Building a Log Shell
Building with logs is an American tradition dating back to the colonial days. However, most people today don't have the skills or time to prepare and assemble this type of structure.
There are many different types of kits available for erecting a cabin. The type we chose used actual logs that were stripped, notched and assembled for the entire "shell" of the cabin.
Maple Island Log Homes of Michigan, the manufacturer we worked with, helped us with the plan, preassembled the logs, then delivered the logs to our site and assembled them permanently.
On this project, we acted as our own general contractors. This means we bought the property, took care of the permits, and set up the telephone service, power, well and septic system. And after the shell was assembled, we took care of the finishing process; whether we did it ourselves, or contracted it out.
At the Log Yard
The logs themselves came from the forests of Michigan. But, before they can actually be used, they need to dry out for about 10 months. Green logs shrink as they dry out, which makes trouble for log joints. It's best to let them sit for a while. The sizes of the logs range up to 60 feet long and 26 inches in diameter.
After the logs are dried, they're stripped of their bark with drawknives, the same tool used by the pioneers. They handcraft the logs to keep their natural shape, this gives them a more rustic appearance than milling them to a uniform size.
The first floor and roofs are assembled separately so the crews can work closer to the ground. Each joint is hand-notched to make for a perfect fit. First, they use a special scriber to transfer the shape of the bottom log to the top log. The scriber is set at about half the diameter of the log to keep all the overlaps even. It also has bubbles to keep everything level and plumb.
The notches are started with a chain saw cutting grooves to the scribe marks. Then these pieces are knocked out with a hammer. This leaves a rough notch which then is fine tuned using an electric chipping gun with a special gouge chisel bit to smooth out the rough spots and cut a fine line along the scribe. That's what creates a tight seam with the log below.
When the notches are all done, they turn the log over and see how it fits. They can go back and rework any notches that aren't perfect.
When all of the logs are assembled, they give them a power wash. They spray on a cleaning solution to remove the dust and dirt that collects during the construction process.
They label all the logs so they get assembled correctly on site. Then they load them into trailers in reverse order of construction.
They drill holes through some of the logs with an extended half-inch bit. These are for steel rebar used to re-inforce the logs at the window and door openings, which get cut in later.
The rest of the construction takes place at the building site.