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
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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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