Home-made house materials

Advice on sawing out the lumber to build your own house. February 28, 2001

I'm getting ready to saw out and build my own house. I'd like advice. I'm going to use yellow poplar. I'll saw out 2 x 6 walls, floor and ceiling joists, build my own trusses, 1" subfloor, decking, and sheeting. I plan to trim it out in red oak, also off my saw, dried, and made in my shop.

1) Is the best plan to saw the 2x lumber, air dry it, then size it with my planer? Has anyone built a house with lumber sized off the bandsaw?

2) How cost effective is using 1" lumber compared to standard plywood? I know it will take more time to install, but I think it will make a superior house.

3) Can anyone give me an estimate on what your house cost compared to a standard stick and plywood house?

Forum Responses
1) Yes for studs, so that sheet rock will be straight. Consider that hardware, like hangers, is made for dressed sizes. A bandmill will dress close enough for that, but you will still need a hand plane, knife or small hatchet every once in a while. Also, normally recommended 16d nails will not give the same holding power in true 2x material.

2) If they are your trees, then very cost effective. You may have to discount your labor a little bit.

1) You can certainly size off the band saw, but because of variable shrinkage and warp, you will have wavy walls. You can also AD the material, but it will shrink after installation and be prone to nail popping, dry wall cracks, etc. AD MCs are just too high in most cases. Also, there is the risk of bugs in the wood. In any case, size it with your planer.

Do you know the spans approved for yellow poplar? Of course, you need to have the grade in order to use a span table. How flat do you want the floor to be?

I doubt that any inspector will approve home-built trusses that use ungraded lumber.

Insurance companies may also balk at the idea. Also, if your house is damaged (fire, wind, snow), often the insurance is for you to replace it (if you built it yourself), not for a contractor. Make sure you get good insurance and that it is clear that it was built without graded lumber, etc.

2) Plywood is much better than 1-inch solid wood, especially for racking resistance. Plywood is also stronger unless you use clear lumber. If you use clear lumber, then plywood is much cheaper too. In fact, CD-X plywood often is half the price of solid wood, even when using lower grades of lumber!

Of course, in many states using the UBC, plywood is required for corner bracing. So, you need to check with the county building inspector if he will allow whatever material and techniques you will be using.

3) A typical house uses 12,000 BF of lumber. This wood can run about $300 per MBF, so if you can get you wood free, saw it for free, and dry it for free, then you will be saving about $3600. Of course, there is the waste factor--have you also considered that not every piece of lumber you produce will be strong enough (high enough grade) to be used in the construction?

The amount of wood used for framing is fairly small. Oak for cabinets, trim, flooring, etc. is a different matter. This must be dried to 7% MC or so and waste is even larger.

If you use AD lumber for subflooring, as it dries when the heat comes on, it may warp, creating a bumpy floor--use KD only.

Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor

I am a home-builder by trade. I agree that time-wise and strength-wise, you should use plywood or OSB for sub-flooring, wall sheathing and roof decking. Save those 1" boards and sell them to recoup some of the costs.

I don't agree about the lumber being too wet air-dried. When you buy graded dimensional lumber there will be a stamp on it that says "KD-19". This means that the lumber has been kiln-dried to 19%. Usually, it has set outside, been shipped by train, then stored outside of a lumberyard where it will pick up more moisture. If you air-dry below 19%, you are back on the same playing field.

Size your dimensional lumber the same as you would buy; 4"= 3 1/2", 6"= 5 1/2", 8"= 7 1/4". This will keep you from having to build out your window and doorjambs. After your lumber is air-dried, you need to plane smooth the sides exposed to sheathing or drywall. The sides of the studs, rafters and floor joists will only see insulation and there isn't a need to surface these sides.

You may wish to purchase wall studs because they will need to be the truest for drywall, doors, windows, etc., and studs really aren't that expensive. It is the floor system that will save you the most. As far as the roof system, you will never get an inspector to approve trusses you build and they will never be as strong. However, if you conventionally-frame the roof system with rafters and a ridge-pole, you can build it stronger and better.

When you're sawing 2x4s, etc, cut them a little larger to allow for shrinkage, i.e., I cut my 2 x 6 to 1 5/8 x 5 5/8. The boards lose that extra 1/8th through drying. I dry them carefully and do not bother to plane. If you plane them, of course you will need thicker lumber.

1) Why limit yourself to using 2x lumber? Look into a timber frame design or a hybrid type of timber frame. You can cut your own 6x8, 6x12, 8x8, etc. posts and beams that would cost you a fortune to buy retail. I think a timber frame is faster than conventional building in many respects, especially if you use simple joints.

2) I would use full 2-inch lumber for the subfloor; air-dry it, plane it, and then have it tongue-and-grooved at a local mill. Plywood is good if you don't care about sawing it yourself.

We put in hardwood floors from trees off our own place. We had that tongue-and-grooved at a local mill. We sawed up and used our own trees for cabinets, trim, decking, porch, etc.

A state-licensed professional engineer looked over all my house plans, and made some improvements, and stamped the plans with his professional engineer's stamp. This overrides your local county building inspector, and they have to sign it off. The professional engineer should be able to approve your site built trusses, but check on this.

You can build your own trusses if you get an architect or engineer to approve the design. The real problem is the loading at the heel joints (rafter to ceiling joists) but this can be overcome by using split rings and a bolt.

I added 1300 sq ft onto my home.

1) I used over-mature spruce and fir, which therefore had dry and wet variations throughout the logs. This was a bit of a challenge. I air dried for a minimal amount of time, and did not plane anything. Three years later I have had only minor nail popping, and my walls have insignificant variations.

We stick-framed the roof. No problems. We boarded in walls and roof with 1" spruce.
Didn't use KD for sub floor, but won't take the chance on my dream home.

2) The board vs plywood issue is perhaps a wash. Sheeting must be stronger, but I do wonder about the strength of OSB against plywood and boards. What you save on boards is offset by more installation time.

And there is the issue of sealing. After the boards shrink, you'll have a lot of breathing space.

3) Remember all your time. Lumberyard materials are uniform and sorted. I had to sort my framing materials to optimize their use and weed out the unacceptable.

Although you can get an engineer to design trusses, or you can you get predesigned trusses, they all require knowledge of the grade of wood and species being used! The problem is not the design, but the grade. Designs with yellow poplar are much more limited.

My career is spent as a troubleshooter. The insurance issue cannot be over-looked. Most people would have no problem. (I haven't used my homeowners insurance yet.) But it would be dumb not to have adequate coverage; the rate is low. So, make sure that a home-built house is covered.

Oak flooring and poplar bevel siding are certainly more expensive at the store than if you do it yourself, but poplar siding will curl like crazy. Unless you dry it correctly, the oak will not give you a perfect floor. How rustic do you want to be?

Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor

I built my house 15 years back with white pine I logged off my place. I just finished a rental house that I cut most of the framing for, made the doors, jambs and moulding. I can saw and make red oak mouldings cheaper than the pine junk you can buy.

I use 2x6s for exterior studs. I air dry them to under 20%, then "work" them into studs. I precut them to 93", then joint one edge on my jointer, then rip to 5 1/2" wide on the table saw and come out with a nice straight stud. I leave the thickness 2". Joists and rafters I don't dimension at all, just eyeball and use the crooked ones for blocking and shorter needs. I buy my top and bottom wall plate material, as dimensioning it both ways is needed and that is too much trouble. I use plywood subflooring and roof sheathing. It's just quicker, not stronger.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Update as of 9/03

To add to what I said about my own house and the rental, I just finished another rental home in July of 2003... 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and cut most of the framing for it as well as oak moulding, etc., throughout.

The costs worked out about the same for both houses at right around $36/sqft with me doing most of the labor (hired out concrete, carpet laying and heat pumps).

Getting ready to start on #3.