The Buyers Guide to Rustic Log Furniture – Part One: Introduction to Log Furniture

Whether it be for your cabin in the back woods of Colorado, an ocean view California home, or a quiet condo in the heart of New York, rustic log furniture is one of the most popular furnishing styles across the nation. It remains an American classic that can bring a new and unique element to any room in your home. With numerous places to buy rustic log furniture, it can feel like a complicated process to find the best quality for the best price. The goal of this article is to guide you through some simple steps you can take to ensure what you are buying will last a lifetime.

Step One Ask Questions!

The biggest mistake you can make when buying rustic log furniture is not asking the right questions. Knowing what you are buying is always key, especially if you are unfamiliar with the product. If you cannot find these answers in their catalog or on their website, call and ask them. A good company should be able to answer the following questions.

What type of wood is it?

There are hundreds of thousands wood types that can be used to make rustic log furniture. Each has its own positive and negatives, depending on what you are looking for. It is important to know the key differences to best match your needs. Here are some of the most common types of furniture wood and their characteristics. Remember you can always do an internet search for less common types to find out more information.

Eastern Red Cedar
Is soft, red, fine-grained, fragrant, and decay-resistant, often used for fence posts and other outdoor furniture.

Western Red Cedar
Is soft red-brown, aromatic, decay-resistant, used for outdoor construction, shingles, and guitar-making.

Northern White Cedar
Comes from a relatively small tree, often white or very light golden in color, and is used for canoe-making, log cabins and cabin furniture, fences, and shingles.

Trembling or Quaking Aspen
Comes from larger trees, often dark brown with many knots and grooves, a dense wood, and is used for cabin furniture, wood panels, and wood columns.

Western White Soft Pine
Comes in many diameter sizes, similar look as White Cedar but will golden over time, a very light but hardy wood, is used for more traditional wood furniture.

Eastern White Hard Pine
Comes from smaller trees, similar look as Western White Pine, lighter but dense wood, is used for more traditional wood furniture.

Is it Lathed?

The term lathed means the tree log has been put through a process which strips it of its bark and cuts it down to a uniform, cone shaped, log. A log not lathed will still have the bark attached to the log. It will also come in various sizes and shapes. Lathed log furniture is more uniform and traditional, while not lathed log furniture is more rustic and characteristic. Cedar and Pine logs are typically lathed, while Aspen is typically left natural. Both are great choices for furniture, depending on your personal preference on how rustic you would like to go.

Is it Hand Peeled or Sanded or Both?

The term hand peeled means that the raw log has been stripped of its bark by hand. If only hand peeled, it will be rough to the touch and very rustic. The term sanded means that the raw log has been stripped by its bark by an electric sander. If only sanded, it will be smooth to the touch and less characteristic because most of the character on the surface of the wood has been sanded down. If you find a company that both hand peels and then sands the logs, you will get the best of both. By hand peeling the log and then sanding it down, your log will be smooth to the touch and still retain much of the characteristics and color variations from the surface layers.

Is it Stained?

The term stained means a color has been applied to the wood. The suspension agent can be water, alcohol, petroleum distillate, or the actual finishing agent (shellac, lacquer, varnish, polyurethane, etc.). This is often done with Cedar and Pine wood. Staining is a personal preference and does not change the integrity of the wood. Some companies sell their furniture already stained, or offer to stain it for you. However, you can also stain your rustic log furniture yourself or leave it as is naturally. For information on staining your log furniture, please see the Staining, Finishing, and Protecting chapter of this article.

Is it Finished?

The term finish means a protective layer has been applied to the wood. Commonly used wood finishes include wax, shellac, lacquer, varnish, or paint. Other finishes called “oil finish” are thin varnishes with a relatively large amount of oil and solvent. Water-based finishes can cause what is called “raising the grain” where surface fuzz emerges and requires sanding down. It is recommended that you order your furniture finished or finish it yourself. It will help protect the wood from sun, water, staining, and resist ware and tear damage to the wood. Please consult your local hardware store for the best type of finish for your type of wood, climate, and needs. For information on finishing your log furniture, please see the Staining, Finishing, and Protecting chapter of this article.

With some basic knowledge, you can now start to narrow down what type of log furniture will be best suited to you. From the type of wood, to its characteristics, to the color. This concludes the first chapter of this article. Please look for chapter two, Log Furniture Construction. In this next chapter we will discuss the different methods of log furniture construction; what lasts and what does not. We will also include exclusive tips from professional wood workers on what to look for in quality construction.