Milled logs or handcrafted logs -- these are two primary distinctions when it comes to log homes. The difference is just what it sounds like: handcrafted logs are cut and peeled by hand with a drawknife or water-peeled and are natural, rougher and more uneven in appearance.
These shaped logs have been through a wood mill or planer and are smooth and uniform, easier to work with and faster to assemble. For that reason milled logs are the most popular option for log home kits and for homeowners building their own log cabins.
Milled logs are cut into a specific profile or shape. For example, log styles can be round, square or D-shaped. The D-shape is popular because the rounded outer face gives the natural appearance of logs, while the flat inner face makes hanging pictures and cabinets easier and doesn’t hold dust like a round log might.
Although many different species of wood are used in building log homes, the most common are the softer woods, such as pine, fir, spruce and cedar. The best wood to use is typically whatever wood is commonly available at your cabin’s location. That wood will be suitable for the local weather and readily available at a lower price than shipping in wood from somewhere else.
One of the best reasons to use milled logs is because they have a profile designed to fit together smoothly which helps provide an energy efficient log home. It’s easy to see how the logs interlock and match top and bottom, with insulation or caulking in between to eliminate air infiltration. The tops and bottoms may be coped, smooth or tongue-and-groove.
Milled logs are sold by the linear foot, typically in lengths ranging from 8-feet to 16-feet. Logs longer than 16-feet are heavy and difficult to move. Walls are generally broken up into shorter length logs between doors and windows anyway. When longer spans are needed you can break them up at an intervening wall or butt them together to span the entire wall.
Buying your logs from a mill or log supplier has many benefits:
Green logs are normally winter-cut, during the fall and winter. This is when the sap is dormant and moisture at a minimum. It also means the wood is free of insects and disease. The wood is heavy, due to the high moisture content, and is prone to shrinkage and possibly warping as it dries out.
Air dried wood is wood that has been set out to dry, often in a drying shed protected from the weather, for varying lengths of time. The logs are stickered, meaning that small lengths of wood are inserted between logs to separate them and allow maximum air circulation. Air drying is the hardest to control as drying times vary so much.
Kiln dried logs have been run through a heated kiln to speed up the drying process and typically have more closely-controlled moisture levels, allowing for more accurate predictions of their final size and they also have minimum shrinkage.
Standing dry logs are logs cut from trees that have been killed by disease, fire or insects but never been cut. They have not been sheltered from the rain, obviously, but being vertical, they are generally very dry. They can have checking due to the uneven drying and are often sap-stained.
Mills and log suppliers sell log by linear feet. This means you are ordering and paying by the total length of logs needed. By the way, “linear” is the correct term to use to designate length (as opposed to square feet or cubic feet). Some people use the term “lineal” but this is incorrect since lineal refers to ancestry.
To determine the correct number of linear feet needed for your log home you need to calculate the number of courses required to achieve your desired wall height, then multiply that by the length of that wall.
Let’s work an example.
You’re using 6” x 8” D-logs that have a finished height of 8” to build a 10-foot-high wall, 24-feet long:
Choosing milled logs from a mill or log supplier will save you money over buying a log cabin kit and it will provide an energy-efficient, easy-to-assemble alternative that gives you maximum flexibility in design. Log suppliers and mills are used to dealing with log home builders and can give you guidance and assistance with your order.