White Oak for Log Homes

      Advice on sawing White Oak timbers for log-home construction. May 18, 2010

I was wondering if anyone has any experience milling out 6" x 8" white oak house logs? I have a Log Master LM 6 commercial bandmill that runs a 2" blade and dovetail jig. I am looking for some advice on the pros and cons of building a log home using white oak such as warp and twist issues. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor B:
I’ve never built a log home but we’ve sawn out a lot of oak beams and cants that have ended up being used in timber frame and log homes and will offer these suggestions. You will likely get a straight beam or house cant out of a straight log when the heart is centered. Sometimes even a cant or beam sawn out of a straight log will bow after drying. A log with crook or some major feature like a big limb or branch may produce a straight beam off the mill, it will likely warp and or twist after it is dry.

Avoid splitting the heart as the beam will tend to bow away from the heart side as it dries. Also, it will develop a big crack where the heart is. You could saw your logs oversize by an inch or so, stack and stick them under cover for six months or more, and then re-saw them to a more uniform dimension. They should remain reasonably stable after that. If you’ve got nice white oak you may want to consider its current market value – especially butt cuts. Cousins to the white oak – burr oak and post oak do not bring as good a price.

From contributor X:
Remember white oak shrinks a lot compared to other more suitable species so I reiterate the absolute necessity of letting it dry as long as possible. They aren't the old growth timbers to which the old school framers had access and often put into service right off the stump. Yes, there's been plenty of post and beam construction (and timber framing) using today’s air dried white oak but as with any specie just educate yourself about its characteristics and limitations.

I'll add that you should also consider other species if that's an option. Though it is not a good idea (at all) to use eastern red cedar for timber framing joinery, it's a fantastic species for post and beam construction as long as you understand the limitations of placing the timbers in tension. It's not a species that lends itself to long clear spans, but with you can do so as long as you understand how to transfer most of the loads to the posts. But in any area where the species is prolific you'll find no shortage of well-built post and beam structures that have withstood the test of time.

There's other species indigenous to the various regions and unless you live in the Sahara or the Arctic circle I can assure you that you too have a species more suitable to post and beam than white oak. Whether or not you have access to them only you know. So while you can surely build a sound structure with wo, the time and energy you will invest in it will be greater than other more suitable species. If you just have a bunch of white oak maybe you should consider using it for siding (design a nice 24"+ overhang for it) as it'll dry much faster that way, and find another species for the timbers if possible. I have used white oak in my own home for two posts and one support beam, so my experience with white oak timbers is virtually meaningless. My advice stems from having researched the possibility of using white oak (and other hardwoods) for the very thing you are considering, and I chose to use ERC. I am sure glad I did too. It's a joy to build with once you understand its limitations.

From contributor K:
Historically it was common for log homes to be built of oak logs. It's a regional thing - they had to use what was within a stones throw, literally, to build log homes in many parts of the country. Boxed heart timbers is important as the others have said. I don't agree with trying to dry them before building with them. Once sawn they need to be joined and put in place before they start moving or else they may move too much and become non useable. If pegged or bolted properly they should stay in place. I'm no expert but I have seen many historic sites around the country where they have standing historic buildings primarily east of the Mississippi river and they were all oak, red or white or mixed, they weren't picky.

From contributor U:
Free of heart is way better than box heart. Free of heart may seem like a luxury but box heart should have check controlling kerfs cut into the hidden sides of the log. By the time you do that it is better to do away with the heart altogether if possible. Plus those quarter sawn boards from the center make great trim boards to cover your shrinkage spaces above doors and windows. More importantly I would not do dovetail corners. Dovetail corners will create more shrinkage problems than any other design issue in a stacked log home. I know folks love the dovetail look but they are bad juju. A corner post with slots and wall logs on splines is a much better system. A roof riding on a shrinking wall is bad design.

From contributor A:
Free of heart oak timbers are rare. If the log was large enough to make FOH the wood was of so high quality you would not have made a timber from it. Even at today’s low prices for FAS it would be tough to come up with large enough logs to make the FOH logs for the home.

Boxed heart is a good thing for what he is wants to do. Appalachian style is a good sturdy style of home and with good foundation and roof will stand for many years. It will take many years for the cants to dry so it will be a slow settling of the house. Yes there are lots of roofs riding on shrinking walls. All log homes settle some and even rise back up some. There ways to handle this, and this is what separates the good builders from the poor ones.

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