What type of wood do I need?
When beginning any project that requires wood you may find yourself repeatedly starting in the same place: what type of wood do I need? Being able to compare and contrast your options will be essential to creating the project you envision.
In Northern California, two of the most common types of wood being used these days are Redwood and Douglas Fir. Both woods are highly sought after due to their durability, work-ability, and both being very pleasing to the eye. Both redwood and Douglas fir are beautiful, tall trees, but have very different qualities that can help your project come to life. To begin our understanding of these two types of trees, let’s start with the basics.
Both of these trees are classified as conifers, meaning they grow seeds in a “cone” formation. Many conifers fall under the “soft wood” category including both redwood and Douglas fir, however Douglas fir does have certain properties that allows it to be worked like a hardwood. Knowing this information, it is easy to understand why many people can confuse these two trees when cut down into individual boards.
Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, growing up to around 300 feet by the time of full maturation, around 500 years. However, they grow quick enough to be harvest-able within a person’s lifetime. Many of the redwood being harvested today is “second growth”, meaning they’ve come from areas that were clear cut at one time before being replanted in abundance. Redwoods grow mainly along the California and Oregon coasts due to the soft moist soil in these regions. The lumber coming from redwoods tends to be vibrant, durable, and much more resistant to rot and bug infestation. Due to the brilliance and lasting qualities redwood is highly sought after for outdoor furniture, fences, decks, gazebos, pergolas, etc.
Douglas firs are another family of straight, extremely tall trees. They grow throughout the Northwest of the US. Second only to redwoods in height, the Douglas fir can reach 300 feet as well, the tallest ever recorded at 327Ft. Douglas fir have an amazing ability to continue growing even after ravaged by fire. This makes them very popular trees for forestry agencies to replant following wildfire. Douglas fir lumber, while very vibrant, has a noticeable difference from redwood. Its’ color is much more muted than what one would expect from redwood. It is however much more durable in structural construction, being able to be used more often as load baring beams or posts.
How can you identify Redwood vs Douglas Fir?
While most stores and lumber yards will clearly have their products marked, there are a few tricks to help you ensure that you’re buying the right material for your needs. Some clues are easier to spot than others and some take a few tools like a knife or magnifying glass. If you look at the color of redwood versus Douglas fir, the redwood will be much more vibrant. A deep reddish-brown from which the tree gets its name. Douglas fir however will be much lighter in color. The grain in the lumber of both trees can look very similar. The Douglas fir will have straight grain and a bit of rough feeling to it. Redwood will also have a straight grain however it is noticeably tighter together and much smoother. Along the grain in Douglas fir, you will also be able to find resin lines with your magnifying glass. These appear as dark streaks running along the grain. Redwood will be free of this feature. One of the final common ways to compare these lumbers is the smell. If fresh cut, you should be able to smell the pungent sweet smell of resin on Douglas fir. If aged a bit, take a scratch with your pocket knife and you should get a better smell. Redwood, while smelling nice, and earthy, isn’t so vibrant and colorful with its scent.
Which is better lumber?
After comparing the two, which one should you use? Well, it really comes down to the purpose of your project. If you’re working on something for the outdoors, say a picnic table or Adirondack chair, we would recommend redwood. It’s higher resistance to rot and bugs make it an unparalleled choice for use outside. Redwood lasts around two to three times longer naturally because the wood secretes a layer of oil to protect it from the elements, as well as being very porous so it takes any additional stains or sealants very well. Redwood has less of a tendency to shrink once its cut, making it less susceptible to warping or cracking. Finally, redwood is significantly lighter to work with, making it much more sought after by individuals working on a project. Despite its advantages, redwood is typically the more expensive product. While redwood may be much more pleasing to the eye, sometimes you just need a quick, cheaper solution. In this sense Douglas fir with, some additional man-made sealants, is a very popular alternative to redwood.