[Tweeters] Old-growth Home

jeff gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Thu Feb 7 09:58:46 PST 2013

I live in a 93 year old house in North Everett.

The house is very well built and the wood used to build it is of remarkable quality; old-growth Douglas-fir. This highly resinous stuff has aged into a nail-bending hardness resembling petrified wood. For several years I've had the idea of finding the oldest 2x12 floor joist in the place. Since we have a funky open basement, examination of the floor joist's is pretty easy and the ceiling is low. I found the winner right over my summer office desk. The growth rings so fine as to be like a blur.

I guess that 'oldest' doesn't quite describe what I was looking for, as I suppose all the lumber was cut around the same time. What I mean is finding the 2x with the most growth-rings in it. After several years of looking at this board, I finally did the ring count just yesterday ( I tend to be a bit slow at times, getting to my projects and all).

First I put up a bit of masking tape across the board. Then, standing on two one-gallon paint cans to elevate me to a good viewing height, I slapped on a pair of cheaters (reading glasses), and held up a flashlight and a magnifying glass and started counting. I marked every ten years with a pen, on the tape. In the inch and a half width of the 2x12 I counted 68 years of growth! Even with all my optics, it was hard to count those rings. Out of the 68 years, 40 of them were crammed into a half an inch. As a contrast, the new 2x4's in a dividing wall I built a few years ago won the Wimpy Wood Award with counts of only 3 or 4 rings! This "hem-fir" or whatever it is, is truly like the Wonderbread of dimensional lumber, all fluff and no stuff.

Old doesn't always mean big though. Back in 1978 I worked on contract for the Forest Service doing 'stand exam's', which is a sanitized term for timber cruising basically. One of the things we did was drill holes in trees with a core borer, so we could count the rings and age the trees. In my journals I came across a note or two about working on a site just South of Cle Elem. We found a number of 3 inch diameter Grand Fir saplings that were 100 yrs old - these shade tolerant trees can grow pretty slow in the understory, waiting for a hole to open up in the canopy, then they put on speed. Once we found a 9 inch diameter Doug-fir growing on rock - 235 years old. Slow growth timber that was,

My next tree aging project is gonna be checking out the Maritime Junipers, and Sitka Spruce growing out in the nearby Snohomish estuary. I imagine them growing very slow in that soggy habitat, but maybe not. I'll get right on it- one of these years.

Jeff Gibson
counting the years, in
Everett Wa

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