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    Welcome To Western Log Home Supply Blog
    Sunday, May 24, 2009

    Traveling through Colorado, the keen observer will note that vast areas of the montane forest are covered with trees that have a reddish, rust-colored tint to the foliage. These reddish colored crowns are evidence of the death of the lodgepole pine forest in Colorado. Populations of the mountain pine beetle have exploded over the last decade and it has not been possible to control this spread through thinning of the timber stands or by spraying.

    The mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus monticolae) will attack trees which are more than 3-inches in diameter. They girdle the tree with their boring into the wood and this prevents the lifeblood of the tree from reaching the crown. They are not like the common termite that eats all of the wood nor does this beetle live in the tree for years on end. They spend the winter in the tree bole and leave in June through August as an adult. In heavily infected stands this life cycle continues as the off spring infest neighboring trees.

     

    In Colorado, the winters have been unseasonably warm over the last 10 years. This in return has helped the mountain pine beetle increase its populations and spread over wide areas. Presently there are 1.4 million acres infected by the beetle over a forested area of some 22 million acres in the State of Colorado.

     

    The first “knee jerk” solution to this dilemma is to cut the trees in the infected stands of timber. There are many drawbacks to this solution when one considers the commercial cutting of the dying lodgepole pine.

     

    1)      The volume of timber affected is so widespread that commercial operations cannot handle the amount of fiber available.

    2)      Much of the timber is of small diameter and thus is really pre-commercial timber. A sawmill cannot log and haul loads of logs into the mill which are 4 to 10 inches in diameter. If all of the trees were in a diameter class of 14 to 24 inches, for instance, the sawmill could cut the logs into various lumber products and make money from the expenditure of their capital.

    3)      During the present recession, the demand for lumber products of all types has decreased precipitously. At the present time most sawmills don’t need yards full of merchantable logs as the markets have dried up.

    4)      When these trees are attacked, the carry spores of a fungus into the tree which results in blue stain. This staining of the wood is desirable in the West for paneling in a home. However, if a mill is sawing logs for grade lumber, then this blue stain is not desirable.

    5)      These vast areas of infected timber could be used for pulpwood, but the Intermountain West does not have pulp mills that could use this wood fiber. The wood would have to be shipped to the Pacific Northwest or even to the Lake States at a high shipping rate. The wood in partially to completely dry when it is harvested so a very large load could be placed on a rail car without and concern with weight. The blue stain wood also increases the absorption of chemicals into the wood fiber and this would decrease the time it would take in the digester at the pulp mill.

    6)      The lodgepole pine would make good posts if they were pressure treated but again we must think of the number of pressure treating plants in the area and the markets available for the finished product.

    7)      Firewood comes to mind, but this “small potatoes” when one considers the amount of acres affected and the limited market for firewood in the 21st Century.

    8)      It has been suggested in the State of Colorado that the sales tax be rescinded on products produced from beetle killed lodgepole pine. However, this will probably be reminiscent of the song from the 1960’s, Mona Lisa: it will just lie there and die there!

    So what will happen if this dying timber resource is not harvested before it becomes unmerchantable? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that fire will be the final arbiter. Fire has been an ecological factor in the lodgepole pine forests since they first colonized the Intermountain West tens of thousands of years ago. In fact, lodgepole pine depends on fire to maintain its foothold in the mountains. Fire clears out the thick stands of pine and creates factors conducive to the growth of a new stand of timber. The heat from the fire opens the pine cones and a proliferation of seeds will cover the area. This results in “dog hair” stands of pine after a fire which can be in excess of 5,000 stems per acre. Although this life cycle which is dependent of fire was fine thousands of years ago, it is not something that can always be tolerated in modern times with houses and towns being in close proximity to the dying lodgepole pine stands. 

    As one travels through Colorado, dying and dead lodgepole pine is found in close proximity to towns, business, condos, and homes. One lightning strike or ignition source caused by a careless human will wreak havoc on a very large region of northern Colorado. One only needs to think of the Peshtigo, Wisconsin fire, which took place the same time as the Chicago fire, to know what can happen when a forest fire gets a good start. Another large fire in northwestern Montana and northern Idaho was the 1910 burn which devastated the region in which it took place and spread.  When fire hits the region of dying lodgepole pine the news coverage will be great, but at the present time this sleeping monster is mostly unreported except at the local level. The U.S. Forest Service has closed a number of campgrounds at this time due to the fire danger. This should prevent an errant camper from causing a fire but they cannot control lightning hitting a snag or mountain peak.

     

    1)      Increased harvest is a “no-brainer” but as mentioned earlier, the markets are limited. When one considers the hauling costs, the sales available are not extremely attractive.

    2)      Should the state and federal agencies that own much of this timber, pay mill owners and others a fee for taking it from the forest? They can have the timber as an added incentive, but in this way a large forest fire could probably be averted or kept to a minimum. Why is it that this is not an option but fighting a forest fire with millions of dollars is money well spent?

    3)      When a landowner has noxious weeds on his land, the local governments can have the landowner remove these weeds at his own expense as a public nuisance. Should the local governments compel homeowners to remove this timber from their land and especially around buildings to deter fire spread? This would be considered an action taken for the public good.

    4)      Some policy must be taken soon as the problem is not going away. Each year more timber dies, it becomes drier and less marketable. Sooner or later nature will take its retribution as it has always done in the past. Do you remember the Yellowstone fire back in the 1990s?

     

    In conclusion I need not reiterate the problem and the imposing danger stalking the mountains of Colorado. What I need to stress is the lack of strong and immediate action by foresters at all levels and local cities and towns in minimizing the danger of fire if they cannot completely eradicate this threat. This treatise is not a call of hysteria but a call for immediate and positive action to remove the fire threat. I am afraid that once again, “after the horse has got out of the barn,” fingers will be pointed at one another as to who was to blame for leaving the barn door open! We don’t need a blue ribbon panel to report on the obvious, we need action for the good of all.

    Along the Arkansas River in Colorado, the tamarisk and Russian Olive are using too much water from the river. This deprives the state of water for irrigation, drinking, flushing toilets, car washes and industry. This problem has been studied for a number of years by various agencies but I have yet to see the tamarisk go the way of the bison. It is till there through drought years and years of plenty. Just study it to death and everyone gets a warm, fuzzy feeling that something is being done. With the state of Colorado in the economic doldrums, as are most states, don’t look for any infusion of money to correct any natural resource problems. Maybe we need another study!

    When the fires move across northern Colorado, all I can say is “I told you so.”

    Clyde Cremer has a BS in Forestry from Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas, and a Masters Degree in Forestry from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, New Haven, CT.  


    Western Log Home Supply

    869 Industrial Blvd.

    Pueblo West, Colorado 81007

    (719) 547-2135

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    by: Western Log Home Supply
    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    From Forest to Finished Residence, a Log Home is True Green Building Choice

    Mention the words “log home” in these environmentally aware times, and unfortunately the first thing likely to spring into the minds of many people is an image of lumberjacks clear-cutting entire forests and destroying habitats for spotted owls. At a time in this planet’s history when climate change, pollution, the destruction of the natural environment, and soaring fuel costs are truly legitimate concerns, the thought of a home made from trees can understandably cause an initially panicked reaction.

    That notion of log homes being anti-“green,” however, could not, however, be farther from the truth.

    Today’s log homes are, in fact, among the most environmentally friendly residential choices available, good both for the planet and for the people who live in them. Log homes can help restore, renew, and safeguard nature. The best-made log homes are manufactured with virtually zero waste. From every stage of their creation, from standing timber through construction to move-in, are responsibly built log home leaves one of the smallest carbon footprints of any residential choice.

    A Log Home Begins: Responsible Logging

    Every log home has its start when the logs from which it is built are first cut. Today, the most responsible builders of log homes become responsible stewards of the environment by carefully choosing the trees they cut for the most positive impact on the environment.

    Some trees may be harvested strategically for log homes with the goal of optimizing the well being of trees left behind. Done correctly, this can allow remaining trees more room to grow and more direct access to sunlight and rain.

    More importantly, however, is the fact that the smartest log homebuilders aim to use dead standing timber—trees that, at first glance, may look alive because they appear upright and strong, but have in fact died. One prime example of such trees are pines killed by beetle infestation, a major problem in America’s forests.

    Dead standing trees scattered throughout the forests are removed selectively by helicopter logging. In many cases entire tracts of woodlands may be composed of dead standing timber, which are most efficiently removed by clear cutting. Either way, such dead trees have drier wood that is much more prone to catching fire from lightning strikes, sparking power lines, or careless campers. Caught alight, one such dead standing tree can lead to the devastation of vast living forests and related ecosystems.

    Fortunately, most dead standing timber is prime material for log homes. Beetles, for example, attack only the cambium, the thin growing layer beneath the bark, leaving the rest of the timber unaffected. Since a tree destined for a log home will be milled down to its heartwood, any and all traces of infestation are eliminated long before construction.

    In these fundamental ways, logs are a sustainable resource. And that fact alone makes log homes a superb green building option. But there are more good reasons still why log homes make superb eco-friendly choices.

    Log Homes: Less “Embodied Energy”

    The term “embodied energy” is becoming more and more familiar among folks concerned about the environment. In brief and put as simply as possible, it refers to the sum total amount of energy expended to produce a product. For a brick wall, that would mean every bit of energy involved in digging up the clay, trucking it to the brickworks, building the moulds, firing it in the kiln, trucking it to the store or brickyard or building site, similar energy for the mortar, and assembling the wall, plus a share of the energy expended to make all the machines or equipment used in every step of the process.

    By this standard, the walls of a log home contain consume less energy than walls of brick and mortar, and also less than walls of milled boards. That makes logs a much more responsible building material choice for the wellbeing of our planet.

    Log Home Milling: Waste-Free Manufacturing

    Once they reach the mill, responsibly harvested timbers go through a milling process that is a model of environmentally responsible manufacturing. Virtually no part of the tree goes to waste.

    As mentioned, trees destined for log home construction are milled down to their heartwood and cut to length. But what, you may wonder, becomes of the parts that are milled or trimmed away?

    When a manufacture receives a log it is usually in the form of a "cant." A cant is a round log that has had slabs cut off of the sides to make it square.  These cants are ready to be run though the planner machine but before this happens they go through the first grading process.  Logs that have a large amount of cracks, bends, curves, bows, or other flaws are either rejected before they are even milled or are cut down to a smaller usable length and placed in a Grade B or Grade C pile. Logs that make it through this process are Grade A logs.  

    These Grade A logs are run through a large planner which mills the tongue-and-groove pattern into the top and bottom of the log and makes one face of the log round (the side that is on the outside of the home) and mills the inside face of the log flat.  This is done with tungsten carbide tipped cutter heads which makes for an extremely smooth finish. 

    After the logs are milled they are cut to length according to a log layout.  The log layout is a blueprint of the house and contains the exact length of every that is going to be used in the home.  

    When the log is cut to length it a small slab is cut off the front of the log to make it flat and smooth.  Sometimes if the log has a crack which was not seen in the first grading process that portion of the log will be cut off to assure that it meets Grade A standards. These small trimmings from logs are sold as firewood.

    Logs graded “B” or “C” because of cracks, bends, curves, bows, or other flaws that render them unsuitable for large-scale quality construction also may be turned into playhouses, sheds, or garages. 

    Logs which are below Grade B or C quality logs get cut up for dunnage, the strips of wood that secure bundles of logs for shipping or are used to make the borders for gardens. 

    Even the wood shavings from the planer machines that make the tongue-and-groove cuts that fit logs together are sold for horse bedding or to decorate and hold moisture in garden flowerbeds. 

    Believe it or not but even the finest particles of sawdust finds use with environmentally friendly composting toilets or to soak up oil on shop floors.

    Some enlightened log home manufacturers take the notion of waste-free sustainability one step further still. They become members of environmentally conscious industry organizations that actually fund the replanting of trees to keep forests well managed, healthy, and growing.

    Log Homes: An Ideal Choice for Sustainable Living

    Once a log home has been built, its value as a green living choice becomes all the greater. Especially when a log home is positioned on its site to take maximize direct sunlight during the colder months and to maximize shade during warmer months, logs are an ideal building material, absorbing heat effectively and releasing it slowly to reduce heating costs in winter, and keeping interiors well-insulated against exterior heat in the summer.

    Using dry wood to eliminate shrinkage and built following proper construction, sealing, and chinking procedures, log homes are also extremely airtight. This factor not only further reduces heating and cooling costs but also improves indoor air quality. The result is a far healthier interior environment.

    In such practical, everyday ways, log homes provide true benefits to those who build and live in them. From the ways in which the logs are harvested, through their milling process, to the construction of the finished home, they make an ideal choice for anyone who wants to reduce their carbon footprint and live a sustainable, environmentally responsible life.

    By Clyde and Jeff Cremer

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    by: Western Log Home Supply
    Monday, December 8, 2008

    WHY DOES WOOD CRACK WHEN IT DRIES? 

    Differential Shrinkage

    To get right to the point, wood cracks due to differential shrinkage! Differential shrinkage occurs because the outer fibers in the shell dry first and begin to shrink. However, the core has not yet begun to dry and shrink, and consequently the shell is restrained from shrinking by the core. Thus the shell goes into tension and the core into compression. With the stresses from the shell and core pulling in opposite directions the wood fibers break and a crack forms.  The larger the wood member, the more stress is exerted to the wood member.

    Examples

    Lets take an example of a 1x8 board versus an 8x8 timber

    •          The 1x8 board is only one-inch thick so it dries fairly quickly. The stress are minimal and just a few, small surface checks may result.
    •          The much larger 8x8 (8-inches x 8-inches) timber takes a long time to dry which could be as much as six-months. The inside of the timber will stay wet for months while the outside is dried to well below 20-percent moisture content. The stress that is set up within the 8x8 will eventually result in a ½ inch crack or larger on one face to the timber. This crack will go all the way to the center of the timber and usually be on one face only.
    I have seen people cutting a round, “lilly pad” from the end of a log so that they can use it as a cutting board in the kitchen. It looks nice in the green, unseasoned state but after a few weeks it develops a large, pie crack in the piece. It is eventually discarded as unsightly. After throwing it away they wonder what happened to the wood that allowed this to happen.  
     

    This is just another reason why wood materials should be properly dried before using them in any mode other than for exterior use such as fence posts, landscape timbers or a rough fence. If they are being used where their final moisture content will be 15% or lower, they should be dried prior to milling and installed into their final end use. In this way the seasoning, stress cracks can be aligned in such a way that they are hidden or discarded.

    Preventing Cracks – Proper drying techniques and PEG

    What can be done to prevent this seasoning degradation in wood? With large quantities of lumber, boards to timbers one can only resort to proper drying following the many details that make up the complete process. This can be done with either a kiln or by air drying but many details have to be followed to have the results desired. It is not the purpose of this short subject to outline what must be done to properly dry wood. This will be covered in another article.

    For small, fairly expensive items such as carvings, another method can be used to prevent degradation due to seasoning checks and cracks. This is done using a chemical called polyethylene glycol-1000 or PEG for short. This material looks like a block of paraffin in the solid state but will dissolve in water. The correct method for using this material is to soak the newly carved piece of wood in water for a month or more depending on its size. After it is completely saturated with water it is placed in a solution of PEG and water. It is kept in this solution for several months for best results. The solution should be warm and can be kept this way with a fish bowl heater. After the carving is thoroughly saturated with PEG, it must be dried slowly in a cool environment and out of the sunlight. The result is a wood carving that will not shrink when it dries and thus will not crack.

    The physical explanation for the above process is this: PEG can only be transmitted through the wood if the wood is thoroughly saturated with water. When the PEG enters the cells, it fills the cell walls and the cell lumen located in the center of the cell. When the wood is dried, it cannot shrink because the cell walls are now filled with a solid (PEG) and cannot shrink. If the wood cannot shrink, it cannot crack or split!

    As a final note, I used this method on a piece of sycamore that was buried in a clay pit for nearly 6,000 years. I had it made into a gun stock and after 30 years of use the gun stock looks like new without the slightest hair line crack in any surface of it.


    P.S.  To treat checks and cracks in wood we recommend that you use our chinking and sealant materials found here. If you have any questions regarding drying wood or wood in general just give me a call at 719-547-2135 or visit our website at www.westernloghomesupply.com

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    by: Western Log Home Supply

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