Why Log Cabin Construction Isn’t as Simple as It Looks

Fort Christine Cabin, Fairbanks House, C.A. Nothnagle Cabin, Loomis Homestead, and Richad Sparrow Family Home

On this day, 383 years ago, America’s first log cabin was constructed in Wilmington, Delaware at Fort Christine. Following the immigration of Swedes and Finns, and the purchase treaty with the Native Lenape tribe, they built a fort with two log cabins inside. As more European immigrants made their way over the pond, colonies began using this building method, and log cabins and homes became more popular. Typically, cabins were used for temporary homes while larger ones were built, and then turned into feed or animal barns, or demolished entirely. However, there are log homes that could possibly be older than the cabins at Fort Christine. Cabins are typically 1-room, and are used for temporary purposes, while log homes are more permanent residences and are built to withstand time.

In fact, some of America’s oldest homes that are still standing are log homes. The Fairbanks House in Massachusetts is the oldest wood structure still standing today in North America having been built between 1637 and 1641. Jonathan Fairbanks hired a master carpenter and master mason to complete the project before him and his family set foot on America, which is part of the reason it has lasted so long. In Gibbstown, New Jersey, the C.A. Nothnagle Log Cabin built in 1638 also still stands, and is currently on the market for $2.9 million. Other homes like the Loomis Homestead was constructed in 1640 with timber framing, as well as the Richard Sparrow Family Home. To keep a home for almost 400 years, some extreme maintenance is required. Depending on the location, environment, and materials used, some log structures can last for hundreds of years or not even one.

Before any construction project, careful planning is required. However, log structures must be built with multiple variables taken into consideration. The first being the location of the home. Log structures must have adequate drainage from the roof and away from the foundation. Ideally, the logs should be roughly 6 inches or more off the ground to resist any water damage, as well as damage from insects. The choice of wood used is also critical as some woods are not easy to work with, and others could greatly affect heating/cooling costs. Western Red Cedar is a common choice as it is a tight grained softwood and has naturally high insect and decay resistant properties. Log homes using this wood are mostly seen in areas with significant weather changes. The Douglas Fir is another common choice due to its strength and uniformity and is largely seen in old churches. Pine trees are also good choices as they grow straight and are very strong. However, pine trees should be found and cut during the winter when sap levels are low.

Another part of the planning process is designing! There are so many options when it comes to choosing the style of your log home. The walls on the outside and inside can look the same or different, the corners of the home can differ, decorative touches can be added or not, etc. Often, building with logs creates such a sturdy home that load bearing walls inside are not necessary; thus, creating more opportunities for larger windows to be installed and open floorplans. There are also different styles of log homes making them extremely customizable. In total, there are 6 distinct styles – Timber Frame, Full Scribe, Post and Beam, Chinking, A-Frame, and Modular. There is also Hybrid which is a mixture of multiple styles. For instance, below a balcony floor can be Full Scribe style, and then a Post and Beam for the main floors above. Click the boxes to read how each style differs!

Timber Frame

Timber Frame is very common and consists of solid wooden beams and post that hold the home together with wooden pegs or decorative wooden joints.

Full Scribe

Full Scribe style is what we see when playing with Lincoln Logs – logs stacked horizontally to form the walls.

Post and Beam

Post and Beam style has horizontal and vertical stacked logs that connect to create a sturdy structure.

Chinking

Chink style refers to homes that have used chinking across a large amount of the logs. Chinking is the insulation and seal between the stacked logs, essentially what mortar is to masonry. Their walls are evenly cut and laid horizontally on top of each other, however, this style is strict on maintenance.

A-Frame

A-frame homes are also considered log homes and are found to be the most inexpensive and best for DIY.

Modular

Modular log cabins are super easy to construct given they weren’t already pre-assembled.

The style of the logs could also make building easier and potentially less expensive. A D-Log is left rounded on one side with the opposite being flat for the interior walls. A Swedish Cope log is cut into a crescent shape on the bottom of each log, so it sits snug against the one below leaving little to no space. Similarly, the round log is the typical version we see, where there are no angles or corners, and thru bolts are used to attach them together. Square (or rectangle) logs have square corners and are typically seen in milled style cabins. Again, chink style logs are wide boards stacked atop each other and sealed together with chinking. This is similar to siding logs where true insulation is placed between the logs instead. If you’re going for a more rustic look, the handcrafted log is best since just the bark has been stripped, while still offering maximum support. The corners of the home also differ, but typically coincide with certain styles. The interlocking corner has square cutouts into the logs end providing a tight lock, which can be seen in Lincoln Logs. A saddle-notch corner is most often seen in Swedish Cope log styles, as it also has a crescent cut out, allowing the corners to be right angles. The corner post is a vertical post at each corner that has a mortise to lock the logs together. Finally, the Butt and Pass corner style requires one wall to be shorter than the perpendicular wall to close it off, meaning no notches are used to hold the logs together.

Once you’ve built your dream log cabin or home, the upkeep is extremely critical to its longevity throughout generations. First and foremost, staining needs to be done within a week of finishing construction. Darker stains are best as they protect against both weather and the sun. The interior also needs to be stained to ensure the wood doesn’t get wet and begin to hold moisture causing mold or mildew, such as the bathrooms. If you don’t stain the home properly and in a quick time frame, the logs will settle, and your home can become warped and shrink causing issues like cracking, instability, and other issues. Staining needs to be done every 2-5 years depending on the climate you’re in, which could lead to financial problems if you’re not prepared for the maintenance. Another area to be aware of is surrounding vegetation, whether they’re natural or you’ve planted them yourself. Shrubbery should be 5 feet or more away from log homes as they can harbor insects, birds, and moisture that can damage the wood after long periods of time. Also, fallen trees nearby need to be cleared away by at least 50 feet to prevent wood-boring pests invading your home. Another area many don’t think about is ventilation. If your log residence is a retreat for a season, not keeping regular ventilation can cause the home to build pressure and moisture inside, causing cracking and mildew. By installing some natural air vents that can be left open when the home is not being occupied, you can eliminate this problem easily.

While log homes and cabins can be one of the most relaxing places to stay, they are much more complex during construction phases and for generations after completion. They are some of America’s founding architectures and continue to be used to this day. Whether that purpose be for personal vacation or to rent out for others to enjoy, a log residence gives a larger appreciation for nature. Interestingly, June 26th is Log Cabin Day, so head over to Airbnb and book your next vacation in a log home! If you liked this blog, please share it with your friends and family via the icons below; or leave a comment telling us what you thought and other topics you’d like us to cover!

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