There are many benefits to constructing your raised bed with juniper lumber. Restoration Juniper is long-lasting, beautiful, and chemical-free lumber that supports family-run mills committed to restoring Northwest ecosystems. Juniper lasts much longer than today's cedar or redwood, up to 50 years or more in ground contact applications because of its naturally high oil content that is decay and rot resistant.
It is genuinely not a good idea to use pressure treated lumber for raised beds: the chemicals can leach into your soil and ultimately into your vegetables. So juniper is a good alternative for the environment AND your health.
Understanding juniper lumber is key to successfully building a raised bed out of Juniper. Juniper landscape timbers come in a variety of sizes. The most common sizes for raised beds are 2"x6"x8' and 2"x8"x8'. Juniper lumber comes from a small tree that has a great deal of character. Juniper landscaping timbers are true dimensions, meaning they are an actual 2" x 6" or 8", which is pefect for stacking. Landscape grade lumber will often have some bark, wane, knots and is rough sawn. Understanding Juniper’s unique character before you embark on building your raised bed will provide a much more satisfying experience.
Let’s take a look at what is required to build a 4-foot by 4-foot raised bed out of Juniper boards. I chose this size for our example raised bed because it makes sense from a materials standpoint, as there will be little waste. It’s always a good idea to sketch out your project first to take into account the ideal length of lumber you’ll need, as well as how many pieces you’ll need so you can get everything in one trip.
This project will require one 4x4x8 Restoration Juniper timber, four 2x6x8s or 2x8x8s depending on the height of the bed walls, coated (or stainless) 3/16” or 1/4” (min. 3-1/2” long) flat-head or hex-head timber screws, a saw (circular or hand), measuring tape, a pencil, a carpenter’s square (or “speed” square), power drill, drill bit that matches the diameter of the shank (unthreaded portion) of your screws, a drill bit that MATCHES the diameter of the screw threads, and a driver bit (for the drill) or a socket wrench.
The first thing you need to do is decide on the height of the walls or depth of the bed. Beds that are at least 12” deep can support most vegetables. Deeper beds with higher sides, those that are 16” to 18”, are wonderful for limiting back strain. My own raised beds are 24” tall with a 6” ledge running around the top for sitting and for placing garden tools (and the taller beds are the perfect height for very young gardeners). A personal observation: I have noticed that my taller raised beds need watering less often than 12" beds.
To create a 12” deep bed you will need 2x6x8 Restoration Juniper, which can be found at Sustainable NW Wood. Our staff can help you select the Juniper that will work for your project. We’re using 8-foot long pieces because the raised bed will be 4’ long and 4’ wide. Two rows of 2x6 per side will get the 12” depth for your bed. If you would like the walls to be taller, two rows of 2x8s will give you a 16” depth, which is close to standard chair height (for comfort). Using 8’ lengths helps to eliminate too much waste.
Start by cutting the 4x4x8 into the correct length using a circular saw, four pieces at 12” long for the 12” walls or four pieces at 16” long for the 16” length. Many circular saws won’t cut all the way through a 4x4 post, so you will have to mark around to the opposite side to make your cuts on the opposite side line up properly. If you don’t have a circular saw, you can also use a handsaw, it will just take some muscle.
Now measure your boards to make sure each cut will give you a 4’ section. Make all your cuts at once so that everything will be ready to assemble. You will need to cut two pieces of 4’ for each side. You now have everything cut to the right lengths to get started on building your raised beds.
Fasten the 2x6 Juniper boards to the posts using the timber screws (which are very rust-resistant). You will need to be careful to position the screw holes so they won’t hit each other coming in from a right angle. To do this, you will alternate our holes at high and low points on the post at each corner for each 2x6.
Since your screws are at least 3-1/2” long, you will take you drill bit that is the diameter of the SHANK of the screw and drill the FULL depth of the length of the screw. This is the PILOT hole; this is the hole that the screw threads bite into. Then follow this with the larger drill bit (sized to the diameter of the screw threads) JUST to the thickness of our outside board. This is the CLEARANCE hole; this allows you to easily pass the screw through the first board and allows ALL of the attaching power of the threads to be applied to the second board (your upright post).
Screw the first board to a 4x4 post making sure it is flush with the bottom. Repeat this at the opposite end of the board with a second post. Secure the second row in the same manner. Now you are ready for the next side. As explained earlier, stagger the attachment holes on the right angle of the post and screw the bottom tier to the post and repeat with the second tier.
Now you are ready to set the 90 degree angles of the two sides. This can be done using a carpenter’s square, or, if you only have a measuring tape, the 3-4-5 method (SEE ILLUSTRATION). It is important to make sure each corner makes a 90 degree angle or your raised bed will not be square. You just have to repeat these steps for the two remaining sides, making sure each board is secured to the post with two timber screws.
When you’re finished, get someone to help you position it where you want the bed, making sure it gets plenty of sun. I recommend laying steel mesh (also called ”hardware cloth”) followed by landscaping cloth on top before you add the soil. This allows for good drainage while keeping gophers and other unwanted critters out. Pick a screen size that is less than 1” squares; DO NOT use window screen. If you want to put a layer of gravel before the soil goes in, this will further aid drainage, also. I recommend 3/4–minus gravel (can be purchased in bags) about 2” deep.
Basically, you’re done. But if you want to add a sitting/tool ledge around the top, remember to figure in extra 2x6s for that; these can also be added later if you decide.
There you have it! Now it’s time to fill it up with your favorite mix of garden soil and other soil amendments and you’ll be ready to plant your healthy garden. Your new Restoration Juniper raised bed will give you many years of gardening enjoyment and without the introduction of any harsh chemicals from the lumber.
Some of this obfuscation is due to the creation of competing standards: Shortly after FSC was founded in 1993, the American wood lobby created its own certification system, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a very different version that allows some of the more controversial practices that FSC prohibits.
In the years since, many stakeholders in the FSC system, including this company, have worked hard to clarify exactly what makes FSC such a valuable and trustworthy tool for measuring the quality of the forestry from which so many of our necessary products come from. FSC is not without is problems, but we believe it to be the best certification system for forests that exists at this time.
In sum, FSC requires stringent forestry practices which prohibit deforestation, including conversion of natural forests to plantations; protects rare old growth and other High Conservation Values; protects Rare, Threatened and Endangered species; strictly limits clearcut sizes in order to protect forest ecosystems; restricts the use of highly hazardous pesticides; protects the rights of indigenous peoples; and requires stakeholder consultation on both public and private lands.
[Photo at right: A clearcut along Highway 26 in Northwest Oregon.]
Here in Oregon, our forest practices act allows for many of the practices that FSC prohibits. Some of these legal practices may have the potential for unintended consequences in affected communities and habitats. These include the spraying of pesticides that can drift beyond the areas targeted during routine applications, exposing residents to toxins and polluting the freshwater streams upon which many Oregonians, human and otherwise, depend.
Our laws allow the cultivation of monoculture tree plantations on both state-owned and private lands, where native mixed-species and mixed-age forests are replaced with one type of tree, all planted at the same time.
These dense plantings are more prone to annihilation during wildfires, which are becoming worse each year as we experience record-breaking heat waves and droughts. While fires in the past were likely to burn light and quick through the understory, leaving the big trees standing and the soil intact, these modern fires burn so hot, lighting up the dense groves of dry, unhealthy trees, that everything in their path is destroyed, including the life-sustaining microbial communities in the soil, which scientists are only beginning to study and understand.
Deforestation is also a major contributor to greenhouse gas pollution, more so even that global transportation emissions. Forests used to be a carbon sink, transforming atmospheric carbon into wood fiber and replacing it with oxygen. But today, due to widespread deforestation and the increase in catastrophic wildfires, forests are poised to contribute more carbon to the atmosphere than the remaining acreage of intact forests is able to absorb.
Responsible forest management, like that embodied by FSC, is a solution to these problems. It goes far beyond what this state's forestry laws allow, explicitly prohibiting many of the most harmful activities. FSC-certified woodlands are audited annually by third-party agencies, who visit and document conditions to ensure that the stringent management criteria are being met. The wood that is harvested from these forests is also subject to annual audits to ensure that the chain of custody from forest to consumer remains intact.
For visitors to these forests, the difference is dramatic. The FSC forests that we have toured in person are home to many different species and ages of trees. They are natural, functioning habitats that cool the air and the streams flowing through in the summer and are home to diverse wildlife. They feel whole, and it is obvious that timber production is not the main driver of management decisions.
[Photo at left: A forester marks trees to be harvested in an FSC forest that provided cedar and fir lumber for Sustainable Northwest Wood. Photo credit Trout Mountain Forestry.]
FSC is not the only marker of responsible forestry -- there are some responsible forest managers and owners who do not participate in FSC or other certification systems. But FSC is a consistent and reliable way for consumers, builders, and homeowners to know that their wood is coming from well-managed forests.
The footage used in the video below was filmed in FSC forests here in Northwest Oregon, including Hyla Woods, which is a exemplary model of forestry practices that more than meet FSC's criteria.
We hope that many more acres of forests, both public and private, are able to achieve FSC certification in the years to come. And we hope that shoppers of all types select regionally sourced, FSC certified alternatives wherever possible.
1. Local and sustainable sourcing - Everything we carry is from the Pacific Northwest and is grown on forests managed to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC) or as part of stewardship programs restoring native ecosystems. We are 100% committed to sustainable wood -- it is our entire product offering, not just a small percentage of what we carry.
We also work to shrink the size of our regional "woodshed" (think foodshed but for lumber) and provide products sourced as close to home as possible. This focus allows us to be the premier lumber supplier for Living Building Challenge projects in our region. Because we care deeply, we know more. No lumberyard knows more about Northwest woods than us.
2. Support for small sawmills - We are guided by the mission of supporting small mills in rural communities, bolstering sustainable economic development and job creation. We provide our sawyers with fair compensation, regardless of what the lumber commodity market tries to dictate. By working directly with local mills, we are also able to offer our specialty products at highly competitive prices.
3. Convenient inner-city location - Enjoy a hot cup of coffee and tell us about your project. Come to our inner Eastside showroom and we will help match you needs with the perfect NW species with the look, performance and price that you are after. Easy access for cars, trucks, and bikes. Come visit us today!
4. Large product selection - From framing timbers to flooring, rustic landscaping timbers to high-quality hardwoods, we've got lumber products for every part of your project. Click here to see our interior finishes, exterior lumber, and framing lumber and plywood.
5. Support a non-profit organization - We're a wholly-owned subsidiary of the conservation non-profit Sustainable Northwest and the first lumberyard to be owned by a non-profit. Sustainable Northwest works throughout the Pacific Northwest to forge collaborative solutions that restore forests, rivers, rangelands, and rural economies. Click here to learn more about their important work.
5-ply Structural 1 plywood, also known as Struc 1, is the best kind of plywood to use for seismic resilience because it is made of Douglas fir throughout the sheet of plywood. This gives Struc 1 plywood more strength than typical plywood, which is made with softer, weaker cores of pine or white fir.
Sustainable Northwest Wood aims to offer high-quality plywood at an excellent price. This is why we stock 5-ply 1/2" Struc 1 CDX plywood -- which is, of course, also FSC Certified and contains no added urea formaldehyde (NAUF).
All of our 1/2" CDX is Struc 1 rated. We've got it in stock and ready to go for your seismic retrofit and other construction projects. Please contact us today for current pricing.
We get this question a lot. All the time. And the short answer is: Not always.
In fact, oftentimes our FSC certified, locally harvested wood products are less expensive than the same non-certified products, sourced from who-knows-where, at nearby Big Box stores.
Case in point: Folks are always surprised at how cost-effective our plywood options are. All of our plywood is FSC certified, locally manufactured, and contains no added urea formaldehyde. We can trace it right back to the mill that makes it and the forest that provides the wood. And because the supply chain is so short, our plywood is often less expensive that the non-certified, mystery-origin plywood at other retailers in the Portland area.
Now with some products, FSC certification will add a bit onto the cost. Most rough estimates generally say between 10% and 20%. This is because the mills that provide FSC dimensional lumber (commodity products like 2x4s and 2x6s) add a certain percentage to cover the costs of the auditing and additional paperwork required to maintain the chain of custody.
So with 2x4s, 2x6s, and other framing lumber, in general most projects should budget a little more to be able to use FSC wood. These products can be combined with less expensive FSC products (such as plywood) to help spread the additional costs out over the budget and minimize or negate any extra costs.
Other FSC items that do not necessarily cost more are our FSC cedar and hardwoods. Because we work directly with local mills, we eliminate the middle men, which works out better for our customers (and helps us ensure that our mills are operating in ways that meet our Triple Bottom Line goals).
Here are some ways that you can minimize any added costs of building with FSC lumber:
- Order in advance. Any time material has to be rushed to a jobsite to meet a tight deadline, there will be added costs for shipping. Especially if it's an unusual item (24' beams or 2x14 lumber, for instance). By getting orders in well ahead of time, shipping can be minimized.
- Design the project to use standard materials. While we are able to offer highly customized dimensions and specialty items for projects, these are going to cost more whether or not they're FSC certified. By designing around standard sizes and planning your project to make use of in-stock items, you can help keep the costs down. Ask for a copy of our price list to see what standard sizes are.
- Explore alternatives. Sometimes using unconventional materials can help reduce overall project costs considerably. For instance, maple is a very beautiful hardwood that is often used for cabinetry, furniture, and other interior finishes -- but alder is a less expensive option with a nearly identical look.
But there are so many options for choosing what wood to use for retaining walls. You know you want something durable, affordable, and non-toxic. But what?
Wood retaining walls must be:
- Chemical free, not soaked in creosote or pressure-treatment chemicals
- Extra durable in ground-contact settings
- Non-toxic alternative to carcinogenic railroad ties
- More affordable and longer lasting than cedar or redwood ties
- Responsibly sourced
Luckily, we have the perfect solution that fulfills all these criteria: our Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers.
Chemical-free: These untreated, completely natural timbers are ideal replacements for creosote-laden railroad ties and pressure-treated wood.
Extra durable: Juniper gets its remarkable durability from a high content of aromatic compounds that make the wood resistant to microbial decay for many decades. Juniper can last up to 30+ years in ground contact settings, according to studies from Oregon State University.
Affordable: Our juniper landscaping timbers are also far more affordable than using cedar or redwood, other long-lasting species that come with a high price tag. In fact, juniper lasts far longer than these species -- providing a lot more bang for your landscaping buck.
Responsibly sourced: Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers are sourced from grassland restoration projects in the high deserts of the West. Juniper is a native species, but decades of fire suppression and the unintended consequences of livestock grazing have allowed this species to grow unchecked, claiming millions of acres of sagebrush steppe and turning it into dense woodlands. These juniper woodlands suck up groundwater and are contributing to the decline of several key species, including the sage grouse. A collaborative group involving ranchers, loggers, environmentalists, and state government agencies is working together to harvest juniper trees, restore the grassland ecosystem and water supplies, and build a market for the wood. Your purchase of juniper lumber supports this effort.
Beautiful: Juniper also provides a rustic, organic look that is perfect for modern gardens and landscape design.
Please contact us to learn more about Restoration Juniper for retaining walls and other exterior uses.
Photos, from top: A recently-constructed residential retaining wall built with 6x6 juniper landscaping timbers shows juniper's rich colors and grain patterns; steps and a small retaining wall built out of 5x5 juniper timbers show off the silver patina that will develop over the years if the wood is left unstained; a large retaining wall built with 6x6 timbers stands at the University of Washington-Tacoma (photo credit Place Studio).
Butcher block and wood solid surface countertops are a popular choice for kitchens and bathrooms these days. And for good reason: The wood adds warmth, texture, and natural beauty to the space in a way that other materials just can't.
But wood needs to be well protected to keep water and wine from staining or damaging it. There are, of course, many products available to help complete this task. So many products. Too many products!
We break down the pros and cons of some of the most common choices.
Poly Vs. Oil
Polyurethane is a liquid coating that dries into a plastic film. This is great for sealing the countertop, but then there's a layer of plastic between you and your pretty new wood. Also, poly finishes generally have to be removed entirely before any scratches or worn spots can be repaired. Yes, the countertop will need to be sanded entirely clean before any new finish can be reapplied. Ugh!
Oil finishes penetrate down into the wood, bringing out the color and luster of the wood, and allow you direct contact with the warmth and distinctive texture of the wood. Oil finishes can also be spot-repaired without sanding the entire surface -- a huge benefit -- but they will likely require more frequent maintenance than poly finishes, especially in high-impact areas like around sinks or in food prep zones.
We generally recommend a natural oil finish for the butcher block tops we sell to homeowners due to the ease of application and maintenance. We sell the full line of Rubio Monocoat products and can include them with your butcher block order. Contact us to get pricing for your butcher block project, and check out the full line of standard and custom butcher block options that we offer, all made with locally sourced, sustainably harvested Northwest wood species.
What product to choose?
We've used lots of products over the years on our samples and displays, and we've polled our woodworker clients on their top choices. We generally recommend modified natural oil finishes for our solid surface and butcher block products because of the ease of application and maintenance. Here are some of the common choices, and the pros and cons of each:
You want to put in long-lasting raised garden beds, but you want to do it without chemicals, and for less money than cedar and redwood costs. How?
We get asked this question all the time. Luckily, we've got a perfect answer for you: Juniper!
Juniper is an ultra-durable softwood that is harvested from grassland restoration projects in central and eastern Oregon. According to studies at Oregon State University, it lasts more than 30 years in outdoor, ground contact settings -- much longer than cedar or redwood. It costs significantly less than cedar or redwood, and it is totally natural, untreated, chemical free wood.
On top of all that, it also happens to be gorgeous.
Juniper is commonly used for raised garden beds, retaining walls, garden stairs, fences, decks, and many other outdoor installations. It is also a popular choice for interior projects, too. Click here to see our full gallery of juniper projects.
Juniper landscaping products are in stock and ready to go in the Portland and Seattle metro areas. If you're in another area, ask your local lumberyard to start carrying it, or contact us for a quote for shipping it to you.
When our customers ask us for a good alternative to pressure treated wood, the answer is simple: Juniper.
Our forest lands are caught in the middle of an epic struggle. Demand for forest products is perpetually increasing, fueled by global market pressures and the thirst for economic growth and the jobs and prosperity it brings. At the same time, dedicated conservation groups are working harder than ever to protect fragile forest lands from potentially harmful harvest activities.
This discord frequently bubbles up in the public discourse, as proposals for new harvests are made and then lawsuits filed to prevent their execution, in an expensive and taxing process that ties up the legal system and breeds ill will between different groups of citizens.
Meanwhile, the forests of the American West continue to suffer. Decades of intensive logging practices and fire suppression, coupled with massive outbreaks of infestations and disease, have left vast tracts of forest unhealthy, overcrowded, undernourished, and at risk of exploding into flame at the first suggestion of a spark.
(Photo at left: The mountain pine beetle has killed the majority of trees near Gearhart Mountain in southern Oregon, putting the area at risk for a major fire. Photo from summitpost.org.)
As our parent non-profit Sustainable Northwest has shown, there is a perfect solution that addresses all of these problems, with results that please all participating parties: Collaborative restoration.
Collaborative restoration brings industry, environmental groups, and local and federal government officials to the same table to work out solutions that benefit all of the stakeholders while improving forest health. It sounds like a tall order, but it can be done -- and is being done, thanks to the dedication of Sustainable Northwest.
An example of the success of collaborative restoration can be seen in Grant County, Oregon. Grant County used to support four sawmills, but as the economy contracted in the 80's and as the timber in Malheur National Forest became harder to procure due to increasing environmental pressures, three of those mills closed and hundreds of local families were left without jobs or a reliable income.
(Photo at right: Sustainable Northwest staffers meet with members of the Blue Mountain Forest Partners to discuss forest restoration.)
In 2006, Sustainable Northwest stepped in and helped found the Blue Mountain Forest Partners, which consists of representatives from the remaining mill; environmental lawyers and non-profits that had previously filed suit against the Forest Service to prevent additional harvests; foresters from the Forest Service; local government officials; and other interested individuals.
Together, these disparate groups worked together to draft a plan to restore forest health, reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire while allowing some logs to be harvested to feed the mill.
Because of the collaborative's work, no lawsuits have been filed in 6 years. The restoration work has resulted in significantly improved forest health in the areas in which it has been done, and planned restoration work is growing to tens of thousands of acres in the coming years. And the local mill has been able to stay open and provide jobs for many families in Grant County.
The group has been heralded as a model for other regions, and its success has garnered the attention of Senators Wyden and Merkley, who have pledged support for collaborative restoration projects.
(Photo at left: Strawberry Lake in Malheur National Forest attracts many visitors each year and is home to a rich variety of animal and plant life.)
As Sustainable Northwest's president Martin Goebel says, "We must help timber communities flourish to restore the health and resilience of forests, watersheds and wildlife habitats. We all reap the 'harvest' from forest health--clean air, water, abundant wildlife and landscapes that define our love of place."