Cabin. The log
cabin is still a
great choice if
you want to
build your own
|Mankind's preference for living in structures made of natural timbers is longstanding and well
documented. One story from the rich folklore of log building tells how a Grand Master of the
Teutonic Knights insisted, around the year 1500, that a wood structure be built onto his stone
castle to provide a homier place to live. Many log structures built in the same period still stand in
Scandinavia, Central Europe and the Balkans.
|Each area developed its own distinct methods, from the square hewn log homes of France to the
dovetail-joined cabins of Germany. But when all these influences were transplanted to the New
World, the Scandinavian style of round logs with bottom-cut corner notches prevailed. Examples of
this method can be seen across the United States.
|Log building has always required a lot of patient, physically demanding work. And for the modem
builder, it also requires learning some new skills.
|Here's a short course in log building to show you what's
|Opinions about log selection and proper cutting season vary with the individual craftsman and the
building locale. In general, just about any type of log can be used, as long as it's relatively straight,
is around 8 to 10 in. in diameter and has only minor tapering-no more than 2 in., in a 16-ft.-Iong
log. Conifers such as pine, fir, spruce and tamarack are preferred because these softwoods are
workable, durable and relatively lightweight. Hardwoods, particularly oak can also be used,
though their sapwood is highly susceptible to infestation by borers and fungus.
|Trees should be felled in early winter. The cooler temperatures make for slower drying time, which
reduces log checking, cracking and splitting. It's also easier to haul logs out of the forest over
|The best seasoning method is to air-dry the logs for one to two years-the longer the better. Logs
should be stacked off the ground with stickers-smaller diameter logs-placed between the courses.
This allows for maximum airflow around the logs and promotes more even drying. You should also
partially peel off the bark using a draw knife before the logs are stacked. This will increase their
drying rate and cause only minimal cracking and splitting. However, before building begins, you
must remove the remaining bark completely. It is a natural habitat for many different kinds of pests.
|Many pioneer cabins were built without foundations because they were constructed in haste or
meant to be temporary shelter. But a proper foundation is definitely required. Stone foundations
are traditional, but block and concrete walls are as good, or better, and they require less work.
|If you don't want a full basement, you must excavate at least below the frost line, install footings and
construct a wall up to 20 in. above grade level. You must also install piers within the foundation
walls to support the floor girder. Also, install anchor bolts along the top of the walls to attach the
sill. Begin floor construction by hewing or cutting flat the bottom of the sill logs. Then bore holes in
the sill logs to accommodate the anchor bolts and install sill sealer or a termite shield according to
the local building code.
|The corner joints are made by bottom notching the logs as shown. Next, hew flat the top of the
girder and install it over the support piers. Join it to the sill with a mortise and tenon joint. Drive
60d nails through the top of the tenon and into the mortise to complete the joint.
|In a similar manner, hew or cut flat the top of the joists and install them between the girder
and sill logs so they are flush with the top of the girder. Install the sub-flooring
perpendicular to the direction of the joists. Now you're ready to start on the walls.
|Many different types of notches can be used to join the logs, but a good choice for the beginning
log builder is the technique shown here: the scribe, fit, round-notch method. It features
semicircular notches cut in the bottom of the logs to fit over adjacent logs. Also, a V-shaped
groove is cut down the length of each log bottom so the entire length can sit flush on the log
|Although this method is slower than others, the corner joints are self-draining. Water running down
the outside of the house hits the log tops and runs off, instead of being trapped in the notch. The
V-grooves also eliminate air drafts between the logs. The joints between courses do not need
chinking, so you can avoid one of the most chronic maintenance problems of log homes: repairing
|Cutting the corner notches is a five step
|1. First, roll the log into position and sight along its length to make sure any crown is pointing to the
outside of the wall. Try not to use logs that have more than a 1-in. crown per 16 feet of length.
Then secure the log with a log dog as shown in the drawing.
|2. Scribe the shape of the lower log onto the uncut log using compass dividers with a pencil or
marking crayon inserted in one leg. Rough-cut the notch with a chain saw, then finish it with a
shallow sweep, long-handled gouge.
|3. Reposition the log, allowing the notch to seat. Scribe the full length of the underside of the log
running the blank leg of the dividers along the top of the lower log. Scribe both sides of the log to
yield the two lines which define the V-groove.