The Perils Of Lumber Selection For Your Log Cabin

The Perils Of Lumber Selection For Your Log Cabin

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If you are lucky enough to own a piece of land with trees readily available to use to build your log cabin you probably won’t have given much thought about how to select the most appropriate logs for your home.

You probably didn’t know that there are over seven hundred species of trees in the USA, however manufacturers only use roughly two dozen of them to build log homes. So, how do you know which species to opt for if you do need to source logs?

Choosing the right logs is an important decision which needs to be made at the beginning of your planning process. The logs will determine the overall look and structure of your finished log home, the cost and how well your home with withstand Mother Nature.

Making the decision as to which species of tree you should use to build your log home will fall down to a number of key things; appearance, cost, R-value, decay resistance, sturdiness/stability and availability.

Let’s take a look at each of these different factors in turn.

Appearance

Stacked timber logs
The look of the logs, and what you find attractive is very much dependant on your personal taste but you must also bear in mind that the appearance of logs can change when you apply preservatives or through weathering.

If you are selecting your own logs, you will want to make sure they are straight and have a good length of around 10-12m.

Cost

The cost of logs can vary quite largely depending on the species.

Usually, slow-growing species such as northern white cedar are more expensive and fast growing species such as yellow pine are less expensive.

The price can also be affected by the area in which you live in. If a species of wood is not readily available in your location, you will have the added cost of transportation.

R-Value

Insulation efficiency varies in different species of logs, however this is only very marginal and there are lots of other ways to insulate you log cabin and make it as energy efficient as possible, therefore the species you choose won’t have a huge impact.

Decay resistance

Timber decay
Trees produce their own natural decay resistance though toxins. These toxins help the tree to resist attack from insect infestations and fungi.

The older the tree, the higher the concentration of toxins, so therefore the more heartwood a tree has, the more resistant it is to decay.

Species that are fast growing have more sapwood are typically less resistant to decay but should not be ruled out as they are easy to protect and maintain with wood preservatives.

Even the most naturally highly resistant species such as cypress, redwood and western red cedar, will still require treatment and maintenance.

Stability

Almost all logs are likely to shrink and settle. Other concerns that you may have is that they will twist, warp and check.

You can avoid these concerns becoming a reality and ensure your log cabin is stable and sturdy by choosing appropriate good quality logs during the selection stage.

Availability

Your choice of log will very much depend on what is available in your local area, unless you are willing to pay a premium for transportation costs.

Once you have chosen the species of logs you are going to use, you will need to consider where the trees have been grown, and how they are cut and dried.

Where the trees are grown?

Where are trees grown
The higher the altitude the trees are grown in, the better.

Slow growing trees produce much more dense wood and have tight growth rings which usually yield fewer cracks as the logs are drying.

Many trees are now grown in tree farms, to keep up with the demand of trees needed. This results in less resistant trees as they have not had the time to develop as many concentrated toxins as a tree grown over a longer period of time.

Trees that are grown quickly are more likely to be mostly sapwood too, which will lead to a log cabin which is prone to shrink and warp more substantially.

When and how the wood is cut?

Cutting a piece of wood
Logs should be felled in the winter; to make sure the sap content is at is lowest.

If you are buying logs from a manufacturer, it is important to also ask them which cut of the log they use.

Although more expensive, you ideally want it to be mostly heartwood, the strongest part of the tree and not the sides of the log.

How the logs are dried?

If you are air drying the logs, they should be left for 1-2 years, the longer you can dry them for the better.

Alternatively, logs can be kiln dried. This process dries the logs at a slow rate to minimise damage to the wood.

By drying the logs prior to construction you will minimalize the amount of shrinking, checking and movement your log home will make.

Log Types

Log Types
The most popular logs used to build log home are very much dependant on the trees grown in each area, or the availability and cost of trees in a particular area. These are the most common trees used:

America
Pine (white, yellow and red) Eastern or Western white Cedar, Cypress, Spruce, Fir, Hemlock, Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine and hardwoods such as Oak, Poplar and Walnut.

Europe
Spruce, Pine

Australia
Douglas fir, Cypress, Larch, Redwood

Let’s take a better look at each individual species of tree. It is difficult to call which one species is the best, choosing your logs are very particular to the individual and the area in which you are intending to build. Hopefully the following breakdown will help you to think about the most suitable logs for you to use:

Table of Wood Wood Handbook: Wood as an engineering material.

You should now be in a better position to see which type of wood species you prefer based on:

  • Appearance
  • Cost
  • Insulation (R-Value)
  • Decay resistance
  • Stability
  • Availability in your location.

Regardless of which logs you end up choosing to build your log cabin home, you need to ensure that you cabin is well designed during the planning process to allow for shrinkage, that your logs are treated appropriately prior to construction and that you continue to maintain the logs well upon completion.

We hope you have found this article useful in determining the perfect wood species for your future log cabin home. Which one have you decided to go for and why? Let us know below!

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