Traditional Design Coming Back In Style
There are many different styles of homes that are common across America. The vast majority today are either based on standard wood-frame construction, brick homes, or even a burgeoning industry of manufactured homes.
None of these possesses the down to earth appeal of a simple log cabin, a structure that was much more common on the frontiers over a century ago. Log cabins have a long and storied history and are making a comeback with modern homeowners.
Log cabins are simply homes made from large minimally processed tree trunks.
When building a traditional log cabin, trees would be felled with all their branches removed. These logs would be then stacked one on top of the other to form the walls to a reasonably well-insulated house structure.
Since the trunks are natural and not machine manufactured, gaps between them are typically filled with some type of moss, mud, or other type of soft shape-able material to prevent air from coming in to the cabin.
Logs would generally overlap at the corners. The logs would have some sort of overlapping depressions carved into them so that each log fit rather precisely into each other where they came together.
This construction method made the houses much more stable.
Traditional Garden Log Cabins
Due to the fact that usually only the length of the trees determined the size of a wall, log cabins generally consisted of only one room.
There were construction techniques that could tree trunks back to back to make larger walls, but these were not used that commonly.
The roofs also usually were made from logs, with shorter and shorter logs overlapping until they converged at the apex at the very top.
Most commonly the floor was just made of hard-packed clay, but they could be built on more substantial foundations, particularly if the owners wanted to build a basement.
Traditional Log Cabins
There were several advantages to a log cabin, prior to the advent of modern building techniques.
These houses were very simple to construct, so a family on the frontier could literally put one up in a few days if they lived in a Forrest with a large supply of suitable trees. Very few tools were needed other than an axe, an auger, and an adz.
Since nothing needs to harden or dry in the construction, these houses can also be successfully built-in rather inclement weather.
Additionally, in the northern climates, these structures tended to provide a warmer environment versus many of the other construction materials available at the time.
The first log cabins appear to have been built in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, possibly as early as 3500 BC.
This logistically made sense in that these areas had large areas of suitable forests with tall and straight tree trunks, and inhabitants there were subject to rather cold temperatures.
As a result, it is not surprising that even to this day, log houses are still quite popular in Scandinavia despite many more alternatives available to modern architects.
When settlers came to North America, Scandinavians brought the techniques of log cabin construction to the harsh frontiers. Settlers from other parts of Europe soon adopted the method of construction as rather practical for frontier life.
Very few of these initial structures still exist because they generally were put up quickly and meant to be temporary shelters.
Those who did erect log cabins often converted them to sheds or barns after erecting larger houses using other techniques.
Due to their relatively economical construction, log cabins historically have been associated with poorer living. Indeed William Henry Harrison used the symbolism of a log cabin in 1940 to show to people that he was one of them and not one of the elite.
A total of seven U.S. Presidents were born in log cabins including Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, and, of course, Abraham Lincoln.
The latter’s association with log cabins was so strong in U.S. culture that a set of popular toy log cabins known as “Lincoln Logs” were named after him.
Log cabins are experiencing somewhat of a renewed interest in the United States. However, this trend does not appear to be driven by those of the lower end of the economic spectrum, but as a show of great opulence.
Recently the Wall Street cabin even featured a log cabin that was 7,000 square foot in area and cost a whopping $12.5 million to build. Not all log cabins are at the extreme end, however.
There are still some more modest versions that typically are built in rural areas to match the rustic setting, particularly in the American West.
The modern appeal is largely driven by the aesthetic appeal of a well designed log house using modern construction methods.
These modern log cabins are often more appropriately called log homes because there is a lot more industrial processing of them than would be witnessed with a traditional log cabin.
Often times the logs are extensively processed and when precisely to square cross-sectional areas in factories before being delivered on-site to be assembled. Not surprisingly, many of the largest factories of these log homes are in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
One of the biggest downsides of log cabin construction is the susceptibility to infestation from wood-eating critters such as termites and carpenter ants.
This is in addition to the fact that when exposed to water over a long period of time, wood can become damaged by mould, mildew, and fungi. Luckily, modern technology has helped provide answers to these problems, providing another reason there is an increasing interest in log homes.
There are a wide variety of preservatives and coatings such as environmentally friendly borates that can protect a log home against most of these threats.
As more and more people recognize the beauty and increasingly complex design elements that can be accomplished with log construction, we will likely continue to witness an increase in log cabin construction.
These homes have come an awfully long way from the days when Lincoln roamed the inside of one of these classic American homes.