Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Special Treat From The Forest

You can put them in pies, pancakes, pastry, muffins, coffee cakes, with oatmeal or other breakfast cereals or eat them with cream and sugar. Blueberries are in the woods of our area.

The blueberries are a small fruit that grow on bushes. The plants are about 12" high and grow with many green leaves. The berries grow in small clumps of six to ten berries.

The plants grow best in a sandy or peat soil. The soil must be acidic and drained. Below the drained depth a source of adequate moisture is required for the roots of the blueberry bush.

Where do you find the blueberries? Sometimes we find them in sunny open rocky areas where the rocks provide pockets of the sandy soil which has accumulated and the bushes can grow. We look for open large rocky areas with a scattering of small trees and shrubs. We have found the blueberries along side of the road where some peaty soil may exist. They can also be found in peat bogs.

Blueberries begin to ripen during July and reach fruitation during August. This is the best time to pick the berries.

It is desirable to eat the blueberries as soon as they are picked as the berries are fresh. Another option would be to freeze a thin layer of berries placed on a baking sheet and when frozen, place them in freezer bags or containers. Blueberries freeze well and keep for a long period of time when frozen.

Wild strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are also found in the area. Our favorite is the blueberry, especially mixed into a big batch of pancakes.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Covering Component

With all the logs now in place, the gable ends are constructed with 2 " by 6" wood studs, wall insulation and cedar exterior siding. A large laminated veneer lumber LVL beam is next placed on the ridge line. The ridge beam is supported at the gable ends and at a log post near mid-span. The ridge beam is positioned to receive the 2" by 12" rafters into connections on the sides of the ridge beam. The rafters are sloped 9/12 or 9" rise in any 12" of horizontal dimension.

Fiberglass insulation is placed between the rafters and a vapor barrier is attached to the bottom of the rafters, before the ceiling boards are secured.

Two inch by 4 inch boards are placed on top and perpendicular to the sloping rafters and 1/2" oriented strand boards (OSB) are secured to the 2" by 4" boards. The boards provide an open air space above the rafters for air flow from the vents at the soffit line to the continuous ridge vent. This air flow will protect the insulation from any moisture build up that may occur within the insulation.

Fifteen pound building felts are stapled to the roof sheathing. Sometimes thirty pound building felts are used depending on the choice of roofing material.

Cabin roofs are generally shingled, which may include wood, asphalt, slate, metal or tile. In the past, roll roofing was common.

Wood shingles are the oldest form of roofing. Today, wood shingles are sawn from red or white cedar, dipped in a staining medium that preserves the life and durability of the shingles and supplies color. Wood shingles are used today to give the log cabin a very handsome traditional look.

Asphalt shingles are common today because of a greater fire reisitance and their economy. They account for 80% to 90% of all residential roofs. In the 1980's and 1990's some of "improvements" by the shingle makers turned out to have flaws. Some splitting and cracking problems appeared in fiberglass shingles. Some shingles warranted for 20 years or more would fail in 3 to 7 years, with the warranty service frequently leaving owners dissatisfied.

Organic shingles remain popular in the northern United States and Canada, and may hold up better than the fiberglass shingles.

Metal roofing has long been used for agricultural building, but it's been popular for log cabins. The metal roofing can shrug off ice and snow and has natural fire resistance qualities. It is also immune to unsightly mildew growth that may form on asphalt shingles.

The installed cost of metal is higher than that of asphalt shingles, but life expectancy is longer and may compare favorably to lower priced roofing materials.

Steel, galvanizing steel, aluminum, aluminium 2" coatings, painted metal, and copper are used on metal roofs. There are a large number of choices in the metal roofing industry.

An aluminium with a galvanized coating roof was considered, but a brown GAF Timberline Asphalt Shingle roof was selected for the cabin because of the color preference.

Instead of using dormers, skylights were used over the loft bedroom and blend into the asphalt shingles.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hunter From The Sky

When you think of the fiercest and most courageous hunter of the sky, you think of the Bald Eagle. What an awesome sight with a wing spread up to seven feet and their feathers spread out like fingers. They are one of the largest and most powerful birds in the world.

There are many eagles in the area. They typically build their nests (Eyrie) in the tops of the tall trees near the many rivers and lakes. It takes about four years for the bald eagle to have a white head.

When boating, all eyes search the sky for the soaring eagles and each time we see one, we watch awe-struck at the graceful ease of their flight. It is hard not to watch this majestic bird. Many times we see more than one, maybe two or more (as many as eight or nine).

The eagle is a protected bird by Federal Law as a number of years ago their numbers had diminished in North America. Now their numbers are coming back.

Fish are one of the choice foods in the Bald Eagles diet. The eagle flies over the water and snatches the fish from the water only getting its feet wet. They follow schools of fish or follow other fish-eating birds. They intimidate and take away fish from other birds, even other large birds. The Bald Eagles also eat dead animals. They hunt by day and many times they can be seen eating their lunch on rocks near the lake shore.

By far, it is our favorite bird.

Photos courtesy of J & K Hallingsworth/USFWS

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Logs Have Arrived

The main floor, composed of 3/4" plywood sheathing and 2" by 10" wood joists, and wood beams, was constructed over the crawl space and on top of the foundation walls.

After the shop drawings were checked and approved, the logs were cut to length, notched at the corners and ready for assembly. The logs arrived on site on a truck bed. The small mobile crane quickly placed the logs. Vertical holes were drilled for the vertical steel rods and the electrical wires. The vertical steel rods were placed on each side of the window and door openings and about 8 feet, on center, to reinforce the logs at the openings and help in vertical and horizontal alinement of the logs.

Vertical rods are placed in the corners with threads, washers and nuts on the bottom. The nuts are placed finger tight to the bottom side of the bottom log. At that point, the logs project out from the foundation.

At the time the logs were erected, it was estimated the gap would be about 2". At present, the gap is approximately 1-3/4" to 2", or slightly over 1/8" per log. This would indicate that the logs were properly dried before construction and that the planned spaces over the windows, doors, and interior partitions were correct.

The logs are straight, without twist and have a tight connection between the logs. The corner cross-overs will be carefully caulked on the exterior.

The goal was to minimize the cracks and gaps between the logs to help prevent water and bug infestation. These goals were achieved.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Creatures of the Forest

There is nothing more beautiful than a white-tail doe in her sleek red summer dress with her new born fawn, or many times her twin fawns. She makes people stop to admire their elegance. There are many white-tail deer on our property and adjacent properties as they favor open woodlands. Their tracks are on all the many trails near the cabin.

In comparison to the graceful white-tailed deer, the moose is large and awkward. They are the the largest and most powerful deer in the world. They are an awesome sight with their tremendous palmate antlers. Moose tracks have been seen on the trails of our forest and we have seen the moose in the local area.

Black bear also are seen in the woods. They are not as dangerous as grizzly bears, but can be deceptively friendly. They love the berries, roots and grass of the area. They can be found eating blueberries during July and August.

Bears hibernate during the winter months. They find a cave or hollow log to sleep in from late October to early April. Their young are born during the winter. When spring arrives, the cubs are introduced to forest life.

Seldom seen, but never the less nearby are the red fox and the elusive timber wolf. Both have been seen on our land.

The fox and the wolves share many common characteristics: long narrow muzzles, erect ears, bushy tails and slender bodies. They have keen sight, smell and hearing. Both fox and wolf are intelligent.

Not long ago, my wife and I were walking up one of our trails when we saw a light coated timber wolf walking toward us. We thought it a large dog. As soon as the wolf saw us, he immediately disappeared into the woods. He had the characteristic bushy tail.

The gnawing creatures abound: snowshoe rabbits, chipmunks, beavers, squirrels, and wood chucks.

One note about the beaver. The beaver can build a dam. They fell trees and can dig a canal to bring logs to the dam under contruction, can fill chinks in the dam with stones and mud. They are without doubt master dam builders. (The animal kingdoms' civil engineers) They are to be found in the small rivers and ponds in our area.

Another group of creatures can be found near the cabin: the weasel tribe. They are the weasel, mink, marten, and otter. This may include the skunk, the expert in chemical warfare.

The short-tail weasel is small, ranging 8 to 12 inches long and less than a pound in weight. In the winter, the weasel's fur turns white and is called ermine. In the summer he is brown. The weasel has reckless courage and, at times, fights larger animals and occassionally wins.

The marten is a larger animal; about 25 to 30 inches long and 2 to 4 lbs. in wight. They are called pine martens here because of their tree climbing ability.

During deer hunting season, members of the weasel tribe can be seen as the ground is covered with snow and many hunters use deer stands to see the deer from a higher elevation. In addition to black bears, pine martens and weasels have been seen from the deer stands.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


After the site was cleared of brush and trees, construction began.

Excavation for the footings and foundation walls began only to find shallow ledge rock, requiring the foundation to be moved about 8 ' to the northeast. Below the main floor, a 2 ' 6" crawl space will be used to provide space for a 40 gallon electric hot water heater and a pressure tank for the water supply system. Most of the electrical service will be supplied from the crawl space.

The footings are poured concrete with a 5' frost protection to the finished outside grade. Reinforcing bars were added to the footings to minimize cracking of the footings.

The foundation walls are 8" thick poured concrete with insulation board forms. The forms were tied together with a plastic tie system which held the forms in place while the wet concrete was still fluid. The top of the 8" concrete wall was reinforced with two #4 bars to minimize any vertical wall cracking.

After the foundation wall was poured, 1/2" anchor bolts were placed in the top of the poured concrete wall to anchor a treated wood sill plate for the wood floor system which will be contructed next.

The insulation board forms were left in place to provide insulation for the crawl space. The outside face of the insulation board will be coated with a heavy textured coating which will protect the insulation board from weathering and UV rays of the sun.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Heat, Light and Other Decisions

We wanted to have a warm and cozy feeling, so to heat the cabin during the fall, winter and spring months, we selected an "Avalon" wood burning metal stove. The stove door has a large glass window to view the fire. When no one is enjoying the cabin during the cold weather, there is no heat in the building. When we visit the cabin during the winter months, the stove is fired up and we sit around in our jackets for several hours until the cabin is sufficiently warm. Our Avalon stove does a remarkable job in heating the entire cabin. Two large ceiling fans circulate the air. Sometimes the loft gets over heated and the stove heat must be "throttled" back.

"Arroyo Craftsman" and "Troy" lighting was chosen for the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and porch. Other lighting fixtures were picked for the dining room, loft and great room. Strip flourescent fixtures were planned in the "great room" at the top of the log walls, casting light upward to the vaulted ceiling to enhance the volume of "great room" space.

"Marvin" double hung windows were chosen as they are very energy efficient and have a traditional appearance that fits with the architecture. We wanted the mullins added to recall the "old" cabin windows.

The kitchen cabinets selected are knotty pine with a red "Nevamar" countertop. The bathroom would have the usual fixtures: a stool and bathtub with shower. The vanity was planned to be in the hall separated from the stool and tub "a la" a motel layout.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Water "Witching"

After accepting the builder's bid and locating the cabin on the property, we decided to locate the spot where the well was to be drilled.

A"witching" man or water diviner was suggested by the builder. The water diviner showed up with a "Y" shaped willow stick. He grasped each side of the stick and held it in a horizontal position and walked slowly around the property near the location of the cabin.

Suddenly, the willow stick turned down, not being twisted by the diviner, but by a strange unknown force. The diviner asked that we mark that location.

The water diviner continued walking slowly and found yet another location which he thought was a stronger force. Here another marker was driven into the ground. The diviner gave the depth to water as 90 feet. After a short discussion the second location was suggested as the location the well driller should drill to locate our water.

The water diviner raised a certain amount of skepticism as he would not guarantee the results nor accept any fee. The diviner came with a good reputation and told a number of stories of the well locations he had found. We accepted his findings on pure faith.

Some months later when the well driller arrived, we indicated that the well should be drilled on the spot the diviner had located. They drilled the well, and found water at about 90 feet, but went down to 215 feet as the water flow was more sufficient.

The drilled hole was cased with a 6 inch diameter pipe and an expensive submergeable pump was placed at the bottom, which pumped water into a pressure tank and then into the cabin water system. The water has been tested and meets our state's standards. It is good water, always very cold and with excellent taste.

Monday, September 05, 2005

A Difficult Task

A college class of surveying proved valuable in locating the cabin on the property. I had to find the section corners of the property. A quick call to the county surveyor was helpful as one of the section corners was quickly found. The other section corner was more of a challenge.

The section corner is a permanent monument with a brass cap on the top indicating which section corner it is. The brass cap is secured to a stone or concrete pier set into the ground and should be visable. Our guess was that the monument is located in the woods near a home. After a careful search, the monument could not be found. We approached the residents of the house asking if they knew where the section corner was. The adults were most cordial, but didn't know where the monument was located.

As I described the monument, the 6 year old son said he knew its location. The young man walked right up to it in the woods near their front yard. I was delighted with his information and thought he deserved a treat. He was pleased when I gave him a couple bucks for an ice cream cone.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal of July 1, 2005 cites other pre-cut (log home kits) problems. The article states that when the log supplier and the builder are separate, problems may arise.

New Cabin - Design

As the pre-cut log builders are more prevalent in our area, I decided to find a local pre-cut log supplier and builder. I visited a number of log home builders and obtained brochures from others.

I chose a local log supplier and builder to further investigate. The builder showed me several log cabins that he had under construction. The cabins showed his mastering of his trade. He also had an excellent record of past experience in building log cabins. This builder had a good working relationship with the log supplier.

I asked him if he would bid on a log cabin design. He agreed and that started my quest for an architectural design of the cabin.

My first scheme didn't go over very well with the family. The layout was too small.

I enlarged the architectural plan to about 1000 square feet of floor area. The floor plan I drew is 24 feet by 28 feet with a loft of 24 feet by 13 feet. The loft is a second bedroom with two large beds and a reading space. The loft is placed above the lower bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. The living and dining room (Great Room) occupy the other 24 feet by 15 feet space. A 15 foot by 8 foot covered porch is positioned on the south side as a shelter for the front door and as a place in the summer to sit and drink coffee and tell fishing and hunting stories.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Fishing Flashback

In the 1940's, my two uncles and I enjoyed visiting the old cabin on weekends with Fishing on the agenda. We had a 12 foot canvas covered square stern boat which we used fishing. The motor was a 2-1/2 H.P. Johnson. I had carved a fishing plug and placed a fishing hook on the plug. Some green and white paint was added.

My uncles viewed the carved plug. Nothing was said; but my feelings told me, they were not impressed.

Later that day, when the walleye count was taken, I had twice as many as my uncles. They took note and wanted to see the carved plug again to see what "magic" it had.

I still have that old carved plug in my tackle box. The walleyes seemed to like that old plug!!!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

New Cabin - continued

After studying the "Directory", I decided to investigate the pre-cut logs vs. the handcraft logs. Most of the "log home" publications showed the pre-cut logs. The log home contractors/suppliers in our area indicated their preference for the pre-cut logs with a few log home contractors supplying the handcraft logs.

The pre-cut logs are formed by cutting and shaping machines. Each contractor/supplier shapes their logs so they look identical; with the log lengths varying.

The handcrafted logs are individually cut and shaped. No two logs are identical. Each log is hand shaped to fit to the other logs and are built into an assembly that forms the walls and openings of the cabin.

The handcrafters have created many beautiful homes, ski lodges, and other fine structures. They used craftsmanship that was learned from famous master handcrafters whose roots are planted in a European Tradition.

The pre-cut log home industry was born when the saw mill was invented and was developed ever since. The pre-cut log home industry has had a checked past regarding quality of construction. The "Directory" cites some of the basic construction mistakes.

The log home industry is largely un-regulated and not usually covered by any recognized building codes. The 2003 International Building Code does not include log structures.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

New Cabin


I started my research by subscribing to a "Log Home" magazine for the year 1993. This magazine proved valuable and showed pictures of the many types of log home being built along with the furnishings.

A friend sent a very important report published by USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, titled "Protecting Log Cabins From Decay". This report answered many of my questions about the practical details of log cabin construction and protection from wood decay. The report gave practices of exterior finishing and maintenance along with selection of logs, preservative treatment and types.

The construction details from the report indicated that:
1. Steep roof slopes drain the rain water faster
2. Eaves must extend well beyond the face of the log walls. A projection of 24" for
a one story cabin is recommended.
3. The splash zone of the rain water needs protection (a distance above the exterior
grade) (This distance may be up to 3 or more feet.)
4. Stone or concrete piers or foundation walls provide cabin support and good
5. Slope the exterior grade to allow rain water to flow away from the foundation

I will refer to the publication as the "Report".

A 1990 annual directory published by "Muir's Original Log Home Guide For Builders and Buyers" also proved valuable. This directory covered the topics of pre-cut logs, the
handcrafted logs, settling, specie selection, profile, joinery, sealing, insulated wall systems
and a method of evaluation.

I will refer to this publication as the "Directory".

To be continued.


I am now a retired structural engineer living in a large city many miles from the old cabin. My boyhood memories of the cabin, fishing, hunting, etc. came back to me over the years and about ten years ago, I decided to build a new cabin in the same woods.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Old Cabin

This is a photo of the old family cabin with my father and his friends sitting out front. This photo was taken in the 1940s.

My memory goes back to the 1940's. The log cabin was old at that time. It may have been built in the 1870's or earlier. It was a typical gable ended one story cabin with a full bedroom loft and a kitchen and garage addition. The kitchen and small garage were added some time after the original log cabin was built; perhaps sometime in the 1920's as motor vehicles and roads appeared during that era. The log portion of the cabin was build from field cut pine trees from the area. Chinking was placed between the log joints and the corner junctions were square cut by a saw cut. The fixed sash windows were single pane and indicated some ripples in the glass (an older type glass). The roofing was roll roofing; a common roofing material used during the 1920's . The enclosed photo of the old cabin shows the roll roofing.

The heating of the log cabin was by a wood stove made from an old oil drum placed on metal legs. A large cast iron wood fired stove was used for cooking with a water tank on the side used for hot water to wash dishes. A metal sink was on the exterior wall of the kitchen with a drain that exited thru the exterior wall of the kitchen. A large wooden kitchen table and benches was used for the meals.

The drinking water was brought in from a nearby spring. The water used for washing was caught in an old wood barrel placed to catch rain water off the roof. An outhouse was some 100 feet or so from the cabin.

Our family used the cabin as a weekend and summertime retreat. We loved to fish in the many nearby lakes and rivers, explore the wood, hunt deer, and generally relax.

As with many old buildings, the roofing decayed through neglect and lack of attention. The roof wood boards collapsed on the loft, taking the upper logs and other parts of the structure to the ground.
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