Wood Facts

Information about the species of wood used to build log homes

Engelmann Spruce

Of the dozens wood species used in log home construction. Engelmann spruce is the whitest. For that reason, it is a popular wood with log home owners. Twenty-nine of 120 log home producers we surveyed offer it, principally those the western states, where it is native to the high country.

The tree grows along the upper slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, Oregon. northern California and in the Rocky Mountains in north-eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. About two-thirds of Engelmann spruce lumber is produced in Colorado, Montana and Idaho. Most of the remainder comes from the northern Rocky Mountain States, Oregon, Western Alberta and eastern British Columbia.

Engelmann spruce is a medium-sized tree, averaging 100 feet and up to 36 inches in diameter. It has grayish or purplish-brown, thin bark and long, dark or pale blue-green needles that give off a disagreeable odor when crushed.

Its scientific name is Picea englemannilli. It goes by many common names. Columbian spruce, mountain spruce, silver spruce, white spruce Arizona spruce and balsam. Engelmann spruce share many characteristics and properties with white spruce, lodge pole pine and alpine fir, and is virtually indistinguishable from other spruces with exception of the Sitka, Picea sitchensis.

Engelmann spruce is a hardy tree, well-suited to the cold winters and hot summers that characterize its native climate. Relatively slow growing, it yields high-grade timber with small, sound, tight knots. The wood of Engelmann spruce has medium to fine texture and is without characteristic taste or odor.

The heartwood of Engelmann spruce is nearly white with a slight tinge of red. The sapwood varies from 3/4 inch o 2 inches in width and is often difficult to distinguish from heartwood.
The distinctly white wood shows a more abrupt variation between springwood and summerwood than in other spruces. the wood has a bright clean appearance, ranging in color from white to pale yellow, with a fine straight grain and smooth texture.

Resin canals are present in Engelmann spruce but frequently difficult to find. They appear on very smoothly cut end-grain sections as small white dots and on longitudinal surfaces as short light-brown streaks or very fine grooves.

Engelmann spruce can be readily air dried with little tendency to warp. It has moderately small shrinkage and stays in place well when properly dried. As the wood cures, the drying improves its strength and stiffness, enhances its appearance, and increases its resistance to decay and attack by insects.

Strong, stiff and stable, Engelmann spruce is well-regarded not just in North America but also throughout Europe and Japan for combining high structural performance with fine appearance. The wood has a high strength-to-weight ratio and is well-known for its outstanding working properties. It takes and hold nails exceptionally well and is easily worked with both hand and power tools. It has good glueing, painting and staining properties.

Engelmann spruce is used principally for lumber and for mine timbers, railroad cross ties, and poles. A large share of the lumber goes into box making and building construction. Much of it is used for dimensional lumber, subflooring, sheathing, and studding. Engelmann spruce also has excellent properties for pulping and paper-making. Engelmann spruce is also a preferred choice for wooden stringed insturments. Many of finest fiddles, basses, and guitars use engelmann for their carved tops and backs.