Log Cabin Construction Techniques

Log Cabin Construction Techniques: A Full Review and Builders Guide

If you have spent any amount of time looking at log cabins, you will know that no two are the same; especially when they have been built by hand.

They come in all different sizes, shapes, and styles.

This is because they use different construction techniques for instance milled logs or handcrafted logs, different methods to join the corners (i.e. notches) and chinking or fully scribed logs.

In this article, we will take a look at the different styles and methods of building a log home, from the shape of the logs, to the way in which they’re constructed.

Table of Contents

Handcrafted Logs vs. Milled Logs
Log Types
Round Logs
Square Logs

Handcrafted Logs vs. Milled Logs

Milled Logs vs Handcrafted Logs
Handcrafted Logs
A handcrafted log home involves each log being selected and cut by hand; the logs will then be notched together.

The logs are hand peeled and maintain the natural shape of the log.

It goes without saying that the logs will not be uniform and there will be variation in the length and diameter of the logs.

Milled Logs
Milled logs are machined so that they are all consistent in their size, shape and color.

The majority of log home kit companies mill their logs to mass produce them so they can be assembled easily.

Handcrafted logs are much more labor intensive than milled logs due to each log fitting together in a unique way, however, in my opinion they are much more aesthetically appealing and they maintain the true shape of the logs.

If you are thinking of building your own log home, it’s likely that you’ll only have basic tools to use so you will either opt for a round log, or square hand hewn log.

There are different types of log profiles, such as D shaped logs; these are mainly offered by kit companies.

So how do you choose whether to use round or square logs?

Most people believe that round logs are the most traditional log home style; whilst this may have been true in the infancy of log cabins (when settlers first arrived in America), as building techniques developed, square logs became the more traditional log cabin look.

People would put up a round log home as a quick solution to shelter whilst they were building their more long term, permanent home.

Noah Bradley talks about the benefits of square logs here. The logs in this video have never been treated or sealed, and it is still standing and in good condition 150-200 years later.

Log Types

Round Logs

Log house wall
Most of the log homes that you will have seen nowadays have round logs.

The log is either completely round and notched together at the corners (typically using a saddle notch).

Category Description
Advantage Round logs are much easier to prepare than square logs – you simply have to de-bark them.
Advantage Round logs blend in well with the natural landscape given that they look like trees.
Advantage If you are purchasing your logs, round logs are typically cheaper than square logs as they are less time consuming to make.
Disadvantage Round logs take up more space than square logs during transportation.
Disadvantage This technique leaves the sapwood on the log which is not as strong as, and is more prone to damage, than the inner heartwood.

Square Logs

Square timber log cabin

Category Description
Advantage Square logs provide a flat inner wall which makes it easy to add insulation.
Advantage Logs stack together easily and provide a tight fit.
Advantage They take up less space during transportation than round logs.
Disadvantage You are limited to a smaller diameter than the round log because you have to take off the curved edges.
Disadvantage Unless the logs have a very tight fit and are chinked properly, you risk having a flat surface face up, which is not good for water run-off.

One you’ve decided upon the shape of the logs you will use, you’ll need to consider the many different types of ways you can build a log cabin.

This decision is primarily based upon the notch you will use for your cabin.

Alternatively, you might decide you don’t want to use a notch and instead opt for no notching or corner system.

The options are endless, but your decision will probably be one of the following four log cabin construction techniques:

1. Scandinavian Saddle Notch (Traditional Full Scribed Notch)
2. Full Dovetail Notch
3. Butt and Pass Notch
4. Corner Post Notch

Log Cabin Construction Techniques

Technique Description Advantage Disadvantage
Full-Scribe Log Home The full scribe log home is mainly built with round logs, stacked on top of one another. The logs each have a hand-cut groove along the bottom side and are notched using a Scandinavian notch. This creates a very strong structure which can stand up to almost anything mother nature throws at it. The log walls, no matter how long they have dried for, will need to settle as the logs adjust to the climate.
Traditional Chinked Log Home Where round logs are not scribed to fit together perfectly, and are instead notched at the corners, they will require chinking in between each log join. Chinking has elastic properties (if you choose a good chinking material) and therefore will allow your cabin to settle properly If it’s not done properly, or you use a material such as mortar chinking without knowing how to apply it properly, it can look messy.
Post and Beam Log Home Perhaps one of the least popular DIY methods to building a log home is the Post and Beam construction. This is a popular design for kit build companies though, as it uses fewer logs. There are no settling issues as there are with a typical log home They don’t have the typical or traditional log home look
Butt & Pass Log Home This method involves no notching or scribing of the logs, instead logs are stacked on top of one another and rebar is used to hold them together. Doesn’t require any carpenter skills or craftsmanship – it is very straightforward This technique is not liked by many carpenters/joiners; it destroys the true beauty of a log home which is finely crafted.

A full guide to notching and constructing a log cabin can be read here.

Summary

There are so many options for log cabin construction techniques when building a log home; this article covers the most popular four.

First, you’ll need to choose whether you will build with round or square logs and then you can determine the style of construction (i.e. notch) you will use for your log cabin.

Some may argue that particular styles are superior to others; however the choice you make mainly depends on your preferences and what you want out of your log home and your building skills.

Did we miss any particular styles or construction methods that you would like to know more about? Let us know in the comments below, or drop us an email.

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