One of the first things you need to decide is the species of wood you would like to go with, there are dozens of them out there, but only a couple of good species that will stand up to the elements outside. There is hickory, cypress , pine(not recommended), aromatic cedar, eastern white cedar, Northern white cedar etc. As for the species I mentioned I can tell a little about each, hickory is a nice species but I noticed the furniture I see made is that the diameter of the wood is always small and I get a little suspicious of the strength of it. Cypress, has hardly no grain that I see compared to the rest. Pine is absolutely not for me, it is sappy and soft and it is not very durable. Aromatic cedar is a beautiful wood but when it weathers if turns dark in the elements untreated. Eastern white cedar people will say it is the same as Northern white cedar, but let me tell you its not, I know from working with it. The wood is really knotty and hairy compared to Northern white cedar. The looks are similar in color and the aging process is the same. As for Northern white cedar it weathers to a beautiful silvery gray if untreated and exposed to the elements. Northern white cedar can with stand the elements for years, some say that it will last for 50 years outside untreated, but I can tell you by experience that it really only last for 20 years. White cedar is not sappy at all, making it easier to stain or varnish unlike other species, like pine that will actually have the sap come out years later, right through the paint or varnish that was on there.
Once you decided the species the next thing to do is find the retailer out there selling the log furniture with that wood. When you locate this seller, keep in mind that if that seller is just a middleman, you will not get the service you will get from the actual manufacturer. More than likely, if that person is not the manufacturer and is just a website owner or guru, it is probably just a drop ship situation and they will surely tell you they can get you the furniture right away, when they have no idea of the inventory or how busy the manufacturer really is (don’t be fooled with factory direct, sales pitches). Second, just how much can that person really know about rustic log furniture if they are just an order taker. Dealing with the person who is actually handcrafting your furniture and can tell you exactly when it will be done, is by far a more reliable way to purchase your furniture. Trust me, there are more websites out there selling log furniture then there are manufacturers of it.
Now we can get to the construction of the log furniture. Some log furniture is sanded smooth, some are skipped peeled, some have the bark on and some are completely peeled. As for which one is better, I can only tell you what I think. The sanded log furniture definitely takes away from the rustic feel, skipped peel is a nice look, but I wonder about the smoothness of the wood with just a peel on parts of the log. The furniture with the bark left on definitely has to have some sort of finish on it to keep the bark on, and sometimes I have seen where the bark will peel off over time. Completely peeled log furniture is smooth with out splinters and can easily be treated and has the true rustic look and feel. Getting past that you should then take note of how the log furniture is actually connected together. Some furniture is just butted up together and is nailed, I do not recommend that style of construction. Most have a mortise and tenon connection, which is extremely durable. Things to watch out for with this is the size of the dowels, some out there will go with a smaller diameter dowel meaning their logs are usually smaller too. I recommend asking the diameter and make sure it is at least 1.25”, since that is the weakest point of the furniture. The diameter of the logs should be no less than 3” as far as I am concerned. Most of the rustic log furniture I see on the internet does not meet that size on a good percentage of there lines of furniture, even though it looks large in the pictures I would definitely ask the sizes of the logs to get a good comparison from one builder to the next. The hardware that is used on the log furniture is a big factor also, because if you are going to have your furniture exposed to the rain and snow or what ever you don’t want the hardware starting to bleed or rust, all the hardware should be zinc coated on all parts of the furniture. This is one of the many ways that some of the manufacturers and garage builders cheapen the quality of the furniture. Another thing to look for in the hardware part of it is whether they nail or screw the furniture together, screws are the better way to go than nails, but nails that are hot dipped in glue are just as good as screws. The nails without the glue coating will actually start to back out over time due to the fibers of the wood pushing on them. If you take a closer look at the pictures and ask some of these questions you will get two things out of it, 1. You will find the better quality log furniture and 2. You will find out if that person who is selling you the furniture really truly knows anything about rustic furniture.
Other than construction or species the only thing I can tell you about looking for a quality piece of rustic furniture is that you should take a closer look at the company you are dealing with. Building rustic furniture is not like building a square table that can be pre cut to length and then put together on an assembly line. Rustic furniture needs plenty of design work, custom fitting, lots of judgmental decisions being made do to the differences of the sizes of stock, and craftsmanship that you do not get from the builders that have 75 employees, there is now way that all the employees have these kind of skills or patience or pride, they are on an assembly line slapping the pieces together and getting the furniture out the door to you, plus they have the big money to market the product and get the exposure to be seen by the public. Notice while your looking on the Internet or anywhere else that there are plenty of sites or stores with the same manufacturers, these are the big companies. Getting your rustic furniture from a small company that has been in business for at least 10 years and takes pride in every hand fitted piece, will give you all the things you need to get a quality piece of rustic furniture that will last for a long time to come.