Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort. John Ruskin
I’m no rocket scientist when it comes to building log structures. I would even go so far as to say that I would starve if I had to make a living at this craft. If you are a perfectionist, you will never finish a log home. It isn’t my objective to become a log home builder to put food on the table. My objective is to build a quality structure that will stand the test of time. It will be a quality structure, not a perfect structure. This is a log home that my children will tell their children about. They will boast that we touched every log, named a few of them, toasted a few of them, touched every knot, every stone, and custom fit every over dangle. A well-built log structure is capable of lasting at least 200 years if planned, designed, and built correctly. There are some simple principles to follow as it relates to the process of stacking wall logs.
Organize Your Log Yard
I didn’t do this and am passing on a tip I learned from the school of hard knocks. I received a Ph.D. from this esteemed university. Organizing your log yard will save you a lot of time during the build. Number and record the measurements of each log. Length, tip diameter, butt diameter, and any other special features or characters the log may have. You will want to save your best logs for the sill logs and structural members. The columns, ridge pole, cap logs, and girders will need to meet the correct diameter as called out in the plans. Also, these should be your highest quality logs. Horizontal grain, minimum taper, and as straight as possible. According to the county building code in our area, all the structural elements have to be graded by a certified log grader. These logs were delivered from the mill and stamped Lodge Pole Premium.
The sill logs are the bottom wall logs that fasten to the foundation. For our build, I used the largest diameter logs that were not already designated structural logs. Since our build is a basic square layout, we have four (4) sill logs. If your foundation design calls for the sill logs to span foundation pilasters, they become the most important logs in the wall since they resist the highest loads due to compression, moment, and shear. The layout sequence of each course is such that the two (2) tips meet at a corner and corresponding opposite corner and the two (2) butts meet at a corner and corresponding opposite corner.
It is important that the logs for each course have similar butt and tip diameters, therefore similar taper. In the butt and pass style of log connection, the corners are formed by a butt log meeting a pass log. The pass portion of the pass log is called the over dangle. Matching adjacent log diameter is important – It controls how closely the next course will stack. If the diameters match, then theoretically there will be minimal gap between the logs.
The second course will be stacked opposite of the underlying sill logs. The second-course tip is placed directly over the sill log butt. This ensures that at every even course, the top of the logs in each wall will be approximately level. This assumes that the four (4) logs in each course have similar diameter and taper. An attempt was made to control log selection so that the butt and tip diameters between logs on any given course were within one (1) inch.
As your log walls rise in this manner, it is important to measure elevations on the tops of every even course. For our structure, there are 18 logs on each wall. My goal was for the logs to be within one (1) inch of level at the 18th course. Since the cap logs at the 18th course receive roof joists and therefore support half of the roof load, it is very important to be level on the top course. If at any point during wall erection any even course becomes out of level by more than 2 inches, the next even course can be brought back into level by log selection on the next two (2) courses.
In the next blog, I’ll dive into how the sill and wall logs are squared, and how the logs are pinned and connected.