Story and photos by Patricia Morrison Coate
Bubinga, garapa, jatoba, obeche, sapele. Sounding like a foreign language to most, they’re common words to those wise in the ways of wood at Edensaw Woods, Ltd., in Port Townsend. From small carving projects to building a boat from keel to mast or giving yachts an extra touch of elegance, Edensaw has been meeting the needs of woodworkers and shipwrights since 1984. Owners Jim Ferris and Charlie Moore were buying lumber and building boats themselves nearly 30 years ago in Port Townsend.
“We saw a need for it. We were building boats and saw others needing wood,” Ferris said from the company’s campus on Seton Road.
Within five years, the operation moved from two guys with a tarp-covered truck and all the lumber that would fit into it in one warehouse, a millwork shop, an office and showrooms featuring flooring, woodworking tools and U-pick lumber pieces ranging in size from 6-inch-square blocks to a 10' by 7' salvaged redwood burl slab.
“We buy and sell wood products domestically and internationally from all around the world and distribute from here and our veneer warehouse in Tacoma,” Ferris said, adding Edensaw’s fleet of nine trucks delivers to the Olympic Peninsula, San Juan islands, Puget Sound and into Vancouver, British Columbia. Edensaw also ships nationally and internationally. Its products are categorized as lumber, plywood, veneer and blocks/pieces.
Annual sales from all products are approximately $8 million, Moore said modestly, and he estimated the company sells between 300,000 and 400,000 board feet per year.
Although customers certainly can buy oak, maple or cherry for new kitchen cabinets, a good part of Edensaw’s reputation is based on its large A-Z inventory of exotic woods, from African blackwood to ziricote. As of 2010,
115 types of wood were available and samples of 100 of them are displayed in the company’s office area, so customers can see and feel the characteristics of the wood. The variety of grain patterns is illuminating — swirls, stripes, flames, scales, waves, plumes, etc.
Ferris said Edensaw is committed to purchasing Forest Stewardship Council certified wood products “that are sourced from forests managed to the highest environmental, social and economic standards.”
“We were one of the very first ones to be certified and we try to stock as much FSC certified wood as possible. Not all wood is available as FSC but we stock as much as we can of it that is,” Ferris said.
“A lot of our wood goes into cabinet building, flooring, boat construction, interior house trim packages and hotel lobbies with high-end veneer stock,” Ferris said.
“Home woodworkers buy a lot of product, as do professional furniture makers.”
Customers can buy as small or as large a piece as needed plus we have a showroom with all different kinds of woodworking tools for amateurs and professionals by such well-known brands as Fein, Festool and Rockler. They also can browse the warehouse and select individual pieces of lumber or plywood for matching purposes.
“We sell a lot of marine plywood and decking in exotic imports from South America. In building wooden boats, we supply white oak or purpleheart for the framing; Douglas-fir and sapele for decking and Sitka spruce for masts,” Ferris explained. “You can use anything on the interior — whatever grabs your fancy.”
In the milling shop, employees rip, plane, mold and sand interior trim in styles from simple to complex, the latter with five-head or six-head molders. Sometimes customers opt for veneer instead of solid wood for cabinetry or furniture because of the expense, so, “We will lay it up for customers on whatever core they want. Popular domestic veneers are cherry, eastern maple, walnut, alder and Douglas-fir while imported ones are bubinga, sapele, khaya, jatoba and purpleheart.” Ferris noted the Tacoma warehouse has “the largest veneer inventory in the Northwest.”
Great wood wouldn’t go far without great customer service and Edensaw’s 3,000 or so customers attest to that. Professional wood craftsmen John and Geneva Hansey, of Sequim, recalled in those early days, seeing Edensaw’s inventory required “a flashlight in a barn.” The Hanseys vouched that Ferris and Moore are every bit as customer-oriented today as they were 27 years ago. Geneva Hansey noted, “The people who buy from us are very particular and so our wood has to be special, too. Edensaw takes the time to take pictures of the veneer so John can import into an actual drawing of the piece to show the customer.”
“They’ve definitely taken care of us over the years,” John Hansey said. “I’ll need something and usually they manage to get it to me that day. It would be difficult doing our business without them — they carry such a nice inventory. Jim (Ferris) once went to South Africa to buy bubinga slabs for a project I had in mind — and it’s not we’re like a big yacht company that buys thousands of yards a year. I try to be very loyal to them — I always check with Edensaw first.”
Haven Boatworks co-owner Julia Maynard has high praise for Edensaw, too.
“We’ve (she and co-owner Stephen Gale) have had a very good relationship for years. Edensaw supplies most of the wood for projects we’ve done — for example, a fair amount of wide and long board of sapele for planking and purpleheart timber. Having them in town and delivering to us is very nice.”
Edensaw has about 40 employees, many of them long term, which also sits favorably with John Hansey. “A lot of their employees have been there for at least 15 years and for a company doing a lot of growth, that’s a neat thing because it shows they take care of their customers in that way, too.”