Archive for September, 2012

Cypress Siding

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Believe it or don’t, there are actually buildings that are around 200-years old that have cypress wood as part of their construction. That same stuff is being reclaimed by heirloom remodelers, able to be used again.

And another thing that makes cypress such an eternal wood is that is has this natural preservative called cypressine. This substance not only keeps the lumber from rotting, it repels bugs, too.

When George Washington’s grandfather’s home near Mt. Vernon was recently being restored workers found that the siding and shingles were cypress. The original cypress. Once they were cleaned, they were remounted.

The renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright was a fan of cypress. Just travel around Oak Park, Illinois to see that quite a few of his early works used cypress for many features on the classic structures. Consider these facts about the wood:

  • It will cost you about two-bucks for a linear foot of a 1-by-6 inch panel.
  • Cypress marries well with glue, screws and nails. You shouldn’t have any problems if you decide to slap on some finish.
  • When stacked against other types of wood, cypress is super-durable. As mentioned, it can last a couple of centuries. It might be able to hang on even longer as long as it’s properly maintained by your great-great-great-great-great grandkids.
  • You will need to perform some regular maintenance (or the great-great-great-great-great grandkids will). For instance, if you coat it with a transparent stain, you’ll end up repeating the process about every 5-years. Use a weak bleach mix with water to tame any mold or fungus that might appear.

There are two downsides to using cypress wood. No biggies, though. You’ll have to seal it so that it won’t warp or split. While it lasts virtually forever, it will fade as the decades roll by.

Storing new or unused cypress siding requires it to be about a half-foot off the ground. Make sure that whatever table it’s placed upon will not pool any water. Throw a tarp over it until you use it. Not a tightly attached tarp. You want to make sure you don’t inadvertently cause any condensation to occur.

When cypress siding is installed it can be placed over standard sheathing material. The maximum stud spacing should be 16-inches on-center. Sometimes building codes don’t require it, so an unsheathed wall will be O.K. You would be well-advised to tack-on a felt paper wind barrier. Suggested vapor barriers like foil-faced sheathings and rigid foam will do the trick.

Meranti Wood or Philippine Mahogany

Monday, September 24th, 2012

When you buy plywood, what’s that stuff that’s used to sandwich the inside materials? If you answered Meranti, you are on the right track. This substance is also known as Philippine mahogany. That’s somewhat of a misnomer. Meranti trees don’t come from the same family as Mahogany.

Hailing from Southeast Asia, this material breaks into a quartet of types:

  • White Meranti.
    This branch of the genus can grow a trunk that could thicken up to 5-feet in diameter. It grows between 120-to-200 feet tall. Color-wise White Meranti looks yellow-orange when it’s first cut. As it gains on time, it turns a yellowish-brown. The lumber is not all that durable because disease and bugs take advantage of its high level of silica. Even as a light hardwood, you best want to cut it with carbide-tipped tools. Considered endangered you may not be able to purchase that much of it as a product.
  • Yellow Meranti.
    Yellow Meranti’s trunk is a tad thicker, but grows about as high as its white brother. Fairly easy to work with, it’s susceptible to decay and insects, too. Another native to Southeast Asia it darkens from yellow to yellowish brown and beyond as it grows old.
  • Light Red Meranti.
    Light red Meranti has pretty much the same size characteristics as the above pair. The color of this product can range from a straw shade to reddish brown. Even after sanding, the surface is still a little rough. Like all of these types of wood, it’s bug-friendly and rots.
  • Dark Red Meranti.
    Probably the richest-looking of the lot, dark red Meranti has a purplish brown or heavy reddish tint. Because of the resin, you’ll probably encounter some white streaks on the face. This is a saw-blunter and not all that giving when you try to bend it using steam.

Looking for a slap of confusion? The wood comes from a genus called Shorea. In reality there are hundreds-upon-hundreds of names that people call this type of timber. Then you have around 130 various species from the genus Shorea. A suggestion? Just grunt, point and say “wood.”

Some specifics. Let’s start with density. This stuff is considered to be of a light hardwood variety. It has a density of 415-885 kg/m3 air dry.

Durability-wise, eh? Not at the top of the heap. The Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) says that dark red Meranti is moderately durable and has an average service life ranging from about 2- to 15-years before the bugs start gnawing away at it. And preservatives don’t mix well with Philippine mahogany.

A Pergola Primer

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

There’s nothing worse than seeing some property that has a classy, white, well-maintained Neoclassical house on it. Problem: The owner has buried, nose-down, a rusted 1955 Nash Rambler in the front yard. Some things just ain’t right.

This is a transferrable example when it comes to building a pergola in your yard. The structure needs to have some symbiotic relationship with your home and yard.

What’s a Pergola?

It’s a lot like an arbor in so much that it’s an eye-pleasing piece of landscape architecture. What separates the two are that pergolas are much bigger than an arbor.

The idea came about during the Italian Renaissance. Back then it was made of some type of masonry. Nowadays, you can get wooden or plastic ones to serve the same purpose.

You can leave the top of a pergola open or cover it to keep out the elements. Uncovered, you’ll usually see vines crawling all over the structure.

What’s Best for You

You’ll need to take a few matters into account when picking a design for your pergola.

  • How will the structure match-up with your existing home?
  • How will the pergola fit-in with your outdoor landscaping scheme?
  • How much room do you have to erect this unit?
  • Do you want a dirt floor or some other kind of foundation?

Every pergola is somewhat unique. It all depends on the environment where it will be constructed. There are general styles from which to choose, but it can have personal flairs that only you enjoy.

For example, if you’re looking for something to sit on, like a bench, you probably need to pick a plan that has two sides extending down to the ground.

Backyards that are extravagant, full of flowering plants, crawling vines and grasses might be best suited to have a pergola that fits-in with the greenery. Incorporating baskets or clay containers will make this backyard focal-point an extension of your garden. There are some designs that integrate water features into their pergolas.

Try these suggestions to give your pergola a sense of purpose:

  • We already mentioned this but a pergola can make a great vertical garden.
  • Entertain a lot? A pergola is a shaded area where you can put your tables of food for guests.
  • If you have little children, your pergola could become a magical, enchanted place.
  • Do you and your honey regularly enjoy a summer night together? This could be a destination for your own personal backyard lover’s lane.

Rule of thumb: Be creative. Just don’t ever use a 1955 Nash Rambler as a planter near your pergola.

Tigerwood isn’t Just a Golfer

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Do you think that his parents were being clever when they gave the infamous golfer that name after he was born? Hard to believe they didn’t know about the expensive hardwood.

This extremely heavy and super dense lumber is found in the Western parts of Africa in that continent’s rainforests. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are its favorite spots.

You’ll stare upwards of 130-feet to see the tip of this evergreen tree. No needles, tigerwood sports leaves that can be up to a foot long. For a couple of months in Spring, there are blossoms of green and yellow flowers. Then in late Summer to early Winter, it inflates a nut that’s somewhat like a walnut. As a matter of fact, the tree is known as either an African walnut or Gabon nut.

When it comes to bearing its fruit, the tree does so in massive quantities. The inside fruit is green that will age to a reddish hue. The shell is as dense as a rock. If you like the taste of hazelnut, you’d love this fatty meat. The fruit can be boiled, roasted, grilled or eaten raw. Tigerwood nuts are versatile, used in meals, extracted into oil for cooking or crushed into flour for breads.

Tigerwood is very sustainable because it’s grown and cultivated mostly on plantations. It’s becoming very popular as a choice in flooring, particularly as tigerwood decking. Being bug and water resistant helps boost its cred. You may see it in the construction of railroad ties or as a must-have for bridge pilings.

Why is it called tigerwood? It’s simply because when it is cut, the surface has a tiger stripe look. On an eye-candy scale, this is quickly becoming a hit among furniture makers, too.

One thing that people mistake when they see tigerwood is they think it is zebrawood. Easy to understand since they both have stripes. Different colored patterns, however. Tigerwood has a unique yellow-brown to bronze coloring – like a tiger. Zebrawood has a noticeably darker pattern that falls between black down to dark brown.

Another big difference between the two is that they are not neighbors. Zebrawood, AKA Brazilian Goncalvo alves comes from a totally different continent, separated thousands of miles of ocean.

This is not a cheap material, even though some use it as railway ties. More often than not, tigerwood is incorporated as a veneer rather than the whole package when making products for consumer use. That and fairly severe export restrictions ensure that it’s not over-logged.

Exotic Hardwood: Mahogany and Lapacho

Friday, September 14th, 2012

There are a couple of hardwoods that are a challenge to work with. Both are incredibly beautiful. And that’s perhaps why people go gaga when they see a finished floor that’s made of this pair of materials. We’re referring to mahogany and lapacho.


First at Bat: Mahogany


While you can get a Louisville Slugger that looks like mahogany, that’s just hard maple. In fact, mahogany isn’t dense enough to handle a swing-and-a-hit on the diamond. Floors are another story.


We’re looking at a material that comes from Argentina and other countries in South America all the way up to southern México. Since those forests are running out of the hardwood, this dark brown with a scent of red stuff comes at a premium.


Mahogany’s sapwood lightens matters up a touch, but retains the slashes of deep colors.


In wood flooring, you’ll be using a type of hardwood that’s called Santos mahogany. On the Janka hardness scale it rings-up a whopping 2200. Genuine mahogany is found in furniture. Santos is much harder which is why it’s best used to walk all-over.



The challenge we earlier spoke about happens when you try to cut the stuff. You’re going to require carbide-tipped tools. But, once installed, smell the wood. Between that and the gorgeous visual appeal you’ll fully understand what Anchorman Ron Burgundy said in the Will Ferrell movie, “I have many leather-bound books, and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.”


Is it Lapacho or Ipe or Brazilian Walnut?


Trick question. Lapacho is known by any one of the three names. This is the type of hardwood you’d use if you were building a steam punk spaceship. It hits the bell when it comes to being one of the hardest woods on earth. And if you thought mahogany was a muscle-buster, torque it many notches above that material. The Janka hardness test places it well about the 3000 mark. It’s rich and you can expect it to get richer as it darkens over time, aged by light.



This hardwood comes from Central and South America. Does that cause you to worry about the rainforests? Take it easy. While this is considered an endangered wood you can still purchase the material. Just make sure that it’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Their members include some of the world’s leading environmental NGOs (WWF and Greenpeace), businesses (Tetra Pak and Mondi PLC) and social organizations (the National Aboriginal Forestry Association of Canada) , as well as forest owners and managers, processing companies and campaigners, and individuals.


When you use lapacho or ipe for a flooring choice, sum-it-up with one word: Stunning.

Dictionary of Hardwood Flooring Terms

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

If you’re in the market for some hardwood flooring, it’s always good to know the lingo. That way when you talk to a sales rep, you’re not always asking, “…and that means what?” Here are some of the more popular terms you’ll encounter as you do your due diligence:


Above Grade
The surface is above the level ground.


Below Grade
The surface is below the level ground.


Oak with light dark graining and small knots.


Expensive oak without visible knots or blemishes.


Cross-ply Construction
When wood plies are assembled in a criss-cross pattern. This makes the material more resistant to moisture.


One of the three common types of hardwood floor (also see Longstrip Plank and Solid). Could be up to 5 thin sheets of wood that are laminated together.


Floating Floor Installation
When installing, the planks are not fastened to the subfloor.


Janka Hardness Test
It measures the resistance of a type of wood to be able to withstand denting and wear. It’s a way to see how much force is required to embed an 11.28 mm (0.444 in) steel ball into the wood up to half the ball’s diameter.


Longstrip Plank
One of the three common types of hardwood floor (also see Engineered and Solid). Similar to the multiple layer approach used in Engineered floors. The materials are glued on top of a center core.


Applied with the purpose of covering expansion joints.


Number 1 Common
When oak has a few knots and a little dark grain.


Number 2 Common
When oak has more knots and a darker grain.


Ground level.


Rotary Cut
When the hardwood is cut, it shows a larger grain pattern.


When oak has a few knots and but not too much dark grain.


Sliced Cut
When the hardwood is cut, it shows a more uniform grain pattern.


One of the three common types of hardwood floor (the others are Engineered and Longstrip Plank). It’s a solid piece of wood with a groove and tongue. Very sensitive to moisture.


Square Edge
When the hardwood boards join together squarely. This makes for a smooth, uniform surface.


Stapled Down
Staples are used to secure the hardwood to the subfloor.


A hardwood floor where the boards are thinner or more narrow. You’ll find this type of flooring comes in cherry, pecan, red oak, white oak, hickory, maple and white ash.


Tongue and Groove
When two hardwood boards are put together; one plank has a groove, the other a tongue.


Same as “Moldings”


UV Cured
In the factory, the hardwood is cured by using ultra violet lights without heat.