By Bob Kenel (reprinted from spring 2008 newsletter)
Over the last 30 years of log building and restoration, I thought by now I’ve seen just about everything. In stick built construction I may have, most are built fairly the same. Older log construction on the other hand was mostly built by craftsmen in their time. I have restored many “log cabins” as they are called now, back in the 1890-1910 they were homes.
By 1920-1940, cabins became popular for recreation in forests throughout the United States and Canada. There were hard economic times then too. Trees were on site and free. These cabins were built for summer use not winter. There were no cranes, chainsaws or bandmills back then. Log were cut, handled and peeled by hand.
Most cabins had low roof pitches and stone masonry fireplaces. There was no original plumbing or bathrooms. The outhouses were made along with hand pumps and shallow well of crocks. As cabin dwellers evolved; the demand for electric, indoor plumbing and alternate methods of heat became a must.
Most cabin owners tried to do these things on their own. Lacking in knowledge, they made up in ambition and so wires were stapled to logs, plumbing poured into slab floors which was sometimes not deep enough for frost protection. Sewers were run to self made tanks with no bottoms or fields. The electric had no grounds and runs were added anywhere with a cut and some cloth electrical tape. Most of the cabins were built on a slab with about 12” deep rat wall footings and ground level or just above. This created the service of log restoration. We all know logs must be as high off the ground as deemed necessary to keep them from deteriorating. The logs were repaired mostly by owners using concrete to fill in the rotten area and painted or stained over to disguise the cement. Log tails have been cut off or shortened.
The roofing most often has been reroofed with no consideration for insulation or snow loads. I find it astonishing that rafters 20’ long with 5” butts and 3” or less tips resting on a 1” x 6” ridge placed 3’ or 4’ apart have lasted for all those years with Michigan snow loads of 70 to 90 pounds, and do not have caved in roofs. Think about it; mid span rafter logs 4” with 20’ of run 3’ to 4’ centers and 6” sheathing boards and asphalt shingles. In all my experience, I have never seen a caved in roof where full round log rafters have broken.
I am not saying I have not seen roofs with sags, bends, bows or an occasional cracked member, but no cave ins. I have seen stick built engineered trusses break and rafters fail. Steel has failed in roofs and failed much faster in a fire than a log would according to tests. But why would such small log rafters hold up for all those years? I think this says a lot about how strong logs are. Of course, with engineering design values and proven methods used today, log 400 standards help make it so much easier to build.
I have never reviewed an old log structure that could not be restored to original condition with structural changes to assure the integrity and longevity of today’s standards. I have restored historical, governmental, commercial and residential structures to the perfection of architects, officials and homeowners. It is very rewarding to achieve success in today’s market in log restoration. I have to give credit to my predecessors because for every cabin and building I restore, I have gotten more and more education. All the building techniques, fasteners, coatings, and geographic areas have furthered by education. In log building and stone masonry, we must try to preserve the handcrafted buildings to further the craft of restoration today. We must assure the restoration trades to encourage the owners to restore.
Many folks are sacrificing handcrafted quality for stick built “log” (?) sided homes. These woods don’t seem to go together. A log is a log period.
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