Northwest companies take major role in CLT


A new story from the Associated Press explores the critical role that Northwest companies are playing in the rise of cross-laminated timber in the U.S. The story is also notable because since it was produced by the Associated Press wire service, the article has been published in newspapers all over the country, helping to spread the word about the benefits of CLT in the construction of tall buildings.

The story features the only two companies in the U.S. that currently make CLT — SmartLam in Whitefish, Mont., and DR Johnson in Riddle, Ore. (Washington does not currently have CLT facilities, but there have been talks about building CLT plants in Darrington (Northwest Washington), Forks (Olympic Peninsula) and Colville (Northeast Washington).)

From the AP article:

John Redfield watches with pride as his son moves a laser-guided precision saw the size of a semi-truck wheel into place over a massive panel of wood.

Redfield’s fingers are scarred from a lifetime of cutting wood and now, after decades of decline in the logging business, he has new hope that his son, too, can make a career shaping the timber felled in southern Oregon’s forests.

That’s because Redfield and his son work at D.R. Johnson Lumber Co., one of two U.S. timber mills making a new wood product that’s the buzz of the construction industry. It’s called cross-laminated timber, or CLT, and it’s made like it sounds: rafts of 2-by-4 beams aligned in perpendicular layers, then glued — or laminated — together like a giant sandwich.

The resulting panels are lighter and less energy-intensive than concrete and steel and much faster to assemble on-site than regular timber, proponents say. Because the grain in each layer is at a right angle to the one below and above it, there’s a counter-tension built into the panels that supporters say makes them strong enough to build even the tallest skyscrapers.

“We believe that two to five years out, down the road, we could be seeing this grow from just 20 percent of our business to potentially 60 percent of our business,” said Redfield, D.R. Johnson’s chief operating officer. “We’re seeing some major growth factors.”

Another Oregon company is at the forefront of designing tall wood buildings with CLT, according to the story.

This spring, cross-laminated timber will get its ultimate test in the United States when a Portland architectural firm breaks ground on a 12-story wood building in the city’s trendy Pearl District. It would be the tallest all-wood building in the world constructed in a seismic zone and the tallest all-wood building in North America.

…Lever Architecture is using $1.5 million it won in a tall wood building competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the softwood industry that’s intended to promote CLT as a domestic building material.

…The Portland firm has been working with scientists at Portland State University and Oregon State University to test the panels’ strength by subjecting them to hundreds of thousands of pounds of pressure. They are also testing various methods for joining the massive panels together.

“We’re looking at creating a resilient design, a design that could withstand a major earthquake — basically the earthquake that we all worry about — and be repaired,” said Thomas Robinson, founder of Lever Architecture.

The results of the structural testing in Oregon will be made public for other U.S. designers, bringing the material one step closer to the mainstream, Dusicka said.