Coastal Products - Product Directory

A Diversity of Species and Products

The coast forests of British Columbia are comprised of five very different coniferous species or groups of species, each with its own unique characteristics. Also, due to the temperate climate and the long harvest rotation (100 plus years), the coast trees are larger than usual. Due to their large size and growing conditions, it is possible to recover a wide range of lumber products from these trees, that is, clear fiber as well as knotty construction type fiber.

Each species has unique physical properties such as high strength, natural durability, stability, acoustical properties and finishing properties, among others, which makes it ideally suited for specific uses. The coast mills therefore sort the species and have separate production runs so that each species can be manufactured into products appropriate to that species. Those species with individual characteristics and specific end uses such as Western red cedar are marketed separately. In some cases where species have similar properties and appearance, they are harvested and marketed as a species group, for example Hem-Fir.

The combination of five species, each suitable for a wide range of products, enables the coast sawmills to offer a most diverse selection of lumber products. Comparative information on the physical properties of these species is included in Table 1.

Hem – Fir

Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Amabilis fir (Abies amabilis) are the two most abundant and important species of trees growing in the coastal region of British Columbia. They account for about 60% of the mature forest in the region. These two species have very similar appearance and physical properties and therefore are processed and marketed as a species group designated Hem-Fir.

The Hem-Fir species commonly reach heights of 35m to 55m and diameters up to 90cm or larger. Their wood fiber has high strength, stiffness and density (similar to those of Douglas fir) which make them ideal for most structural and industrial uses from framing lumber to heavy timbers to engineered components. Hem-Fir is also easily pressure treated, making it a preferred choice where preservative-treated wood is required.

The Hem-Fir species commonly reach heights of 35m to 55m and diameters up to 90cm or larger. Their wood fiber has high strength, stiffness and density (similar to those of Douglas fir) which make them ideal for most structural and industrial uses from framing lumber to heavy timbers to engineered components. Hem-Fir is also easily pressure treated, making it a preferred choice where preservative-treated wood is required.

The Clear and Shop grades of these species are ideal for many appearance and joinery applications such as paneling, furniture, windows and doors. These species are excellent for finishing and staining because of their light color (almost white), freedom of pitch, excellent machining properties and a fine, straight grain. The high density also gives them superior nail and screw holding properties. Clear grades have also been used extensively for the manufacture of industrial ladders where high strength and resistance to electrical conductivity are critical.

Douglas – Fir

One of the best known and highly prized of the Canadian softwood species, Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) comprises about 10% of British Columbia’s coast forest. It is the largest of the coast species ranging from 35m to 55m in height and up to 120cm in diameter.

Douglas fir has all the desirable characteristics necessary for fine construction: stiffness, strength, density, ease of working, comparative freedom from cupping and twisting and a moderate natural durability. It is used extensively for structural and general construction. It is also popular for heavy timber construction including the manufacture of glue-laminated beams.

The Clear and Shop grades are popular for windows, doors, joinery and similar uses. It has excellent machining properties, good nail and screw holding, and is often used with a clear finish because of its attractive reddish-brown color and distinctive grain.

Western Red Cedar

Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) is a unique species because of its stability (approximately 50% less shrinkage than other softwoods), light weight and high natural durability. Western red cedar trees comprise about 20% of the mature coast forest. They grow to heights of 30m to 45m and diameters up to 120cm or greater. The wood is normally a rich reddish-brown color but may vary from almost white (sapwood) to a dark brown.

Western red cedar is the species of choice for exterior applications such as siding, decking, fencing, windows, doors, roof tiles and a multitude of landscape applications. It is often left unfinished to weather to a natural silver grey. Its stability makes it a superior product where an exterior painted or stained finish is required. Its fine grain and natural stability result in a minimum amount of checking when subjected to cycles of wetting and drying.

The density, strength and stiffness of Western red cedar is lower than the other coast softwoods so it is not commonly used for structural applications although some designers do specify the species for applications such as exposed beams where appearance is a prime consideration. Western red cedar is also popular for interior decoration applications such as paneling, joinery and saunas, in both smooth and saw-textured finishes.

Yellow Cedar

Yellow cedar, more properly known as Yellow cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) is a relatively scarce species accounting for only 5% of the coast forest. It is a medium-size, slow growing tree reaching heights of 30m and diameters up to 90cm. The wood is pale yellow in color, non-resinous and has a very fine, even grained texture, which gives it excellent machining properties.

Yellow cedar is unique in that it has a high density, strength and stiffness comparable to the Hem-Fir species but also possesses the high natural durability and stability of Western red cedar. These characteristics, combined with its natural beauty and texture, make it a choice material for many appearance and structural applications. The Clear and Shop grades are often used for high quality specialized construction such as temples and exposed structural posts and beams as well as paneling, joinery and interior fitments where natural appearance is paramount. The construction grades are often used in high humidity applications such as reservoir covers, swimming pools and sill plates when a chemically treated product is not acceptable. It is also excellent for exterior applications where durability and hardness are important such as decking, chairs and benches.

Sitka Spruce

Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is also relatively scarce accounting for only five % of the coast forest. It is the largest of the spruces and can grow to heights of 60m and diameters up to 180cm. The wood is light in weight and color with relatively high strength.

The Clear grades of Sitka spruce are popular for specialty marine applications such as masts, spars and deck beams, as well as for ladders and industrial equipment where its high strength to weight ratio is important. High grade Sitka spruce is also used for musical instruments such as piano sounding boards and guitars because of its long fibers, which give it excellent resonating properties. Clear grades are also used for fine interior finishing such as sliding screens, mouldings, joinery and trim, particularly when a light, even colored natural wood finish is desired. The structural grades of Sitka spruce are commonly used for general construction.

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