Lake Wood Design co-owner Devin Garrett cuts thick old-growth timbers to be used in furniture.

When co-owner Devin Garrett and staff at Lake Wood Designs create one-of-a-kind beautiful wood products with highly desirable properties like strength, durability, and fire-resistance, they don’t just rely on being highly skilled with a multitude of tools. Planning and building these wonders requires they draw on their deep knowledge of wood and its properties. To build these wonders they need an intimate knowledge of wood science, wood history, and wood engineering.

As for science, consider the following fact: according to Devin pine used to grow about an inch a year but now grows about an inch a month! The reason has to do with science.

“Part of it has to do with more CO2 in the atmosphere,” said Devin. “The other part has to do with forest management.”

This difference between modern trees and old-growth trees is the main reason why Lake Wood Designs focuses on repurposing old-growth wood that has been sitting in warehouses sometimes for decades. Because of the slower growth, old-growth wood has much closer grain lines and is much stronger and denser than modern wood.

Some of the company’s favorite old-growth woods to use are cypress, Douglass fir, and redwood. Besides their strength, these wood are also highly resistant to rot, bugs, and fire. Because this wood has been around a really long time, it is also very stable. To make sure it stays stable requires Devin and staff to use some wood engineering to make sure the old-growth wood is properly dried before it is ready to be used.

“If you kiln dry it, It will stay nice and stable,” said Devin. “In our shop when we get it down to 8 to 10 percent moisture content and we put it in a house that is nicely conditioned throughout the year, it will stay that way forever.”

One of the main things Lake Wood Designs focuses on is making engineered wood products. This is where they glue a thin layer of old-growth wood, called a lamela, to a high-quality layer of Baltic birch. This top layer becomes the “tread layer” if the engineered product is used in floor panels, though it can also be used in something like a table.

Stack of old-growth timber sitting for years near Duluth docks waiting to be transformed into beautiful furniture. (Photos submitted by Devin Garrett)

Because Devin and staff are students of history they are very familiar with old wooden tanks. In these eight-foot or more diameter tanks, people used to ferment beer, wine, and pickle juice. Barrel makers of the past used the very best pieces of redwood available, selected to be virtually knot-free. Lake Wood Designs has used barrel wood, some up to about 90 years old, from the Wente Winery, the Falstaff Brewery in Omaha, and the Duluth Brewing and Malting Company.

The operation of the Duluth Brewing and Malting Company is an interesting chapter in Duluth’s history. It was one of the few breweries in the area that malted its own grain. This diversification helped them to stay in business longer and survive prohibition.

Knowing the past history and usage of a piece of wood allows Lake Wood Designs to use wood pieces in places where it looks the best and its history is displayed in interesting ways. For instance, the inside staves from the barrels are darker because of contact with the liquids. These parts can be used in places where the designer or the client thinks that darker grains look better. In some pieces of wood, you can see where the metal bands holding the staves together used to be. A good example of a piece displaying history well is the wine barrel table they made a couple of years ago.

On this table, you can see the original dowel holes from the barrel it came from. You can even tell what kind of drill was used. You can also see where nails in the acidic solution caused stains in the wood.
This table was one of the beautiful creations made by Lake Wood Designs. They also have millwork and individual pieces of high-quality engineered products. It took a high level of artisan skill and lots of knowledge to make these creations.