Choosing a Timber Species

Now that you’ve decided on building your own timber frame home, you have countless decisions to make. One of those decisions is which species of wood your timber framer will use in the construction of your home.

There are a  number of varieties of wood that are suitable for your home, and each has its own strong points and weaknesses. You may also need to consider availability, sustainability, cost and suitability in making this important decision. The most common species of wood used for timber frame homes are white pine, red and white oak, and Douglas fir, cypress and cedar.

Availability

The part of the country in which you plan to build plays a big part in what materials you will use for your home. It will be the most economical for you to use locally available materials, as the cost of transporting posts and beams across the country can be exorbitant and be cost prohibitive.

There are a number of species of trees that grow pretty much throughout the country, and a number of types of wood have similar properties, so finding an appropriate, locally available species should not be a problem in most but not all areas.

Sustainability

You may choose to use timber to build your home from a logging company that practices sustainable forest management. In very simple terms, this means logged areas of forest are replanted with appropriate trees and vegetation, and the ecosystem of the area is not damaged or destroyed.  For more information check out the FSC Certified wood or buy from a local sawyer that practices sustainable practices.

Cost

The cost of the wood for your timber frame home can vary considerably. You may have several choices for the wood species to be used to build your post and beam and the cost will always be a factor.

Strength and Suitability

Not just any wood is right for building a timber frame home. Some woods, like oak, are hard and strong. Unfortunately, this wood  tends to twist, crack, and check. It is most often used to make the pegs that hold your home together.  Other species like Douglas fir is stable and strong while white pine, cypress and cedar do not have the load capacity as Douglas fir or oak.

Another important consideration is whether the timbers will be exposed to the exterior.  If so, your choices of species drops to just a few like Douglas fir, cypress, and white oak.

Wood Species Types

Doug Fir

Douglas Fir is known for its structural strength, so it is a popular species for post and beam construction. It is prevalent in the Pacific Northwest, although it can be found in many other parts of North America. It ranges in color from a yellow or orange-brown shade to a deep, reddish brown. One outstanding characteristic is that it cracks and checks minimally when dried. Large timbers may be designated FOHC, which means that the beam does not have the typical bulls-eye heart wood in the center.

Eastern White Pine

White Pine

Eastern White Pine grows from Minnesota through Newfoundland, and south along the Mississippi basin and Appalachian Mountains to Georgia and Mississippi. As it is a soft wood, it is less costly than oak but has a tendency to check. It has multiple sizes of knots and is a blond wood with occasional red streaking. It cracks and checks as it dries, which gives it a rustic, weathered appearance. It is easy to work with and does not twist or deflect when properly treated. However, it is not as strong as Douglas Fir.

Red Oak

Red Oak

This hardwood grows from the Great Lakes to Nova Scotia and as far south as Georgia. For a hardwood, it is a fast growing species and is very popular as a framing choice. However, it is not resistant to decay or as strong as white oak.

White Oak

White Oak

This species grows from Texas to Quebec and from Minnesota to the Eastern seaboard. White Oak is very decay resistant but is hard and has a high shrinkage rate that makes it more difficult to work with for timber frame construction.

Other woods can be used in timber frame home construction, and each has its own characteristics. Southern yellow pine, spruce and cedar are also good choices for your home, depending on your location and the features you want in your building material.

What Is Checking And Twisting?

When wood dries out, it undergoes physical changes. The grain separates, and this is called checking. The timbers also will twist as they dry, so the timbers that are secured with tenons that allow some movement but hold the structural components securely in place.

Some wood species are more prone to checking and twisting than others are, so this characteristic is taken into consideration when choosing wood for construction. Checking does not generally weaken the wood, and adds character and an aged quality to the appearance of the timbers.

Using a humidifier and keeping the temperature down the first winter in your home can help to minimize the amount of checking your wood will develop.

What Is The Difference Between Fresh Sawn And Reclaimed Wood?

Fresh sawn timbers are produced from living trees. These newly harvested trees are taken to mills for processing. They can be used green, air-dried or kiln dried.

Reclaimed wood was cut many years ago and has dried and stabilized over time. This wood will have minimum checking or twisting if it is used in new construction.

When selecting the wood for your timber frame home, you should research which woods are available locally and select a species that is harvested in a sustainably responsible manner. This not only saves you money, but it is an ecologically sound choice as well. Several different woods will probably be used in the construction of your home, as different wood characteristics are required for various components of the structure.

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