Should I Use Douglas Fir?

Understanding Douglas Fir's Strengths & Weaknesses

Douglas Fir beams balconyThroughout the learning curve that J. Gibson McIlvain has gone through in our decade-long relationship with carrying softwoods, we’ve come to understand the up sides and down sides of using Douglas Fir.



Despite the name “Douglas Fir,” the tree is actually part of the Hemlock family. When properly dried, Hemlocks provide extremely stable lumber that resists checking or twisting. Even when constantly exposed to heat and moisture, such as in saunas, Hemlocks retain their smooth texture and stability.

In order to avoid stability problems, J. Gibson McIlvain uses kiln-dried lumber. During the milling process, sharp tools are needed to avoid splintering and tear out. At J. Gibson McIlvain, we constantly maintain and sharpen our tools in order to ensure superior milling.

Douglas Fir wood cabinAppearance

Unlike the lumber from most Hemlocks, Douglas Fir timber boasts remarkable uniformity of appearance. With its straight grain and overall orange coloring that comes from a mixture of creamy yellow and reddish brown, it can give either a rustic or a notably modern appearance.


Due to the unusually tall heights of the trees, Douglas Fir timbers are especially in demand for builders who need lengthy boards for building frames and exposed beams. The rustic flavor of the wood can make it ideal for flooring, exterior siding, and interior paneling, as well.



Like all softwoods, one issue that can be a negative is that the Douglas Fir wood is, as the softwood name implies, softer than hardwoods. This can mean that the wood can be more easily damaged, so care must be taken in milling, handling, and transporting the lumber.

Douglas Fir siding and beamsAs we’ve experimented with ways to cut down on potential damage over our first decade of handling softwoods, we’ve come up with a tried-and-true solution: To help reduce the risks of damage, the lumber experts at J. Gibson McIlvain now ship our Douglas Fir timbers from a dedicated softwood lumber distribution yard where we can cater to the specific needs of softwoods, as opposed to the hardwoods we’ve been supplying for over 200 years.


Of the two basic types of Douglas Fir trees, the Coastal variety grows to be taller and yield more structural timbers for framing, J. Gibson McIlvain uses primarily timbers we purchase directly from mills located in the Pacific Northwest U.S. and western Canada. Of course, the distance from our East Coast headquarters can mean pricey shipping that factors into our customers’ cost. To help alleviate that problem, we keep plenty of Douglas Fir lumber stored in our facilities on the West Coast, ready to ship to customers that are closer to the point of origin than to our Maryland locale.

You can talk to any of the softwoods experts at J. Gibson McIlvain about our current supply of Douglas Fir timbers we have ready to ship in time for your next project. Call us today at (800) 638-9100.

J. Gibson McIlvain Company is a wholesale distributor of a vast array of quality wood products.
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