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Wood stain and sealant company Timber Pro Coatings will make thousands of gallons of the stain needed for the airport's new Doug fir roof

PMG PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Shari Steber, president of Timber Pro Coatings USA, a wood coatings company that scored a contract to stain the wood on the Portland International Airport's massive new terminal roof.

Shari Steber, the president of Timber Pro Coatings USA, a mom-and-pop wood coatings company on East Burnside Street, was doing her thing one day in the store when a man came in to browse the goods. He was an architect, he said, and had heard she had a nontoxic wood stain that might work on his Douglas fir roof project.

"He was carrying a briefcase and a small, 6-by-10 inch piece of wood, and he explained that he was an architect looking for a whitewash color wood stain/sealer. He had been referred to us by a colleague who spoke highly of our wood stains," Steber said.

PMG PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Wood stain samples at Timber Pro Coatings USA.

She told him they could make a stain in any color he liked, showing him a wall of samples that ranges between ebony, blues, greens and pinks, along with the browns and yellows of natural wood color.

Steber rattled off the family story: How her contractor husband, Will, was working in Oahu, Hawaii, and sealed a million-dollar wooden beachfront house that was so toxic the owner's throat swelled up and couldn't move in until it had off-gassed for months.

Shari and Will Steber found a water- and oil-based stain and moved back to Portland to be satellite manufacturers of the product. In 1992 they went independent, formed Timber Pro Coatings, and developed their own recipes by popular demand.

Today they make nine different environmentally friendly products in drums at the back of the Burnside showroom, including wood stains, wood sealants, concrete sealants and deck-cleaning solutions. Word of mouth took off. One article in Dwell about the black stain job on a luxury home outside Bend has given them five years of referrals. Once an architect certifies their product, it spreads to other architects.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - They don't call it the microbrewery of wood stains and sealants for nothing. Timber Pro Coatings USA's environmentally friendly wood treatments are designed and made in house. The recipes of the water-based, low VOC products are a trade secret.

"After we talked story for about 30 minutes, (the architect) asked me if I'd like to know what the project was. I said 'Yes of course,' and he told me it was for the new PDX main terminal wood ceiling of over 1.5 million square feet of wood surface.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Timber Pro Coatings USA co-owner Sheri Steber says they were offered over $2 million for the property by an apartment developer but their chance to move fell through. They like the area because Portland's central east side is still convenient for architects and contractors.

It was a major score. ZGF lead architect Christian Schoewe wanted an almost invisible sealant for the mass timber beams holding up the new terminal roof, which is being built on the tarmac now. The sealant also is for the plywood panels and the 2-by-6 struts that will give the airport its spectacular ceiling.

Staining a wood-sided house might take 50 gallons. A big order for Timber Pro is 600 gallons, such as for the honey-colored Packard Foundation building in Los Altos, California. Or 750 gallons for Bears Playgrounds of New York to paint their wooden playground equipment. ZGF wanted an initial 1,500 gallons for the airport, and it could amount to three times that much by the time the job is done.

PMG PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - A worker at Timber Pro Coatings USA on East Burnside Street packs up product for shipping.

As Steber explains it, untreated wood goes superficially gray in the sunshine. That can be removed and the wood colored again. The other products they make are sealants, which also prevent weathering. They don't do preservatives, to fight rot and bugs, because the materials are too toxic.

PMG PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Wood stain samples at of Timber Pro Coatings USA, which is now staining the Portland airport's giant new terminal ceiling.

Old school

Timber Pro Coatings is classic old Portland business: storefront showroom wooden samples. A couple of offices with binders, files and staplers for the boomers, PCs for the Gen X staff; then a main room with large tanks where the products are made.

They like to call it the home brew of wood stains because Will Steber plumbed the tanks together and comes up with the recipes (there's even what looks like a stainless steel brew tank behind the curtain where the raw materials are kept). Just like at a hardware store, the base stain or sealant is neutral, and the color is added at the end and mixed through.

Steber says she went to about 20 meetings with the architects, the Port of Portland, and the project managers from Hoffman Skanska and Swinerton Construction. At the final meeting, 20 people showed up to look at the different shades of stain on wood. The architects measured light reflection and refraction. The Port of Portland had the last word and chose an almost invisible sealant. (Sealing wood makes it look wet and dark, so white is added to make the wood look pale again.)

This huge deal gave Timber Pro Coatings a boost during the pandemic. "The fact that they chose a local Oregon manufacturer and sustainable product for this huge job was admirable," Steber said.

COURTESY PHOTO: R&H CONSTRUCTION - One North, whose wood is stained with Timber Pro Coatings products, has become a billboard for the company as people notice how well the color is holding up.

Influencers

One North, the white wood building at North Fremont Street and Williams Avenue, which looks like a melting igloo, has caught the eye of architects and contractors. She says as they have seen the color of the wood hold up, they have come into the store looking for the product.

"In the beginning, we just had homeowners and contractors in here buying product for their decks and their log homes and their fences," Steber said. "And then I think Holst Architecture was one of the first architects that really took our brand and started specifying it."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - One mention in Dwell magazine, five years ago, of their stains being used in a house in Oregon, has led to multiple enquiries and orders. Timber Pro Coatings has a web site that took four years to build, a Facebook page and no Instagram, although it is followed on many gardening and chickencoop IG pages. The company does not advertise.

Construction carried on during the pandemic as an essential service, and homeowners took on remodeling projects, boosting sales further. One product that flies off the shelves is Internal Wood Stabilizer, which gardeners use to seal their wooden planters. Steber explains that it lays down a layer of glass crystals half an inch into the wood, making it waterproof.

The company faces more difficulties now, with the supply chain breakdown. The Texas big freeze didn't help, but worse is the national shortage of truck drivers.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Thick brushes with square ends are best for applying wood stain.

"We've got product that's been sitting in a semi in Portland for 10 days that they can't get here. I'm not sure why they're backed up. There's not enough drivers."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Storage at Timber Pro Coatings USA on East Burnside Street. The shortage of truck drivers and supply chain issues have caused more problems with stock than the pandemic.

Timber Pro Coatings USA

Dealer in protective stains and finishes for log cabins, decks, fences, gates and other outdoor wood.

ADDRESS: 2232 E Burnside St.

PHONE: 503-232-1705

WEB: timberprocoatingsusa.com/

COURTESY PHOTO: TIMBER PRO COATINGS - A sample of Doug fir from the Portland airport's new terminal roof and ceiling. A ZGF architect checked out the store and gave them the contract.


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
971-204-7874
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