Log Rhythms: All I Ever Wanted to Know About Logs…and Then Some

Square-logged cabin

Square-logged cabin

I’ve been asked by several folks to post about how one approaches designing and building a log cabin in the 21st century. Today I will begin to outline the steps my hubby and I took to get to where we are today: ready for construction.

I have a sneaky suspicion he and I were exceptionally particular about this process compared to most and that may be why people are asking us to write about it. They’d either like the information because a log cabin has been a dream for them, too or because it seems so wild that we would embark on this journey at this point in U.S. history and in our lives.

Because it turned into a lengthy process, I’m going to outline the first steps we took and then post in May about the rest of that process. Here are the Lessons Learned from the “early going” and what we’d recommend to others:

Find your land first. Many people do the reverse, but unless you have a limitless expanse of land already (aka a ranch, ranchette, or farm), I think it’s a mistake to find a log home plan you like and then try to fit that plan to an eventual piece of land you buy. Why?

Because your land is going to determine where you want your “great views.” People seldom build a log cabin in the middle of a city! They build it somewhere that is rather rural, with lovely views of whatever strikes their fancy. If you want your bedroom windows overlooking that view, that may well determine exactly where your bedroom is located on your plan. We were told that you want southern exposure for most of your windows and logs. Why?

Because in the wintertime southern sun is lower in the sky and will help heat your home. In the summertime it will be higher in the sky and if the cabin is designed and built right, it will minimize the sun overheating the home. You also want to avoid western exposure as much as possible for the same reasons, but in reverse.

Solitude has more than a 180 degree lakeside-view. Thus, we decided we wanted to take advantage of that view as much as humanly possible. We chose to have our bedroom, our rather large back porch, our great room and one other bedroom face in that direction. If there are a lot of trees on your property and space is limited, a two-story design may give one that optimal view and more living space in a “smaller footprint.”

Look through appropriate magazines for design ideas.  My brother’s best friend and his sister (who co-own the remaining lots at the Reserve) were extremely generous and started giving us back issues of Log Home Living and Timber Home Living. I started getting ideas in my head about styles I liked in log homes and ones I absolutely hated, but I didn’t really define the look I wanted for the cabin until I had done this “research.”

One more note on this process: Decide who is going to make certain decisions if you are building this with more than one “decision-maker.” This will be the 3rd home the hubby and I have built together. We learned, long ago, that I am lousy at making “engineering” decisions and he is lousy at making “aesthetic” decisions. Thus, if the decision involves ensuring that this home has structural integrity and is built to withstand a lot of resident abuse (We are not easy on our homes!), severe weather, and aging, then the hubby makes the decision.

If, on the other hand, it’s totally about making the home look beautiful, “pulled together” and with a complimentary color scheme and furnishings, yours truly is making the decision. Where those two intersect, the hubby usually gives me a few choices that he thinks passes the “engineering test” and I make the final decision. This works REALLY well, friends. We’re still married and actually like each other. Need I say more?

If possible, visit Log Home Shows. Thankfully, we found a show relatively nearby around the time we were trying to figure out exactly who we wanted to build our home. I think we left the show that day more confused than ever, but it was still a helpful process and we started to unearth what we “didn’t know,” so that we could find answers.

We were decidedly not savvy about log home construction methods, nor about why certain woods are good, bad or indifferent for building a log cabin. There is also “green” building and “dried” building and no, one is not necessarily nicer to the environment than another. So, let’s dive into what we learned about logs:

  1. Green logs are ones that have not been dried either naturally or by a kiln-drying process. Green logs move considerably when put into a log home. Thus, spacers have to be installed to adjust for such changes.
  2. Dried logs do not need as much spacing because when the moisture content is lowered, the logs move less.
  3. Some kinds of wood are notorious for twisting over time. Some kinds stay relatively stable.
  4. Some kinds of wood are naturally bug-resistant; some are not.
  5. Some are cheaper than others.


The U.S. Government is actually a good, non-biased source for information about various kinds of logs, so my recommendation is: Do your research on logs. 

After much debate, we came to two kinds of wood we were willing to have in our home: Eastern white pine and northern white cedar. Why? Both are relatively stable. Eastern white pine is cheaper, but a bit less stable than northern white cedar; northern white cedar is more expensive. However, northern white cedar is more bug-resistant.

We chose the kiln-dried method for our logs after seeing some of the settling issues with green logs and that “dead-standing timber” (or naturally-dried wood) might prove to be a problem. That could mean that the drying process was irregular, causing the logs to be dried very unevenly because one doesn’t know exactly when each log “died” in the forest. Kiln-drying gives a home a more consistent log moisture level from log to log.

Also, we learned that living in Texas meant our logs needed to have less moisture than a lot of other areas of the country because of the dry air that pervades much of Texas. Humid climates can get away with higher moisture content levels in the logs.

Next step? Come up with a plan. I’d love to say that building a log cabin is cheap. It’s not. So, fully develop your house plan so that you can price it and decide how and when to finance this little enterprise. Thankfully, the owners of the Reserve have a brother who just happens to be an architect who is an expert on the history of log cabins in Texas.

From him we learned that square logs were typical of Texas cabins. After we looked through a lot of magazines, I decided I liked the look of those square logs! And after a weekend of sitting at a dining room table, we had a plan for a compact, but efficient 3 bedroom cabin with lakeside windows where we wanted them.

One can take a pre-existing plan from a builder and simply use that, if they like. But, again, your building site may dictate how well that plan fits into the landscape. (You can also modify an existing plan.) In our case, no plan really existed that addressed everything we wanted for our cabin and coming up with our own was a necessity.

Is your head swimming yet? Ours were swimming by this point, too. When you next visit Log Rhythms, I promise there will be some sanity in this craziness. Questions? Add a comment below this post.

Monday’s Post: How’s your French?

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This entry was posted on Friday, April 15th, 2016 at 10:50 am and is filed under Lessons Learned, Miscellaneous. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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