The Perils Of Lumber Selection For Your Log Cabin
If you are lucky enough to own a piece of land with trees readily available to use to build your log cabin then 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 that 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.
Deciding as to which species of tree you should use to build your log home will fall to several 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.
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.
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.
Insulation efficiency varies in different species of logs, however, this is only very marginal and there are lots of other ways to insulate your log cabin and make it as energy efficient as possible, therefore the species you choose won’t have a huge impact.
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.
Fast-growing species have more sapwood, so 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.
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.
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?
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 for 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?
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 off 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 minimize 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.
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:
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.
Douglas fir, Cypress, Larch, Redwood
Let’s take a better look at each species of tree. It is difficult to call which one species is the best, choosing your logs is 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:
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:
- Insulation (R-Value)
- Decay resistance
- Availability in your location.
Regardless of which logs you end up choosing to build your log cabin home, you need to ensure that your cabin is well designed during the planning process to allow for shrinkage, that your logs are treated appropriately before 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!
A big thank you for your article.Thanks Again.
Very good information
To air dry your logs, do they need to be covered or can they just be left outside?
When air drying your logs, first make sure you measure the moisture content so you can measure it reduce. Then in terms of covering the logs, they are best to be convened with either a plywood board or tarpaulin sheet. Make sure to weight the board or sheet to stop it being blown off!
I live in the moutains of western va. wehave what they call red ceader is this usable for cabin most tree are only about 20feet tall slow growers
Typically for a softwood lumber. The Kiln would be fired to around 220°F – 240°F.
I am using logs from southern Vermont. The property is full of “northern hardwood”. I think it is mostly beech, maple, birch, some oak. Is there a species I should avoide?
If you have enough use a single species – oak.
I will be using California Redwood trees to build a log home in New Zealand . They are currently still standing and are 35years old. Ready to be logged soon. Are there any problems I should be aware of using these logs to build a home.
Sounds like a sensible selection Tim
I’ve got property with many Alders… I’m interested in milling the Alder into 6”x6” “beams” – stacking lengthwise- and building a “log cabin”. I understand the wood will need to be treated for insects/fungus etc, but I’m thinking it could work out nicely. What are your thoughts?
Hi Chris, sounds like a great idea and I have seen plenty of cabins built like this. You’ll need to ensure that you chink properly, so that the water can roll off freely and not become trapped inbetween the logs. Good luck with your build!
We have a log cabin that is 30+ years old. I am not sure the species of tree. After all that time, much of the bark is falling off. We were thinking of removing the rest of it and staining and sealing the logs. Is there a reason we shouldn’t remove the remaining bark?
Hello, thanks for your message. Bark should always be removed before building a log cabin, and stained to protect the logs. What do you logs look like in the areas that the bark has come off? Thanks, David
Is there a minimum log diameter or width (R value) that is recommended for construction of year round log cabin walls in cold Northern Wisconsin? And what diameter log or width (R value) is recommended for construction of summer or hunting log cabin walls? Thank you. PS…. Years ago helped construct a Gastineau log cabin kit out of oak logs. Tools took a beating!
Hi Ransom, thanks for your message. I’d recommend a minimum of 10 inches for the year round cabin, but the thicker the better. With a summer hunting cabin you can get away with logs that are 6-8 inches in diameter. Good luck with your build! David
I have property that yields many old hickory trees. Is there any reason why these wouldn’t be good to build a log hunting cabin. It is a good hard wood. Thanks
Hi Keith, Hickory would is a great choice for building a log cabin with. All the best with your build. David
Red Pine does not have an entry for “decay resistance.” Does it have no decay resistance? If not, does wood preservative offer sufficient decay resistance to assure longevity?
Hi Brian, thanks for pointing this out, red pine has a low decay resistance. Wood preservative does protect low decay resistance logs to some extent, but they will never match logs that naturally have a higher resistance to decay. Many thanks, David
I live in NC Piedmont close to foothills of the mountains. I have a stand of Loblolly Pines in a 35 acre tract that were planted in 1982. The trees have been properly maintained and I am looking to build a cabin on the property. Is this tree species a suitable choice and what diameter log should I be looking for?
You can use these logs just bear in mind that they are smaller in diameter than other logs, they are fast-growing trees so won’t be as sturdy as more slow-growing logs and they have thick bark which will make the task of debarking a longer one.
You’ll need to use logs that have a diameter of 8-10 inches.
I have really old long leaf yellow pine in southern Mississippi. if i had to guess these trees are close to 100 years old and 100 to 120 feet tall. what is your advice using this type of tree?