1) POUR A MONOSLAB: If you pour a “monoslab” you will have a foundation and a finish floor all in one step. There are some cool things you can do with a concrete slab; you can stain it, give it a traditional “oxblood” finish, set flagstones on it, and tile, wood planks and log-butt rounds are all options. Mix your concrete (Types 1 or 2 Portland), approximately 1/2 sack to 12 shovels of sand and 10 of gravel. For stonework, make it a little richer and use all sand (no gravel) for mortar.
Adding a little dish soap will help with a couple of things: 1) It won’t be quite as vulnerable to cold, and 2) It makes the mortar slightly stickier for masonry work.
2) BUILD SLIPFORMS: If you want a rock foundation, build “slipforms” that you can use as a backer/form to move along the wall as you work. Concentrate on the stone face of the foundation and fill the space between the rocks and the slipform with a mix of mortar and rubble. Don’t forget the reinforcing rebar. Set up string lines to keep things straight.
3) CRUISE YOUR TIMBER: This will give you an idea about the kind, size and quantity of logs on your land. If you are building, say, an 18-foot by 25-foot cabin with a 14-foot by 18-foot loft (702 square feet), you will need a “log pen” that is 12 logs high per wall (if your logs average 12 inches in diameter), which is eight for the main floor and four for a loft knee wall. Or if they are averaging, say, 10 inches in diameter, then you will need 14 or 15 of them per wall. You will also need logs for the loft and gable ends, and for roof purlins, if you are going to use them. Remember to cut your logs 3 or 4 feet longer than the walls, if you can. This will give you the length you need for notched corners and some adjustability for taper/size/placement. Ideally, you will alternate every other course tip to butt, which will help you maintain an approximately level wall every even-numbered course. This is very important for controlling the overall uniform progression of the cabin’s height.
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4) JOINING AND NOTCHES: There are several different kinds of corner joining and notches: saddle notches, full dovetail, half-dovetail, “V” notches (traditional, easy and quick), butt and pass, flat notches, etc. If you only have short pieces to work with, “piece-en-piece” log construction is a time-honored technique using grooved log posts at the corners, or other (intermediate) positions, with tenoned logs stacked between. If you have long, straight logs consider “Swedish Cope,” which is a technique involving scribing the top log along its entire length to match the contours of the log below and then grooving it to fit them tightly together, eliminating the need to “chink” the joints.
5) CHINKING: There are a number of different approaches to “chinking,” or sealing the gaps between the logs. In addition to the Swedish Cope method mentioned above, careful bedding of each log layer on the course below with a chainsaw will also minimize the gaps that need to be sealed. There are a number of companies offering “acrylic chinking,” which creates an elastomeric seal that, if carefully applied, will pretty well eliminate air intrusion, which probably affects a cabin’s weather-tightness more than anything else. I chinked my first cabins with mortar; some of them are still chinked that way and have lasted for 40 years or so. Your solution will depend primarily on your budget, your construction technique and on what materials are available locally. Moss, horsehair, straw, insulation and lots of other materials have been used in the past as stiffeners or binding agents for lime plaster, adobe, cement and even cow manure (buffalo chips).
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This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Summer 2014 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.
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