Randy Stribling complements the use of standard wood species with a new composite wood material in his custom furniture and casework projects.

 

Stribling was asked to create this dining room set using composite Alowood for the company’s president. (photo by Danny Lauve)

Randy Stribling is a craftsman in Bellingham, WA, who specializes in designing and building custom furniture and cabinetry through his business, Stribling Design Woodworks. Maintaining a one-man shop to produce his one-of-a-kind pieces, while also teaching beginning to intermediate woodworking and furniture design at Bellingham Technical College, Stribling keeps a busy schedule and has noticed no drop-off of business even during the current sluggish economy. His many years of experience in woodworking may be what gives him an edge that helps him weather the down times well.

“I started as a carpenter out of high school,” he says. “I would come home with scraps and start banging things together.”

Stribling sold his first piece in the late 1970s and went full-time into his own business in 1988. Although he has often considered expanding his business by renting a larger shop and hiring employees, he prefers to remain hands-on.

“I’ve known guys who have done that [expansion] and they don’t do any woodworking anymore,” he explains. “Either they are chasing down new clients and galleries or trying to stretch the buck to keep the employees busy.

“I just like to get slivers in my fingers,” he says with a laugh.

This tabletop uses Alowood made from pine beetle-damaged lumber. (photo by Danny Lauve)

Stribling maintains a company Web site (www.stribling-design.com) and advertises in directories, but says “It’s usually word-of- mouth that starts little trees. Every new client I get is a new branch on the tree and then I get their friends and so on.

“I really like working with clients,” he adds. “It is a great feeling to deliver a piece and have the client say, ‘That is exactly what we were thinking.’”

Stribling admits to an Old-World mentality when it comes to woodworking. He says he uses stationary power tools for cutting, drilling, planing and jointing, and a combination of hand tools and hand-held power tools for joinery and finishing. He says he prefers to use mortise-and-tenon joinery, as opposed to dowels, frame-and-panel construction instead of plywood and dovetails instead of rabbets.

The woodworker is also highly conscious of the environmental implications of his woodworking.

“I try to use renewable resources,” he says. “I don’t use any endangered hardwoods.”

Exploring a New Material

Stribling became aware of an environmentally friendly new option in woodworking when he was hired to restore a grandfather clock for the president of Verdant Wood Technologies, a wood modification company located in nearby Ferndale, WA. The firm pressure-impregnates wood with fire-retardant for interior and exterior use, among other things, and had a new product called Alowood. This wood composite is made from renewable lumber such as radiata, southern yellow or ponderosa pine, or alder, which is treated in a combination vacuum and pressure injection process that replaces air and moisture in the wood with Everdex, an all-natural additive made from corn and soy proteins. The wood is then thermally cured in an oven, with the result being a non-toxic, uniformly colored, composite wood that machines exceedingly well, according to Stribling.

Stribling built this cabinet out of Alowood for his own home.

The company was selling Alowood as a substitute for hardwoods for flooring, countertops and doors, primarily to Japan, and was interested in seeing if furniture- and cabinetmakers would be interested in using the product. The company president asked Stribling to build a dining room table and chairs using it, and he successfully utilized the material, producing the striking furniture shown in the photos. He also produced a detailed feasibility study for woodworking applications that can be found at www.alowood.com/.

In this report, Stribling notes that there is generally less splintering and tearouts on crosscuts with the Alowood, compared to standard lumber, and that the product’s fewer defects and stable hardness make for accurate machinability. He also cited the color consistency and density within each board, as well as from board to board as possibly being able to eliminate the staining process. Stribling found some of the boards were too hard and brittle, but Alowood president, John Gibb says this only occurs when customers request a more-than-adequate hardness, and the issue can be resolved by adjusting the resins and kiln-curing process. (Gibb is also excited about a new Alowood plywood product manufactured by Snowcap Lumber Ltd., and says they have acquired a number of distributors nationwide.)

Stribling also notes the environmental advantages of Alowood, including the fact that using plantation grown renewable trees instead of endangered exotics, can help curtail deforestation. New agricultural and manufacturing businesses could also emerge from the new technology, he says. Additionally, wood damaged by flood or pine beetles that would normally be thrown away can be used in this process. The table top of the dining room table built for the company president used pine beetle wood-based Alowood that Stribling believes added character to the final product.

Stribling does not consider himself a spokesman for the company and has only used Alowood for a few projects. Although he offers the product to his customers as an option, other considerations, such as budget, decor and colors often determine what wood is used. Board sizes, color choices and grain patterns are currently somewhat limited with Alowood, depending on the underlying species used. The newness of the product is also a deterrent and, with the cost being similar to cherry and oak, many clients would prefer to use a wood that they are more familiar with.

Consistency in the product and more marketing may be the keys to the success of the product, Stribling says. The company is also licensing the recipe to manufacturers across the country who, in turn, could use local renewable lumber sources, thus reducing even more of the environmental impact. If more woodworkers use the product, manufacturers would make more.

“I think it really has a future,” Stribling concludes. “Especially if other companies are looking down this same avenue to come up with some sort of alternative to the massive deforestation of our planet.”

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