The log cabin is a traditional symbol of the pioneering American spirit embodied by those brave early pilgrims that made their way across this vast, magnificent frontier landscape.
Log cabins have a long history in Europe, from where they originate. In North America, there are typically four main types: Full scribe, post and beam, timber frame, and hybrids. Hybrids are a mix of styles, such as timber frames with post and beam.
The all-American cabin includes various options catering to any discerning tastes, uses, and budgets in modern times. Some careful considerations need to be taken into account when choosing what style of cabin home to choose.
Wooden Cabins – A Short History
The story of wooden log cabins can be traced back to the Bronze Age (around 3500 BC) in Northern and Eastern Europe. Early inhabitants of these regions put the abundant pine and spruce tree logs which are long and straight, to good use. They were preferred over the original timber frames of the time, which were covered with animal skins or felt.
These early settlers found that wooden logs provided better insulation against all weather conditions, especially icy winters, and were very durable. They could also be easily dismantled, moved, and rebuilt if required, and individual logs could be easily replaced when needed.
It is no wonder then that these types of construction methods have withstood the test of time. Log bathhouses and saunas are still quite popular the world over, especially in regions with cold climates.
There’s evidence that early European settlers in the United States were constructing wooden log cabins around the middle of the 1600s. Starting with Finnish colonists building these cabins in the northern US states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Ontario, Canada, the practice was eventually adopted by other early immigrants such as Ukrainians and Germans.
After the arrival of the English, who did not traditionally build log cabins, preferring a method better known to them, the practice faded somewhat. Few log cabins are surviving from the 1700s today.
They were not initially intended as permanent structures but as temporary dwellings while permanent homes were being constructed. Thereafter most were converted into barns or farm outbuildings to store grain or to house farm animals.
Common Types of Cabins
In modern times, log cabins have been popular for their relatively lower cost than brick and mortar types and their versatility. Many people choose a log-type cabin for applications such as a summerhouse, home office, workshop, garage, gym, kid’s playroom, or even a permanent residence or family home.
The benefits of log construction include its unique aesthetics and its ability to take on a variety of styles from Early American to the eclectic or classic Western ranch.
Timber Frame Cabin
A timber frame building uses a frame structure consisting of large solid (usually square cut) posts, and sturdy beams joined together with wooden pegs or a type of decorative joinery.
In most cases, the structure walls are placed on the outside of the frame, leaving the timbers exposed for visual appeal. Timber framing is heavy-duty, forming the basis of a structure that can last for hundreds of years.
Timber frame construction is so rugged and durable that load-bearing walls are not required on the inside, which cut through the middle of the house and obstructs a preferred design. It provides more flexibility when designing the layout of the rooms and interior space. It is, therefore, easier to create an open kitchen, bedroom, or lounge area.
Timber frames are not always immediately recognizable as ones made from timber. Timber cabins have a vertical structure and use SIP’s (Structural Insulated Panels) for the walling.
This SIP walling exterior consists of a wafer board, plywood, gypsum board, or sheet metal. Sandwiched between these walls is solid core insulation made from Styrofoam, polystyrene, or polyurethane.
Timber frame cabins are energy efficient if adequately sealed and dependent on the material used for walling.
Four common Timber frame truss styles are hammerbeam, queen post, king post, and scissor. Many old churches can be found using the hammerbeam construction method.
Advantages of a Timber Frame Cabin
- It has a robust and durable frame for heavy-duty applications
- Flexible design, facilitating the interior allocation of space
- It does not require load-bearing walls
- Less maintenance required compared to other cabin types
- Easy to wire, frame, and plumb for tradespeople and contractors
- Excellent soundproofing and fire-resistant
- Environmentally friendly materials are typically used.
- No settling issues with this type of frame
- Quick assembly, typically 1 – 2 months
- Good return on investment
Disadvantages of a Timber Frame Cabin
- Susceptible to rot unless pressure treated with a preservative
- Exposed to structural and building code limitations
Full Scribe Cabin
A full scribe log cabin is a traditional log style cabin or home where the logs are stacked together horizontally to form the walls. Each individual log has a hand-cut groove cut lengthwise into its underside to fit tightly into the log below it.
First originating in the Scandinavian regions, the methodology employed has not changed for thousands of years. The type of timber used depends on availability, the location of your cabin, and the resultant climatic conditions.
The presence of wood-boring parasitic insects such as termites can also affect the choice of wood. In this case, a western cedar log would be a good recommendation.
This type of log has to be cut and grooved by hand, which can make this expensive. On the other hand, no additional materials are needed for the walling, which can save costs.
Due to the solid nature and thickness of the walls made from logs, the resulting heat insulation properties are advantageous. Also, the sheer weight of this type of structure makes it very weather resistant. It is less prone to movement.
There is no absolute size limit for this type of construction, making it an excellent option for a permanent home.
Advantages of a Full Scribe Cabin
- The robust and durable construction can withstand almost any kind of adverse weather conditions.
- Full scribe cabins or homes are assembled very quickly on the foundation. The logs are cut and processed off-site and are ready for fitting as soon as they arrive.
- Usually, little or no framing is required for the walling. Typically the exterior and interior walls (optionally) are made solely of logs.
- The log walls are considered a finished product. Therefore there is no need for insulation, additional siding, or any drywall.
- Depending on the size and design, the erection of a full scribe cabin or home can take around 1-4 months on average.
- Re-assembly can take 1-4 days.
Disadvantages of a Full Scribe Cabin
- It usually takes a few years for the logs to settle. As they dry and contract, regular adjustments need to be made to maintain the tight-fit of the joinery and prevent water leaks and loss of insulation. This responsibility usually lies with the owner.
- There are special procedures required for the laying of electrical reticulation, plumbing, and the carpentry.
- In most cases, full scribe homes are the most expensive option due to the high price of good quality logs and the labor required.
Post and Beam Log Cabin
Post and beam cabins consist of horizontal and vertical logs that connect to provide a solid frame structure. The frame appears similar to a chink or stick-built cabin. The beams add additional support for the roofing.
The entire structure is supported by posts that are spaced relatively far apart. This allows for large windows or glass expanses to be used. The high vaulted ceilings create an ample, spacious living space.
The hidden costs of other log cabin types are usually eliminated by using this method. Although the logs are not generally cheap, construction is quick and straightforward, with options such as logs or concrete for the wall siding. To aid in sound insulation, most builders or owners choose logs for the exterior walls only.
The type of wood is dependant on the location and frame size or is left at the owner’s discretion. The different timbers used are generally joined using metal plates. This type of construction is sturdy and can withstand extreme weather conditions.
Advantages of a Post and Beam Cabin
- The more substantial frame construction and fewer supports allow for ample interior space.
- Quick and easy to assemble
- Customizable room designs and floor plans
- Timeless aesthetic and naturally appealing
- Environmentally friendly
Disadvantages of a Post and Beam Cabin
- Generally pricier than other options. Large good quality timbers required for the frame
- Requires experienced craftsmanship, which can come at a cost
- The outside beams are more susceptible to rotting and insect infestation
In layman’s terms, chinking is the material placed between the logs of a log home. The chinking between logs is similar to what mortar in between bricks. The flexible material is used to fill gaps and spaces and bond the logs to make the structure more durable.
Chink cabins are recognizable by their evenly and horizontally stacked logs. The chinking material needs to be regularly checked and filled up to maintain the bonding and seal properties, particularly in the case of a recently constructed cabin.
Chink cabins are a good choice for DIY enthusiasts and those with a limited budget. Correctly maintained, chink cabins can last over 100 years.
Advantages of a Chink Cabin
- Cost-effective solution due to cheaper materials
- Weather-resistant, with regular maintenance
Disadvantages of a Chink Cabin
- Requires regular maintenance and repair
- Generally not as durable as other cabin types
A hybrid cabin combines two or more construction methods, like a traditional log, timber-frame, and stud-frame building materials. The hybrid approach allows for the inclusion of other popular or more appropriate building materials to be used. The choice is not limited to wood.
In addition to wood, other popular materials in hybrid cabins include stone, glass, shake shingles, and reclaimed siding.
The options in the hybrid approach may include the use of more expensive logs in feature areas such as a lounge or common room, for example, and more economical stud-frame paneling in areas that are less often inhabited or more utilitarian, such as storerooms.
Advantages of a Hybrid Cabin
- More flexibility in the choice of building materials
- Reduced cost due to cheaper material options
- Many style choices due to flexible design options
- Energy-efficient using materials with good thermal properties
- Good choice for use as a primary residence
Disadvantages of a Hybrid Cabin
- High maintenance and upkeep due to complex materials used
- Higher risk insurance
Modular cabins are high-quality products specifically designed to be installed quickly and cheaply. The sections or modules are manufactured and pre-assembled off-site in a factory or yard and shipped to the location for quick and efficient assembly. They appear to have been built on-site from scratch, but that is not the case.
This approach helps to reduce construction and assembly time which helps to drive down the overall cost. Once all the parts and sections have been delivered, they can usually be assembled in 1 – 2 days.
Modular cabins look like traditional log cabins built on-site, and the variety or type of cabin can be as varied as is the case with conventional cabins.
Modular construction methods allow for excellent energy-efficient standards once the weather and material waste variables have been eliminated. The Modular Home Building Council holds this view, forming part of the National Association of Home Builders.
Although the costs of modular homes or cabins are similar compared to conventional stud-framed types, the cabin’s size, complexity, and location can all influence the overall construction costs.
The advantage of building in sections is that you can start small and build on new units or modules as your budget allows. However, to factor in, additional modules will require more deliveries, which drives up the total cost.
Another option is to do it with a DIY approach, within your own time and budget allowance, and using outside general contractors to supervise the site development, build the foundations and install the plumbing and electricity supply in line with civil regulations.
For building homes or cabins in remote areas or with a short building season window, modular construction could be the way to go.
Advantages of a Modular Cabin
- The construction modules or sections are not exposed to weather conditions during the building process.
- Using a single contractor for the assembly reduces scheduling headaches and the need for multiple contractors.
- Environmentally beneficial. Unused materials and leftovers remain in the factory for future use on other projects.
- The modular cabin can be built piecemeal as time and budget allows
Disadvantages of a Modular Cabin
- Land and zoning rights can be an issue when considering future expansion
- Repeat costs can be incurred with every subsequent additional module
- Customization can be complex. Last-minute changes or modifications to the floor plans or modules will be limited.
The A-frame cabin design is a popular cabin type because it’s simple and inexpensive to build, is conducive to open-concept and can handle plenty of snow.
But like all home design types, it’s not without problems.
Advantages of the A-frame
- Simple to build (DIYrs can build them)
- Open concept
- Small footprint
- Enjoy a loft room or rooms
Disadvantages of the A-frame
- Arguably too simplistic
- Dark: windows only on two sides
- Sloping walls can make for interior design more difficult
The types of log you choose for your project are a critically important consideration. The correct choice will not only impact the overall cost of your cabin but selecting the suitable timber for your cabin will ensure a durable structure that can withstand mother nature’s forces.
Timber sourced from trees grown at a high altitude is the ideal choice for cabins and houses. They grow at a slow rate, producing tight growth rings, which results in dense wood. Logs produced from this timber are less likely to crack and warp as they dry out.
The tree’s growth rate can be checked by studying the cross-section of a cut log. Every ring represents a year of tree growth.
Another vital element of timber choice is the selection of trees that have fallen in winter when the sap levels are low. This mitigates the risk of mold or sap staining. It is, therefore, good practice to check every individual log selected for processing.
There are various types of timber available in North America. Two good choices for the log cabin and timber frame construction are western red cedar and Douglas fir.
Western Red Cedar
Western red cedar is distributed throughout the north pacific coastline from northern California up through British Colombia, Canada, and Alaska. It is slow growth, tight-grained softwood, and has very high insect and decay-resistant properties.
This timber is exported worldwide, especially into Europe, and is best suited for applications exposed to extreme weather conditions.
Western red cedar logs have characteristic flared ends which add a particular appealing style to log cabin structures, making it a favorite choice.
Yellow Cedar timber is another popular type of timber often used in the manufacture of canoe paddles.
Douglas fir is a perennial favorite for engineers. Douglas fir is another strong evergreen conifer softwood option often used in log cabins and timber frame construction projects. It is also distributed throughout the northern United States and Canada.’
Douglas Fir is widely marketed with a kiln-dried option. Kiln drying is a process whereby the wood is carefully and slowly dried to make it more stable and uniform, resulting in logs that are less susceptible to settling and movement, ideal for highlight framework. They are often used in old churches.
The western red cedar and douglas fir are excellent timber choices for a full scribe, post and beam, and timber frame cabins. Other popular log types for cabin and home building include eastern white pine, spruce, and yellow cedar.
Log Profiles and Corner Styles
Besides the obvious element of personal preference, the choices available in the materials used for the frame and siding are also influenced by other factors such as location, availability of materials, and complexity in the manufacturing and design.
Basic style choices are also available when considering profiles of the logs used to stack the walls and how the logs meet at the ends to form the cabin’s corners.
Log Profile Styles
- Square and Rectangular: cut into square corners, these can be uniformly square or rectangular and are seen used in milled style cabins
- Round log: cut into a circular shape. These have no angles or corners. Sometimes flat on the top and bottom, the tongue and groove attachment method is typical, or thru-bolts are used for attachment.
- Swedish cope: it is similar to a round log. A crescent shape is cut into the bottom side of each log to fit into the one placed below it.
- D-log: one side is cut flat, and the other left round. The round side usually faces the outside of the cabin.
- Handcrafted: this is a more rustic style whereby the bark is simply removed, and the log is placed strategically for maximum support. This style creates a more classic, vintage look.
- Siding: a popular choice that can be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. It can help reduce the amount of material required and reduce cost. Also, a good option if additional insulation is desired. The insulation can be stuffed into the spaces between the log and the siding panels.
- Chink: a distinct cabin style that uses widely stacked logs, filled with an insulating material such as mortar. An excellent option to reduce building costs and increase durability
- Interlocking Corners: a square recess is cut into the log from one side, which interlocks from all sides with another log cut in the same fashion. A very tight, rigid way to hold the logs in place
- Saddle-Notch Corners: it is used in conjunction with the Swedish cope profile; a crescent is cut, allowing the placement of logs at right angles to form a good fit
- Butt and Pass: the logs from one wall are cut shorter than the perpendicular wall to close off from one end
- Dovetail: the end of the log is cut into a fan-shaped wedge, locking in place the logs from the perpendicular walls
- Corner Post: a post is placed vertically at each corner with a mortise for locking in the logs
Log Home DIY Kits
While the idea of building your log cabin sounds like the pinnacle of independence and self-sufficiency, it also demands much practical skill. While nobody would recommend that a layperson with no building experience undertake a solid log cabin construction project, suitably qualified building contractors or carpenters can achieve an excellent result with some external guidance.
DIY timber home kit suppliers will provide a technical manual to guide the construction process meticulously. In addition, these packages can be purchased directly from a manufacturer or through a local reseller, who may also provide building services internally or through a network of certified contractors.
The benefit of building the cabin or home from a supplied kit is that, for the most part, all the construction material and peripheral equipment is either provided or listed in a bill of materials. This facilitates the budgeting process from the get-go.
To a more or less accurate extent, you know what you are in for cost-wise and can better absorb the impact of any minor inaccuracies or project overruns.
Most DIY kit suppliers will include all necessary materials to complete the home, including all electrical wiring, plumbing and drainage, built-in cupboards, flooring, glazing, paints, varnishes, and solvents if requested. All components are generally labeled.
At no extra cost, the supplier will usually provide basic technical assistance and liaise with the contractor.
Another benefit is that, provided the stock plan or instructions are followed accurately, you will also know what the end result will look like before you start the construction process.
A reputable supplier will also present all the architectural and technical drawings required by local authorities such as municipalities and environmental impact groups. In some instances, they may even supervise the approval process, steering the documentation through the responsible authorities and, if exported, will also assist with containerization and shipment to destinations globally.
A considerable part of the appeal of owning a log cabin or home is that each structure is unique in its own way. Besides the design element with abundant options, the basic structural components such as the type of wood used, size, style, and choice of finish also provide unlimited choice.
Traditional log cabins can easily last more than 35 years. With timely repairs and regular maintenance, a log cabin can endure for decades or more provided there is no insect infestation, excessive rainfall, or some natural disaster.
By maintaining your log cabin throughout the year, replacing damaged wood, and treating it for termites and other pests, you can make it last over 100 years, providing a sound investment for you and your loved ones.
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