CORVALLIS, Ore. - After extensive tests, Oregon State University has deemed western juniper - an invasive tree that has spread across much of Oregon - viable for commercial wood markets. The results were accepted by the nonprofit American Lumber Standards Committee, whose accreditation program encompasses much of the softwood lumber sold in North America.
The tree will now be listed in the National Design Specification for Wood Construction, a handbook used by professional engineers and buyers to select wood for all types of applications. Increased usage of the tree could lead to new markets for trees that are cut to restore sagebrush and rangelands in the region, says OSU.
Juniper wood is slightly more dense than ponderosa pine. The wood is also quite hard for a softwood: about 35% harder than ponderosa pine, but only about ½ as hard as red oak. Juniper is about 70% as stiff as ponderosa pine, and 85% as stiff as incense-cedar, meaning the wood deforms relatively easily under loads, says OSU.
Signpost and guard-rail block manufacturers have wanted to use western juniper for sometime, says the Oregon Wood Innovation Center at Oregon State, but when they checked the design specification handbook, juniper wasn't mentioned.
“Western juniper has been the black sheep of the wood products industry,” said Dylan Kruse of nonprofit Sustainable Northwest in an interview with Oregon's KTVZ news. “Our goal is to get it on people’s radar. This could be a great cottage industry for rural Oregon.”
Examples of products that have been explored include: cement/woodfiber composites, particleboard, hardboard, fencing, decking, wall paneling, flooring, veneer, furniture, and novelty items, says OSU on its website. To date, the most significant hurdles to a "booming" juniper industry are high harvest costs (short, highly-tapered and very limby trees combined with few trees per acre) and lack of a steady supply of raw material to the manufacturers.
Western juniper heartwood is highly durable (similar to redwood and cedars) and has aromatic properties like its close relative eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana). The color of the wood varies from milky white to deep reddish-brown and has large, swirling grain patterns and bands of heartwood mixed with sapwood, similar to eastern redcedar. Tests have shown juniper wood to machine, glue, and finish well. Once dried, juniper wood shrinks and swells less than many other Pacific Northwest species such as Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, and western redcedar. Juniper has some unique bending properties. After being soaked in hot water, thin (1/32"-1/16") samples have been tied into intricate knots without splitting.
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