Rick Arnett – Daily Journal of Commerce
DR Johnson Lumber Co., based in the small Oregon town of Riddle, is poised at the forefront of what could be a revolutionary use of wood as a building material in the Northwest.
Don R. Johnson founded the mill in 1951. Following his death in 2010, his daughters Valerie Johnson and Jodi Westbrooks decided they needed to move the millworks company in a new direction. Their father had been quick to jump on laminated beam products early on and the millworks had manufactured them for decades. Following the lead of their father’s eye for innovation, Valerie and Jodi decided to expand the mill’s manufacturing through a division called Riddle Laminators to include a new product they had heard about.
They have since invested millions of dollars in machinery that is allowing DR Johnson to become the first manufacturer in the country certified to produce cross-laminated timber panels – a new take on existing technology and products in the wood construction industry. What makes their product so progressive is the use of new-growth softwoods like Douglas fir to produce lighter, stronger, more flexible panels in sizes able to make the construction process much more efficient. They also offer a replacement to typical steel or concrete framing.
“We’re limited to 10-foot-by-32-foot panels because of transportation issues, but we can go larger if we need to,” said Todd Black, DR Johnson sales manager. “We have computer-controlled router systems that can pre-cut door and window openings, so the panels come prefabricated, labeled (for point of installation) and ready for immediate installation. Because they’re stronger and lighter than steel or concrete, we’re not limited to three or four stories as wood-frame construction would be.”
CLT is starting to capture attention in Portland. A 12-story structure under construction in the Pearl District will be the tallest all-wood building in the U.S. The technology has already been used successfully in Europe, where buildings up to 22 stories have been constructed with the same type of panels.
“Europe, Canada and Australia are already moving forward with CLT construction,” Black said. “This product is going to have a huge impact in the U.S. building market.”
“There are benefits beyond efficient construction,” he added. “There’s a lot of interest in net-zero housing and construction. A wood product sequesters carbon for the life of its use. We expect these panels to last 75 to 100 years. That’s eco-friendly.”