What Does Custom Wood Building Mean?

Custom Wood Building

Custom wood building is an art that has been around for about as long as humans. Many of the same terms we see today were used thousands of years ago. On Raymond McInnis’s site, A History of Woodworking, he shares a piece from an article written on Stonehenge:

“…The largest weighs as much as 50 tons. Unique today, Stonehenge was probably also unique in its own time, some 4,500 years ago – a stone monument modeled on timber precedents. Indeed, its massive lintels are bound to their uprights by mortise-and-tenon joints taken straight from carpentry.”

Modern Wood-Building

With the progress in modern technology and industrial demands, Woodworking as a field has changed. For example, the development of (CNC) or Computer Numeric Controlled Machines in 1949 made it possible to mass-produce and reproduce products faster—not only faster but with less waste and the ability to produce more complex designs. Along with CNCs, the emergence of rechargeable power tools sped up the creation of many projects. They also required much less body strength and endurance than in the past. Despite the increase with technological advances, the quality and craftsmanship of custom wood-building remains unmatched.

What Does Custom-Built Mean?

According to the Merriam Webster, custom built simply means, “Built to individual specifications.” Sounds pretty straightforward, however there are many intricate details involved. Custom wood building is more than making a window or door. It requires more than just the right tools and space. These are essential, yes, but custom building also requires a lot of skill. At Versatile Wood Products every project, both big and small, modern or historical, is performed with the utmost quality and dedication.

“Versatile provides historically accurate custom wood sash, cabinetry, doors and millwork using techniques originated by 18th and 19th century craftsmen. We are committed to creating spaces that honor and make history. By preserving traditional ways of building and blending them with modern technologies and performance standards, we design and build solutions that harmonize aesthetics and temperament with function and utility.”

Versatile’s experienced team specializes in balancing period appropriate architectural design specifications with modern performance standards, combining historic techniques and modern technologies.

What does manufactured mean?

Custom Wood Building




Wood is manufactured in a few types, Plywood, particleboard, fiberboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF), and veneer. In addition to the CNC machine, another reason for the increased popularity of mass-produced wood products was the invention of manufactured wood. Manufactured wood products have become a popular choice because they are less expensive to produce. Manufactured wood products are also more readily available at Big Box stores.

Understanding what custom wood building and manufactured wood are is important when starting a project. For example, determining the exact specifications for choosing the right window or door is important. Having the exact build for a particular project is crucial. Not just for the aesthetics, but for long-term quality.

“By hand-selecting tight grain wood patterns and using time-honored techniques our products will last for many years to come.”

How Versatile produces lasting quality

To better understand the separation between custom wood building and manufactured wood, the following Versatile projects will highlight the distinction. In this first custom case study, the restoration of a historical landmark highlights the stunning craftsmanship Versatile (and Arciform) demonstrate. The agility and flexibility accompanied by the great care required shows why custom wood building is essential.

Restoring First Congregational Church

The First Congregational Church turned to Versatile and Arciform to stabilize and restore the wood elements of this feature. Constructed in 1895, the First Congregational Church of Portland is a dominant Venetian Gothic icon. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a Portland Landmark. This historic structure towers with its 175’ bell tower at the Southwest corner.

Restoring the Gothic tracery was more than just “replacing parts.” The goal was to retain as much of the original fabric as possible. However, what appeared to be repetitive details in the columns and tracery were in fact unique. This prohibited the efficiency of replicating one element to be reused as a template throughout the entire tracery at similar locations. After meticulous documentation, all parts were mapped and translated into CAD files. Having these otherwise inaccessible components in-house provided the unique opportunity to prepare a custom library of details for First Congregational Church.

All new pieces were made of Western Red Cedar, the same wood species as the original elements. This was to ensure historic accuracy and material performance. Replacement parts were then fit in place for sizing and routed with the cove detailing ensuring the tracery appeared seamless. The final product was delivered in sections for ease of hoisting and installation by Arciform.

Modern Buildings

In these three short project highlights, the breadth and skill level of Versatile is apparent. These again demonstrate custom wood building as an art that surpasses manufactured wood products both in ingenuity and workmanship.


For The Zipper, Versatile and designer Guerrilla Development used simple solid wood frames and sills. They also used direct glazed windows in solid clear vertical grain fir. This helped to create a truly innovative modern design.

The Evo Building challenges were to create custom casements in Douglas fir to match historic photos of the building. It was nearly impossible to replicate a two-toned color scheme in aluminum but was easily accomplished in wood. The hinged casements on the upper floors were a fall-hazard. Versatile used a sash limiter that would open by 3″ to prevent the potential for someone to fall out.










The Albina Yard (which can also be seen on Think Wood) had extraordinarily high flush exterior doors: 142” tall and 108” tall full lite doors. In this project Versatile utilized offset pivot hinges to give massive doors smooth operation and an uninterrupted modern look. The project called for building flush doors in a continuous fir veneer with a matching 34” fir transom panel above. The design challenge was that both the flush exterior doors and full lite doors were extraordinarily high in addition to being about 40” wide.

Architecture: Lever Architecture
Contractor: Reworks Design Build

Custom Wood Building Is Good For The Environment

A report by Green Building Elements provides a wealth of researched information that supports the value of custom wood building. A study conducted by Architecture and Design reports that 16% of all the fossil fuel consumed annually is converted into concrete, steel, aluminum and brick building materials. On the opposite end, wood reduces its carbon footprint.

“When trees are made into building materials, that carbon dioxide remains sequestered in the finished products. When wooden building materials reach the end of their useful life, they are often repurposed or recycled into new products. All that stored carbon dioxide is kept out of the atmosphere virtually forever.”

Green Building Elements also reports a cooperative program between a company called Whole Trees in Madison, Wisconsin and the USDA Forest Service. Entire trees that the Forest Service harvests during routine thinning efforts and discards are used. They are turned into beams, trusses and joists to use in building construction.

Custom Wood Building is good for your Health

Custom Wood Building

Custom wood building is not just beautiful and unique in each design but is also good for your health. Another study by Architecture and Design finds that, “the feelings of natural warmth and comfort that wood elicits in people has the effect of lowering blood pressure and heart rates, reducing stress and anxiety and increasing positive social interactions.” Wood products within a room have been shown to improve indoor air quality by moderating humidity. The study also finds that being surrounded by wood at home, work or school has positive effects. Not just on the body and brain, but also on the environment. It can even shorten hospital stays through reduced recovery times.

Truly, Custom Wood-Building Is an Art Of Craftsmanship

From the use of mortise and tenon joinery dating back thousands of years to our state-of-the-art CNC router, Versatile Wood Products’ custom wood projects are built to last.

Modern Outdoor Oasis — Custom Case Study

A glowing oasis of thoughtful, modern design that feels like an organic part of this architecturally-significant Oregon home.

Patrick O’Neill of Greenline Fine Woodworking was called to do a historically sensitive update to one of Pietro Belluschi’s last projects. The project came with a very cool addition: a meditation room. The meditation room was designed collaboratively with Michael McCulloch, a noted Portland architect, the current owner of the home. A Modern Design with Versatile

Modern Design

Project Goals

The intention of the modern design was to create a space that would blur the lines between indoors and out. The effect would be minimizing visual interruptions. This also allows the space to open completely to the exterior as much as possible.


Modern Design

Large, sliding full-lite doors can have challenges related to weight, stability and smooth operability. An additional challenge was to figure out how to allow the doors to meet at a corner. With a only a narrow post to camouflage and complete the seal when closed some ingenuity was required.

Modern Design

Uniquely Versatile Solutions

A tricky mitred corner for the track system allowed the two layers of doors to meet seamlessly in the corner. Very tight tolerances were needed to ensure a weather-tight fit when the panels were closed.

The Versatile Product Design team worked closely with the installing contractor. This was important to ensure measurements were accurate and the modern design parameters could be met.

Bringing multiple tracks together in the corners presented alignment challenges for both the upper and lower panel tracks. The low profile sill makes for a near-flush transition to the interior flooring. Metal tracks were inlaid into solid wood sills to create an elegantly integrated system.

The result: a glowing oasis of thoughtful Mid-Century modern design that feels like an organic part of this architecturally-significant Oregon home.

Modern Design

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Restoring First Congregational Church — Custom Case Study

First Congregational Church

Constructed in 1895, the First Congregational Church of Portland is a dominant Venetian Gothic icon along the city’s South Park Blocks. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a Portland Landmark. This historic structure towers above its neighbors quite literally, with its 175′ bell tower at the southwest corner. This tower was once accompanied by two others on adjacent corners, which were removed in 1940 following significant storm damage. Existing conditions prior to the summer 2015 restoration included extreme deterioration of the wood Gothic tracery arches at the belfry. As the last remaining tower on the building, the restoration of these elements was a crucial component in retaining the architectural integrity of this historic church.

What was the scope of the project for the First Congregational Church and what were the design goals?

With its severe level of deterioration, the restoration of the Gothic tracery was not just an aesthetic decision. It was also a safety precaution after a loose piece fell onto the sidewalk below. The First Congregational Church turned to Versatile and Arciform to stabilize and restore the wood elements of this feature. As with any preservation project, the goal was to retain as much of the original fabric as possible. Equally important is the goal to maintain the character defining features of the original design. The four tower faces all required work, but the south elevation suffered the most significant damage. This was due to exposure and UV damage. The tracery at this location was removed and restored in-house at Versatile. The other elevations were in fair enough condition to be restored on-site by the Arciform team.

First Congregational Church

What challenges did the project face?

The location of the architectural details proved to be the biggest challenge. Nearly 175′ up in the air and surrounded by scaffolding, the south elevation tracery was cut into sections and lowered to the ground for transportation to Versatile’s shop.

First Congregational Church

It quickly became apparent that not only were the face-applied details of the tracery loose and deteriorating, but the backerboard holding the element together was also unstable. It arrived to the shop in pieces, like an oversized puzzle of fragile history. Another challenge was in the design itself. What appeared to be repetitive details in the columns and tracery were in fact unique, prohibiting the efficiency of replicating one element to be reused as a template throughout the entire tracery at similar locations.

First Congregational Church

What were the Uniquely Versatile solutions?


Once in the shop, each element was laid out and assessed to determine which pieces were salvageable and which required replacement. After meticulous documentation, all parts were mapped and translated into CAD files. Having these otherwise inaccessible components in-house provided the unique opportunity to prepare a custom library of details for First Congregational Church in anticipation of future restoration needs and part replacement.

Intact elements were cleaned and prepped for refinishing. Substantial details such as the monolithic Corinthian columns appeared unimpaired from the surface, but experienced wood rot at their core. With the use of consolidants, these items were also saved.  

First Congregational Church

Other details were reproduced using templates created on our CNC machine. All new pieces were made of Western Red Cedar, the same wood species as the original elements to ensure historic accuracy and material performance. Replacement parts were then fit in place for sizing and routed with the cove detailing to ensure the tracery appeared seamless. Keeping the site conditions in mind, the final product was delivered in sections for ease of hoisting and installation by Arciform.

First Congregational Church

The First Congregational Church restoration marked the final project of our former shop foreman, Eric Voss. The success of this project can be credited to his skilled craftsmanship and attention to detail.  Many thanks go out to him and his multiple years of service on Versatile’s team of talented woodworkers.

First Congregational Church

This project was named one of Restore Oregon‘s Most Endangered Places in 2015. You can check out the whole list of Endangered Places here. The 2016 list will be announced at the Restoration Celebration (sponsored by Versatile Wood Products) on November 13th. Get the details and RSVP for that event here.

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Carle Kitchen Cabinets — Custom Case Study

Kitchen CabinetsNestled deep in Southwest Portland, the Carle family kitchen was the subject of an extensive remodel that was completed in late 2014. Interior designer Barbara Sumner and architectural designer Kristyn Bester worked with Versatile’s Product Designer Rex Vaccaro. Their job was to update and modernize the kitchen complete with stunning kitchen cabinets.

The design process for this particular project exemplifies our modern era. Most of the communication during the process happened via Skype since the Carle family had been residing in Amsterdam when the project began. As with any remodel project, the designers hit a few snags. The home was still under construction when the family returned to Portland. Ultimately, however, the Arciform and Versatile teams were able to achieve a contemporary, streamlined kitchen. A kitchen that is both functional and beautiful for the Carle family.


Kitchen Cabinets

What was the scope of the project and what were the design goals?

 For Versatile, the scope involved an entire run of custom upper and lower kitchen cabinets. As well as a pantry wall; a large kitchen island with a cantilevered eating area, and a built-in window bench. Some retrofit shelving and a wet bar in an adjacent living room were also included in the design. The finishes ended up being a contemporary mix of stainless steel-wrapped upper kitchen cabinets, paint grade surfaces for the pantry wall, and solid, clear, walnut grain aligned horizontally on the lower kitchen cabinets.

What challenges did the project face?

The biggest challenge that this project presented was the fact that the client had a strong desire for all of the lower kitchen cabinets to carry a visually  distinctive horizontal line from the wood grain along the length of the kitchen. The surface area along the sink wall and island was very broad. There was some difficulty in locating beautiful, solid pieces of walnut that were large enough to cover those surfaces. The main issue with long spans of wood, however, is that they will always warp over time. So there was an initial fear that the kitchen cabinet faces would warp and be ruined.

Carle_2003_Kitchen_A_P_Pro_ (9)

What were the Uniquely Versatile solutions?

The first step in solving the problem was to communicate with designers working on the project. With regards to the sink wall, the solution was to simply compromise on the pattern, and face the cabinets with a classic vertical grain rather than risk the possibility of warping. To create a horizontal appearance on the surface of the nine-foot long island, a laminating method was used. A few boards of walnut were glued together along their long edges in order to add stability.

Laminated wood still carries the possibility of warping. By alternating the grain patterns on the boards (essentially flipping every other board so that the grain pattern is opposite the one before it), more stability is added to the wood,  creating a preventive measure against warping. We were also able to retain the horizontal grain pattern that the client wanted, and applying these solutions to the project resulted in a stunningly beautiful set of kitchen cabinets.

Carle_2003_Kitchen_A_P_Pro_ (4)

Versatile is always looking to come up with inventive solutions for the challenges faced when collaborating with others. Our creative team worked with the talented designers at Arciform to achieve their client’s needs for this beautiful home in Southwest Portland.

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Mid-Century Custom Cabinetry — Custom Case Study


This architect designed mid-century modern home featured existing hemlock cabinets that needed restoration, plus a client who wanted to expand square footage and increase the utility of the space for entertaining. Versatile refinished and modified the original kitchen cabinets to house new appliances and fabricated a new bank of cabinets that matched the existing style and hardware, concealed the new refrigerator and expanded the available storage.

Project Goals
To restore and expand the kitchen with as little impact to the original fixtures as possible while modernizing the appliances and integrating them into the existing architecture.


  1. The unusual species of the wood in the existing architect-designed cabinets required a careful exact match of wood and hardware in order to blend the new elements seamlessly with the old.
  2. Integrating contemporary appliances into a space designed for the 1960s without distracting from the period style of the space required extremely precise fits on the surrounding cabinets.

Uniquely Versatile Solutions

  1. Research of the architect’s work and a deep understanding of the principals of the original architectural style helped identify creative but architecturally appropriate solutions to the integration challenges.
  2. Precise measurements and good communication with the contractor during the design of new cabinets ensured a seamless installation.

Client’s Reaction

We love our home and think often about the wonderful job you have done for us.

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Roman Candle, Ava Gene’s, Woodsman Tavern — Custom Case Study

Woodsman Tavern

After SE Division’s overwhelming support of Duane Sorenson’s Stumptown cafe, he opened The Woodsman Tavern to create a gathering place for good food and good drink that felt like it had always been there. The Woodsman Tavern was a 2012 Bon Appétit Best New Restaurant nominee and launched the revitalization of SE Division Street. This led Sorenson to open Ava Gene’s (November 2012) and Roman Candle Baking Company (July 2013) a few blocks away.

Versatile was contracted by Orange-PDX to create a storefront system for The Woodsman Tavern. To supply custom entry doors for Roman Candle and Ava Gene’s.

Woodsman Tavern

What were the goals of these projects?

For The Woodsman Tavern, we were to replace the dated aluminum storefront with replicated traditional wood divided lite transoms over picture windows with insulated glass, along with custom entry doors.

The stain grade doors for Roman Candle and Ava Gene’s needed to fit the aesthetic and vibe of the restaurants. While being able to withstand harsh weather exposure.

What challenges did Versatile face during these projects?

The biggest challenge for all three projects was weather exposure as they all face south.

Woodsman Tavern

What were the Uniquely Versatile Solutions?

Hand selecting the materials played a major role in the success of these projects. Versatile’s highly experienced carpenter, Jeff Vasey, hand selected the wood to ensure each piece had a tight grain pattern to help extend the life of each item. From an aesthetic side, it was also important to find pieces of wood that matched and had complimentary grain patterns.

Versatile always tries to anticipate possible challenges before they turn into problems, and by selecting such an experienced team we were able to avoid major issues. This team included Versatile shop carpenters and installers from Orange-PDX construction.

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Block House Café — Custom Case Study

 block house cafe

In the heart of historic Dayton Oregon, The Block House Café recently moved into the 1886 First Baptist Church on Main Street. Working alongside architect Paul Falsetto and Fackler Construction, Versatile created a large back bar with surrounding cabinetry, wait-station, and tabletops from old floor joists in the building.

Block House Café Goals:

To create a large, functional, and aesthetically pleasing back bar that hides the seismic bracing. Re-purpose original floor joists to create tabletops and a bar top.

 Block House Café

Block House Café Challenges:

The biggest challenge we faced with the back bar, which included 10’ high walnut pieces, was installation to conceal three alcoves that were created by updated seismic structuring. The tabletops and bar top proposed a few challenges. They were created from wood salvaged from the original floor joists from the building. We were concerned about the tabletops cupping or warping. We needed to create a flat, smooth surface on the bar top as there were many wormholes in the wood.

The Block House Café

Block House Café Uniquely Versatile Solutions:

We worked around installation problems of the bar by pre-building it in 3 separate pieces. Along with some tolerances to allow for variations in the walls when it was installed on site. The three pieces overlapped once installed to look like one piece of furniture while hiding the bracing behind.

To address the tabletops potentially warping, we added a dovetail key underneath to tie the planks together. By attaching the key to the middle plank only, the planks could expand and contract naturally, but not warp or cup. And finally, to create a smooth, flat surface on the bar top. The wormholes were filled with clear epoxy rather than a colored putty. Since the natural color of fir changes over time, the clear epoxy will make a smooth surface without worry that the wood color would ultimately shift away from the color of the putty. Versatile’s experience and expertise allowed us to anticipate potential issues and create solutions before they became real problems on site.

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Witherspoon Building: Case Study Update

 Witherspoon Building

What challenges did Versatile face during the Witherspoon Building project?

The age of the Witherspoon building combined with the amount of steel that was required to bring the building up to current seismic standards made our job very difficult.

Another challenge was incorporating electronics for a security system into a solid wood door.

 Witherspoon Building

What were the Uniquely Versatile solutions?

We had to keep very close vertical and horizontal alignment throughout our storefront system. We built the rough openings around the steel beams.

To incorporate the electronics, we ran wiring through the lock rail of the door to get them from a special hinge to an electrified latch. This was then linked to a card reader. This was an extremely difficult and laborious task that our shop pulled off.

 Witherspoon Building

What was the result?

The vertical mullions at the lower and upper storefront windows align perfectly, as do all of the casings.

As for the door, the result was an end product that looks beautifully simple and historic. But upon closer inspection, actually houses a tremendous amount of hardware and technology.

 Witherspoon Building

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Evergreen Chapel — Custom Case Study

Evergreen Chapel
(photo courtesy of Woofter Architecture)

Located at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville OR, the Evergreen Chapel opened it’s doors in September 2013.

Designed by architect Miles Woofter, the chapel was meant to resemble a 1930’s log cabin.

The chapel is over 5,500 square feet with  Douglas fir logs and cedar ceilings. Inside, on the west and east wings of the cruciform, there are two functioning wood burning, stone fireplaces.

Known to Hoffman Construction and architect Miles Woofter as a local supplier, Versatile Wood Products was chosen to produce the highest quality custom windows and doors for this job.

For this project, Versatile was the supplier for all exterior windows and doors. We produced a total of 28 units – over 1000 sq feet of glazing.

Evergreen Chapel

What was the goal for the Evergreen Chapel ?

The goal for this project was to produce custom doors and casement windows​ using vertical grain fir. The fir compliments this traditional 1930’s log cabin design. The timeline for these units was eight-weeks.

Evergreen Chapel

What were the challenges for the Evergreen Chapel ?

Because some of the doors were especially tall (each 36” x 114” x 2 ¼” thick), incorporating commercial door hardware specifications was a challenge.

Evergreen Chapel

What was the Uniquely Versatile solution for the Evergreen Chapel ?

In conclusion, our solution was to combine a custom, craft-built traditional wood window with a high-level commercial sensibility. We also wanted to incorporate modern-day materials, such as insulated glass, while maintaining the look of the 1930’s design.

Working seamlessly with the largest general contractor in the state requires on-target communications, submittals, delivery and follow through. While this is not unusual for Versatile, working in a commercial field emphasizes our quality.


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Washington High School Sash Windows — Custom Case Study

Washington High School

Washington High School opened in 1906, originally under the name of East Side High School, at SE 14th & Stark. In 1909 it was renamed as Washington High School.

The original building was destroyed by a fire in October of 1922. The replacement building was designed by Houghtaling & Dougan.  It was constructed of reinforced concrete with a brick surface at the same site.

Due to declining enrollment, the school closed in May of 1981.

After sitting vacant for decades, the building was purchased by Venerable Properties and is currently being converted to retail and office space. Art DeMuro, founder of Venerable Properties, was instrumental in the sale of the school. Art’s involvement in Portland’s historical redevelopment played a large role in deciding to keep the history alive in the Washington High School building.

What was the goal for Washington High School?

To construct double-hung sash windows that are aesthetically identical to the originals. And operate with the historical and reliable system of weights and pulleys. The windows also needed to be more energy-efficient.

The windows are being primarily installed on the south side of the building.

Washington High School

What challenges did you face with Washington High School ?

Portland Public School system put in replacement aluminum windows 40 years ago. With the replacement, the original pulleys and latches were lost. Luckily, we were successful in finding accurate reproduction pieces that fit with the sashes we created.

Since double pane, insulated glass is heavier than the original single pane, we had to find a solution to create a perfectly balanced window.

Washington High School

What was the Uniquely Versatile solution for Washington High School ?

As the original window frames remain intact and the weights were preserved inside the walls, our new sashes are being installed into the original frames and reconnected to those original weights.

To balance the windows we have taken the weights from the top sash, which are now fixed in place, and added them to the weight for the bottom sash.

Once the frames and sashes are fully weather-stripped, these windows will have the same energy-efficiency as brand-new, manufactured windows.

We are excited to see the finished project…stay tuned!

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