Tag Archives: Dry Lumber

How Post Frame Building Lumber is Born

I’ve been blessed with being able to have extensive tours of two very sophisticated lumber mills. The first being the Seneca Sawmill in Eugene, Oregon.

Seneca Sawmill Company is one of the largest producing single-location sawmills in the United States. Their mills are capable of producing over 650 million board feet per year of premium grade green and dry Douglas-fir dimension lumber and studs, and dry Hem-fir studs. To give a perspective, this would be somewhere around 25 rail cars every week day! Seneca’s goal is to produce the best lumber available, while consuming less raw material than any other sawmill in the world. They pride ourselves in the fact they utilize virtually 100 percent of each log brought to their mills from their forestlands.

One of the things which impressed me was Seneca Sawmill’s use of equipment which allows them to “saw size” lumber, eliminating the need for planning! This saves time, equipment, operators and provides for more efficient recovery from the log being sawn.

Our home on Newman Lake, Washington has 26 foot long 2×14 lumber sawn at Seneca.

The lumber which goes into your new post frame building starts off as a tree in the forest

Several reality television programs appear to delve deeply into the world of logging and I would suggest a few views of Ax Men, Swamp Loggers, American Loggers or Extreme Loggers to cover the portion from tree to log on the lumber truck. Some might best be watched with a block of salt as they are, after all, dramas.

Once at the mill, giant mobile unloaders grab the entire truck load in one bite and stack it in long piles, known as log decks. The decks are periodically sprayed with water to prevent the wood from drying out and shrinking, or combusting.

Logs are picked up from the log deck and are placed on a chain conveyor which brings them into the mill. The outer bark of the log is removed, either with sharp-toothed grinding wheels or with a jet of high-pressure water, while the log is slowly rotated. The removed bark is pulverized and may be used as the mill’s furnace fuel or sold as mulch.

Logs are tipped off the conveyor, parallel to the direction the saw will be cutting, and clamped onto a moveable carriage which slides lengthwise on a set of rails. The carriage can position the log in relationship to the saw and can also rotate it 90 or 180 degrees about its length. Optical sensors scan the log and determine its diameter at each end, its length, and any visible defects. Based on this information, a computer then calculates a suggested cutting pattern to maximize the number of pieces of lumber obtainable from the log. This is the exact process I viewed at Seneca Sawmill and I found it to be fascinating.

The pieces of lumber are then moved to an area to be dried, or “seasoned.” This is necessary to prevent decay and to permit the wood to naturally shrink as it dries out. Timbers, (5 inches by 5 inches and larger) because of their large dimensions, are difficult to thoroughly dry and are generally sold wet, or “green.” Dry lumber contains 19% or less moisture. Air-dried lumber is stacked in a covered area with spacers between each piece to allow air to circulate. Kiln-dried lumber is stacked in an enclosed area, while 110-180°F  heated air is circulated through the stack.

Read more about the whys of dried lumber here: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/04/drying-wood/.

Each piece of lumber is visually or mechanically inspected and graded according to the amount of defects present. The grade is stamped on each piece, along with information about the moisture content, and a mill identification number. The lumber is then banded into units according to the type of wood, grade, and moisture content. Most dry lumber units are then wrapped and are then ready for shipping.

For more information on mechanically inspected lumber – https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/12/machine-graded-lumber/.

Wood Rot and Bugs in South Carolina

Hansen Pole Buildings’ Designer Dave Gross sent me this note recently: I have a client questioning steel versus wood. I have gone through the blogs and discussed the pros and cons with client. Her main comeback is wood rot and bugs in South Carolina.

She is a sharp cookie. 30 year business owner. Just built her 4500 SF house and was the GC on it.  She is direct and wants the truth.”

Dave was certainly right in sharing some of my articles with his client. Among these would be why wood decays to begin with: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2011/07/how-untreated-wood-decays/ and what the Code requirements are for pressure preservative treated wood: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2012/10/pressure-treated-posts-2/

One of the questions I posed of Dave was, did your client happen to build her house out of all pressure preservative treated wood? Of course the answer was “no”.

Wood is an inherently durable material which is resistant to most biological attack provided it remains dry. However prolonged wetting leads to a risk of decay by wood rotting fungi. Various insects also use wood as a food source.

“Dry Rot” is a term most often used to describe a particular kind of dry, cracking, rotting wood. However, dry rot occurs because of a variety of brown rot species, most notably the “true” dry rot fungus known as Serpula lacrymans. It originally got its name from the thought that it did not need water to survive and used a fermentation process to survive. Research has long since been proven untrue, and it is now called, more appropriately, “brown rot“, although the old name hangs on. Dry rot needs much less moisture than other types of wood rotting fungi–a wood moisture content of at least 28-30% — to survive.

Treated Wood StampThe solution to wood rot problems is to prevent it from ever starting – the use of properly pressure preservative treated lumber in critical areas can reduce or altogether eliminate the potential for insect and fungal decay.

And yes, Hansen Buildings uses lumber which is treated to UC4B standards for all structural in ground use.

Read more about this here:







Lumber: When a Foot is not a Foot

This article was a recent Internet rage:


Subway customers are whipping out their measuring tapes after Internet postings that claim a short-shifting of the worldwide chain’s famous footlong sub, putting the Milford, Conn.-based company in the hot seat.

The controversy began Tuesday in Australia, when a very precise customer, identified as Matt Corby of Perth, ordered a footlong sub and then pulled out a tape measure. Corby found the sub measured only 11 inches long and took his outrage to Facebook, where he posted a photo of his sub alongside the tape measure on the company’s page with the caption, “subway pls respond.”

What I loved was the very first response in comments: “Wait till he goes to the lumber yard and measures a 2×4”.

Back in the day when men and boys first began felling trees and using saws to cut the logs into framing lumber, a 2×4 did actually measure more or less two inches by four inches.

Eventually, mankind evolved into high production building and high speed sawmills. High production demanded smooth surfaced lumber to work with, rather than the rough sawn lumber primitive sawmills had been cranking out. About the same time, dried lumber became popular for its dimensional stability and resistance to mold.

The process of drying, then running the formerly rough cut 2×4 through a planer (to create smooth surfaces) created a finished piece of lumber which measured 1-5/8” x 3-5/8”.

In the late 1970’s today’s standard sized 1-1/2” x 3-1/2” dry 2×4 was created. Besides ½ inch being easier to measure than 5/8 inch, we can only assume some brilliant bean counter in a sawmill office determined this would allow for the recovery of one extra 2×4 out of every log!

Some might attempt to attribute the “smaller” dimension of lumber to modern buildings being less able to carry snow, wind and seismic forces. There is no truth to this, as all engineering calculations are based upon the dry dimensions of the material being used.

Green Lumber vs. Dry Lumber

Green Lumber

Need a piece of lumber? In most of the United States, you get one from your local lumber yard or “big box” store and do not have a choice as to whether the lumber is “green” (moisture content of over 19%) or dry. For the most part, what is available at the retail level is a regional dictate.

Historically, the green vs. dry battle has been a point of contention.

A great deal of attention was given at the Forest Products Laboratory in 1946 to problems arising from the use of green lumber in building construction. Sharp controversy developed between the Laboratory and that portion of the lumber industry which customarily manufactured and shipped unseasoned (green) lumber.

The statement, since widely quoted, “we still have not learned how to build good houses of unseasoned lumber” was made in a Laboratory report which was later withdrawn. An extensive “Program to Reduce Use of Green Lumber in Housing” was planned at the Laboratory, but never implemented. Although size standards were not a major part of the controversy, shrinkage in service was given as the principal drawback to the use of green construction lumber, thus emphasizing the relation of size to moisture content.

At about the same time was the case of the home owner in Virginia who sued for damages resulting from the use of green lumber in building his house. The court awarded him some $8,000 damages, but the award was set aside on appeal to a higher court.

There was also sharp controversy about whether or not building codes could legally set maximum moisture content values in lumber used in building construction. The argument was advanced that health and safety do not require dry lumber, and the building law could not go beyond health and safety requirements.

You may ask… why is green lumber even used? It is less expensive to produce green lumber than dry. Green lumber is softer than seasoned wood, it can be cut more easily, is not as likely to split and nails drive into it more easily.

A number of problems can result from the use of green lumber. Nail “pops” – as framing members dry and shrink, gaps are created between nailed together framing members, as well as between exterior or interior sheathing and framing members. Mold can begin to grow on green lumber before it is even used in construction. Airborne mold spores are found almost everywhere, and they can easily cause mold growth on wet wood surfaces.

In exposed areas, green lumber can be difficult to paint or stain, sap within the wood oozes out and causes discoloration and gaps between members (such as fascias) can result.

As it dries, wood shrinks considerably, and is prone to both “warp” and “check” (crack). Used in construction, problems may arise including warping the underlying structure and causing structural instability. Unlike lumber which has been dried at the mill, green lumber has not been treated with any substances which are designed to promote water and insect resistance. Green lumber is more subject to rot, and it can be viewed as a buffet by insects.

More often than not, the use of green lumber for framing material comes from lack of knowledge by the end user. For buildings where the finished quality makes a difference, dry lumber is the only sensible choice.

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There’s No Education Like Real Life Business Experience

In the summer of 1979, home interest rates began to rise. Idaho had a usury limit, home mortgages could not be written for 10% or more. When this ceiling was hit, home construction pretty much stopped in Idaho. I set out looking for other opportunities and ended up in Salem, Oregon.

I was offered the position of truss plant manager at Lucas Plywood and Lumber, in August 1979. It would be a smooth transition, as the prior manager would be there for a month or so to ease me into the system. At first glance, the operation was frightening. I was used to trusses being manufactured using hydraulic presses to embed the steel plates into the trusses, not teams of workers banging them in with hammers and pushing them through a set of “rollers”. Even more frightening was when I discovered all the lumber being used was green (I had no idea trusses were built anywhere with lumber which was not kiln dried). But my total heart failure nearly occurred when I found they were using lumber graded as Standard and better for truss chords, as someone had convinced them it was the same as #2 and better. Not even close!Well, the previous plant manager packed up at noon of the first day saying, “Good luck, son”. My first several months were spent on educating the troops and introducing dry lumber, both with some successes. The lumber sales team was my age as well, which helped to gain eager learners. I taught them how to do lumber lists from building plans, so they could quote framing packages.
In January 1980, the housing crunch I had fled from in Idaho hit Oregon. My truss plant, which typically produced 8 to 10 buildings worth of trusses a day, had only four orders in the entire month! Not good – however there was a single common denominator among those four orders, they were all for pole barn trusses. I didn’t have the slightest idea what a pole barn was, but it was time to find out. I picked the brain of a long time pole barn builder, George Evanovich, who explained the basics to me.

Now I have to confess, I was brought up with, “Wood is good”, so the entire concept of using roll formed steel for roofing and siding was a novel experience for me. Having convinced myself it had its place, we figured out material prices for some fairly typical pole barns and ran ads selling building kits. The response was overwhelming. By April, we were not only running the truss plant full time again (producing primarily pole barn trusses), we had also hired George and his two crews to construct buildings for our clients. By June, the truss plant was operating double shifts, just to keep up with the volume.

At 23, I thought I knew it all, and managed to get my walking papers by being over ambitious. I had all of  3 years of management and sales experience in the truss industry.  I had bought lumber wholesale and sold to both builders and the general public.  I had hired and fired 100’s of workers, dealt with subcontractors, routed trucks, etc.  So of course I new it all, or thought I did at the ripe old age of 23.  The owner had made it known he was considering stepping down and I threw my hat into the ring. However the owner’s son also worked there, as truck dispatcher. Short story was, the owner’s son got the position and I got a ride home in the company truck!  Three years later the company was in bankruptcy. I “packed my bags”, took my existing truss accounts and was hired immediately at Mac Truss Company, in McMinnville, Oregon. I introduced them to pole barns and we started a pole barn supply. The pole barn kit business was good.  One day in February 1981, I actually sold 13 buildings to 13 different customers in the same day!  But sadly, it still was not enough to offset and overcome the debts from the truss operations and we closed in May. It was terribly depressing loading up the inventory on truck and watching them drive away.

With my final paycheck, I was able to pay our family bills current and had $50 left over. The local “free advertising” paper would allow me 3 weeks of credit, if I paid for the first week’s ad up front.  I decided I couldn’t do any worse than the people I had worked for, and right then decided I was going  into the pole barn kit business. Now granted, I had no business location, no inventory, no truck, no anything….all I had was an ad in the local free newspaper!  The first week I sold three buildings, got down payments from the clients and… I was in business! One of my friends was in real estate and located six acres of highway frontage on Highway 99E just north of Canby, Oregon which could be rented reasonably.  Paying first and last month’s rent, I now had a place. The Chevrolet dealership had ordered a lumber delivery truck for the local yard, who had not taken delivery on it. With a small down, they got me financed on the balance and I could deliver. M&W Building Supply Company was a reality!

Without the faith of two people, my fledgling business would not have survived. Jerry Garland, at Georgia Pacific, and Jim Betonte, at American Steel, got me credit terms to purchase materials. Without the ability to have been able to utilize them, I would have been sunk. The first year was not without its challenges. I could not afford a forklift, so I had to go pick up all the lumber, dump it off the truck at my “yard” and reload it back on the truck as needed to fill orders. The property I had leased included a 20’ x 40’ unfinished shop with a garage door in the back. Inside the shop, I could pound together roof trusses (up to 40’ long, when I opened the door), also loading them on the truck by hand. On slow days, I would move the inventory around the yard, by hand, a few boards at a time. Locals would stop by and comment, “Wow…  business must be good.

Yesterday I saw you had piles of lumber ‘over there’….and today you have a pile….over here.”  Yes, and I had moved the lumber 100 feet away by hand! When the phone would ring, a horn would sound outside and I would run like crazy into the office to answer. People thought I was busy, because I always sounded so out of breath.

We aren’t finished yet! Join Mike Momb in Part III – Evolution of The Pole Barn Guru and his Building Philosophy