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If you want to build a cordwood home that will last for generations, it is vital to prepare your logs correctly. In this post you’ll learn exactly what to do to prep logs for cordwood building.
The benefit to this is that you are able to use all parts of the the tree. You are also able to use logs that might not be suitable for traditional building.
But in order to build cordwood walls that will last and not rot out, it is important to prepare your logs correctly. We’ll take you step by step through the process of preparing logs for cordwood masonry construction.
How to Prepare Logs for Cordwood Masonry Construction
We used all Eastern Red Cedar for the walls, cut to 16 inch lengths to create a 16 inch thick wall.
While we used cedar, you are safe to use most any softwood. Avoid hardwoods, as they are prone to expansion and contraction, which may buckle and destroy a wall. There is a lot more detail about that here.
Once you’ve chosen your trees, you can start preparing them.
Cutting Down the Trees
Scout out a suitable tree. Here, we’re looking at it being a reasonable size (not too small) and reasonably located (we can get to it to remove it with the truck, not covered by brush, etc.)
Clear the area around the tree. This is mostly for safety. If the tree starts to fall in a different direction and you need to run out of its way, you’d better be sure there isn’t anything for you to trip over along the way. Here’s Mark clearing some brush around the tree with a machete:
Cut down the tree. This is Mark’s territory. He assesses how it is likely to fall and then cuts it methodically with his chainsaw.
Limb the tree. Using the chainsaw, remove all of the branches and top of the tree. If any branches are a few inches in diameter, remove the little branches/twigs from it and save it for use.
Drag the tree to the work area. We loop a chain around the end of the tree and attach the other end to the hitch on the truck. We then “tow” it to the work area. Here it is in all its glory!
Debarking the Trees
Start peeling the tree! This is important to do as soon after felling the tree as you can.
Once it is down, the sap will start drying and will act as a glue, holding the bark tightly to the tree. When it is freshly fallen, the bark will practically peel itself.
This is a drawknife similar to what we have. We only really use it if we’re prepping wood in the off-season and the bark is stuck tight.
This is a Log Wizard, which attaches to your chainsaw. We don’t personally own one but have hard great things from other folks about theirs.
I preferred peeling bark with a tomahawk. It works best to come in from the side and pry it off along to the grain rather than trying to shave it off against the grain of the bark. This allows you to pry off big sheets at a time!
Cut The Logs to Fit Your Wall Thickness
Cut the tree in equal segments. We’ve been propping the debarked trees up on the older logs to get them off the ground while we cut.
We chose 16 inch cordwood walls, so my job has been to measure each segment, mark it with a knife, and then let Mark cut it with the chainsaw.
We also use this as an opportunity to clean the log up from any stick-ups or spots of sap we missed during the limbing process.
The logs then have to spend a period of time drying to about a 12-16% moisture content. We measure this with a simple moisture meter like this one.
Several of our earliest logs from only a few weeks ago are already to this level because of how hot, dry, and windy it’s been. Other newer logs are closer to around 20%.
They tend to be around 35-40% when they are first cut. According to many other builders, Eastern Red Cedars tend to dry quicker than other species of wood, and so far that seems to be true.
How the Prepared Logs Behave in Cordwood Walls
If your logs have been correctly debarked and dried, you shouldn’t have to worry about rot, checking (where the logs split down the side), or shrinkage.
Why? A properly dried log will not shrink dramatically within the mortar of the wall. This means there is less room for moisture to sit, which keeps everything dry and avoids attracting fungi and pests.
If your logs are still a bit “wet” when you build though, watch how the logs behave over the course of a year or two. If there is shrinkage as you progress through the seasons you can always use caulk-like products including Permachink or Log Jam to fill in the gaps.
There are loads of other ways to help protect your cordwood walls beyond making sure your logs have been adequately seasoned. Read all about it here.
Once you know how cordwood works, you’ll definitely want to check out our building process more in-depth. We have each of our building progress reports here.
You should also definitely check out how our cordwood house handled the winter for our first year living in it. It might surprise you!
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