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Log building questions

 
Posts: 68
Location: South Central Alaska Zone 4a/b
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Hi,
I have some questions about building with logs. It seems like a good option for us because logs are plentiful here, lumber is expensive, its a natural material, and doesn't require extensive other materials to accompany (insulation, drywall ect). And I'm hoping we can figure out how to do it ourselves and save money (hoping to build with cash).

We love the idea of building small and adding on, but I'm not sure how this works for log building. On the one hand I hear of people building a one room cabin and adding on to it, but on the other hand I read that additions to a log home are best done as stick framing to avoid settling/shrinkage mismatch. Can anyone clarify on this? I have also read that if an addition is to be done in log, vertical posts should be used between the existing and new structures, which makes sense to me, but also leads to the question: could the settling issue be avoided by doing both structures with the piece en piece method? Or is this still a less satisfactory solution than having the addition in stick frame? Personally I am not a fan of stick frame building, and the simplicity of putting up a log wall that requires no other sheathing it insulation is very attractive to us.

Second, we have a lot of beetle kill standing dead trees in our area, and there are people who would be happy to have them removed from their property. Would these be useable for a log structure? I do not know a lot about beetle kill, but thought I had heard that the beetles mostly damage the bark of the tree, so the integrity of the wood itself would still be good? If anyone has any insight please let me know.

Finally: resources. We purchased "Building with Logs" by B Allen Mackie and it has been a helpful start, but if anyone has any additional resources they have used successfully I'd appreciate hearing about them.

And if you have built a log home yourslef, what did you learn? What would you do different?

Thank you in advance for your time!

-E
 
Posts: 1670
Location: Fennville MI
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I’m in the (long, slow) process of building a timber frame straw bale infill house, using round wood harvested from our site. One of the issues is the irregularity of the material, another is the matter of sheer size.
The pieces I am working with weigh four hundred pounds and up. I started out with no machinery other than my pickup. Really hard.
This year I added a tractor, finally. Don’t know yet how much it will speed things, but it will certainly help.
I have nothing to offer re beetle kill.
I do think the advice about stick frame additions may well be off base. Vernacular building traditions from multiple cultures have much longer records than our modern stick framing. We don’t build today with the mind toward permanence that many vernacular modes reveal.
“It will shift!” How much, over how long? How many stick frame additions to stick frame houses have shifted? The foundation is going to be your key for most of that sort of thing.
 
pollinator
Posts: 5207
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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Not knowing where you are planning to build means I can give a general answer.
Here are some ideas;
- mill your own timber
- start with a stick frame construction using heavier material- extend as and when you need.
- stick frames are easier to work at a slower pace on, compared with log construction.
- extensions are easy.
- foundations may consist of stirrups set in concrete bases poured into the ground.

spurce beetle
Milling beetle killed trees
 
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I am building a log home.

I also love the simplicity of it, and the honest materialso the biophilic aspect of the architecture.

I also just enjoy every bit of the process of building with wood. All the way up from forest management and cutting the trees.

That being said, it’s time consuming, at least the method I chose. I am doing an Appalachian style log home. The tolerances are about the width of paper. And when you are starting with chainsaw milled logs, getting that sort of precision is time consuming. That being said, I feel this design will last the longest. And in the grand scheme of things, spending a year or two and close to no money on a home you couldn’t buy even if you could afford it, the time isn’t that big of a deal. Better than paying off a mortgage for 30 years.

The cost is mostly windows, roofing, insulation, and tools which are all very multi-purpose and can build more structures.

The ecological cost is probably net positive since I only harvest pioneer species at the end of their life thinning to make room for second growth species in my mission to restore old growth conditions on my woodlot eventually.

But yes, I agree that if you want to add onto a log structure, stick framing is probably most convenient, BUT certainly not the only way. You could also timber frame it, and just mortice it into the main structure. Although I have taken a timber frame course, and came to the conclusion that it is a wildly impractical way to build. The founder of the institute even told us that. He said he wouldn’t be teaching that way if the market didn’t demand it. All the trouble of working with logs, but more skill needed, tighter tolerances, but just as many steps as stick framing, but the framing let is just a way bigger pain. And in the end you have something that looks the same, except for inside. That being said, if you aren’t a purist, there are some huge hacks to timber framing to make it practical. It may annoy traditionalists though.

You can also add on with logs. You could also just age the logs for the addition for a year. Wood loses most of its moisture the first year of drying anyways, so it would be a close enough match to be within a reasonable tolerance.

My advice is learn about wood. The craft of log building is a good book to start with. Start building stuff out of wood. Once you understand how wood works and all of its properties, you can understand the limitations of designs with wood. The possibilities are infinite. If you are smarter than the wood, you can build with it.


 
rocket scientist
Posts: 5959
Location: latitude 47 N.W. montana zone 6A
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Hi Eloise;
I have not built a log home but I have lived in one for the last 45 years.
The biggest issue I see with log cabins is the interior walls.  
My cabin being almost 100 years old has had the inside face of each log hand adzed flat.
Using a mill to accomplish that would certainly be easier than a hand tool!  Although the handwork is much more scenic!
This allows you to place things directly up to the flat wall giving you more floor space.
This also eliminates a huge dust-catching spot on each log.

My cabin was built using fire-killed cedar from the big 1910 fires.
Pine is also a very common tree to use, I do not know if the beetle kill, affects the interior of a log.
 
John C Daley
pollinator
Posts: 5207
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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From; https://www.sustainablelumberco.com/2019/03/beetle-kill-pine-
"After the beetle kills the tree it becomes known as “dead standing timber”.
If harvested within 5 years these trees can still be used for wood products and sequester their carbon storage.
If not harvested these trees are left to fall over and decay, resulting in millions of board feet of kindling in our forests."
 
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