Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thoughts on a Log Sauna

An historic sauna in Sebeka, MN.
What's in a log sauna? Much of the history of building with logs traces back to Northern Europe, and especially to the nation of Finland. Finnish craftsmen brought their art to the New World and we still see many of their structures scattered throughout the northern lake states. Hand-in-hand with log cabins and homes, the Finns brought with them their saunas. The idea of a sauna isn't completely unique to Finland; many other Scandinavian and other Europe nations have similar traditions.

Many non-European cultures have similar baths, such as the Native American sweat lodges. Nonetheless, saunas seem to be a particular highlight of the Finnish culture, and as a result the regions of their settlement are speckled with saunas old and new. Rumor has it the sauna was the most important structure to Finnish immigrants, and therefore the first building to be erected when settling on some new acreage. Here in Northern Minnesota, the author is constantly encountering people who have discovered, purchased, or inherited century old log structures and many appear to be built as saunas.

From Native American sweat lodges to Turkish baths to Scandinavian saunas, no matter what cultural tradition one heralds we can all appreciate a great a log sauna and the rich history that sizzles from its stones. A log sauna is an affordable structure that is a great option for those who aren't in a position for a full log home; the smell of cedar and comfort of wood are all synthesized to make a log sauna the perfect place for relaxation for anyone.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Preserving Wood with Copper

Logs, cedar siding, and other wood structures are made of naturally occurring products, which make them attractive, appealing, and a 'green' renewable building choice. Unfortunately because it is naturally occurring, wood is also susceptible to the natural process of decay by insects and fungi. Forest products lab research has identified certain chemical compounds that help to fight the natural breakdown of wood. Interesting enough, Copper is a common denominator. Copper, in several different forms, preserves wood!

Copper 8 Quinolate
In order to control fungi and preserve wood, an effective antimicrobial pesticide used to protect the wood is Copper 8 Quinolate. Some log home wood stains like WOODguard and Outlast Q8 Log Oil are also registered with the EPA as preservatives because they contain copper 8 quinolate in order to protect the wood. As copper oxidizes and turns green, so the copper 8 quinolate can also make these log oils appear green. Fortunately, the green color will subside as the oil cures on the wood.

Copper Hydroxide
Certain compounds of Borate compounds like Armor Guard and PeneTreat are another preservative used to protect wood from insects and fungal decay, but certain species of fungus are not affected by Borates. For this reason, the Boron and Copper compounds are used together for more effective preservation. One example is a concentrated dowel-like preservative called CobraRods. CobraRods are a wood preservative, fungicide and insecticide made entirely of a unique Boron and Copper Hydroxide complex. The addition of Copper Hydroxide provides extended protection from fungus species not affected by borates. They are inserted into wood as a solid rod and remain dormant until the wood comes to a moisture content of 20% or more as rot becomes a threat. When the wood is moist, the preservative slowly diffuses into the wood and kills the rot-causing fungi.

Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) & Alkaline Copper Quartenary (ACQ)
 Pressure-treated wood has become a widely used product for decks, boardwalks, landscaping timbers, and other outdoor wooden structures. The green appearance in some formulas comes from the Copper in Chromated Copper Arsenate, which is pressure-treated into the wood for long-lasting protection. Alkaline Copper Quartenary (ACQ) is another formula used to pressure treat wood, and it comes in four variations for different species. Though CCA and ACQ have chemical differences, they share the aspects of preserving wood and containing Copper.

Copper Post Caps

 One other way that Copper is used to protect wood is not by any chemical means, but rather through functional decoration. Railing and deck posts often have exposed end grain, which are susceptible to water absorption, which in turn creates moist conditions for rot to occur. It has become popular to protect the tops of those posts while adding a decorative flare with copper post caps. In a similar fashion, Copper flashing has been using in lateral application to protect vulnerable areas of wood while adding a splash of shine and color for an aesthetic accent.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wood-Dwelling Wasps

wood dwelling mason wasp
Mason Wasp sized by a dime
Insects of various species like to inhabit or ingest wood and so in construction, preservatives are often necessary to keep them at bay. Logs have their usual, commonly-known arthropod offenders: carpenter ants, carpenter bees, powderpost beetles, and termites. Every now and then, however, we have to dig out the entomology books to identify a new culprit. Such is the case this summer, when a dozen or so individuals reported holes in their logs being occupied by a very small hornet-looking insect, as shown in the submitted photo.

After flipping through some books and surfing images on the Internet, we determined the insect was a mason wasp, also known as a potter wasp. For the scientists in the room, this collection of insects is classified in the subfamily of Vespidae with other wasps and hornets, and it is sometimes recognized more specifically in a separate family as Eumenidae.

Mason wasps are a predatory insect that feed on the larva of other insects and build nest with mud but at times will dwell in holes of wood for nesting purposes. They also build mud walls to divide and seal their chambers. Though they may be seen flying in and out of holes in the logs of your home, chances are they didn't make the holes. They are probably using preexisting holes for their nests, and so other than a nuisance they are of no particular harm. They can even be beneficial as they prey on tent caterpillars/army worms, and other problematic larva.

If they are found to be a pest and extermination is the goal, insecticides can be put in the holes, which can later be disguised by a log home caulk. Because of the mud barriers they put up to protect larva, it is wise to poke a wire into the hole before applying an insecticide to break their mason walls.

Photo credit: Julie Johnsen
More information:

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Scoop on Borates

Most of us have heard of borax; in fact the brand 20 Mule Team Borax is a household name. Chemically known as sodium borate, sodium tetra borate, and disodium tetraborate, it is used for cleaning, fire retardation, and fluxing in metallurgy.

Did you know that a similar product to borax, disodium octoborate tetrahydrate, is commonly used in the preservation of wood structures? Like borax, disodium octoborate tetrahydrate is a white powder that dissolves easily in water, making it nearly clear when applying to a substrate. Because of its nature as a fungicide and toxicity to wood-boring insects, it has become a standard in preventative treatment for log homes.

Disodium octoborate tetrahydrate is easily dissolved in water, which makes application of the powder a cinch. After your application dries, there may be some residual white crystals on the surface. This is easily brushed off. Because the borate powder is water-soluable, it requires a wood stain or sealer over top or else a few rain showers and the white crystals will be pulled right back out of the wood.

It is more commonly and easily known by its brand names, including Armor Guard, PeneTreat and Timbor. They are easy to mix and apply for both preventative and remedial purposes. It must go on bare wood, and as a relatively inexpensive and easy step to preserve your wood, it is well-worth consideration before staining your wood!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Resination of Logs

 Are your logs bleeding? Many plants secrete an oozing pitch, also known as resin. This hydrocarbon component is not necessarily the same compound as 'sap,' which refers to the lifeblood fluid of a plant that transports water and nutrients. Resins do not carry nutrients like sap does, but they can provide other benefits to the plant to aid in its defense. Log home owners, especially of homes built from coniferous trees, may experience the frustration of pitch oozing from their logs creating some unsightly gobs on the wood.

Dripping resins often occur on warm days when the heat of the sun warms the pitch in the wood and they flow out of the wood in an increasingly liquid state. Pitch drippings are no destructive to log homes; in contrast, the presence of resins in the wood are actually beneficial to their preservation. Homeowners may find the dripping pitch to be an eyesore, however, and seek ways to remove it.

Clean-up of pitch drips is fairly simple: large, congealed gobs can be scraped off with a putty knife or similar tool. Residual traces of the pitch can be cleaned off with denatured alcohol, also known as methylated spirits. What isn't simple is the fact that some logs, especially if cut in the summer, may seem to have an unending amount of resin contained in them. Many people have sought a product that can be applied over knots and cracks to lock the bleeding in, but periodic cleaning is the only effective treatment.

Other than the recurring drips of fluid pitch coming from logs, there are also great benefits of beauty in tree resins. Resins have historically been an important ingredient in creating varnishes and many log home finishes, and resins like frankincense and myrrh have historic, therapeutic value as essential oils. Petrified, hardened pieces of resin are known as amber and used in jewelry. The ancient insects found captured in amber is a good reminder that resin is valuable in defending wood against its predators. So while scraping off those gobs of coniferous pitch, remember that it does have a purpose; even if it gives a few side-effect headaches along the way.

by John E. Schroeder

More information on plant resins:
 "Plant Resins: Chemistry, evolution, ecology, and ethnobotany", by Jean Langenheim, Timber Press, Portland, OR. 2003

Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy Saint Urho's Day!

The holiday of St. Patrick's Day is well known and well celebrated across America every March 17th. Lesser known is the holiday preceding Patty on March 16th. St. Urho's Day. Maybe it's recognized here in Minnesota than in Finland, but it celebrates St. Urho's feat of leading the Grasshoppers out of Finland (more info on this site).

We celebrate St. Urho's Day at Schroeder Log Home Supply for several reasons. First, we have a staff member Keeley, who has strong Finnish heritage. Second, there are many others in northern Minnesota with Finnish descent. Finally, the development of log home building owes much to Finnish craftsman who along with other Northern Europeans, refined the techniques and brought them to the Americas.

So put on something purple, and have a Happy Saint Urho's Day!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Iconic Logs: Staten Island Chuck's Log Cabin

On this, the second of February, Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual prediction about the coming of spring by coming out of his burrow in Pennsylvania. If he sees his shadow, there will be six additional weeks of winter; if not, then spring is on its way. In essence, according to the groundhog, shadows are bad!

In a log home, we have a different view. Shadows on your logs, to a certain extent, are good! Shadows mean protection for your logs from the sun and rain via long overhang of the eaves. Shadows are also good when applying a log home finish, because application of stain in direct sunlight can lead to flash-drying and improper penetration of the stain into the wood. So shadows might be bad for the groundhog, but when you're in a log home, shade is good!

Incidentally, while Punxsutawney Phil is the groundhog of fame, he has a colleague to the north in New York. Staten Island Chuck is another rodent in the shadow watching business; but rather than a hole in the ground, Chuck lives in style. That's right, folks. Staten Island Chuck lives in a log cabin. That's a groundhog I can admire, and that's another way log cabins and log homes are interwoven with American history and culture!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Iconic Logs: Booker T Washington's Birthplace

There are notable U.S. Presidents who had humble beginnings in small log cabins, but they aren't the only leaders of this great nation who have started their life in a log home. In honor of Black History Month, we look at Booker T Washington.

Born in 1856, he was an orator, educator, author and political leader. He began life humbly as a slave in a cabin with a dirt floor; but determination and passion drove him through tiers of education, political leadership, and other notable landmarks. A powerful speaker, he became a driving force in the early events that led to the Civil Rights Movement, such as the Atlanta Compromise. Washington is a prime example on how historic log homes are dovetailed with the lives of crucial leaders in our country.

Washington was instrumental in starting schools, seeking support from philanthropists, educating others, and building a network of influential contacts. He professed the path to social equality for the African American community was through "industry, thrift, intelligence and property."

There is more information on Booker T Washington, an influential American leader who started life in a log cabin, on Wikipedia.

Sourced from

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Log Home of Lamb?

Fiberglass, foam and oakum are all typical ways to insulate between courses of a log home; But did you know many naturally inclined builders use wool as an insulator? Ewe better believe it; log home of lamb is a great way to build naturally with a minimal carbon footprint. Wool insulation is a cozy sweater for your log home.

Wool has proven to be a viable insulation in the laterals and notches of log homes and for ceiling and studwall insulation. It's an environmentally friendly alternative to other products available on the market, most notably, pink fiberglass insulation. Wool fibers trap millions of microscopic pockets of air allowing for its insulating abilities. It also wicks moisture instead of absorbing it. Some wool insulation offered for log homes have been infused with borates for increased log rot resistance while being safe for humans and animals. Wool insulation typically comes in two different styles: wool ropes and wool batts.

The U.S. Department of Energy lists Sheep's Wool Batting with an R Value of about 3.5 per inch.

So, if you are looking to build with natural products that leave a minimal carbon footprint, you might think about letting the sheep help you insulate your home!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stoke 'um with Oakum

Have you ever heard of oakum? Do you have any idea what it is? If you are restoring an old log home, listen up!

Oakum or "jute", has been used in log building for more than a hundred years and works well as a filler because it is pliable, a good insulator, resists decay, and repels insects and rodents. 

Oakum is made from fibers derived from hemp or jute plants. Besides its function as insulation in log buildings, oakum has also been used historically for packing the joints between timbers in ship building. Many museums and historic sites use oakum today in order to keep as historically accurate as possible when choosing materials to restore antiquated buildings. If you don't have an old log house of your own, but would like to seek a vacation in one, the cabins at Itasca State Park are one option in Minnesota!

When using Oakum with caulk or chinking products such as Log Jam, and Log Builder be sure to apply a bond breaker between the Oakum and the caulking or chinking product. Mylar tape or "packing tape" works well as a bond breaker. The bond breaker breaks the bond of the caulk or chinking material so that it will not stick to the Oakum and allows it to expand and contract without cracking.

True story: We had a local log builder come in and jokingly try to style the oakum strands as a new, Rastafarian coiffure. Although they looked pretty convincingly like dreadlocks, we would not recommend this application.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Iconic Logs: Chippewa National Forest HQ

If ever you find yourself in Cass Lake, MN, take a moment to hop off the main drag through town and visit the Chippewa National Forest Supervisor's Office. Like many of the historic log government buildings throughout the state and country, this impressive structure traces its history back to the Great Depression and work done by the CCC and WPA. The three-story log structure still serves its original purpose as office space for the forest supervisor and a visitor center for tourists.

As part of the New Deal to put Americans back to work, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)'s Company 705, Pike Bay Camp, completed the building in 1935. From hand-hammered ironwork on the doors, to hand-scribed and notched 100-year-old pine logs, to unique steps and railing, to an impressive granite fireplace, the entire building is a piece of craftsmanship to behold.

The massive 50-foot tall fireplace/chimney in the center of the structure is made from 265 tons of local granite. The base footprint of the fireplace is 14'x14' and the building itself is composed of over 16,000 lineal feet of logs.

About 12 years ago, some log replacement and other restoration work was done on the historic landmark. Now it is coated with WeatherSeal Historic Brown, a popular stain color for many1920-1940 era buildings.

You can read a full account of the building at the Chippewa National Forest's website, or see more photos on our Facebook page.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Iconic Logs: Civil War Shelters

Many of the historic log cabins scattered around this great nation date back to the decades surrounding the American Civil War. There are plenty of stories and photographs capturing the role log cabins played in the Civil War, and here is one letter that references a log cabin's part in this man's experience. From Jacob Bartmess of the 39th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, 8th Calvary, Co. C, an 1864 letter to his young son:
New Years day. '64. 
Well my little boy Elliott.
Pappy thought that he would write his little boy a little letter. I am in a little house made of little logs, this little house has a little fire place in it, and this cold day pappy keeps a big fire. I just got done browning some rye for to make coffee, the men does not give us quite coffee enough to do us here. Pappy gets his own dinner, and supper and breakfast. I cook meat make coffee and good gravy and sometimes bake corn cakes, we pound our coffee in a tin instead of grinding it on a coffee mill.
never mind wait till pappy gets home and we will show mother how to cook and make gravy.
Elliott dont you think the men wanted me to go away off with my mule team through the mud and rain and cold, and there was another man went in my place and let me stay in my little house by the fire, dont you think that he was a good man for going in my place.
there is a great big river here lots wider than clear across grandmothers orchard
pappy washed his shirt and drawers today.
Elliott you must be a good boy. pappy will come home after a while.
from your pappy
J. W Bartmess
to his Elliott.
Log cabins and homes are an important part of our nation's rich history, and should be restored and preserved for future generations to understand our past and bring that understanding forward into the future.

Source: Carmony, Donald F. (June, 1956). "Jacob W. Barmess Civil War Letters." Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp 157-186. Retrieved from

*The photo is of a cabin in southern Minnesota, and is no way connected to the story, other than the style and era in which it was built.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Legacy of Logs

There are many do-it-yourselfers out there taking it upon themselves to learn the craft of log building to create their own home, cabin, garden shed or playhouse. If you are tackling such a project and have a family, don't hesitate to getting them involved! While building with logs together, you will also build character, memories, relationship and a certain legacy that cannot be valued.

Sure, your six-year-old isn't going to be tossing any logs around or working the chainsaw (we hope), but there are plenty of little jobs like brushing off sawdust, picking up wood scraps, or supervising a log scribe, like the dashing young man in the picture above (And yes, the author is biased).

If you are working on plans to build something of log, you might want to join up with the members of the Great Lakes Log Crafters Association to be a part of a network of experienced professionals. Also, check out this blog for stories from a family who has had one of these great cabin-building experiences of their own.

In a modern world of flat screens, video games, text messages and iPods, there is all the greater need for hands-on work experiences outdoors to create a memory that is not simply stored on a microchip. Even if a new house isn't in order, think about building a log playhouse, shed or log furniture and get the family involved. There is no better heirloom than one built together and fully scribed with memories.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Iconic Logs: Jack London's Cabin

White Fang, The Call of the Wild, To Build a Fire...these are definitive novels of the American and Canadian wilderness that give us all a taste of the wild frontier of yesteryear. Many of Jack London's adventurous texts were written from this very log cabin, built on his mining claim in Dawson City of the Yukon Territory. To preserve the structure and make it more accessible to the public, a team went in and retrieved the cabin in 1969. Since the cabin has interests on both American and Canadian soil, it was broken into two buildings and reconstructed so that each of the twins have half of the original logs. One stands near its original location in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. The other, which is pictured, is in Jack London Square in Oakland, California.

Inscribed inside the back of the cabin was carved "Jack London, Miner, Author, Jan. 27, 1898," until the slab was removed in the 40's by Jack MacKenzie, the last man to deliver mail by dogsled. The building could use some restoration and maintenance, but it is in remarkable condition for sitting in the wilderness for 70+ years and outside in California for 30+ more!  

Jack London's Klondike cabin is one of many example of how the log cabin is the home of the adventurous American spirit. From Native American Chief Seattle to author Jack London to President Lincoln to author Laura Ingalls Wilder to Yellowstone's Old Faithful Inn, America's spirit is stacked with logs. Log cabins inspire literature, adventurism, and connection to nature.

 “I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
-Jack London in The Bulletin, San Francisco, California, December 2, 1916, part 2, p. 1

“Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the forest.”
― Jack London, The Call of the Wild

View the entire story of the Jack London cabin here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Breathe with Caution...

There is an increasing trend of people discovering old log cabins and restoring them to give a new purpose as a garden shed, guest house, or a cozy retreat of some other fashion. Restoring an old log cabin is fulfilling and the final results rewarding; but there are some potential hazards of which one should be aware. One of these hazards is downright batty.

Before heralding the terror of bats (there are plenty of people doing that already), it should be noted that far too often bats are unfairly persecuted. In truth, they are a valuable neighbor to have as a benevolent predator of insects. Like any creature of the wild, they should be appreciated from a distance; Yet, they are universally difficult to appreciate when they don't keep their distance. They will find their way into the rafters and crevices of an inhabited home, but abandoned structures are particularly appealing. For this reason, they are likely to be encountered when restoring an antiquated, abandoned log cabin. Bats carry a small risk of rabies, but perhaps the larger hazard isn't the bats themselves. Rather, the hazard is in what they leave behind.

Besides staining and damaging the wood, years of accumulated guano and urine can cause serious health concerns for humans entering abandoned structures. Bat droppings, or guano, can host a variety of microorganisms and some of these, like histoplasmosis, are pathogens. Pathogens from guano and ammonia from urine can both cause serious damage to human lungs, therefore be advised to wear respiratory protection when entering these old buildings. Guano can pile inches and even feet deep, and urine can accumulate to stalactites that are multiple inches long. If the accumulation is significant, it may be best to hire a local professional.

When it comes to keeping bats out of your home, log or stick-built, new or old, exclusion is the best policy. This includes closing major entry points in the eaves and rafters and using a good log home caulking to seal the smallest of entry points. Keep in mind, bats can squeeze through a crack as small as 1/4 inch! Sealing entry points can be done by the homeowner, but hiring an experienced professional has benefits. Send a message here for a localized referral. Find more information on bats through the University of Minnesota Extension.

Disclaimer: These tips are provided for general user information purposes. Exposure to bat infested environments carry certain risks, which Schroeder Log Home Supply assumes no responsibility. Consult a local professional or extension office for further guidance.

Photo from the US Fish & Wildlife Service at

Using a Froe

By Paul VanKeuren, Customer Service   Everybody knows what an axe is. Many people know what an adze is. Who knows what a froe is? A fro...