Spectrum - Treating Wood
Like Fine Wine

For years David Schroeder was
shocked that Birdseye and Curly
Maple were considered "defective"
by industry standards. Twenty two
years ago, in fact, the National
Hardwood Lumber Assoc.’s grading
book clearly stated that in
allowable cuttings: no Birdseye,
no Curly.

"In other words," said Schroeder,
president of Spectrum Hardwoods,
"they were considered

And it wasn’t just NHLA that considered them rejects, Schroeder
said, who recalls a visit to a rural
sawmill to inspect a shipment of
Birdseye veneer logs three years
ago. While there, he said an older
man, who formerly worked in that
sawmill, walked him from the
guardhouse to the back of the mill
to look at Birdseye logs.

During their short walk, the man
reminisced about when he worked
full-time at the mill 20 years earlier.
There, mill employees were
under strict orders to “sneak” two
or three boards of Birdseye Maple
into each pack in an effort to “get
rid of the stuff.”

“They were considered rejects at
the time,” Schroeder
explained, “so they didn’t
want to anger the customer
by putting in too many Birdseye boards into each pack. They had
to go out of their way to insidiously almost get rid of it.”
Today, that customer would
probably be thrilled to receive the
highly sought-after wood.
“Now it’s pretty much a welcome
board by anyone,” Schroeder
Today, the Maples that
Schroeder discovered as valuable
years ago are among the rarest
woods in the world. As awareness
of the value increased, so too did
the number of Birdseye veneer log
buyers. In fact, Schroeder said
that 15 years ago there were but
three of them, and today there are about 500.
“I was one of the only ones who
thought these were the most
beautiful of the woods,” Schroeder
said. “Lo and behold 22 years later
Birdseye is the most expensive
wood in North America, both in
the veneer form and probably in
finished lumber form as well.”






David Schroeder, in a
1960’s Malaysian riot
control safety helmet,
stands next to a slab of
Quilted Maple.



Schroeder, who founded
Spectrum Hardwoods in 1979
after working in the cable television
industry, said his love for all
things wood was unavoidable
since both his father and brother
were tree doctors: “We’ve been
messing with trees for quite a
while,” he said, adding that his
interest in Birdseye Maple in particular grew from an affinity
toward figured woods. “They
exhibit an organic flow and
dimensionality seldom seen in
other woods,” he observes. He was
also born and raised in Michigan,
a state where Birdseye and Curly
Maples sometimes grow.

Today, Spectrum Hardwoods
specializes in the Figured Maples,
including Birdseye, Curly and
Quilted (Pacific Coast) Maple.
Schroeder buys about 500,000
board feet of lumber annually, in
thicknesses ranging from 4/4 to
12/4, one through three inches.

“We try to limit our product to a
Select and Better grade, but we
usually accept some No. 1 stock,”
said Schroeder, adding that
because many Birdseye buyers
utilize shorts anyway, settling for
a small portion of #1 stock doesn’t
hurt Spectrum Hardwoods or
yields of its customers. “We can
get just as good a cutting from a
5-foot board as we can from a 10-
foot board. We can also get cleaner,
more figured material from
some shorts because we get
lengths that wouldn’t be of interest
to a veneer log buyer.”



Spectrum Hardwoods inventories
over 500,000 board feet of highly
figured Maple lumber and much of
its best stock is 10-20+ years old
and “highly unusual,” according
to Schroeder, who likens his buying
strategy to buying stocks and
bonds. “Twenty years ago I saw
the writing on the wall,” he
explained. “As the son of a tree
doctor and hailing from Michigan,
I knew that Birdseye is a slowgrowing form of Rock Maple. The trees are small and hearts are
large, by definition, so I started
stockpiling the best of the best 20
years ago. As I have sorted and
graded hundreds of thousands of
board feet of Figured Maples, and
we carefully inspect every single
board before we sell it, I have kept
the best 1 percent or 2 percent.
Over 22 years, it really added up.”
Schroeder’s foresight and early
strategies have positioned
Spectrum Hardwoods as the place
to go for the oldest, stabilized,
highly-figured Birdseye, Curly and Quilted Maple currently available
on the market. The value in stabilizing figured wood over that many years, he explained, is traced to the species’ interwoven grain and the internal tensions that exist within that grain.
“If we can properly stabilize those internal tensions, it’s better for
the end user and woodworker,
because there’s less ‘movement in service,’” he explained. “Here, we hasten slowly and utilize daily.”
That philosophy sits well with
Spectrum Hardwoods, customers
within the European Lutherie – or, the makers of stringed, fretted
musical instruments like guitars
and violins. In fact, some such
customers would prefer that the
wood be aged even longer.



These are bookmatched planks of “Marblecake” Macassar Ebony.



Shown here are bookmatched “heart-and-sap” Birdseye Maple.

Spectrum’s musical instrument quality Birdseye Maple, shownhere, is just one of the company’s specialties.


“The high-end violin makers, for
example, would prefer to have all
their figured Maple aged for 50
years,” Schroeder said. “We can’t
afford to do that, so they have to
settle for about 20 years.”
Spectrum Hardwoods’ aging,
sales and marketing, manufacturing
and distribution processes are
handled from two facilities: one in
Bend, Ore., and another in
Lansing, Mich. The newest facility
is a 15,000 square-foot (the other
is about 18,000 square feet),
completely insulated showroom and
warehouse situated in Oregon’s
high desert and built in 1998.
Here, with only 9 and 1/2 inches
of annual precipitation, the wood
ages at equilibrium moisture content
of 8 percent.

Along with Schroeder, other key
employees include John Sherman,
quality control supervisor and
Gerald Traub, an architect who
designs custom furniture and

From its two locations, Spectrum
Hardwoods uses container and
flatbed trucks to transport various-
sized shipments to customers
worldwide. Typical recipients use
Schroeder’s woods for custom furniture,
architectural millwork,
custom homes, jet aircraft and
yacht interiors, guitars and flooring.
“They’re all very fond of the figured
woods,” Schroeder said.



From its two locations, Spectrum
Hardwoods uses container and
flatbed trucks to transport various-
sized shipments to customers
worldwide. Typical recipients use
Schroeder’s woods for custom furniture,
architectural millwork,
custom homes, jet aircraft and
yacht interiors, guitars and flooring.
“They’re all very fond of the figured
woods,” Schroeder said.
“Maple is very hot and the ‘light
wood’ look is in, so business has
been very brisk lately. Designers,
specifiers, architects and end
users are tired of the all-the-same,
‘laminate’ look. As their knowledge
increases, they prefer the natural,
organic woods that show some
character, dimensionality and
soul. The figured Maples capably
fill the bill.”

Now, if Schroeder could just get a
handle on the monster he created
years ago at a time when few people
recognized the beauty and
value of figured Maples. Over the
last three years he said getting
good quality Birdseye lumber has
become virtually impossible.
“Everybody who buys straightgrain
Maple veneer logs also has
customers for Birdseye and
Curly,” Schroeder said. “Nothing
slips through the cracks, because
all the gyppos that cut small
tracts in the woods know who the
Birdseye and Curly veneer log
buyers are. As a result, all the
good Birdseye and Curly logs are
sold in the woods and never make
it to the lumber mill to be even
possibly converted to lumber.”



But even with the competition for
his beloved figured woods heating
up, Schroeder said Spectrum
Hardwoods’ future looks very
bright. Because of the dearth of
Birdseye, Curly and Quilted
Maple, Schroeder is searching
overseas for other rare, exotic
Hardwoods, such as Macassar
Ebony from Indonesia – a species
for which the company takes an
active role in the harvesting
“It’s been harvested for about
150 years, so the mature trees are
farther and farther back up in the
mountains,” Schroeder said.
“Because the region is still quite
undeveloped, harvesting takes
place by hand.”
That harvesting is done in a “just
one tree here and one there,”
process, which simulates the natural
forest process of ‘gap dynamics,’
whereby one large tree or a
very small number may die of old
age, disease, wind throw or lightning
strike. “This method of harvesting
could not possibly be of
lower impact,” Schroeder said,
“and the tropical forests are leftcompletely intact both during and after harvest.”
Schroeder has also made monthlong
forays recently to Indonesia,
Central America and Africa and is
looking to align his company with
a limited edition furniture
manufacturer to utilize some of the
veneer-quality boards that he’s
stockpiled for over 20 years. “That highly-figured Maple lumber,”
he said, “may never again be
available on the market.”



Reprinted from February 2003 Issue of National Hardwood Magazine

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Spectrum Building
354 NE Greenwood, Suite 202
Bend, OR 97701

(541) 382-2400
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