Douglas Fir for Furniture in a Dry Climate

Old growth wood will perform well if properly dried. May 18, 2010

I am building a table for a customer in the Vail valley (a desert essentially). I am not worried about the wood moving much because the climate is pretty stable, dry and really dry. My lumber is in Denver and I am going to acclimate the lumber for four weeks before I get started. It is 8/4 doug fir six feet in length. I will be gluing seven pieces together with dowels and/or biscuits. Any other suggestions? Iíve never done doug fir before that is why I ask.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor J:
Your 8/4 douglas fir (in the rough?) is probably coming from the pacific northwest. It may have been seasoned but probably not kiln dried. It will be a little damp inside and likes to stay that way. This is typically not considered furniture grade material. Aren't you afraid that Denver will really dry it out and start it checking after you've milled it? (It will).

I glued-up a big slab-type table top once out of doug fir only to have it dry out, crack and fall apart over a couple of years (and not along the glue lines). After that I re-made the table but instead of one solid top, I reduced it to three separate planks. Five years later, it's still in the backyard and looking good. (I've got to keep it painted though.) Incidentally, I don't think you gain much strength by using either dowels or biscuits. Studies have shown that a properly jointed edge-to-edge glue joint can actually be superior. Either way, I can't be very positive about your plans. I might feel better however if you were talking about KD VG Doug Fir.

From contributor D:
I also think doug fir would be iffy in a dry climate. If you don't believe me take a scrap piece you plan on using and put it in a dishwasher for a cycle, then hit it with a blow drier. Crack city.

From contributor A:
The big question is, has it been kiln dried and is it vertical grain or flat grain?

If it is kiln dried veneer grade then you will see very little movement.

From contributor Z:
It should also be old growth in addition to KD and VG. Most of the doug fir sold today is fast growing with big growth rings. By the way, when you sand the surface of flat sawn doug fir, the soft inner rings depress further and the hard (dark) part of the ring is very rigid. This produces a hill and valley effect. When you band saw through quarter sawn doug fir, you can feel the saw stall slightly at the dark ring and easily go through the soft, light part of the ring. It's an interesting sensation to feel it going through the blade. I have very stable old growth, VG, KD doug fir stair treads. I find this to be a very useful wood for many applications. On the other hand, flat sawn plantation grown doug fir acts like a different species. It's strong, but soft, and in my opinion doesn't look that good in anything but rustic furniture, and rustic flooring, if you don't mind the softness of it.

From contributor L:
The wood should be old growth VG kiln dried. If not kiln dried the sap will seep. The sap will not seep unless it reaches a higher temperature then what it was when it was in the kiln. I am building a wine cabinet out of vg doug fir - beautiful stuff. Itís definitely furniture grade. It's tight old growth perfectly straight and totally uniform in color.

From contributor D:
I said it was iffy, but the above commenters mentioned old growth, which I find exceptional. It will be much denser than the crap with 1/8" to even 1/4" growth rings. The rings will be more like 1/32" apart. It machines nicely with little splintering. It sands and finishes nicely and is very stable.

From the original questioner:
The lumber has been in Denver for quite a while. It's kiln dried, 6/4 S4S CVG, clear vertical grain. The supplier is Sears Trostel and the sales guy said it is door mill ready, meaning that door makers use this right off the shelf. I have worked with some CVG before with some doors that I just installed and it sands flat smooth. I am just using the dowels for alignment.