A Dramatic Tale of Timber Poaching in Washington State

Muffled chainsaws, tree DNA and Carlos Santana – this fascinating story about the bust of a timber poaching ring in Washington State has it all. Seeking a particular type of bigleaf maple with a distorted grain that’s highly prized for making musical instruments, a gang of poachers decimated an area of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest that came to be known a “the Slaughterhouse,” selling the stolen wood to a private mill owner who asked no questions about its origins.

High Country News spoke to U.S. Forest Service Officer Ron Malamphy about what made this particular case so dramatic. Malamphy, the sole officer patrolling a jurisdiction covering 575,000 acres, explains how the poachers would monitor his location, even going so far as to disable his vehicle. They evaded motion-sensor cameras and routed their chainsaw exhaust into buckets of water to avoid detection. But finally, a tip led him to an informant – a member of the gang who ran into unrelated legal trouble who set him on a path that led to the perpetrators and then all the way down the production line to PRS Guitars in Maryland, where the wood often ended up.

A quilted maple guitar by PRS

“In some ways, the story of bigleaf maple poaching starts with Carlos Santana. Yes, that Carlos Santana — the guitar player. Around one in every 20 bigleaf maples contains “figure,” gorgeous three-dimensional patterns etched in its grain. There are two primary variations: Quilted maple looks like ripples on water; flame maple resembles an aerial view of a rugged mountain range. No one is quite certain why figure occurs; the best guess is that it’s genetic, or produced by environmental factors such as moisture and temperature. In the 1980s, woodworkers began to realize that figured maple looked stunning in furniture, veneer and, particularly, musical instruments.”

“The wood’s staunchest champion was Santana, whose custom-made Paul Reed Smith guitars were topped with figured bigleaf. When Santana performed his hit “Smooth” at the 2000 Grammys, he bent wailing quarter-notes on a PRS whose luminous wood came from the Olympic Peninsula. Before long, bigleaf maple — at least those trees boasting precious figure — became one of the most valuable species in the Northwest’s forests. A two-foot-long block could reap $500. Classified ads seeking maple cutters ran in local newspapers. Landowners hired consultants to prospect on their land. Boutique sawmills arose in logging towns.”

What brought down this particular poaching gang was ultimately the Lacey Act, a law first introduced in 1900 to outlaw trading illegally harvested animals across state lines. In 2008, it was tweaked to include illegally harvested wood, allowing federal agents to go after importers of everything from Madagascar ebony to wood poached from the Amazon rainforest. Preventing the sale of these materials doesn’t just protect old-growth forests, sensitive environmental areas, wildlife habitat and other natural treasures; it protects the law-abiding domestic lumber industry. In the end, a new innovation that extracts DNA from lumber allowed Malamphy to match genetic material from wood in a crooked mill owner’s shop with bigleaf maple stumps in Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Read the whole story at High Country News.

Your Hottest Summer 2021 Eastern White Pine Projects

Eastern White Pine woodworking design

What have you all been up to this summer? Oh, just working on some amazing Eastern White Pine projects, if Instagram is any indication! As always, thanks for sharing your work under the hashtag #easternwhitepine. Here are 15 standout projects from the last few months.

This beautiful Eastern White Pine cabin by @garybergeron77: “Cabins going on over 10 years since I began cutting down trees, it became a quitting drinking project and the start of a mostly health obsession with woodworking, made possible by a very patient and supportive partner.”

A gorgeous custom window frame by @rustedpulchritude: “The finished window, made with the sill we were working on in our previous post – made from local eastern white pine and utilizing a reclaimed double-pane window. This window won’t need to open (being installed in an open storage space) so a fixed pane works ok.”

Eastern White Pine planks are playing a role in this old home restoration: “Well we are finally putting on plank. Timber framing in modern times generally means you are framing but also doing finish carpentry, however framing and sheathing at the same time works a new part of the brain. When replacing the plank frame’s sill we opted to change out the trough that held the plank for a rabbet(cut out corner) in which allows the plank to be inserted into the top plates trough then swing into the rabbet. We fixed surviving plank by relieving a mirror of the rabbit. We then fastened everything with structural screws.”

These satisfying dovetails by @jproniewski: “Who doesn’t love some dovetails? I needed more storage space in the shop and I almost bought a tool chest from the D-pot. Then I came to senses and started building my own. Here are some process shots of the carcass. I get all warm and fuzzy inside thinking that this thing will last for a long long time.”

Another stunning project by @rustedpulchritude: “A current WIP: a board made from local eastern white pine, decorated with handcarved apotropaic marks, aka witches or hex marks, believed to be protective of structures (and the people within them) in colonial america, brought as a concept from england. Many were inscribed onto portals through which a spirit might pass – windows, chimneys, etc – by a carpenter or craftsperson, the idea being that evil spirits are confusable and get caught up in the repeating pattern before making it inside. Another independently developed but similar-in-goal object that people might be more familiar with is the Native American/First Nations “dreamcatcher” (asabikeshiinh in Ojibwe) which instead of confusing a spirit would capture it, as if in a spiders web. Another version that I grew up with was the Irish St. Brigid’s Cross, in addition to other superstitious behaviors (throwing bread against doors on New year’s day while reciting a specific saying, etc). Another commonly seen example is Celtic and Scandinavian knotwork, in addition to other unique and fascinating traditions around the world.”

A modern home by @timberblock featuring Eastern White Pine: “As promised, we’re showing you the back of our beautiful brand new Sonoma. This home is the definition of pure contemporary living…inside and out. See more photos, plus get the floor plan. It’s all on our website…the link is in our profile.”

Check out these lovely floors by @vermontplankflooring: “This cozy bedroom features Old Growth Eastern White Pine with Vermont Planks’ Chelsea Finish.⁠”

An old fashioned barn raising by @pinestackjoinery: “Had an amazing weekend raising a barn frame for some very fine folks in Jordan Bay. 22X34’ with two storage lofts. Middle bay is open and will have sliding barn doors on both eave walls. Lean-to rafters and window framing to come.”

A refreshingly simple live edge Eastern White Pine slab project in progress by @mainelumber: “Simple garden table. We used one of our slabs, cut out the heart for stability and added a pair of pretty good looking @naturalgoodsberlin legs. Two matching benches to follow shortly.”

Check out this beauty by @roguefoxcollaborative: “Farmhouse Table and Benches in Eastern White Pine. Rustic Finish. 30”x72”. Small but tough. Buttons have been stress tested through plenty of one person lifting and moving. They strong.”

The underside of a stunning Eastern White Pine floor by @rockheartcabin: “Can you figure out what you are looking at here? I am standing on our basement stairs. You can see the first floor wall and ceiling and then the stairs that go up to the second floor. A feature that I like about them is that they will be open.”

Look at all this beautiful Eastern White Pine! Via @mooselogandtimberframehomes: “Interior photos of our gorgeous full round logs in our southern WI project! What’s your favorite part?”

Woodworking students learn some awesome new skills at @tfgheartwoodschool: “Heartwood students prep the final pieces and cut the last joints needed for putting the cruck frame together!”

This creative use of Eastern White Pine is going to make one cat very happy indeed! Via @round_angle: “Feline Climber Number 3 in production. Easy disassembly and reassembly.”

@kylielittleart shares an impressive project from the esteemed Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina: “I wasn’t planning on sharing all of @penland_wood ‘s summer class pics, but if they continue being this amazing…I won’t be able to help myself. The students built this timber frame in less than 2 weeks with very little experience. All joinery. No hardware.”

Via the @softwoodexportcouncil: “The classical rural New Hampshire home built with wood cut down on their one property and locally source Eastern White Pine, also has other Eco-friendly features such as a rooftop solar array, heat recovery ventilation system and a heat-pump hot water system. The owners note that “Every new home should be seeking Energy Star Certification. As long as your not cutting corners, meeting the requirements is easy and the amount of documentation needed is minimal as compared to other certifications such as LEED. And compared to other certification programs, Energy Star pays you and not the other way around.”

Rustic Eastern White Pine Showcased In an Adorable Tiny Portable Cabin

Amish Made Cabins Kentuckian

560 square feet is not quite a “tiny” house, which is often defined as roughly equivalent to an RV, but it’s a far cry from the 2,261-square-foot size of the average single-family home in the United States. For some people, however, it might be just right. American home sizes have ballooned in recent decades to proportions that many of us are starting to find unnecessary, and downsizing can allow us to live simpler lives on lower incomes. These cute Eastern White Pine models built by Amish Made Cabins in Shepherdsville, Kentucky are a great example of how a strong layout and quality materials can make a very small home feel surprisingly comfortable.

Amish Made Cabins living room

There are plenty of manufacturers out there producing structures of this size, but many of them are little more than slightly upscaled sheds, and they look it, especially from the outside. What sets Amish Made Cabins apart is the fact that the same level of craftsmanship and care goes into the design of these diminutive cabins as you’d see in a grander home. The company uses hand-hewn tongue and groove log siding and pre-engineered knotty pine interior walls to create a low-maintenance finish with a rustic look that’s also easy for the average consumer to build.

Amish Made Cabins kitchen
Amish made Cabins bedroom

Made to order and fully customizable, these cabins are available in a variety of styles, floor plans and sizes, ranging from 14 feet to 30 feet long. You can also connect multiple cabins to expand square footage while keeping the savings that comes with the modular kit approach. After it’s customized and built, the cabin arrives ready to assemble, and the customer completes on-site work like raising the hinged roof, completing the loft and constructing the optional porch.

Amish made Cabins Appalachian

Some of the features you can choose from include French doors, sliding glass doors, an upgraded roof pitch, dormers, gables, shutters and additional cabinets. Each home comes with plumbing roughed in, 200-amp electric with fixtures, fiberglass insulation, a bathroom, vinyl waterproof flooring, pine cabinets and Wilsonart countertops as well as an on-demand tankless hot water heater. Our favorite model might be the picturesque Appalachian with its long front porch, but the double-gabled Kentuckian (pictured top) is cute too, don’t you think?

Timber Block Tahoe: A Custom Craftsman-Style Luxury Home

Ever dream about designing your own custom dream log home? Traditional log houses can be pretty pricey, but a company called Timber Block is making them more accessible with a factory-built system you can order as a kit. The prefabricated wall panels of Timber Block’s engineered homes are made of Eastern White Pine timber dried to 8% humidity along with high-pressure closed-cell polyurethane insulation for a beautiful, high quality result, and each home comes with everything you need for the framework, exterior walls, roof, ceiling, loft, doors and windows and other components.

A recent project shows off just how amazing these custom-designed log homes can be. The clients chose to alter Timber Block’s Tahoe craftsman model into their very own luxury residence measuring 3600 square feet with three bedrooms, two levels of living space and a 3-car garage. They modified the look of the Tahoe from the outside, giving it a more symmetrical facade.

The panelized home building system makes it easy to alter the shape, size and floor plan of the home. It’s a cool use of Eastern White Pine, which is a standard material for many log and timber frame homes. 

“The wood is then bonded under thousands of pounds of pressure and thru-bolted every 24 inches. The panels are stacked and delivered to the building site and installed using a crane. Timber Block homes are highly energy-efficient, can be built anywhere and assemble in hours.”

Timber Block also offers Classic, Contemporary, Vintage, Farmhouse and Evolution collections of models, so there’s something for just about everyone. What would you build?

Weekend Project: Make an Eastern White Pine Bat House

Looking for a fun project to test your handy skills or keep the kids busy on a summer weekend? Here’s a great kit that will make the work easy and rewarding. Made of Eastern White Pine, the Wakefield Premium Bat House DIY Kit features an echo-location slot and space for up to twelve bats inside. Why host bats, you ask? While some people may find them the stuff of horror movies, these tiny flying mammals are great to have around your yard. A single bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects every hour, and usually ends up devouring 8,000 of them in just one evening!

“Wakefield premium bat houses are hand-crafted in the USA and made of only the finest, sustainably-grown Eastern White Pine Wood. Eastern White Pine is an ideal material for bat houses because it provides superior insulation during the summer and winter months while remaining light in weight and easy to hang. The Wakefield Bat House DIY Kit is easy to build and perfect for educational purposes. Bats are one of the most important ecological health contributors to the planet; many plants are dependent upon them for pollination.”

“And despite popular belief, bats are generally quite harmless to people; they do not attack humans and are far less prone to rabies than even household dogs or cats. The Wakefield Bat House features an extended landing pad and an interior covered with screening to provide bats with a maximum foothold. It is also specially designed to include an echolocation slot, making it easy for the bats to locate the cavity.”

“Your bat house should be located in a sunny location, 10 to 15 feet above the ground, and preferably on the side of a building where there isn’t any shade. It is common for bats to wait up to 18 months before occupying a new bat house. Fall or winter is a good time to put up a bat house in hopes of occupants the following Spring. Each Wakefield Bat House is built to last and includes a brochure that describes the species, placement and maintenance of the bat house.”

When you’re done putting this kit together, mount it on a pole, on the side of a building or on the trunk of a tree with little shade, and position it facing south to southeast, so it warms up during the day. Make sure you’re a quarter mile or less from a water source for healthy bats. This kit costs $45.99 at Monroe, where you’ll also find a great selection of other rEastern White Pine projects, like birdhouses and squirrel nesting boxes.

Isle of Light: Idyllic Post & Beam Eastern White Pine Cottages on the Maine Coast

Set about 23 miles beyond Port Clyde on the coast of Maine, Wheaton Island is about as peaceful as it gets, with few structures and even fewer residents. In the winter, you’ll find hardly anyone around, but in summer, a series of charming white dwellings come alive with the inspiring creative activities of contemporary artists Bo Bartlett and Betsy Eby, who spend the rest of the year at their full-time residence in Columbus, Georgia. Bartlett bought the island in 1999 after spotting it in the distance while vacationing at the summer home of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth on Benner Island.

Bartlett immediately got to work restoring the island’s turn of the century house, barn and guesthouse with the help of Freeport builder John Libby, and after marrying Betsy in 2010, called Libby back in to build two custom “his and hers” artist studios. 

From Decor Maine:

“The simple, uninsulated post-and-beam structures were adapted from the company’s 18-by-24-foot ‘Harraseeket’ model. North-facing skylights capture the light so crucial to the artists, while double barn doors open to ocean views. ‘We started with that footprint and went with a steeper roof to give it a bit more character,’ explains John. Made of Eastern white pine, the white shingle-sided studios look nearly identical from the outside, while the interiors have been adapted to suit the artists’ varied needs. Bo’s include a loft space and large north-facing windows, Betsy’s an upright piano, which she plays throughout her workday (‘Going back and forth,’ says Bo). The structures were painted white inside and out, down to the furnishings, making plain canvases, as it were, for the colorful work created within them.”

Libby constructed the timber frames at his warehouse in Freeport, then dismantled them and shipped them to the island by barge. It took a helicopter too set them into their permanent places. Each one is painted stark white inside, giving them a purity and simplicity that instantly evokes feelings of calmness and tranquility. It’s also a highly effective backdrop for art. The studios are powered by solar panels and propane.

“My connection with nature is just so piqued out there,” says Eby. “It reminds me of who I am.”