Overview and History of Log Construction
as written in the ILBA Land to Lock up Manual
Log ‘cabins’ have a strong association
with rustic and rural North America, but historically log
construction has its roots in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
Over generations, European builders perfected skills and shared
knowledge that culminated in remarkable edifices such as the
stave churches of Norway.
The abundance of timber in the New World made
log construction a logical choice for settlers. Some of the
finest of these early buildings are located in the East and
many show the skill and craftsmanship that found its way to
this side of the Atlantic. As the building technique migrated
westward with the restless pioneers, log construction became
more rudimentary, and log structures were often viewed as
temporary buildings that would provide shelter until the ‘real’
house could be built. By the early 1900’s, a great deal
of knowledge and skill had been lost.
In the 1960’s, a resurgence of interest
developed. Almost simultaneously, pockets of independent activity
began throughout the continent, but the renaissance of log
building was probably best expressed through the B. Allen
Mackie School of Log Building in Prince George, BC. It quickly
developed into an important place for learning and a mecca
for people interested in alternate and eco-friendly building
Log construction has come a long way since then.
In 1974 the Canadian Log Builders’ Association held
its first annual meeting. By working together to develop techniques
and share knowledge, handcrafted log construction has evolved
into a sophisticated, highly technical skill.
When thinking of building a log home, there
are many considerations to look at, including the style or
technique of log construction, design and plans, the character
of the land and surrounding environment, contractors and work-flow,
and, of course, budget.
Log Home Construction Styles
The type of log building that best illustrates
the craft of the log builder is Scandinavian scribe-fit construction.
Here, naturally round horizontal logs are scribed along lateral
joints so that the top log fits tightly to the log below.
This type of log building commonly uses green wood about 12”
to 14” in diameter.
Another option is the chinked building; round
or squatted logs with open lateral joints, which are sealed
with modern synthetic flexible chinking rather than the mortar
of cement and/or straw of yesteryear. Recently, there has
been a trend toward log post and beam construction. Many log
builders offer this as an alternative to horizontal log work,
or will integrate post and beam components into a conventional
log home. Log post and beam construction typically uses large
diameter wood for vertical posts, (round or squared) which
support horizontal beams. Techniques can vary from simple
to very complex timber frame joinery.
Designing and Planning a Log Home
There are several routes to producing working
plans for you log home. Many people sketch or self-draft their
ideas before taking them to a log building company, designer/drafter,
or architect. Some prefer to choose from existing plans. Most
people have a very strong idea of what they want.
When designing your log home, consider your
lifestyle, the future you are planning and the site on which
the home will be built. Too many houses are located on the
most scenic spot, rather than enhancing a less attractive
location. The land has as much to say about the house as you
do; a home that works well on a flat meadow will not work
well on a steep slope. Plans are best developed after land
Very few handcrafted companies build directly
from generic floor plans, and even plans prepared by an architect
or designer may require input or changes by the log builder.
Enjoy the design process; changes on paper are relatively
inexpensive. Collecting a scrapbook of photos, clippings,
and ideas can be very helpful to you and your designer. Make
a list of rooms you require and their approximate sizes, and
then enjoy the process.
Many log building companies offer in-house design
services and they also work with qualified designers or architects.
If you work with an architect or designer before selecting
a log builder, ensure you are selecting a professional who
has experience in designing log homes, this will save a great
deal of time and money.
Preparation for and Finishing a Log
Typically, a log shell is crafted at the log
builders’ work site, and then taken apart and trucked
to the customer’s land. Usually, a log shell includes
all log work, as well as all connectors and materials pertaining
to log work. It includes the roof support system, it is drilled
for electrical work and has door and window openings cut out.
Price may include reassembly on the building site and supervisors/workers
as agreed between customer and builder at the time of contract
signing. Most log builders can also provide log stairs and
During the construction process, the log builder
will communicate as necessary with the customer’s general
contractor regarding foundation work and preparation for the
log shell. It is important to find a contractor who understands
or is willing to learn about the unique issues of finishing
a log home. Many owners act as their own general contractor
and/or contribute their own skills and ‘sweat equity’
in finishing a home. There can be cost savings and considerable
satisfaction in being a part of the building process, but
it is critical that one have both the time and experience
to organize the sub-trades and keep the work flowing. (Consider
where you time and earning power will be most effective).
There are three elements that govern a project:
budget, the level of quality, and the size of the building.
Choosing any two of the above will determine the third. Finished
log homes cost from 25% to 100% more per square foot than
conventionally framed homes with the same design. This is
partially because the nature of a log home dictates a higher
calibre of finish material, and partly because of log and
labour costs. Complexity of the design and roof system factor
into the overall cost. If maximum costs are an issue, consider
building a smaller, more carefully designed and crafted structure.
To establish a working budget itemize all the materials and
services required to determine the cost of your dream, then
make sure to add in a 5-10% contingency. Be realistic when
considering finances. Broken dreams are often the result of
poor planning and wishful thinking. Remember that constraints
sometimes open the door to creative solutions.
Different types of log work can affect
the cost or cost distribution of a project. Fully scribed
log work is more expensive than chinked system log work, but
the cost of chinking the building will make costs comparable.
Simple log post and beam costs substantially less for the
log work, but infill materials bring the price back up. Sometimes
only decorative log elements are in the budget. Another option
is machine profile or milled log packages, they are sometimes
less expensive and there are some very good products available.