Turning Fallen Timber into a Treehouse

Ben Law
Thursday, 11th September 2014

Ben Law wouldn't usually use larch to build a treehouse, but after the heavy winter winds he had plenty of fallen timber to use up! Now that's permaculture thinking!

Last month I was discussing the extraction of the winter windblown larch at Prickly Nut Wood. We have now cleared and extracted about 80% of the fallen trees but what to do with them?

Larch is a fairly durable and strong construction timber when slow grown and therefore has a wide range of uses. The majority of what we have extracted is too small for a sawmill to be interested in for sawn logs. A sawmill makes four cuts on a log to get a square sided block and then dimension saws planks out of the block. If the initial log is of a small diameter, then there is only a small squared block to dimension saw. If the log is a larger diameter, the sawmill will be able to make the initial four cuts and then have a large block from which to dimension saw the planks – hence sawmills don't want small diameter logs. 

So this is what I have done with the timber. The smaller diameter, slow grown poles have been used for roundwood timber framing projects, from courses to making specific frames for customers. A number of small poles have been milled into sleepers, 6x6 inch or 6x4 inch. I use these for simple block structures and will be building some new compost bins for my garden with them this winter. I mill these on my LumberMate mobile sawmill. I have had this mobile bandsaw mill in operation for about 12 years. It is very reliable and simple to use, producing a detailed cut that can mill as thin as 3mm veneer!

This summer I have had a couple of orders for tree houses which I have made from the windblown larch. Utilising the smaller poles to create a roundwood timber frame, I have then milled ¾ inch waney edge larch on the LumberMate to make the cladding. The roof is planked larch with weather strips (fine for a tree house) and the floor is 1 inch larch boards. With a good mobilemill, even small diameter windblown larch can be utilised for construction. I plan on milling and marketing some larch shingles, I have seen them used in eastern Europe and it makes sense to use them as I have the material. 

The one part of the tree house where I used sweet chestnut was the curved doorway. This I have made from a curved piece of sweet chestnut, split into two pieces. The trick here is that visually the door looks curved but actually it is only the frame. The door is a rectangle closing behind the frame. It is also a stable door, always popular with tree houses. 

The key lesson here is to utilise what one has. There were possibly more suitable timbers from which to build the tree house, but the larch was available and needed clearing up - hence the project funded the woodland work and a bit more as well. We must use our local timber and be more creative with it - next month I will show you how I use the larch trees that have not grown straight.

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