BOTANICAL NAME:There are two botanical names in the USA that are legitimate Douglas-fir species: The word Pseudotsuga means "false hemlock". This is NOT a fir (genus Abies), it's just called fir because of all the various common names that it has had over the years, the U.S. Forest Service settled on Douglas-fir as the "official" common name.

COMMON NAMES: To be technically correct, the name of the wood is "Douglas-fir"; capitalized and with a hyphen. It is not used that way in common usage, so although "douglas fir" is incorrect, that is the way it is normally used and that is the way I use it on this web site. The form "fir, douglas" is, if possible, even LESS correct but I use that form for reasons explained elsewhere in on this web site. Also, these two species are NOT firs at all, nor are they spruce or pine ... they are "Douglas-fir (not actually a fir)" and nothing else thanks to the U.S. Forest Service.

Other Names include: alpine hemlock, blue douglas-fir, blue douglas-fir, british columbia douglas-fir, british columbia pine, british columbian pine, canadian douglas-fir, coast douglas-fir, coast douglas-fir, colorado douglas-fir, colorado pino real, colorado real, colorado real pino, columbia pine, columbian pine, columbian pine, common douglas, common douglas-fir, cork-barked douglas spruce, douglas, douglas fir, douglas pine, douglas spruce, douglas yew, douglas-fir, golden rod fir, gray douglas, green douglas, inland douglas-fir, inland douglas-fir, interior douglas-fir, interior douglas-fir, montana fir, oregon, oregon douglas, oregon douglas-fir, oregon fir, oregon pine, oregon spruce, pacific coast douglas-fir, patton's hemlock, puget sound pine, red fir, red fir, red pine, red spruce, rocky mountain douglas-fir, rocky mountain pine, santiam quality fir, yellow douglas-fir, and yellow fir

TYPE: softwood.

COLOR: Heartwood varies with conditions of growth, from pinkish-yellow to reddish brown, orangish-red, and other variations. Sapwood is white or yellowish or, rarely, pinkish white. The sapwood is narrow on old-growth trees but commercial second-growth forests may have trees with sapwood as much as 3" thick.

There is normally a VERY strong demaraction between the softer, light colored early wood and the much harder, darker latewood.

One report states that fairly young trees of moderate to rapid growth with reddish heartwood are called red-fir and very narrow-ringed wood of older trees may be yellowish brown and is then known on the market as yellow-fir.

GRAIN / TEXTURE / FILLER / FINISH / LUSTER: Wood is porous and grain is normally straight (often very straight) but it may occasionally have some curly/wavy grain, texture is medium to slightly coarse, luster is medium, most wood is free of knots. Stains reasonably well, takes varnish/lacquer/shellac well, does not paint particularly well. Polishes reasonably well. May have resin channels that are harder and darker than the rest of the wood (particuarly the earlywood) and that absorb much less of any finishing agent than the rest of the wood. It is a resinous wood and the resin canals can leak and bleed, marking the wood with tiny lines most visible on longitudinal surfaces.

PROPERTIES / WORKABILITY: Reportedly the strongest of all American woods in comparison to weight, in absolute terms, this is a moderately hard, strong wood easy to machine but requires sharp hand tools. Quite variable in terms of strength and working properties but generally with moderate to high strength, moderate shock resistance, and high stiffness and crushing strength. Has moderate to high blunting effect on edged tools but is easy to saw. Glues, screws, and nails satisfactorily; holds screws and nails quite well but somewhat brittle and with a tendancy to split, which suggests dulling the nail points. Fairly easy to carve, turn, sand, route, bore, mold, and mortise; planes quite well. Veneers easily and is very heavily used for plywood construction where it is used in rotary cut form.

DURABILITY: moderately to highly durable against wear and moderately resistant to decay, moderately susceptible to insect attack. Both heartwood and sapwood are resistent to preservative treatments

STABILITY: very low movement in service

BENDING: moderately strong in bending but not recommended for steam bending; clear, straight-grained material is ideally suited for use as in glulam

ODOR / TASTE: Has a resinous odor when freshly cut, has no characteristic taste.

SOURCES: Douglas Fir grows throughout Western forests of the USA with the most abundant region being in the coastal climates of Oregon, Washington and northern California. Also grows in Western Canada and Mexico and has been introduced to the UK, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe. It is the state tree of oregon. In the Eastern US, it is sometimes found as an ornamental. Reportedly the density of the wood decreases proportionately to its distance from the Pacific coast.

USES: One of the most important woods in the world for construction plywood. Douglas fir's lumber was used to lay thousands of miles of railroad tracks in the West, and has also been made into telegraph and telephone poles. During World War II, soldiers' foot lockers, almost without exception, were made from Douglas fir. Today it remains the gold standard for framing lumber.

Other uses include: agricultural implements, beams, boat decks, boat frames, boat masts, boxes, bridge construction, cabin construction, cabinetmaking, casks, ceiling moldings, concrete formwork, construction, cooperage, core stock, crates, decorative veneer, dock and harbor construction., domestic flooring, doors, factory construction, factory flooring, fencing, figured veneer, floor and ceiling joists, floor boards, flooring, form work, foundation posts, framing, furniture, general millwork, heavy construction, interior construction, interior trim, joinery (external with ground contact), joinery (internal), joists, ladders, laminated beams and arches, light construction, lock gates, lumber, marine construction, marine piling, millwork, mine timbers, packing cases, pallets, paneling, parquet flooring, pile-driver cushions, piles, piling, plain veneer, plywood, poles, porch columns, posts, pulp and paper products, railroad cars, railroad ties, roof trusses, rough construction, sashes, ship knees, silos, sporting goods, structural plywood, structural work, studs, sub-flooring, tanks, theatrical scenery, timbers, trim, utility crossarms, utility plywood, vats, vehicle parts, veneer, warehouse construction

TREE: Average/normal trees run 3' to 6' in diameter and 150' to 200' high but trees occasionally reach diameters of 15' and heights of over 300'. The largest Douglas fir trees have been known to live between 500 and 1000 years. One report said the largest known specimen in the United States stood near Mineral, Washington, and reached a height of about 385' with a 15' diameter but another report said one had been recorded at 415' high and 17' in diameter and yet another report said the largest recorded living specimin was 300' tall near Littlerock Washington. Any way you cut it, it's a big tree.

Generally, the trunk is clear of branches for about two-thirds or more of its height, it has very little taper, and it produces a high percentage of saw timber clear of knots and other defects.

WEIGHT: 31 to 37 lbs/ft3

DRYING: Easy to kiln dry using proper methods, with only a slight to moderate potential for drying degrade (buckles, splits and surface checking)

AVAILABILITY: readily available

COST: moderate

TOXICITY: Can cause dermatitis; rarely causes respiratory problems. Splinters can fester.

HOBBIT NOTE: The contrast in density between early and late growth portions make this an outstanding wood for contrasted texture via surface burning. I made my son a very attractive coat-hanging rack using this technique --- it is shown and discussed at the bottom of the main page.

web quotes:
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is not a true fir at all, nor a pine or spruce. It is a distinct species named after Archibald Menzies, a Scottish physician and naturalist who first discovered the tree on Vancouver Island in 1791, and David Douglas, the Scottish botanist who later identified the tree in the Pacific Northwest in 1826. The species is known by a number of common names including Oregon Pine, British Columbian Pine, Red Fir and even Douglastree; however, the U.S. Forest Service settled on Douglas Fir some years ago. Douglas Fir is North America's most plentiful softwood species, accounting for one fifth of the continent's total softwood reserves.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Douglas Fir (DF) is often the standard against which all other framing species are measured. It possesses superior strength-to-weight ratio, high specific gravity, excellent nail and plate-holding capability and excellent dimensional stability. The moderate decay resistance of its heartwood, documented excellent performance record against strong forces resulting from winds, storms and earthquakes, have given Douglas Fir its reputation. Color, grain pattern, texture, knot size and type are addressed in the rules for appearance grades.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Douglas Fir is the lead species for the West, with more volume shipped than any other species and it's sterling performance history is recognized the world over. It is abundant and widely available in second and third-growth stands yielding products in multiple grade classifications: dimension and other framing products, engineered structural products such as MSR, finger-jointed, and glulam products, high (clear) to low (economy) grade appearance productsand industrial/ specialty grades. DF doors, manufactured from products in the Factory & Shop grade classification, are renowned for their beauty and performance.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Usually marketed separately in the appearance grades to provide more options for the marketplace, coastal and inland Douglas Fir and Western Larch share similar structural performance characteristics and are often combined in dimension lumber structural products.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Douglas fir is North America’s most plentiful species and is used extensively in the construction sector and also as a key source for plywood. Douglas fir lumber is graded by appearance for aesthetics, with clear vertical grain being the highest grade. Structural Douglas fir is graded based on performance criteria.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“The old growth, clear vertical grain (CVG) is tough to get around here,” said Myles Gilmer, owner of Gilmer Wood Co. in Portland, Ore. “It commands a huge price these days. I’m real particular. If I’m buying CVG, I want a very consistent stripe and I want it real tight. It comes from Canada and it’s gorgeous. You look at it and there’s between 12 and 25 annual rings per inch.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Big-box stores in the United States sell construction-grade material that is a combination of Douglas fir, hemlock and western larch.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Commercially available old-growth Douglas fir native to Oregon and Washington has virtually disappeared. The old-growth lumber that can be found comes from downed trees in national forests or trees cut on private lands.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga) differs from the true fir (Abies) by having cones that hang down like those of pine and spruce. There are two species --- Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and bigcone Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa). The latter has a very limited range in southern California. "Hardy varieties" are available for growing in the Midwest and Northeast, but the Douglas fir's natural range is in the West.

Resembling the spruce and carrying strong characteristics of the true fir as well as the hemlock and yew, the Douglas fir is something of a botanical puzzle. Botanists turned to the Greek language to describe it as a "false hemlock with a yew-like leaf." Douglas fir was first observed by Dr. Archibald Menzies on Vancouver Island on the Pacific Coast over 200 years ago. The tree is named for David Douglas, a Scottish botanist, sent by the Royal Horticultural Society to the United States to collect plants. In 1825, he traveled to the Hudson Bay and on this journey discovered Douglas fir.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Donald Culross Peattie writes about Douglas fir in A Natural History of Western Trees. "When the immortal frigate Constitution first put to sea in 1798, they carried as masts three lofty white pines felled in the state of Maine. But when in 1925 these had to be removed, there was left not white pine in all the eastern states tall enough to replace those glorious sticks. From the Northwest came, instead, three towering shafts of Douglas fir, and these ‘Old Ironsides’ bears in her decks today, where she rides in honor at the dock of Boston Navy Yard.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

One of Douglas fir’s attributes is its tremendous regenerative powers, meaning felled trees are soon replaced with new ones that mature quickly.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In Know Your Woods, Albert Constantine Jr. says that Douglas fir wood’s strength and weight vary considerably depending on the part of the country it comes from. Some of the wood can be harder to work than many other commercial softwoods. To combat this effect, experts recommend using sharp cutting tools to avoid raising the grain. Careful nailing is also recommended to prevent splitting.