Cypress Log Homes

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Drying Cypress

Where do I begin? Cypress is hard to dry. VERY hard to dry. It may be 50-100 times harder to dry than pine which you can do in 100 hours in a high temperature kiln. Try heat with green cypress timbers and you damage the integrity of the wood. As with any wood the more dense cypress is, the harder it is to dry and no two logs are exactly the same. If a cypress log dries very quickly, it is a sign that it is not as dense as it should be and though it is lighter and easier to use, will not have as much rot or insect protection as the logs with more red, or darker hearts. I guess this is one time that a dark heart is a good thing, though I am convinced that ALL politicians have them.

Our experience has been that good, dense, red cypress in a 6x8 size will be wet in the middle after 18 months of air drying. We suspect that for a dense piece of cypress to dry to the core, you literally could be looking at 3-5 years of air time. Yep, you heard me. You are not hard of reading and my word processor does not stutter. We use red cypress exclusively because it is arguably the most durable species of wood that you can buy. Some people and/or companies call it tidewater red although that is a misnomer cause at least some cypress can't be cut if is growing in brackish water.  Fresh water, dense, red cypress is just a super product and we accept the term "tidewater red" as we accept the term “crescent wrench” to describe an adjustable wrench or “hunkie” to describe an ice cream bar or a person of lighter skinned persuasion or “tennis shoe” to describe an athletic shoe or “physically challenged” to describe a cripple. Maybe my A D D is kicking in now. Anyway….

Our process starts out with green logs on stacking sticks to let air go through them. We have some 30-50 tractor-trailer loads (several hundred thousand board feet) of cypress cants drying at any given time, all in different stages of the drying process. They make up our “pipeline” of drying cypress. They remain outside, on sticks, for 6-12 months. After 6 months we call them PAD or partially air dried. Then, sometime after a year, they are moved to a shed under roof. After that, should the customer desire and agree to pay higher prices, they may go to our dehumidification drying building which is a low-temp kiln. We use huge commercial refrigeration units to dry the air and fans to circulate it. The temperature generally goes no higher than 105 degrees Fahrenheit. They stay there for 60-90 days. Alabama Power LOVES us! At that point we have, on average, the driest cypress logs you will find in the entire cypress log business. They will, on average, weigh less than 1/2 what they weighed green. The less dense pieces will be dry to the core. The very dense pieces may have small wet places in the centers. The only way to get very, very, dry cypress is to take the time and the money to make it happen. 

 The only way to uniformly dry lumber to the core (homogenize it) is with very high heat. You literally cook it in a temperature kiln. Although kiln-dried cypress dimensional lumber is readily available, heat tends to damage cypress timbers too much, so we don't do that. We are then not selling moisture content directly, but time on sticks and time in the dehumidification kiln. However, there is a direct relationship between time and moisture content, but it is hard to quantify. We cannot, NOR CAN ANYONE ELSE who is knowledgeable and honest, guarantee you a particular percentage moisture for there will always be the odd, very dense piece that will hold on to its water for longer than average. BTW, how do you even check for moisture if you don’t cook it at high temps to get it homogenized? Do you check moisture on the ends? One foot from the ends? One inch from the outside?  Two to three inches down? Do you cut a 16’ piece in two and check moisture in the middle?  The short of it is that we can custom dry your logs according to your time and money. We invite you to come and see just how we do it and compare what you see to any and every other cypress log company. If they do it better and cheaper, then buy THEIR logs! But remember, go SEE what they have and how they do it and come SEE our operation. It is much easier to say something than show you something. I believe in showing it to you. I am confident that I won't need to say anything to you after you've seen ours and theirs.

Defects show up in logs as they dry. If we plane a load of green logs (what most of the competition sells), there will be almost no defects. After the full drying process, we find the defect ratio goes much higher to 10-15%. These are logs that would have been in your house had they not been dried first. However, on average, green logs with a complete settling allowance will give you a good house down the road. That house will surely be better than most any other species such as pine. I tell everyone that I had rather have green cypress than kiln-dried pine and I sincerely mean it. I also will tell you to buy cypress even if you think I am a knucklehead, and cannot buy it from me, you should buy it from someone.

As far as money goes, green logs are the cheapest, air stacked next, and then building dried are the most expensive. We have 4 basic prices.  First we have green, then 6 months on sticks, then greater than a year on sticks, then greater than 2 years on sticks. We have customers that buy all of the different moisture contents and prices because everyone is different and has different needs and paranoia’s, not to mention different size wallets. BTW, just because you are paranoid does not mean that folks are not out to get you.

As far as settling goes, the less dense logs will shrink less than the less dry, dense pieces, but the dense pieces will compact less under the weight of the house. Our driest logs tend to cut total settling by roughly 2/3, which gets total settlement down close to a stick built house. YES, STICK built houses settle (for those of you who doubt that statement, let me astound you with another almost unbelievable statement,  ……….politicians lie and most people who ate chicken in 1900 are dead).  I have asked many builders and they say that stick built houses settle between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch over a few years. Bear in mind that this is an unscientific number, (unscientific meaning that the government has not wasted billions in studies to determine) but one that I hear repeated from builder to builder a lot.

We recommend to completely allow for settling with springs on bolts, screw jacks, slip mounted trim and the whole nine yards. Problem is, REGARDLESS OF WHAT THEY SAY, most builders are NOT doing a complete job of settling allowance. They all do something, but not everything and as the complexity of the house goes up, true, pure settling allowance is more and more difficult to accomplish. Like putting a man on the moon, true, complete settling allowance is possible, but not cheap. It is possible, but not probable. When you ask for specifics, you will catch 98% of builders giving a fast, vague answer and wanting to move to a more comfortable subject. If you can find one of the 2% of log builders who truly understands settling and takes it all the way, you will find that it will cost thousands extra on a complicated house plan. That makes our dry logs so much more important and a heck of a bargain at a small upgraded price. Since it is difficult to find builders who truly, truly do complete settling, being able to cut 2/3 of it means a heap to you. (er maybe not, it could mean an unheap, or a half a heap, or a peep of a heap to you)

I have heard settling numbers talked around by log home salesmen as low as 3/8'ths of an inch on an 8' high green cypress log wall. That number can only be correct IF you do NOT allow for settling and/or have no weight on the wall. Naturally, if you nail and bolt all the logs up where they can't move, then you may only get that much settling on an 8' high wall. But you will get much more IF you allow the house to come down. Think of it this way. If you nail all the logs tight in the window and door jambs, can they come down? No, they will just shrink in place and you will get a crack between them. Shrinkage does not equal settling. Shrinkage plus compaction approximates settling IF you let the logs slide down in place as they shrink and compact. An 8' high green cypress log wall system will settle from 1.25" to 2" over 3 years IF YOU ALLOW FOR IT!!! If you do not allow for it, you might get 1/4" to 1/2" over the same time, but you will have small cracks between your logs. PERIOD. We have found that 9 months on sticks will cut shrinkage on an 8' wall to 1-1.5" and over a year and/or building dried can cut it to under 1", again IF you allow for it. Remember, false claims are easy to make and only discovered to be false over time. Go look at cypress log homes 5 years old and older and add up the cracks between the logs for yourself. Your opinions are the ones that really count anyway and they vary greatly from loggie to loggie. I have some people who can literally see outside from inside and if asked about that will respond “what cracks?” Others, although you really could not call these folks loggies, will respond to 1/32” crack and say “ I want to say NO to crack” or “what about that gaping hole?”. But I digress.

As far as pine or other species, they settle as well and will shrink and compact more from the same moisture content than will cypress which is a more dense wood. If you can get kiln dried pine and get your house done in a dry spell, then you might get very little settling from shrinkage, but you will get some. If it rains on your project, then you will get more, since the pines readily soak up moisture when exposed to it. The test comes when the HVAC is running for a while. PS-> The chances of rain while you build you house are close to 100%. 

So, if a log company tells you that there is absolutely no shrinkage or settling with their logs, then check the definitions of the following words with them. Logs, settling, shrinkage, no, with, their. Or better yet, head to another company that will tell you the truth. Of course, if you prefer to not know the truth, find yourself some sand and stick your head in it. I'm told that ignorance can be bliss. Head burying, however, will most likely result in some really good house building horror stories for you to share in your old age with any other resident of the nursing home that has the capacity to understand you.
 

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