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Woodworkers paradise

North Woods Figured Wood makes local burls available to the world


by: COURTESY PHOTO - Susan Curington and Les Dougherty (above, left) shape raw burls of wood (top, right) into blanks that artists can shape into decorative objects. COURTESY PHOTO The generations-old craft of woodturning — carving objects from wood with tools or a lathe — quietly occupied American hands in the years following World War II. But since the early 1980s and the formation of a national wood turners association, the hobby has hooked thousands into fine-tuning the art.

As it turns out, Pacific Northwest forests, and one couple’s local wood farm, possess the exotic raw goods that have professional and hobbyist wood turners across the country lusting after just the right piece.

What appears to be a rotting stump to most can be transformed by a wood turner. A big-leaf maple burl, stripped of its bark and spun on a lathe into a bowl or another object reveals the beautiful effect of the dying tree’s immune system: colorful world map-like patterns in the wood called spalt.

“We know how passionate people are about their woodworking, so we really want them to have raw material that inspires them,” said Susan Curington, co-owner of North Woods Figured Wood, a tree farm in the foothills of the Tillamook Forest near Hagg Lake, just outside Forest Grove.

Rebuilding a life

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Exceptional wood can be formed into pieces that are easy to turn on a lathe to create utilitarian or purely aesthetic pieces.Curington and her husband, Les Dougherty, lost nearly everything after the housing market crashed in 2008 and their coastal construction business came to an abrupt halt. To save the small cottage and 80 acres of woodland that Curnington grew up on and inherited from her grandmother, the couple faced the heartbreaking decision to log the property.

But instead of losing the forest’s logs to a chip mill, the couple bought back all of the farm’s hardwoods for what would become a new way to make a living while letting wood turners’ imaginations run wild.

As entrepreneurs, tree farmers and artists — Curington is a painter and Dougherty, a former carpenter and building contractor of 30 years, turns wood — they understand how the wood working mind melds with a creative vision.

“When someone picks up a piece of wood, I can see their imagination go crazy,” said Curnington, who spent her whole childhood roaming her family’s woods. “The creativity and pleasure and joy is so obvious in people who love wood.”

Connecting artists with wood

Today, as co-owners of North Woods Figured Wood, the couple provides wood workers and wood turners with some of the Pacific Northwest’s finest figured hardwoods — big leaf maple, Dutch elm, black locust, white oak, myrtlewood and black walnut. Then it’s up to the turners to shape their “blanks” into beautiful wood creations.

Because North Woods’ turning blanks are green rather than kiln-dried, they’re easier to cut and ideal for wood turning projects. From crochet hooks to bowls, vessels and walking canes, the options are endless.

North Woods also sells air-dried or kiln-dried dimensional lumber good for custom projects like furniture or cabinetry.

Living deep in the woods, Northwood’s two-year-old business is run almost entirely online. The couple connects with customers from all over the world on their website, nwfiguredwoods.com.

Customers can search through detailed images of North Woods’ 12 varieties of wood species. There are also specific options for turners looking for wood burls and slabs, as well as blanks for bowls, platters and pens.

Since a majority of their logging leftovers are piles of big leaf maple, a tree that only grows 186 miles inland from the Vancouver Islands to San Francisco, the highly desirable hardwood is the first to sell to out-of-state buyers.

“People pretty much go crazy for that,” said Curington. After logging, the couple had to replant a majority of the lost acreage. They planted two-thirds of the farm with fir, which takes up to 25 years to mature, and the rest harbors immature trees.

Now, most of the wood sold through their online store comes from local family tree farms.

Keeping it local

Plenty of wood vendors are selling exotic woods all over the world, but North Woods distinguishes its business by staying local. “We respect and appreciate the trees, our customers, our suppliers and the cycle,” said Curington, who mostly runs the online portion of the business.

While she’s keeping customers happy over the phone, Dougherty is working in the woods or out buying burl and log. When he returns with wood, his first stop is to a portable mill. There, he cuts the wood down to slabs ranging from two to four inches thick.

After that the wood heads to the shop, where Dougherty processes slabs into “blanks,” the woodworking equivalent of a blank canvas. This is what a wood turner sees online and purchases as the raw material for turning. Once he’s through cutting it down to various shapes and sizes, depending on the natural figures of the wood, Dougherty seals the ends of the blank with wax to prevent cracking. Once waxed, the wood is ready to be shipped.

Curington says losing everything and starting over gave her a lot of humility, which she values. Now, she and her husband are optimistic. They picked up, saw what they could do and carried on with their passion, one that is shared by woodworkers across the globe .

“I feel like I am contributing to creativity and beauty in this world — and I like that,” she said.



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