OVER THE LAST 20 years, a tight supply of western red cedar has created a robust market among high-end homes and resorts for plywood siding faced and backed with the similarly rustic-toned African hardwood okoume.
Roseburg pioneered the sale of okoume plywood in the U.S. with its Breckenridge siding, and in time others followed suit. Four years ago, emboldened by its purchase of exotic hardwood specialist Olympic Panel, Swanson Group began looking into how it could produce a similar product. According to Ken Pratt, technical director formerly for Olympic and now Swanson, “We had a lot of experience with hundreds of different species of wood and connections around the globe, so we knew that we could possibly get into this siding business.”
Swanson sought a species that looked like western red cedar, and was highly available, mold resistant, and could be chain-of-custody certified. Through intensive research and many failed tests it was revealed okoume to be the perfect match.
After finding the right species, Swanson committed itself to identifying the right partners to supply it.
Pratt said. “We made sure we found a manufacturer who was harvesting legal wood, who had been established for decades—over 30 years, had integrity, and had the ability to supply us with okoume monthly, legally and ethically.”
Bot Swanson’s chosen manufacturer and its longtime broker (Argo Fine Imports) are OLB certified, so Swanson itself underwent OLB chain-of-custody certification. Although the process took about 18 months instead of the usual six months due to the pandemic, Swanson passed the audits “with flying colors.”
Swanson now produces okoume- faced and backed Superior Siding at its plywood mills in Springfield and Glendale, Or. Panels include plain rough sawn square edge, plain shiplap, textured rough sawn or sanded 11/32”, 15/32”, and 19/32” in 8’, 9’ and 10’ lengths.
In its first year of production— 2020—Swanson shipped 64,000 panels, and the company expects the volume to increase.
In-the-field applications for the Superior line include clear siding, soffits, board-and-batten, accents walls, and wainscoting. The biggest market so far has been luxury homes and ski resorts like Aspen, Sun Valley, and Salt Lake City.
“It’s the look, the rustic wood, like a lodge or chalet out in the woods,” Pratt explained. “This is a modern lodge or cabin look when you’re not building with logs. You’re not dealing with hardboard, or fiber cement, or OSB.”
The product is not only Lacey Act compliant, but also California Fire Wildland Urban Interface certified, with quality assured through PLC monitoring.
When meeting with contractors, Swanson attempts to quell their fears, stressing Superior Siding is legal (“You won’t have to stop construction or strip stuff off the home”) and supply is steady. The key message: “We’re protecting your property from the elements while respecting the environment.”