmo One Coat Only in Rosewood, which adds depth and dimension while still allowing the grain of the fir to pop.
We love our new table, the perfect place for our juniper planter and business cards and the perfect way to showcase our local, sustainable woods. Thanks, Michael, for your good work!
Here's a larger shot for your ogling pleasure:
Live edge slabs showcase wood's organic, unpredictable beauty by leaving one side of the piece in its natural state.
This style is perfect for incorporating an element of surprise to an otherwise predictable surface, adding specialness or a touch of whimsy to benches, countertops, bars, and tables.
Live edge applications can be achieved using numerous species of trees. The bark can be left on or sanded off, depending on the degree of authenticity desired.
Sustainable Northwest Wood stocks live edge slabs including:
- Big Leaf Maple, sourced from the Willamette Valley
- Walnut, urban and backyard salvage from the Willamette Valley
- Juniper, sourced from grassland restoration projects in Eastern Oregon
- Campground Blue Pine, beetle-kill trees salvaged from public parks and campgrounds
- Zena Doug Fir, harvested from an oak grove restoration project in Rickreall
Give us a call or stop by to see current inventory!
Looking for inspiration? This blog post offers great ideas for incorporating live edge wood into kitchen countertops ranging from super-sleek to very rustic. This post on Apartment Therapy shares beautiful photos of live edge slabs used for dining tables.
Here are a few photos of our live edge slabs used in recent projects. From top left :
Live Edge Big Leaf Maple by Windfall Lumber
Live Edge Big Leaf Maple by Hammer & Hand
Live Edge Juniper bench with bark
Live Edge Campground Blue Pine by FP Design
When it's time to start thinking about new flooring for your home renovation projects, Sustainable Northwest Wood has the solution for you. Our solid wood flooring is made from locally-grown trees that are harvested sustainably. Because we work directly with the lumber mills, these options are also affordable and promise decades of beauty and durability.
Here's what we keep in stock at our warehouse in Southeast Portland:
Oregon White Oak - Oregon White Oak is the Pacific Northwest's only native species of oak tree. This super-durable flooring comes from trees harvested in the Willamette and Umpqua Valleys and is either FSC certified or comes from members of the Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities partnership. We love it with mixed face widths of 3", 5", and 7", but custom sizes are available, too.
Cascade Farmhouse Maple - Western Big Leaf Maple is ideally suited for flooring and offers warm gold tones and years of durability. Our Cascade Farmhouse maple flooring is FSC certified and comes with a 5" face. It is milled from trees that are harvested just south of the Puget Sound in Washington.
Zigzag Doug Fir - Our Zigzag Doug fir is perfect for matching the historic fir flooring in the Northwest's old homes. This FSC Pure flooring is milled from trees that are super-selectively cut at the Homestead Girl Scout Camp on Mount Hood's western slope, just 40 miles east of Portland. It offers a 3 1/4" face width and is Clear Vertical Grain.
Antique Doug Fir - This FSC Pure flooring comes from Forest Grove, where it was selectively cut as part of a watershed restoration program. It has a flat grain and is perfect for farmhouse, rustic, and other styles where a less formal, more authentic look is desired. It comes with a 5 1/4" face. Expect a few knots and lots of Doug Fir personality with this choice!
All of our flooring is kiln-dried, with an end-matched tongue-and-groove profile for a traditional nail-down installation, and comes bundled with lengths up to 12'. We recommend a natural oil finish for our hardwood floors, which allows the homeowner to easily maintain the floor without needing to move out and hire a professional to refinish it a few years down the road.
Please call or email us for pricing and current stock.