Asked by Jeff S from Buchanan, MI USA
I would like to build a barn based on your 30×50 plans. I have 22 acres of hardwoods and would like to cut my timbers and siding with a portable sawmill.
I have many species to choose from–ash, black oak, red oak, cherry, cottonwood/tulip.
What trees would be best?
I had a Forester come in and say I should have my 100 Ash trees logged because of the Ash Borer disease.
Is one species better for siding or structural timbers? I’m in southwest Michigan.
Thank you for your question. Any of the species you mentioned would work to construct your barn.
Using local resources is a great idea. It saves you money, helps the environment, and gives you a good story to go with your new barn.
Ash is a very strong and elastic timber, it is good for both posts and beams, as well as any other structural members. Many axe handles, hammer handles, and baseball bats are made out of Ash.
You will want to season it for a little while before you use it. It is best to cut live ash in the winter because it will have less moisture in it. This is true with all species of timber, there are many advantages to cutting in the winter.
You mentioned Ash borer, if the trees have been dead standing for a year or more than they should already be seasoned enough to use. To be sure you might want to test the moisture content with a moisture meter. You can get those on Amazon.com.
The ash borer only burrows into the outside few layers of the tree. That part of the log will be cut off on the sawmill, so there is no concern with structural integrity being compromised. Other insects on the other hand may infest the standing dead trees so just be aware and look for them. It is usually not a problem though.
If your ash is still green (wet) when you cut it, you will want to paint the ends so that they don’t crack while drying. 18% percent moisture content or less is dry enough for an unheated barn.
Oak is good for any component in a barn, however Ash is better for the structure. Oak is very dense and more brittle than ash. Don’t get me wrong it is a great structural wood, its just ash is a little better.
I would use the oak for things like loft flooring, and siding first, then if you run out of ash go ahead and use it for structural parts of the timber frame. The same seasoning/drying advice for ash applies to oak.
Always place stickers between layers of wood when you are stacking it to season, to allow air to flow all the way around the wood.
Cherry my, best advice for you here is to sell it or use it for your own finish work. It’s not that it is an inferior structure lumber, it’s that it is much more valuable than the others. If you decide to use it in your barn, you could use it anywhere you would use the Oak. It isn’t as strong but it is adequate.
Cottonwood, be very careful when seasoning cottonwood. It is extremely wet and will warp severely if not handled properly. Sticker it in the shade weigh the top of the stack down with heavy objects like pieces of oak beams or concrete blocks.
Once it is dry it can be used as interior covering and not much else. Use it anywhere you are not too worried about replacing it later. Cottonwood will rot before a lot of other species will.
Tulip poplar is much different than cottonwood. It’s not nearly as wet and is much more stable. Foresters and timbermen in Michigan pool them together because they are mainly used for pulp/paper production, and have the same value for those uses.
Poplar is good for siding, and just about anything else in the barn, in fact I wouldn’t be afraid to use it to build the whole barn. I would advise you to paint the exterior though if you use it for siding. The same seasoning advice applies to popular as all the other species, or any species for that matter.
I hope this answers your question, best of luck with your project!
As limited as my experience is compared to Aarons, I was astounded to read it, but after thinking about it Jeff, it lines up to the 15 Barns I have taken down for re-purposing the bounty! I too am here in the South-west corner of MI, and find lots of Poplar beams, and some siding ! Painted exterior would line up to my thoughts too! Thanks for the lessons Aaron! TWA
great Q and A
Great question Jeff ! Seems like you read my mind . Aaron very informative answer , looks like you have killed 2 birds with 1 stone here , as my woodlot has many ash too. I’ve done extensive reading on timber frame / post and beam construction . I have found very little on white ash as a frame in new construction , but many references about older frames of ash. This all seemed odd as the mechanical properties are very similar to oak and has a much lower moisture content . Thanks guys