Finding Trees on Our Property to Cut Down for Timber Framing & Lumber

When researching how to build our off-grid home, we came across the idea of timber framing and it was love at first sight. This type of construction seems so simple and can be done with such few materials, it just makes sense. As we are getting close to beginning construction on our timber frame barn, it’s time to get ready to cut down our first trees to experiment with.

Our property consists of 5 acres. At least one acre of it is flat with no trees, and the other 4 acres has already been logged and thinned. Many of the trees are too small, the wrong species or have too much character to harvest for timber. That said, we should still be able to get what we need (at least for the barn) if we cut down trees strategically.

What to Look For When Picking Trees for Timber Framing

Crowded Trees

First of all, why cut down one tree but not another? One of the things you can look for are trees that are crowded and competing for resources. This actually isn’t that great for the trees because all of them struggle, rather than one or two of them growing really well, large and straight. Crowded trees results in tangled branches, bowed trees, and thin trees.

As you will see in the video, we have a few trees that are in crowded areas and by cutting them down, the other trees will be given the opportunity to thrive. Think of this as forest management and having the healthiest forest possible.

how to find trees to use for timber framing

Straight Trees

Depending on the size timbers you will need (the longest timber we will need for our barn will be 18′), you will need a tree with a decent straight stretch. Many trees have a curve to them and this would not make a great tree for timber framing. Some curve at the top… but make sure there is enough of a large, straight stretch that you can work with.

best trees to use for timber framing
This is NOT a straight tree… it has a crazy bow in it!

Trees with a Large Circumference

Some timber requirements can be quite large. While you can laminate smaller timbers together, it may be easiest to get the timber in one shot if possible. When analyzing the circumference, realize that you will need to cut somewhat of a square out of the tree, so you will actually be losing some inches on all sides.

cutting down trees for timber framing
Mmm… look a this beauty!

Trees That Will Fall Easily

So you found the perfect tree for timber framing… GREAT! But where are you going to fall it? If you fall it straight down a hill side, that may be too much force for the tree causing it to snap in an undesirable location and lose valuable board feet. If you fall it into the road that can be problematic. If you fall it with structures nearby that can be problematic. If you fall it in a hard to access location that can be problematic too. Just think about where the tree can fall with as few problems as possible.

Types of Wood

It’s probably an over simplification, but not all trees are created equal! When picking wood for timber framing, or even just for making lumber with, you will want to pick your wood wisely.

Douglas (“Red”) Fir

We have a decent amount of douglas fir on our property so we will be opting to use this in particular for timber framing. The reason for this is because it’s a soft wood, but has great structural strength. It’s harder and stronger than pine for it’s size so the wooden timbers can be smaller, making them easier to maneuver. It’s also fairly resistant to bugs and rot!

Pine

Pine has a very beautiful finish because of it’s light color and knotted pattern. It is not, however, the most ideal material for timber framing because of it’s not usually very clear (free from knots, cracks and pitch pockets which weaken the wood) and prone to bugs. That said, we do want to harvest some pine because it’s great for things like siding, cladding, sheathing, cabinetry and hot tub decoration! If we don’t use the pine green, then we will just let it season for a while until we are ready to use it.

Cedar / Oak

We unfortunately do not have cedar or oak on our property but I will touch on it anyways. Cedar is a great wood to build with because while it is stunning in color, fairly soft, it is extremely resistant to bugs and weather. Perhaps we’ll be fortunately enough to have enough material left over to trade for some cedar!

Oak is hard AND resistant to bugs, so this is another great wood for timber framing. If you have doug fir on your property then you probably don’t have oak, and if you have oak, then you most likely do not have doug fir as the climates usually lend to one or the other. Both are great choices for timber framing depending on where you live. If you have both, you’ve hit the jackpot!

Cutting Down the Trees

We recently bought a professional Stihl 660 chainsaw (link is to it’s newest brethren the 661 model) that we will be using to cut down our trees and doing other slash cleanup for firewood. After the trees are down, we will initially be creating our own DIY chainsaw mill to create our timbers right in our front yard.

Later, we hope to get a sponsor for a commercially available chainsaw mill like the Granberg 36″ model so we can compare against our DIY model.

We will do a new blog post on both of those things so if you aren’t already, get subscribed to the blog so you can get first read when those posts are ready!

Summary

In summary, take time to get to know your property and the forest. Don’t blindly cut down trees but plan your tree felling thoroughly. Look for trees that you can get a lot of usable timber out of and look for trees that should be sacrificed in order to help other trees grow strong so that they aren’t competing for resources.

Get involved!

What is your experience with cutting down trees? How do you manage the forest on your land? How much money have you been able to save by milling your own lumber?

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

Comments

  1. taia frohman says

    You will do great ….you are learning and teaching at the same time. Have you noticed that your chainsaw gets really hot while using the saw rig? We had to keep putting some oil on the bar during long stretches.

    We continue to check in on your blog.

    • Jesse says

      Hey Taia! Thanks for stopping by! We have had a few times where the bar builds heat but this is usually when the chain needs sharpening. It will start to create friction instead of cutting which then melts the sap onto the bar and into the chain. What a mess! How often are you sharpening your chains? We can cut about 15 slabs of Fir between sharpening. We keep 3 chains ready so we can have a long milling day. Sharpening at the local saw shop is $5. Try also soaking your gummy chains in gasoline before taking them in for sharpening to clean all the sap off them. We’ll share any other tips we come across in the future post about the Alaskan mill. Hope that helps!

    • says

      Cool Megan! I’m sure the time will go quick. Hope you find a lot of useful information on this blog! Feel free to let us know which parts of the journey are the greatest struggles and we’d be happy to provide any insight on what’s worked for us :-)

      • Megan says

        I hope it goes by fast! Last month when school started again, i realized that 4 years was the equivalent of high school, and *that* sure as heck did not go by fast!! lol

        • says

          Haha no kidding! I think high school goes by slowly because most of us were unhappy hormonal teenagers that just wanted to move away from home lol. Seems they older we get, the quicker time flies by which is both good and bad :-)

    • Nick says

      I am 22 and was ran over by a truck and lost my job so I became a tree climber witch lead me to start wood working for fun I love the videos they are very informative. I have been taking notes and started a base plan to building an idea for a home I might want to build and live in but first I have to practice like you said in your video! I also am looking in to making enough power to backfeed into the power company which mean they pay me lol. And yall might want to look into wind energy since it look like your on a mountain and always windy

  2. Expat says

    Just now saw your blog.
    I’ve done pretty much the same thing as you are now doing. Bought 20 raw acres and started from the ground up 3 years ago. Off Grid and all that.
    A couple of things you might think about.
    Find a guy with a mobile saw mill rather than trying to use your chain saw. They’ll do everything you need done in a couple of hours for almost nothing. If you use your saw, it’ll take forever, you’ll do a lousy job of it and the saw will be toast afterwards. I had a few cherry trees sawed for flooring and stair treads and it cost me all of $100. You’ll need to dry the planks for about a year. To tell the truth, buying your framing lumber is a better option. Use your planks for siding – after drying.
    I’ve been in construction my whole life and recently retired so if you need/want any advice please give me an e mail.
    Good luck
    ps went to university and lived afterwards in Boulder. Build mountain home in Conifer

  3. Debbie McCann says

    Hello Alyssa and Jesse,

    I have just come across your blog. I want to tell you I am proud of you both.
    I know with your determination and drive you will do well.

    Blessings,
    Debbie

    • Jesse says

      Hey there Debbie! Good to have you on board! Sometimes it pays to be a tad stubborn right? :) We are thrilled to be on this path and thankful to be able to share it with you and our other friends. Keep in touch!

  4. Dave says

    I’m super excited for your guys! I’m jealous in a way. I’ve been wanting to move off grid for about a year now. I look forward to complete freedom and tranquility. I gave myself until 2020 and have been looking for property on the western slope here in Colorado. However, you brought of some great points on some of your blog posts, I may have to re-think my current plan a bit. I guess it depends on what’s important, everyone has their own thing. The good thing is, maybe I can dial back my target date and make the dream a reality much sooner.

    As you said to Megan’s post, time before you actually commit to going off grid is not wasted. I’ve been acquiring more tools, supplies, and even doing more research. So, I use this time to gather things which should help in the long run. But I give you guys HUGE props in making it happen at a younger age than most.

    I look forward to watching you guys and learning about things that that we don’t know that we don’t know.

    Super excited,
    Dave

    • says

      Hey Dave,

      Western Colorado is a beautiful area. any particular reason for setting your goal date 5 years out? You’re right in saying that it really matters what one finds important. There is indefinitely no black and white, nor one way to do things.

      Even now that we are here, we realize we are busy with pre-work that we could have done before the move. I suppose we didn’t know what we didn’t know, and we also didn’t have any space to haul up more tools.

      Keep at it Dave! If you’re a hard worker and strategic planner, it will undoubtedly happen when the time is right :-)

      Keep in touch!

        • says

          Thanks for the suggestion! We want to do an entire post on that as there are lots of things we now realize we could have started as soon as we decided to take this journey (a year ago). I think the biggest things are collecting tools and materials if you have the space. We are all about buying things used for a great price which simply takes time. We have already bought new stuff because we wanted to get a project where if we had time, we could have saved a decent amount of money. Money is obviously not everything, but it would have been wise for us to set up several Craigslist notifications for the tools and materials we knew we would need. Also, we could have done more research as we are doing a lot now, but then again, it really helps to have a property in mind as no two properties are alike :-) More to come later!

  5. Sayeh says

    Hi, while searching the proper trees for timber construction, working on my dissertation, I found this nice experience of yours…
    Thanks and good luck
    Regards from Iran

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