Share
Bookmark and Share
802-886-1917
Blog > Uncategorized, Wood Information > What Wood Species Should I Build With?

What Wood Species Should I Build With?

By Caitlin on March 01, 2018

When you start to plan your Timber Frame project, one of the biggest questions you’ll have to answer is what species of wood you want to use for your frame. The wood species you choose will affect the price of your frame, the dimensions of the wood members, and other structural and engineering characteristics. So deciding what species of wood is right for your frame and for you is a decision that needs to be made early in the process. Today we’ll look at some wood species that are common in Timber Framing and a few that aren’t used as often but are still options to consider.

 

 

Arched Brace

Detail of Douglas fr arched brace

Douglas fir

Fir is an excellent wood for highly finished post & beam frames and commercial work because of its strength and beautiful grain. It is one of the most abundant wood species in North America and is one of the most popular choices for Timber Framing. Its color ranges from light red to pale yellow. We buy our Douglas fir timbers directly from west coast suppliers who select only the best looking timber. Douglas Fir is available free of heart centers, which means that the usual “bull’s eye” heartwood found in the center of most timbers is absent. Free of heart timber is less prone to checking and is more stable than timber which does have heartwood. We don’t recommend having your Douglas fir hand hewn because when you try to create that finish with Douglas fir it tends to peel and doesn’t look its best.

 

 

Traditional Joinery, Mortise and Tenon

Rough Sawn Hemlock timber with Birch Pegs extended an inch

Hemlock

Hemlock is a great economical wood for country homes and barns. It is pale in color and naturally develop a richer appearance over time. It looks great rough sawn and hand hewn. Hemlock is very strong, has a long grain and is a renewable resource. It is resistant to rotting and it is also much less expensive than Douglas fir. However, certain stands of hemlock can have a defect called shake. Shake is a delamination between the timber’s growth rings. We order our hemlock shake-free. However, shake will often show up after a timber frame has been up for a year or so. Shake in timber frames is generally not a structural problem. Our engineers design frames that can account for shake, checks and other movements of the wood over time so shake in Hemlock is generally not a structural concern and it can make a post & beam frame look rustic.

 

Hand hewn post and beam timber frame barn interior in the Southern Vermont Welcome Center

Barn frame interior with hand hewn hemlock beams

White Pine

Pine is a very stable wood. It has a good straight grain, can be easily stained, planes well, and is a great wood for hand hewing. Because it is less expensive than Douglas fir, it is often used for residential timber frames. It is similar in color to hemlock – a pale yellow with occasional reddish streaks. Pine is not as strong as hemlock or fir, so it is not a good wood when long spans are required or when smaller beams are desired.

 

Trusses with Hand Hewn White Oak

Oak

Oak is a very strong & beautiful hardwood. It tends to be more expensive than pine or hemlock, but less expensive than Douglas fir. Hardwoods, in general, are not as stable as softwoods, which means they tend to twist and check more. Oak, in particular, is subject to surface checking – when a timber gets many little, tiny splits & cracks just on its surface. Heart checks are also prevalent in oak. Some of our clients love that the oak is native to our area, and the timber doesn’t have to travel as far to get to our workshop to be finished. There are different types of oak: white, red, and mixed. White oak is very weather resistant and Red oak is a little redder in color than white oak. Mixed is exactly as it sounds, a combination of red and white. Ordering mixed oak saves time and money.

 

Rough Sawn, Western Red Cedar with a Natural Stain

Rough Sawn, Western Red Cedar Stained With a Natural Finish

Cedar

Cedar is a naturally white or red colored wood. It can be stained with a natural oil, or stained dark depending on the owner’s preference. Cedar is naturally rich in oils that preserve the wood when exposed to the weather, making it perfect for exterior use. Cedar is naturally resistant to rot and to insects as well, making it an especially hardy and long-lasting wood.

 

Wood Cupola

Cupola Made with Rough Sawn Cypress Wood

Cypress

The Cypress trees generally grow in warm, wet climate. They are a common southern tree and have a distinctive look and odor when they are cut. Younger Cypress trees are moderately hard, stable, and strong, and are resistant to decay so they are good for indoor and outdoor use. The wood contains natural preservative oils so it can last for a very, very long time. Cypress holds resins and glues very well. It also planes well. It is less expensive than Douglas fir and is comparable in price to Oak.

 

Antique Southern Yellow Pine Timbers re-fabricated from an old dairy barn make a great wooden ceiling for this game room.

Reclaimed

Reclaimed Wood is timbers that have been taken from old buildings such as barns, mills, factories and other structures. People love reclaimed wood because it is recycled, making it a green building material, and because it has a very specific look to it. Because reclaimed wood is generally old growth timber that has often been aged for 100 years or more, it has a beautiful tight grain which can be exposed by resawing the pieces. It also has a lot of rustic or vintage character when it’s used as is. When we place an order for vintage wood, we specify either “hand hewn” timber or “resawn” timber. The resawn timber is cut with a band saw to our requirements. The hand hewn timber comes to us as is, and we scribe it to fit into a timber frame. Reclaimed antique timber frames are very beautiful, very special, and also very expensive.

 

Glulam and Steel Foyer for a Restaurant

Glulam

Glulam beams are made from small sections of wood cut into strips and then glued or laminated together, creating a strong and stable wood product that can be used to stretch over great spans. It is a good options for clients who want to avoid the checking, the shakes or other natural variations and inconsistencies of natural timber.  It is also a good choice for those who want long graceful curved beams.

 

Think Function First

So when deciding what wood species to choose, think about how you want your structure to function. Are you building a wide and long factory that needs arches that can stretch a great span or a smaller storage barn? You should also consider how you’d like your structure to look. How do you feel about checking, grain, color, and texture? Think about the big picture and what wood will best serve your needs.

When considering your wood species, you should also consider finishes, stains, and if you’d like your timber weathered or not. You have a lot of control over how the frame will look as you consider the many combinations and options to choose from.  For example, rough sawn oak with a golden stain will look distinctly different from planed and chamfered Hemlock that has been weathered.

 

Do you have questions about wood species or need suggestions on what to chose? Submit a question on our ask the experts page or comment below!

 

18 comments
  1. Nice Article, thank you for sharing, and so much for this information.

  2. Andrei Charpentier says:

    Im thinking about build a house in vermont with southern yellow pine post & beam. Do you think think that SYP is a good option

    • Caitlin says:

      Hi Andrei,
      Thanks for your comment. Southern Yellow Pine is a good, cost-effective option. And I personally really like the way it looks. Good luck with your house!

      Thanks,
      Caitlin

  3. Wendy says:

    Very informative about different kinds of wood, Timber and Pole Barn builds and the distinct differences between them. Thank you for all your facts and information. Very, very helpful. Will use this to help in my barn build. God bless you all.

  4. Jordan says:

    I’m looking to do a post and beam frame, with SIP panels for a seamless exterior wall and thermal envelope.

    Looking to build in Northern Utah, where the summers are super-dry, and the winters are spotty and very humid.

    What’s the best wood to take stain, and keep a clean, easy-to-maintain finish, long-term?

  5. Greg says:

    Is White Fir Okay to use for outdoor Shade Covers?

  6. Dan Crosier says:

    I have some red pine I will be cutting down. Can I build a post and beam structure with Red Pine? Are there significant concerns I should be aware of?

  7. Paco says:

    Very informative and to the point. My property in central Vermont has quite a few knotty (but big and straight) hemlocks and an almost unlimited amount of red spruce and some balsam fir (but the spruce are mostly only under 12-16” dbh). Can red spruce heartwood be utilized? What about eastern fir species (again, of course they’re lacking in dbh)? I’m trying to mill this wood to build a cider barn in the 36×48 range. Any hope I can use the spruce, or should I go with the hemlock? I’ve heard spruce makes good siding if not structural timbers.

    • Caitlin says:

      Hi Paco,

      Pretty much any wood species can be used to build with. They all have their own unique characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. Spruce tends to twist and check more than hemlock or pine. It is about as strong as hemlock and much stronger than pine, but not as strong as douglas fir. Hemlock is more rot resistant than spruce or pine, but as long as they are kept dry, none of them will rot.

      For a cider barn, hemlock is the best bet if you have it, otherwise, if you can get the sizes and grade you need, spruce will be fine. The grade is important. We always specify #1 & better no matter which species we use. More on timber grading can be found here: Shake & Checking and at https://www.nelma.org/ .

      Thanks,

      Caitlin

      • Paco DeFrancis says:

        Ahh, thank you very much. I will need two structures; a basic pole barn equipment shed in the next year or two, then the much larger cider barn (timber frame) not for another 5-6 years when the apples are ready.

        How about Larch and Balsam Fir? Any use there? After closer look the majority of my mature (up to 20″) softwoods are balsam fir , not spruce. The pole barn will be DIY, but for the Cider Barn would Vermont Timber Works mill logs on site, or bring ’em up finished? I’m looking at a way to utilize my own timber during this period of high lumber prices. As for grade just by looking at them my hemlock appears to be lower grade than both the fir and red pine; hemlock is not quite as straight with more branches which I imagine will become knots when milled up.

        • Caitlin says:

          Hi Paco,

          If you want to give us a call at 802-882-1917 I can put you in touch with one of our sales reps who would be able to discuss this with you, as the answers might be more complex and depend on a few factors and what exactly you have in mind. Or you can email us at sales@vermonttimberworks.com

          Thanks,
          Caitlin

  8. plaster says:

    Wah! I never heard of these brand/wood before, thanks for introducing us to them.

  9. todd says:

    Can you build with ash?

    • Caitlin says:

      Hi Todd,

      Ash is a hardwood and would be fine to build with if one could find the trees to cut the beams from. It is not commonly used in timber framing.

      Thanks,
      Caitlin

  10. Ben Skinker says:

    I have a property in Pennsylvania where I want to build. Ash is the predominant wood – lots of it – but many of the trees are dead or dying from the Emerald Ash Borer. Can I harvest dead ash trees for my timber beams or do I need to harvest live and dry out?

  11. doran abel says:

    I have property in southeast Kansas where I want to build a post & beam cabin. There may be some Kentucky coffee tree would available from nearby that I can purchase. I looked up in the wood data base and it seems it strength and rot characteristics are as good as Oak. What do you think.

    • Caitlin says:

      Hi Doran,

      I’ve never heard of Kentucky Coffee Tree before. You might want to consult with an engineer who’s familiar with it to make sure it’ll work for your project.

      Good luck!
      Caitlin

Leave a Reply to Caitlin Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow
Vermont Timber Works