Types of Timber in your Log Cabin

I have been emailing with a potential customer today and he asked me this:

“I am still therefore split in my decision between your cabin and one other competitor, (an improvement on the eight I started with!).  To this end, can you tell me the real issue over the timber quality with Companies that are using mixed pine/spruce as opposed to your materials?  The other Company do this which seems to be the main difference as neither of you do finger jointing. Hopefully then I can make a better informed decision.”

I explained in a very condensed version what the differences of timber are that are currently being used in log cabins across the industry but mainly in the UK. I think it was actually a bit of a ramble but with a glass of wine in my hand I can write it a little better here and more concisely than what was sent my customer earlier today by me.

If you are researching a log cabin it helps to know what you are getting, and like my customer asked, you can then make a fully informed decision:

Two Types of Timber we can use in a log cabin.

In a log cabin we can either use Pine or Spruce.

1. Pine – Wikipedia Pine Entry

Pine is known as a redwood, it’s widely used for a lot of things we use daily. No doubt you will have some pine furniture at home.

Pine isn’t as dense as Spruce and therefore it does absorb water quicker. It’s the cheaper of the two types we can use in a log cabin. We use it very widely in the garden for fencing, posts, furniture, play equipment etc.

Because it is less dense, we will pressure treat it to guard against rotting in the long term. It also tends to have looser knots and more of them, it changes colour with sun light to a darker colour. It’s also not as structurally strong as spruce and has wider ring growth.

Pine tree

Pine tree

2. Spruce – Wikipedia Spruce Entry

Spruce is a white-wood, it doesn’t discolour any where near as much as pine so it is more aesthetically pleasing inside a log cabin.  It is more dense than pine as well, the knots are tighter and usually there are less of them than in pine. It is structurally stronger but is more expensive than pine. Tuindeco log cabins are entirely spruce including the roofs and floors.

Spruce tree.

Spruce tree.

Difference

The main difference between the two is the denseness of the timber and this makes a lot of difference in a log cabin. Because of this it stands to reason that they both behave differently and this is where the problem starts when we mix timbers.

I’m sure you’re aware of a Bi-metal strip that’s used in thermostats?  With this we take advantage of the different expansion and contraction properties of brass and copper, both of which are similar metals like spruce and pine are similar.  But, there is of course a difference between them.

With a log cabin do we really want to have different rates of expansion?

If we do have a mix It will mean that logs expand and contract at different rates, gaps can appear, splits and all sorts of horrible things could possibly happen over its life if we are not fully aware of it.

We also have the aesthetics of it, lovely white spruce contrasted with the red of the pine really doesn’t look very nice. We then also have to contend with pine’s tendency to rot quicker unless it has been pressure treated.

Some suppliers will also specify finger joints using a spruce / pine mix and then we have even more issues with different rates of expansion. It does make for a far cheaper log cabin though and we can still overcome it by remembering it and when we are building it.

Varying expansion rates is great for a Bi-metal strip, not so good in a log cabin unless you are aware!

Spruce / Pine Mix

So, it’s really not a good idea to make a log cabin from pine in my opinion and certainly that of Tuindeo if you find a cabin made of pine it’s not a good thing, but, if you do take it, it should be VERY cheap.

Of course some companies will do it as it saves a lot of money but please check what is being used and that the cost savings they have are properly passed on to you.

Far more popular though in the UK, thankfully, is adding a cheeky spruce / pine mix into a log cabin, it saves the supplier a LOT of money and should hopefully save you as a consumer as well.

Lots of mixes are out there and only really accepted in the UK,  mixes are not tolerated in Europe, I think they are better educated than here in this respect.

Please consider that you may have the following problems in the long term with a mix:

  • Different rates of expansion may cause splits, warps, gaps and long term problems.
  • Pine is less dense and absorbs more water than Spruce so make sure you treat it very well.
  • Pine is redder than Spruce and not as attractive inside your log cabin.
  • Knots are looser in pine, there are generally more of them and they are more likely to fall out so before you apply your treatment I would recommend ‘knotting’ the logs first before you treat them.

If you do have a log cabin that has a mix, when you install it try to keep the above in mind and grade your timbers remembering the expansion rates, try to keep it even. Also if you have mixed timber and finger joints try to stagger your logs and remember the expansion will make a difference to longevity and this needs to be thought about as you build and treat it to make it last as long as one would expect.

Timber Series

Following on from this I intend to write a short series on timber in log cabins, you really wouldn’t believe the differences and the ways we can play with wood to get to the prices you the consumer wants but, do you really want it in the long term?

The following will be added to this blog over time:

  1. How we can cut a timber log to make a cheap log cabin.
  2. Moisture content in timber, machining and the impact of the content.
  3. Timber calculation to cut costs you can work out yourself and see where you maybe opting for a bargain while adding to a companies profits.
  4. More expansion information for log cabins.
  5. The pitfalls of thinner logs, barge-boards, windows and doors.
  6. Drying processes – kiln dried versus natural drying.

Here’s an old post I wrote on how to get to a cheap log cabin, in the new series I will show you more, you wouldn’t believe it. A timber log in a log cabin is not always just a timber log, there can be HUGE differences and all of these comes down to prices for the consumer or of course the company profits.

Oh, also watch out for spruce in the logs and pine in the roof and floor. It doesn’t make a great deal of difference but it’s nice to know what you are getting for your money!

Log Cabin Bargain Time of Year

These offers have finished 🙁

It’s that time of year and if you’re after a bargain the next few months is the time to buy your log cabin.  Everything has a season and ours is drawing to a close.  The nights are drawing in, Autumn followed by winter is not too far off, we may as well close shop until the Spring appears. But for you, if you’re canny and wiley, which perhaps you are now is a perfect time to find a log cabin, shed, garden building etc.  Now is the time of year for the garden industry that we start looking deeply at our stocks.  We don’t want to enter a quiet spell with full stock so we have to lose it.  Generally at near cost.  Bargain time for you! Take for instance the recent items we’ve added to our sales.  We have some pressure treated buildings still in stock that we really don’t want to carry so we’re offering them at hugely discounted prices. There’s only one of each, when they’re gone they will disappear and never be repeated. Here they are:

Heino pressure treated log cabin

Rome pressure treated log cabin

Pressure treated flat roof garage.

These really are a huge bargain.  If these log cabin suit your needs, please buy them quickly.  There’s only one of each!

There are several more than these shown, these are the highlights, have a wander though our log cabins category for many more substantial offers.

Pressure Treated or Tanalised Log Cabin

These two terms are used a lot in the garden industry.  Timber is often described as ‘tanalised’ or ‘pressure treated’.  Options are given with garden buildings, including our log cabins for them to be tanalised, others give them options of pressure treatment.

Terms

The two terms used are describing exactly the same timber treatment:

  • Tanalised is actually a trademark, as is ‘Tanalith E’ which you will see sometimes.  These brands have been around since the 1940’s.
  • Pressure treatmentt is the process carried out using ‘Tanalith E’ or similar.

Process

The treatment process is carried out by placing the timber in a big tank.  The door is shut and a vacuum is created inside it.  Then the pressure treatment fluid is allowed to enter and is forced in the wood under the pressure.  It penetrates to a depth of a few millimeters.

Pressure Treatment process using 'tanalith' or similar

Pressure Treatment process using ‘tanalith’ or similar

Ingredients

The main ingredient is copper with other chemicals added.  Copper is excellent for protection against rot and insects.  The other chemicals (Biocides) protect against other rot that the copper can’t such as ‘brown rot fungi’.  These substances are not harmful at all and can be used around animals and children.  Fish may be sensitive to it.

Rot Proofing of Timber 

It does exactly what it says and protects the timber from rot really well, internally they say about 60 years and externally about 30 years against any form of rot.  It’s pretty good stuff!

Limitations with Log Cabins

For the treatment of rot there is no real limitations, it works and works really well.  The main problem with pressure treatment of our log cabins is:

  • It is NOT a weatherproof treatment

You can of course not bother treating it, the cabin is not going to rot, well, not for thirty years or so but because it is not a weatherproof treatment you can expect the logs to absorb water which will result in rings and marks just like your coffee table at home with a hot mug of hot chocolate.

  •  It will discolour, it fades to a honey brown and eventually to a silvery grey.

Overtime it will discolour.  We can pressure treat / tanalise your log cabin in green or brown but the same appearance will result.  Normally over about five years.

This cabin was provided with Green pressure treatment:

Green Pressure Treated Log Cabin

Green Pressure Treated Log Cabin featuring the Sten Log Cabin

This one is done in brown tanalised pressure treatment:

Brown pressure treated log cabin

Brown pressure treated log cabin Featuring the Halvar Log Cabin

There isn’t a great deal between them but both will end up looking the same in a few years.

  • All of the wood is treated.

And this may be a problem for you.  When the logs are put into the vacuum tank there is no way to cover one side, all of it gets treated so what you see on the outside is what you see on the inside.

Summary

If Holland read what I’m about to say I may well get ‘questioned’ on it, but, I really hate pressure treated log cabins.  I try and steer my customers away from it.

In my mind as it’s not weather proofed you will still have to give your cabin a proper treatment, preferably with something expensive so you rarely have to repeat it.  If you want it to stay looking good you have to treat it.

Most people love the bright airiness of the cabin, do you really want to be staring at green or brown walls and ceiling, we go out of our way to source white wood over red wood so you have exactly that, an almost white interior, to spoil it with tanalisation just isn’t on really.

However, with that being said, other customers I will positively encourage such as this one:

Tanalised Log Cabin Garage

Tanalised Log Cabin Garage

Now here is a prime example when tanalisation / pressure treatment is excellent, it has a damp car stuck in it, it’s open to the elements internally.  Rot treatment makes sense! Here’s another one when I strongly recommend it:

Highly recommended to pressure treat this log cabin

Highly recommended to pressure treat this log cabin

Another prime example, I’d suggest to this customer to pressure treat the log cabin.  It’s constantly open to the elements internally and externally.  It makes sense.

All my other cabins, hmm, I don’t think it’s necessary, you’ve got to treat it anyway so why not put the money you would have spent on tanalisation into your treatment such as Sadolin, Sikkens or our excellent range of log cabin Paints and Log Cabin Stains designed for smooth planed pine wall logs.

I think it’s a bit like marmite, love it or hate it ….. up to you!