There might be thousands of species of wood, but there really aren’t that many commercially viable species.
What can be problematic in identifying species is the type of cut: vertical, horizontal, tangential, radial, diagonal, and combinations thereof. Occasionally, droughts and floods can have an interesting effect on the tree rings, leading one to believe that it’s one species when it’s actuallly another. Experience (and perhaps a forestry education at Texas A&M University) helps.
In the past, the pressure treated pine had a distinctive color (green).
Since the change of chemicals, the color is more normal for non-pressure treated. Added to that, some of the lumber is marked with the SPIB stamps showing heat treated. The pressure treat marking is a plastic tag stapled to the end of the board - and cut off / not visible.
The only way to identify wood species with any certainity is by using a hand lens to observe cellular and fiber arrangment. Even then it’s difficult as the same species grown in different environments can loof different.
I tried everywhere to find a method for the Log home course and finally gave up after talking to a bunch of different people.
The only way? Not true at all, Kenton. Many, many wood species can be identified by knowledgeable people simply by looking at the wood with the naked eye. Wood identification and tree identification courses used to be a part of every university forestry program in the nation back when I was attending Texas A&M University (1973-1977) working towards a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, Forest Management. I suspect that has not changed.
With experience, one can even learn to tell the species regardless of what kind of cut it is, and to the experienced person, floods and droughts don’t make any difference. The wood species is what it is.
I was unable to find any expert of any kind… no experienced log home contractors, no wood scalers, no wood scientists, no one involved in any aspect of the log home industry who could suggest a method for accurately identifying wood species through naked eye identification. I spoke with many, many people before accepting that accurate identification requires a hand lens at least.
Russel, if you know of a dependable means, Kudos to you, please explain what it is rather than saying that “experienced people can do it”… according to what I’ve found and what those who’ve spent their lives in forestry have told me…they can’t.
In a lot of cases it comes down to probablility. Most of us feel comfortable in identifying redwood decks. Typically, we don’t have to identify the wood. Many times the chances are excellent that we’re right.
My point was just that to be absolutely accurate requires a hand lens. I often verbally identify deck wood species, but my comment has to do with personal experience.
They probably thought that you wanted to sue them, so they weren’t going to say anything that could be used against them.
Maybe Southern Foresters are better than Northern Foresters. I don’t know. But I have no problem identifying common species, and many of my forestry friends can also. My degree is a Bachelor of Science in Forestry Management with (unrecognized) minors in wood engineering, structural engineering, civil engineering, and organic chemistry. When I visited UM-Wisconsin and the FPL back in 1978 they had wood identification course. Perhaps they closed them because someone sued them for identifying the wrong wood. Whatever. Anyway, it’s not hard at all to identify the commercial species, especially those from the U.S. Woods from deep in the heart of Africa might be a little more difficult, but that’s simply because I haven’t studied them.
I’m talking about walking up to a log home site and looking at the logs and trying to identify the wood species without branches or leaves. The same species grown in the mountains, on the plains and along the coast can look pretty different.
There are about 16 wood species commonly used for log homes. Now, I can recognise some local species pretty confindently and another two which aren’t local but get used here a lot, but I tell clients that’s what I think they are. If you indentify a wood species, you need to be able to tell how you know, because in court, you’re going to be asked.
You can answer “It was Ponderosa Pine because it smelled like vanilla.” but I don’t think answers like that will get you a lot of work, even though you might know that the answer is accurate.
Now we’re getting somewhere. However, the logs in log homes have been cut radially at the ends, so one can use both that and the bark to identify many trees. Now if you’re going to lump loblolly, slash, longleaf, and shortleaf all into “Southern Yellow Pines” (which is what they are) and try to identify each one without the leaves on it, then yes, one will need that ol’ slicer-dicer and microscope. But I can still tell you just by looking at the bark that a Ponderosa pine is not a Southern Yellow Pine, or a spruce, or a fir, or an oak, or beech, or birch, or maple. Etc. The bark ain’t gonna change regardless of where the tree was grown. The hardwood and softwood might, ever so slightly though, but a good forester with experience can even look at three trees of the same species and tell you which one was grown above timberline, which was grown on the plains, and which was grown in the lowland. That’s part of what the foresty schools teach during their summer forestry camps, not to mention their classes.
You’ll also be able to dismiss some species simply because they do not make good log homes or are too expensive to use in such circumstances, such as many of the hardwoods (oak, beech, birch, etc.). The logs in log homes will be of the pine species (ponderosa, douglas fir, southern yellow, etc.).
The hand lens method shown in Brian’s link is also the method Bruce Hoadley uses in Identifying Wood: Accurate Results with Simple Tools .
The problem is that most of us have no background in forestry and taking an actual class in wood species identification, even if we could find one without prerequisites, is pretty far down there on the priority list. Toss a rock… listen for the echo. There’s that class on the list!
As far as what’re appropriate species for log homes… generally I think you’re right, however there are people out there who not only won’t let what’s appropriate stop them from using an inappropriate species, they actually seem to view it as a challenge and see themselve as heros for rising to the challenge.