Buy Local… Wood? Blue-stain, Bark Beetle and Colorado

The curse that is beetle-killed wood is being framed as a possible blessing for a Denver homebuilder. (John Prieto, The Denver Post)

Here’s a story in the Denver Post Business section today, including the link with a video, on using blue-stained wood in home construction.

Colorado imports 95 percent of its lumber, which doesn’t make sense in a state with so many dead trees available to harvest, Cadman said.

New Town, which expects to build about 80 homes this year, will spend about $2,000 per home on the Colorado wood, which is comparable in cost to imported lumber.

Given the smaller size of Colorado’s lodgepole pines, the homebuilder will limit its use to vertical supports.

“We hope the example will encourage and facilitate others to use this wood,” said Bruce Ward, founder of recreation advocacy group Choose Outdoors in Pine.

Beetle-killed trees leave the state at risk of massive forest fires that pollute the air and water supply. Dead trees are falling in greater numbers on roads, tents and power lines, limiting recreational opportunities.

Ward is among those working to find economic uses for the dead trees, including converting them into pellets that can be burned.

The beetles infect wood with a fungus that leaves behind blue streaks, giving it some appeal for use in trim, decorative panels and furniture. Custom and log homes have been built with the material.

But New Town is trying to open up a much larger market — framing production homes. A key hurdle to clear will be convincing city buyers that “blue-stained pine” is safe to use and structurally sound.

“At first it was a little bit scary, and I thought, OK, something is going to happen with my place. Is it going to affect the structure or the strength of the wood?” said Nea Martinez, who has bought a townhome in Stapleton made with the wood.

Martinez said she did her homework and came away reassured.

“They’re turning something unfortunate into a positive,” she said.

Positives include creating jobs in rural Colorado and helping the state revive its lumber industry.

4 thoughts on “Buy Local… Wood? Blue-stain, Bark Beetle and Colorado”

  1. Does anyone have any figures on a niche market for blue stain wood as a specialty wood rather than commodity grade? I’d be curious to know. I’m just wondering about the potential for marketing blue stain better as a “high end” product before moving to the commodity grade market. since doing so would all smaller mills to earn a better return on less wood if the wood is consider to be a beautiful interior design wood, rather than low-return, high volume commodity grade….just some questions.

  2. Mike- furniture and paneling is what we have been using blue stain for for many years, I think across the West. In fact my kitchen dining set is blue stain from the now-defunct Russell Industries from LaPine Oregon 20 years or so ago.

    Let me check around to see if I can get any current figures.

    What is interesting to me is that I was on a tour of the EPA building in Denver where they used bamboo as paneling and asked why they didn’t use local wood; they said the bamboo must be greener because it’s certified.

    Perhaps China does better than us in marketing- I think Colorado has a marketing program “Local People Local Wood.” Maybe we need something broader across the Interior West…perhaps “Got Stain?”

  3. Good question Mike.

    You might recall that I used blue stain p-pine when we made our unfinished attic into a usable room. The blue stained pine was cut down about 2 miles from our house and then transported to Mark VanderMeer’s small mill (1 mile from our house). I used the blue stain for all the trim around the windows, for wainscoting and to build the half-wall surrounding the stairs. The blue stained wood, especially when varnished, is just amazingly beautiful and unique. I’ve always wondered why more people aren’t doing niche products out of blue stained pine. I agree, it makes much more sense to use blue stain for interior design wood, furniture, etc than to use blue stain for low-return 2 x 4s.


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