Table of Contents
- 1 BUT HOW DOES A TREE GET TURNED INTO WOOD FLOORING?
- 2 STEP #1: CHOOSE AND CHOP THE TREE
- 3 STEP #2: MILL INTO PLANKS — HOW A CIRCLE BECOMES A SQUARE
- 4 STEP #3: AIR DRY (ONE YEAR MINIMUM)
- 5 STEP #4: KILN DRY IN HEAT
- 6 STEP #5: PLANED AND SMOOTHED OUT — ALMOST READY FOR FLOORING
- 7 STEP #6: FINAL PREP FOR FLOORING
When I put out the call last year for sustainably sourced Oregon wood flooring, a couple of you recommended Zena Forest Products, so I went ahead and checked out their site. I immediately connected to their mission (among other things) and requested a sample — despite my doubts that their floors would aesthetically be “the one.” I’m not sure why, but I just thought there was no way it could be the trifecta of what I wanted: sustainable/locally grown, stylistically on point for our home, and milled/assembled to our durability specifications. I had shopped around a lot and met with many other great sustainable companies, but they either shipped from the East Coast (which is fine, but a bit less carbon-friendly) or they didn’t have the species that we wanted (a light hardwood). I just kept thinking, This is Oregon…surely we can buy wood floors made from Oregon trees?!.
When I got the sample, I was like, “Brian, look!” And I have never seen Mr. Henderson want a floor so badly. Why? What’s so great about this flooring? Well, first off, it is absolutely stunning, high quality, and exactly what we wanted stylistically. We dreamt of a more seamless, light, Scandinavian flooring with character and knots, but we didn’t want it to be too rustic. We didn’t know if it was actually possible to get everything we wanted, but it turns out that with Zena, we definitely could. You’ll see for yourself in a bit, but beyond looks, the company is incredible and doing great things for the trees, the community, and the planet. We’re super excited about it…so much so that we made a video:
That’s Ben Deumling, who owns and runs the mill (along with his family that serves as the board of ZFP). We spent the day touring the forest and mill, learning more about the company, their ethos, and seeing what goes into harvesting and making their wood flooring. Brian came, too, and took video of it all while we spent the cloudy day in this beautiful forest, learning about a process I’d always taken for granted.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
- Ben literally grew up on the property, which his family has owned and run for generations. This is his childhood backyard, and he’s now raising his kids here, too. To say he cares about the health of the forest is an understatement. He started learning about the forest when he was 5 and knows every inch of it, and his boys will be brought up the same way — I live for stories like this…
- Zena’s ethos is really beautiful. As stewards of the land, they don’t clear-cut. Rather, they harvest and mill trees when they’re ecologically ready (otherwise known as thinning), always thinking about the health of the forest as a whole. It’s this beautiful process we got to witness firsthand, and it feels intentional, purposeful, and slow. Ben goes around the forest and marks when a tree is ready, based on his silvicultural knowledge. Zena cares about the trees and the planet, full stop.
- Zena’s forest is an hour outside of Portland, so it’s as local to us as possible, which means I’m supporting and promoting the local economy/community, avoiding shipping consequences, and keeping the trees in their native PNW. 🙂 (They will sell/ship nationally, too.)
- Ready for some woo-woo stuff? As you know, I speak “tree,” and these trees are so well cared for and loved. While this might be a stretch for a lot of people I think that careful stewardship gives the wood and thus your home good energy, too. It’s just like how a salad made with ingredients from a carefully tended backyard garden tastes so much better, the meal so much more enjoyable than a ready-made salad in a plastic container from the grocery store. A tree that has lived a full life feels more soulful than one grown just to be hacked down, glued, and shipped for cheap. FSC regulations exist for a reason, and it’s great to support companies that harvest sustainably. But more than just that, Ben and his family love these trees. I know all you plant parents out there can understand the positive energy of a well-cared-for plant — same goes for these trees. (Which is also why I like reclaimed wood flooring, and handmade or vintage anything — good energy of a life well cared for.)
- Ben and his family believe that when done right, commercial goals (running a business with a healthy profit margin) can integrate with mindful stewardship of our local ecosystems. After studying Environmental Studies and Politics at Whitman College, Ben took the reins of the 1300-acre property to ensure that the forest is harvested right, that the wood is looked after, and that there is as little end waste as possible. They use the offcuts from the milling process to feed the furnace, which then heats their kilns. They also go as far to supply their sawdust to local mushroom farmers, (it doesn’t get more community-based than that). The wood is priced with all these special considerations in mind, but for any of you designers out there, trust me — it’s a bargain considering how amazing it is.
We wanted real wood, white oak preferably, “but their engineered product is highly durable, with a more seamless appearance (plus you can sand and refinish it 4 or 5 times within its lifespan). We’ve done solid wood flooring in all three of our previous homes, and all three times we’ve had issues with them — buckling, warping, swelling, cracking — which are not deal-breakers at all and have solutions (plus they were beautiful), and we might opt for solid wood again in the future. But Brian specifically requested we find beautiful wood that might also have an engineered backing, to avoid these problems. Zena’s engineered wood is assembled with nontoxic glues and has been VOC tested and Declare Label certified. Some engineered woods out there — most, actually — aren’t very good, and the technology is just now coming around. But Zena is leading the way and doing it right.
BUT HOW DOES A TREE GET TURNED INTO WOOD FLOORING?
STEP #1: CHOOSE AND CHOP THE TREE
This was so fun to watch and shoot. Ben chooses the tree based on the health of the forest — a tree might be blocking the light of growing saplings underneath it, or possibly leaning and might fall. We shot this in winter, but in summer the canopy would be large, full of leaves, and creating a lot of shade. He keeps big, healthy old-growth trees, letting them grow and grow until they are ready to come down and open the path for a new canopy to thrive.
It was really special to get to walk the forest with Ben. Brian shot the video while we learned exactly where our wood floors were being sourced from. Lots of good feelings. That’s me, speaking and communing with the trees. Like everything, when they get chopped, the energy has to go somewhere (that’s just physics), and these trees have very happy energy. (Can you tell that’s VERY important to me?)
STEP #2: MILL INTO PLANKS — HOW A CIRCLE BECOMES A SQUARE
What you see above is how they take that long, round trunk and mill it back and forth through this massive machine, cutting it in the middle and turning it over and over in different directions to get all the planks you see in the cross-section. The idea is to get as much usable wood out of the tree as possible, with minimal waste. The person running the machine has to be really experienced and know how to turn the log just the right way to get the next cut. It’s awesome to watch.
STEP #3: AIR DRY (ONE YEAR MINIMUM)
You can’t build with wet wood or it will rot, swell, etc. — it has to be dry to be stable. And the thicker the wood, the longer it will take to be ready to use. (P.S. That is why there was a massive wood shortage last year. It wasn’t that we were out of wood, it’s that lockdown shut down the milling/drying process, which meant once we were out of dry wood, the supply plummeted while the demand surged, until the mills caught up. Thus the quadrupled cost of wood for all of us remodeling.)
STEP #4: KILN DRY IN HEAT
To ensure that all moisture is out of the wood, as well as eliminate any bugs, it is transferred to the kiln and dried until the moisture content is as low as 8%. (They say they are mainly in the moisture mitigation business, lol.)
STEP #5: PLANED AND SMOOTHED OUT — ALMOST READY FOR FLOORING
Planing is where they take the wonky but fully dried board and essentially shave a small layer off the top and underside so it’s perfectly flat, smooth, and almost ready to become flooring.
STEP #6: FINAL PREP FOR FLOORING
While you can just lay wood on the floor and call it “wood flooring,” that’s like mixing ice with cream and calling it ice cream. It’s just not how it works. (You could do it that way — it just won’t stay together, may splinter, and will swell, shrink, etc.) For the best flooring product that feels solid and doesn’t come apart, you want it to be milled to connect with a tongue and groove on the sides as well as on the ends, butt to butt (“end-matched”). This makes for an extremely tight and solid fit. Zena does this without a microbevel between the planks, so that when it’s laid in place, it looks extremely seamless. That might not be your look, but it is what we want this time around. (No splinters, no chances of cracks, and no busy lines). Do I lovesolition a 12″-wide-plank reclaimed wood floor? Sure! But I also love a really smooth solid simple surface that is easy to maintain and requires no bandaids for our splintered kid’s toes). Zena then sends out the wood to another local mill for the 4mm hardwood layer to be applied to engineered plywood backing. Finally, their ¾” flooring blanks come back, where those go through the previously discussed tongue & groove + end-match processing, and are bundled/stored in their dryroom for the client.
At the end of the tour we got to see our very own flooring bundled up and we were SO EXCITED. It’s the perfect tone, with all the character and tons of wood grain. Fun fact – a knot is where a branch once was 🙂 Our wood flooring is Oregon-grown white oak, with “character” (not clear or ‘select’ grade). It’s a mix of 4.25”, 5.25”, and 6.25″ variable widths, once shoved together via the tongue and groove you can’t even see the seams, which we love. They have average lengths of 6-8 feet. They’ll be sanded/stained in place (after installed). Our flooring starts at $10.75 a square foot and the lead time can be as little as 1 week, (if the inventory is in stock), but could be 6-10 weeks if your order requires further accumulation and production of the selected hardwood species…having said that, I am anticipating that after this post they won’t be able to keep their floors in stock so hurry while this gem of a company is still flying under the radar with their truly exceptional products!
The knots. The grain pattern. The color variation. Does it look like some other white oak out there? Maybe, but it’s not. It’s special, solid, and smooth.
Zena also makes custom wood heat and AC registers and returns, which we are very excited about, and they have wood for stairs and countertops as well (including butcher block).
It was like going on a field trip in elementary school — I learned so much and came home fulfilled in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. Not only was I even more excited about the flooring, but I felt hope for the planet with people like Ben and his family tending to this forest. Please, if you are interested, head to their site and watch the video, learn more about what they do and how they do it, and see what other products they have. Maybe they are the right fit for you, too?
My goal with the post and partnership is to a) create awareness around Zena’s forest and beautiful ethos, and b) remind the world what really goes into making quality products. We are so used to things being cheap and fast, which typically means they aren’t made with people or the planet in mind. And while no one should be shamed for their budget (low or high), I think we have a skewed perception of what things cost, based on home shows on TV and Amazon-priced everything. If this is outside your budget, I totally get it, and I want you to have a home you love, too, so get the flooring that fits your budget. But if you are privileged enough to be renovating with these stand-out factors in mind then I hope you can see that Zena flooring is absolutely worth it. 🙂
*Photos by Kaitlin Green