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...