Harvesting Lumber and Preparing Logs For Your Log Cabin Home
Although it is arguably easier to build a log cabin than a traditional brick house, there is more to building a log home than just choosing your logs and stacking them on top of one another to create a wall.
Logs need to be selected carefully, cared for, and treated correctly to ensure the finished log cabin is a stable solid home.
If you haven’t already read how to select log cabin lumber, I recommend that you go and read that first and then come back here!
This article will take you through how to calculate the number of logs you need, sourcing your logs, and finding appropriate trees to cut down, and what to do with your logs once they are cut to dry them out before using them to build.
How many logs will you need?
Before you even think about ordering logs, or felling trees, you need to know how many logs you will require.
Take time to plan your log cabin thoroughly and you may even want to study other log cabins to see how many logs they use on each wall.
Once you have an idea of how you want your cabin to look, draw it out on paper as detailed as possible. Put measurements on the plan to understand the real requirements.
Example calculation for a 20FT x 24FT cabin:
- 9FT Tall Cabin (108″ height)
- Log Diameter of 12″
- So 9 logs (12″ x 9 logs) per width
- Remember each log needs to be 4FT extra in length
- Result calculation:
- 18 Logs @ 24FT x 12″ Diameter
- 18 Logs @ 28FT x 12″ Diameter
- Remember you will require further logs for your roof
After doing this, you will have a good idea of how many logs you are going to need.
Remember, you don’t need full logs for each wall, if you have a window or door opening, you can either use parts of logs or cut a full log into lengths.
By making sure you plan properly at this stage, you can make the most of all the trees you fell and even make use of a tree that curves by using only the straight bit.
Sourcing your logs
There are several options to sourcing your logs, the easiest, but more expensive is to purchase your logs from a sawmill or find a tree feller.
A sawmill will be able to cut your logs to length although this will most likely come at a premium rate.
Alternatively, if you want to keep costs down and happen to own land with trees on it, or have access to cut trees down on land, you may want to consider cutting your own trees.
This can be a much more rewarding way to building your log cabin, knowing you have chosen the logs and prepared them with your own hands.
If you choose this option, you will want to cut your logs in early winter when the sap levels are low. Cutting logs in the winter will also reduce the likelihood of cracking and splitting as the cooler temperatures allow for a slower drying time. The cold weather also minimalizes the likelihood of them becoming insect-infested and subject to both fungal growth and mildew.
Spend time walking around the plot of land and deciding which trees you will use, it is useful to keep note of them, number, and mark each tree as you go.
When looking at trees, make sure you check they are straight from every angle, and that the diameter of the logs is as similar as possible at each end.
Depending on your preference, your logs should be around eight to ten inches in diameter, with only minor tapering, for example in a sixteen foot long tree, the tapering should be no more than 2 inches.
Felling the trees
First things first: safety gear!
You will need:
- Helmet with a face screen to protect your eyes
- Safety glasses
- Kevlar leg protection
- Steel toe cap boots
Other things you will need include:
It is best to check which direction the tree is leaning, and cut it so it falls down in the same direction that it leans.
You will need to make sure you have a clear area/pathway for you to move out of the way of the tree once it starts to fall – you want to stand well clear of the tree in case it lands on another tree as it falls and kicks back or doesn’t fall as your thought it would (ideally you will have avoided this by checked there is nothing in the surrounding area the falling tree could damage.)
DO NOT cut trees down on windy days. If weather conditions are not ideal, come back another day.
When you’ve established which way your tree is going to fall, on the side that the tree will fall, make a horizontal cut about a 1/3 into the tree no higher than your hip.
Next, you need to make a 45-degree angle cut upwards, to meet the end of your first cut.
The third cut to make is on the opposite side; about 2 inches above the horizontal cut you first made. You should make this cut about 1/10th of the tree’s thickness.
At this point, the tree should start falling, however, if it doesn’t you can drive a wedge into the last cut you made to help the process.
I would recommend cutting 3 or 4 extra trees down as a backup plan – in case some split or are infested.
Once you have all your trees down, you can take your measurements and start cutting the logs to size. I would recommend over-cutting them by a few inches so you can make a more accurate cut later on.
Keep the four logs with the largest diameter and length for your sills and top plates. The logs for the top plates should be cut two feet longer (minimum) than the other logs to support your gable end support logs.
Don’t cut too many trees down from the same space, the remaining trees will benefit from the extra light and space.
If you are building on the same site as where you have sourced your logs from, you should make sure there is a clear path to move your logs to the storing place.
One of the benefits of felling a tree in the winter is that the ground is hard and icy making the logs easier to move.
If you are transporting them further than you can carry them you will need to organize transport to take them to wherever you intend to store them. Ideally a good lumber conveyor or transporter chains.
You are now ready to peel the bark off the trees. This is relatively easy. You should straddle your log and use a drawknife to peel the bark off towards you at around a 30 degree angle. You might want to use a bark spud for bark that is more stubborn to get off.
You should still be wearing your protective eyewear to strip the log of bark.
Once the logs have been peeled you will need to store them to dry them out.
They should be kept up off the ground and away from water and other elements. You may want to use a cover if you are not drying them inside (e.g. tarpaulin cover).
You need to make sure that they are exposed to air on all sides; you can use stickers (i.e. skids) for this. Stickers are small pieces of wood (roughly ¾” x 11/2”) used to add space in between logs; these will increase ventilation and allow for even drying.
I recommend that you seal the ends as moisture evaporates most quickly from the ends (ten to twelve times quicker) which could cause ring separation or cracks. You can seal the ends with many different things; paraffin wax, polyurethane, shellac, latex paint, or you can even buy specially formulated end grain sealants. You should seal the ends within minutes after being cut down; you should not wait hours, and definitely not days!
The drying time will vary depending on the wood species and thickness of the logs, but they will take at least one to two years to dry – the longer you can leave them before you start building the better.
Logs need to acclimatize to the atmosphere and reach equilibrium moisture content, this is the point at which the log is neither gaining nor losing moisture, however due to the nature of the climate; this is a dynamic equilibrium that changes throughout the year.
Another alternative is to kiln-dry them.
There are a number of manufacturers that kiln dry their logs – this method can dry them so rapidly that when large diameter logs are dried, the moisture is forced out faster from the outside than the center and causes cracking (checking.)
A benefit of kiln drying is that the process dries the wood quickly and also “sanitizes” your logs by killing fungi or insects.
Personally, I would recommend air drying your logs naturally; it will be worth the wait!
You should now know; how many logs you will need, how to cut and debark your logs, and how to dry them out.
Once you are at this stage, your logs are ready to treat and you can then start using them to build your log cabin – let the fun begin!
Where will you be cutting your trees down? Please do come back and let us know how you get on, did you experience any problems or was it plain sailing? Leave us a comment below; we look forward to hearing about your exciting journey.