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Exploring Handcrafted Log Homes

Updated on February 17, 2014

For anyone who has followed my Hubs, then you would know first hand that log homes are a passion with me. Much of my passion is met with talking with future log home owners and helping to educate them on the finer points of this special type of construction before they begin in earnest selecting the log home of their dreams. Handcrafted log homes are my personal favorite. We have lived in four or five log homes over the years and built multiple others. And of all of them the hand crafted log homes have the most charm. Conversely, one of the saddest dimensions of working in this field is realized when a log home owner never had a good background and education instilled in them before they purchased their log home. When purchasing a cabin package, there are some finer points that should be understood before any cash inters the picture.

Western Red Cedar Log Home Kitchen

Cheap Log Homes

Probably the biggest mistake that we see new homeowners make is to purchase a home based solely on price. If one log home package is priced thousands of dollars less than another log home, believe me, there is a reason for it. The most common factor is the log home producer is using less that premium logs. The name that the log home industry has awarded to these logs is “cabin grade”. From first hand experience I can tell you that these logs have some very big problems. Sometimes cabin grade logs are full of bug holes. Other times these lesser logs are not cut from the heart of the log. Smaller logs are simply milled which leaves more of the outer sap wood. This in turn produces logs which shrink and twist much more than the premium grade logs. Also cabin grade logs can be from the other end of the spectrum and instead of dead standing beetle kill trees, they are extremely green.

Milled Log Home

Building Log Homes

Let me tell you a short story about the very first log home we built. It was our personal home. We had built several standard construction homes from the ground up. We also had done extensive remodel projects- some of which even included cutting the end off of a home and moving it back over the property line and total gut and re-dos. So we were no novices at construction at this point in time. First we shopped far and wide on the internet for homes. Then we located a company that had very low cost for their logs. It all sounded great. Due to a delay with the foreman of our crew, we received the logs about six weeks before they were to be stacked on to the foundation. When the log truck arrived we unloaded the logs on the job site and tarped them. Little did we know that they were extremely green pine logs. Five weeks later we pulled the tarps back and found mold growing on many of the logs. At first we thought that the logs had gotten wet, but careful inspection of the logs revealed that they were in fact molded as a result of moisture from sap.

We stacked the logs and then finished drying in the home. Then we attacked the logs with multiple rounds of deck wash, pressure washing, and even hand sanding the worst spots. Eventually the logs looked pretty good. The worst places had thin black streaks left behind, but really after the stain was applied it was not that noticeable. Little did we know that we were soon in for the next stage of headaches with these greener than green logs. With in a few months of completion of the home we noticed that the seams between the logs were in fact widening before our eyes. The logs were a double tongue and groove stack with full saddle notch corners and a round profile on the inside and outside. Yes, the tongues were beginning to show, just a little. Thankfully the home was only a ranch and the gable ends were framed in and finished with 1x6 pine tongue and groove, so the shrinkage was not affecting anything except the wall logs. After about a year all of the shrinkage was finished. We did not have to chink the home, but with much more shrinkage in some spots we might have had to eventually. So there is something to be said for premium grade logs. These were inexpensive logs and it showed.

Full Scribe Log Homes

The above story is about a milled log home. So let me now tell you about the handcrafted log homes. Wood is wood and both styles of log homes are made from the same log species, but the quality of the logs should be a major concern. Another major concern is how much moisture the logs themselves have. The best milled log homes have low moisture content. Handcrafted log homes are a little bit different though. In order to perform the hand scribing, hand peeling, and crafting of the logs, the logs themselves must be greener. The instant question is, what about shrinkage? And rightly so-- but the factor that must be understood with truly well made handcrafted log cabins and homes is that the shrinkage is planned for in the blueprint stage. These logs can shrink up to six inches within the first year. The method called Scandinavian Full Scribe was developed even before the 1600’s. The over scribe method cuts a V channel in the under side of the log, then as the logs settles each cleaves even more tightly to the log underneath it.

In order to keep the handcrafted log walls nice and straight a through bolt system is utilized. As the logs are stacked a 5/8” hole is drilled in the logs and then a rod and washers and nuts are screwed into place. Then as the logs settle the through bolts perform their charm. One quick tip that log home companies will not usually reveal is that it is actually better for the log shell of the handcrafted log home to be erected for a period of time before it is disassembled and shipped. Then more of the shrinkage occurs before the log home ever arrives on the job site. Sometimes a log shell will be crafted even several months before it is shipped. Logs do not deteriorate or gray in that amount of time, especially if the home is crafted over the winter months and is to be shipped the next building season.

Precut Electric Box Hole

Quality Of A Handcrafted Log Home

Another feature that no cheap log home could ever dream of possessing is a TPI grade stamp. TPI stands for the Timber Products Inspection Company. It is an independent firm that offers grading of building products, including logs. Also some companies actually are members of TPI. For some log home manufacturers they are able to offer their customers Premium logs which meet or exceed the TPI standards. Also they can obtain a TPI grade stamp on all of their logs that are to be used for their home. In this case an inspector from TPI would visit the log home manufacturer, evaluate the logs selected for use in the home, and then apply grade stamp of approval.

To help further insulate between the logs of a full scribe log home there are also two more methods utilized. The first is the use of a mineral based insulation installed in the underside of the logs. This insulation is pushed up to the V channel on the underside of the logs and gives just a little bit more protection. And the second option is for the homeowner to upgrade to a SofRod gasket between the rows of logs. This gasket is a black foam type material that is attached to the logs around the edge of the V channel. Any strong example of a quality log home should include an option to add these gaskets.

Log Home Construction

Moisture content, innate quality of the logs themselves and also scribing of the logs all play vital roles in the backdrop of the overall vitality of the home. When discussing Scandinavian Full Scribed log homes the Chinker style log homes should also be explored. A log home that utilizes chinking is built in less time and with less skill than is required to build a full scribed home. There are two ways that a log home with chinking is made. The first would be the type with thinner channels of chinking between each row of logs. For this kind the logs are flattened with chainsaws on the bottoms and the tops and then stacked. The main problem is that there is no overlapping of the logs as is gained by tongues and grooves or via a Swedish Cope half moon curve. This leaves the log home to rely only on chinking and caulking to keep the weather out of the home. The second style of log homes with chinking is the wide chinking. For this type a space the size of an entire log is left between each row. And once again the log home is depending on the chinking, or even mud in the olden days, to seal the home against the elements. Chinking log homes require less than have of the labor, on average, over a full scribe home.

A side note should be given at this point. If a homeowner desires look of chinking but understands the quality difference between the full scribe and chink style, there is another option. The homeowner can still purchase a Scandinavian full scribe handcrafted log home and then simply apply chinking to the joints between the logs.

Cowboy Log Homes, Montana

Montana Log Homes

Another misleading advertising trick of lower quality log home companies is to tell the homeowner a lower than realistic building cost. A log home representative provides quotes on the log shell and many times on a complete dry in log cabin kit. But also they should have a good handle of what local building costs are for a full turn key solution. If a representative quotes a very low price for a full turnkey it should be a red flag to a customer. A good way to get a general feel for building costs is to not just go with one supplier’s opinion. A prudent buyer should call a few different log home dealers and get a feel for what they all say. Honestly they should all be within a close range. It is also wise to contact log home builders in the area. If someone gives a ridiculously low price then you know that they are budgeting building costs off of poor quality materials and skewed building costs and labor costs. Every year we visit a Montana Log Home show in several of the major cities. It is always upsetting to see one competitor in particular who publishes building costs which are not realistic. I have even asked other builders attending the show and I have never found one that would build the log home plan for the price quoted. We also have several log home owners stop by the booth and share horror stories. Over and over again customers who were very price conscience had believed the projected cost figures, purchased the home, and then spent thousands of dollars more to correct craftsmanship and material problems.

Best Log Homes

Overall for a customer to get the very best log home they need to take the time and effort to research the finer aspects. And for those who desire the handcrafted log homes remember that the more craftsmanship that goes into the home the higher the quality of the finished product.


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    • DondaJewel profile image

      DondaJewel 7 years ago from USA

      There is something about log homes that give me the warm fuzzys. I always dreamed of living in one. I am voting this up awesome and bookmarked for reading again. Thanks nice hub!!


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