Log Review Newsletter

Great Lakes Log Review: Newsletter for Graduates & others, June, 2019

After 43 enjoyable years of teaching log construction, Ron’s last workshop was in June, 2018. See main (home) page for information about Ron’s ongoing consulting/visitation enterprise now that the courses are over. 

Some miscellaneous info from the past:

Those who have been on one of our courses have had a chance to try out the “Blue Ox” which is painted orange and is pretty efficient for one or two people moving just about any size log around a worksite. There are many brands of this log arch on wheels and also a number of new videos on how to build your own inexpensively from scrap. Check it all out on YouTube.

RIP  B. Allan Mackie, 1925-2017

Many of you have read his useful books on building with natural logs and he was mainly responsible for the current surge of log building, which began in the early 1970s. Ron took one of Mr. Mackie’s annual  graduate courses in British Columbia back in the days of the Mackie Log Building School, and was invited and honored to be a guest instructor at the school in 1983.

B. Allan Mackie, passed away at the age of 90 in early February. For information on a Memorial Celebration of his life in May 2017, go to www.logassociation.org. Ron always felt that Allan was the best teacher he ever had in all of his educational experiences.

Sadly, Willie the camp golden retriever passed away in 2016 at the age of 15 – one of the finest pals in Ron’s life. Another dog, Chester Brown, was later adopted from Rescued Pets Are Wonderful (RPAW) in Blaine, MN, and has adapted well to life in the school/resort, making the cat, Cougar, his main friend.

Ron was able to spend some time travelling in Norway in the summer of 2016. Some features of the trip will be included in his slide show. It was a great opportunity for study and photography of some of the stave churches, lofts (stabbur) and other log and timber-frame architecture from the middle ages and beyond – around the east and west of Norway. (Unfortunately, his modest request to King Harald V for Norwegian citizenship, a small farm on a fjord, with a mountain and waterfall behind – was evidently turned down, as the King muttered something about a “kald dag” (cold day).

Young folks on Minnesota/Iowa Conservation Corps teams have finished their work on balsam fir reduction on the school property as part of a USDA EQIP grant for wildfire mitigation. They began the project in 2015. Ron has rarely seen the high level of energy, safety and efficiency exemplified by the 20-something men and women of the Minnesota/Iowa Conservation Corps.

For rafters, joists, firewood or such, thousands are available for the taking around the old camp/resort.

Some good and memorable courses were held during 2013 and 2014. Besides those, highlights of the summer were the ILBA conference in Arizona (below), the opportunity to teach a course for the Minnesota/Iowa Conservation Corps in Adirondack Trail Shelter building, and a USS Intrepid homecoming and reunion in New York City – the Navy aircraft carrier Ron served on during the Cold War a half-century ago. The ship is now a naval aircraft and space museum in NY Harbor, and it was a treat to tour it again.

Group photo taken by Robert Chambers of the recent International Log Builders Association 40th anniversary conference in Prescott, AZ. One of the best meetings ever, with the usual informative seminars, demonstrations and general camaraderie of log builders from all over the world.

While the best material for putting in the lateral grooves between the logs is Good Shepherd Wool from Schroeder Log Home Supply in Grand Rapids, MN, we have also been experimenting with a recycled denim product for lateral grooves that is less expensive than processed wool. It is available at Menards Lumber in the Midwest states. Sphagnum moss, free from any tamarack, cedar, spruce bogs, is still an option as well. The main thing is not to use fiberglass batting in lateral grooves, notches, or for any other insulation application, not only because of its uselessness, but because of its toxicity to the lungs from the fibers and formaldehyde resin binders as well as other negatives. In some jurisdictions around the world, fiberglass is treated the same as asbestos, which it resembles in its health effects.

Smart people will permit only one application of formaldehyde to their bodies, and we will have no memory of this experience.

Contact Ron for more information on the clean denim insulation, which is available at Menard’s Lumber.

The long-awaited handlebar gouges (previously backordered for years) are now being made by another supplier and are available for  $125. from the builder, including tax but not shipping. Call Todd Williams at 952.913.3762 to order this indispensible tool for lateral groove trimming. He has other tools for sale as well at www.kingsbridgesupply.com

Also, the new International Log Builders Association’s major work-in-progress of the last two years, Effective Practices and Methods for Handcrafted Log Building, is now available for immediate downloading and printing at www.logassociation.org for the modest price of $22.50 by credit card. Arguably one of the most important documents ever put together by and for log builders, this will be required reading by students prior to any future Great Lakes courses. Illustrated in full color. For a couple of dollars more you can get a bound version, which I would highly recommend.

Below: A northeastern Minnesota logger unloads a fine stash of red pines for use by the 2012 courses.
Used crane for sale. Scroll down for info.

Above: Megan Bendson, Brent Bendson of North Carolina and Sheila & Terry Morris of Brampton, Ontario celebrate the placing of the ridgepole with a fir bough on the July, 2011 course.

Below: the October 2011 workshop was comprised of Bob Rolfes, Kansas, Dan Rude, Minnesota (not shown), Rick Cousino, Michigan, Bob Carreau, Toronto, Kris Lambert, Minnesota, and Rev. Mark Olson, Minnesota (not shown).

The May, 2011 course included Mark Lambrecht, Wisconsin, Shaun Merritt, New York, and Megan Reynolds of California.

Heather and Corey, who live between Babbitt and Ely, showed us, during a field trip, the cordwood house they built in 2010.

Ron’s advice for the moment. Could be read with Jim Ringer’s Waitin’ for the Hard Times to Go playing in the background; (Folk-Legacy CD-47).

Uneven economic times are still here for some, although a recovery seems to be in progress. This might be the time to secure some rural land if you can. Lots of property can be purchased on a contract-for-deed/land-contract nowadays. There’s much wilderness property for sale as well as old, small farms.

  1. If you can’t or would rather not move, revise your town place, e.g., turn your lawns into useful gardens, have livestock. Get zoning permission if need be. Build some sheds.
  2. Learn to construct inexpensive, energy-efficient buildings out of log, stone or frame. Take courses if available. If not, work with someone who knows these basic things.
  3. Learn how to heat and cook with wood if you don’t already. Lots of cheap, used stoves around. Stock up with lots of wood – several years ahead. Know how to use the firewood tools, axe and chainsaw safely. Have extra tools. If you don’t have wind or solar power, get an efficient standby generator for occasional use, and store some fuel.
  4. Know how to raise your own food. Decide to have more garden space. Build fences.
  5. Understand and practice the raising of chickens, ducks, hogs, goats, milk cows. Did I mention building sheds?
  6. If you have a horse or two, use it for work and pleasure. Horse rescue services are overstocked with fine animals. However, you need to have good fenced grazing areas & hay, shelter, and water for winter. Horse feeding and  vet care can be expensive.
  7. Gain knowledge of how to hunt and fish for food, how to butcher animals – if you consume meat.
  8. Acquire preservation skills, dig a root cellar, can fruit and vegetables and dry produce, smoke and salt meat. Stock up on cheap canned and dry edibles. Or trade work or produce for canning services.
  9. Haunt used bookstores and secondhand stores. Some even take your old books in trade.
  10. Know how to fix machines for yourself or trade with neighbors for your other skills or produce. Learn how to do light welding. Get acquainted with someone who has a sawmill and do some trading.
  11. Make your own beds, tables, bookcases – log and board furniture at no cost. Avoid furniture stores. You can do it better and more meaningfully. You’ll never see log furniture at a landfill mingling with the junky couches and chairs.
  12. Never pass up an opportunity to study a new trade or traditional way of doing things, even if it means volunteering your labor for a time or working cheap.
  13. Check out some of the “back to basics” genre of books – several listed on this site’s bibliography. Or contact Ron for more titles.

This list is by no means complete, merely suggestive, but if you can provide some of your own shelter, heat, furnishings, tools, food and entertainment, you’ll be way ahead of the game, even when the economy returns to a semblance of what we were so long accustomed to.

Below is the Mobile Dimension portable circular sawmill with a Volkswagen engine that Ron and a friend rebuilt, used for awhile and sold during 2010. He has since purchased a Woodmizer portable band sawmill with a Kubota diesel engine, which he is using as a stationary mill.

Note – lifting crane and logs for sale (scroll down)
Below is a Knight mill from the 1930s or 40s, powered by a White truck engine on propane. In remarkably good condition, it takes two or three people to operate. It was very interesting to see and work such complex, well-built machinery.

ILBA Annual Conference in Arizona

The International Log Builders’ Association had our annual conference and meeting April 8-11, 2010 in Prescott, Arizona at Prescott Resort and Conference Center – in the mountains of the Prescott National Forest. The many presentations were excellent, the vendor/sponsors brought great stuff and the food and lodging were beyond description. Some (like Ron) went to Arizona early for some touring in the north – Sedona, Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Jerome. Magnificent sights!

Special Notes to Graduates:

An excellent article entitled “Height Safety for Timber Framers” appeared in Timber Framing, No. 88, June, 2008 – one of the publications of the Timber Framers Guild. This piece, applicable to log builders and timber framers alike, deals with preventing falls and available fall-arresting technology.

Because there has been some confusion about the source for one of the post-log-peeling biocide products, PQ-80, here’s the skinny:
5 gallons of the PQ-80 concentrate (a several years’ supply that several builders could share) is currently $284.40, plus shipping, which is less to a commercial address than to a residence. The accompanying “Adjustabor” liquid borax product is $50.00 for 5 gallons. ISK Biocides’ (the manufacturer and sole course) customer service number is 1.800.238.2523. Even though your usable mixture is mainly water, it is toxic. Never have it where pets or children can access it, wear protective rubber gloves, and carefully follow all of the manufacturer’s directions. This is not a preservative as such, but will prevent some of the formation of fungus, molds, sapstains etc. on your freshly peeled building logs.

I am mostly using plain 20-Mule-Team borax from the grocery store mixed with water in a plastic pail and brushed on the logs. Put as much powdered borax as you can into the water, and to keep it in suspension longer, heat the water first. It’s still a good idea to keep it out of the reach of children and pets.

In the March 2007 issue of Log Homes Illustrated, Dr. Edward Burkeprofessor of wood science at the University of Montana, has written a very understandable article on log drying and comprehending moisture content of wood. Most of us build using a system that does not require that logs be dry. Nonetheless, you can gain much understanding from this article. Online, it’s at loghomesillustrated.com.
Robert Chambers, in Issue 63 (May/June/July 2007) of the ILBA’s Log Building News, has an excellent piece on right-hand vs. left-hand twist in logs, entitled “Spiral Grain – The inside Story.”
The Blue Ox log carrying tool, detailed below in this newsletter and used by the school for several years, is handy for moving logs around a building site or out of the woods. Former students Mark and Kate Benoit came by recently with information and a video from www.futureforestry.com, which has many other carrying arches – for arborists or log builders – for hand, ATV, or tractor use.

It is always encouraging to receive pictures from former students – of their works-in-progress as well as completed log structures. Requests for assistance from graduates with finding resources, and questions of any kind are always welcome, especially by email. There is no charge, of course, for such help.

Part of your planning for building a log cabin or house should include the construction of a working model. Use 3/8 inch wooden dowels, using a scale of 3/8 inch = 1 foot wall thickness (even if your walls will be smaller or larger). A good example is this recently built model of the house that Justin and Leah Nelson are constructing:

Mark Benoit and Jim Nelson use a ripping chain and stinger (aka “helper handle”) for precise flattening of a purlin on a roof-construction seminar for graduates.

The stingers (helper-handle) can be had for between $30 and $100 and should be mounted on a 20″ or longer guide bar. Best results, of course, will be obtained with a ripping chain and a heavier saw. Drilling and mounting on  the bar are best done by a saw shop. For safety, be sure the open side of the stinger will be “up” when the saw is being used.

Items of interest:

Blue Ox Log Hauler, sold by Ben Meadows Co., 1 (800) 241-6401. After looking at this tool in their catalog for at least a decade or more, I finally secured one and we tested it out on the July 2003 log building course. It is definitely a very efficient way for one or two people to pick up and move a fairly heavy log around the worksite. We make a point of using it daily now. Every owner-builder needs one of these.

Cranes or other lifting systems for sale (free classified ads):

May 27, 2012. A Bucyrus-Erie 15 ton hydraulic and cable mobile crane is for sale in our building yard. Boom telescopes to 60 feet. Good tires and freshly painted.
$5,500. This will probably be sold quickly.

October 24, 2011. National crane (656) on GMC 8000 tandem axle truck. Detroit 6 cyl. diesel engine. 70 foot boom can lift 24,000 lbs. $5,000. Contact Barry Murray of Harmony, PA at 724.766.3020.

If you have a lifting system appropriate for log building, logs, or other log building stuff for sale, there is no charge for ads in this newsletter.


Laser levels

Of the many kinds of laser tools on the market nowadays, several have proven useful in original layout and leveling of the building site and in re-erection of a structure. One, which is pyramid-shaped, self-leveling, and emits a vertical beam, is a timesaver for marking truss pieces prior to cutting.

Overscribing lateral & flyway (also known as underscribing)

Read, if you haven’t, Del Radomske’s long paper, Overscribing of the Lateral Groove, found at:www3.telus.net/delradomske/overscribe.html. This explains in a very cogent way what most of us builders have been doing for a long time, in one form or another. Radomske pretty much began the revival of the technique, and certainly covers every aspect of it in his paper.

We have been teaching it the same for several years: the final notch scribe interval equals the widest gap plus about one-fourth inch (for contact). However, this has to be checked on each intersection on that same log to make sure you’re not going much above or below half the diameter of the log at the notch. Then, when setting down (in an oval on the log) each of three records for scribing, the lateral setting is one-quarter inch more for the lateral on the first half (vertically) of the building, and one-eighth inch for the second half. The flyway is usually set at a greater interval than the lateral, often three-eighths or more. This is where my opinion has changed: I feel that between an eighth and a quarter is a sufficient extra setting for the flyway. Two reasons: 1. It won’t look so un-workmanlike, and 2. it won’t allow mice or insects access to the notch.

The above suggested settings are appropriate for cabin-size buildings and need to be increased slightly for larger houses.

Prenotch Reminder

Be sure to cut, with your chainsaw, about a 2″ bevel on either side of the prenotch for ease of final scribing. This allows the scriber pencil to reach and complete the top of the final notch.

Stonework tips

Several things in stone construction stand out as extremely important. One, of course, is putting a serious footing beneath whatever you are building. The footing must have sufficient depth (for the soil type and climate) and width (for the type of foundation and building) with metal, usually rebar, reinforcement. The footing mixture is known as concrete and usually consists of 4-6 shovels of gravel and sand to 1 of the Portland cement.

The gravel, sand, and stone must be clean to begin with. The Portland cement (2 shovels), lime (1 shovel), and sand mix (9 shovels) that you may use for binding rocks to one another must be as dry and well-mixed as possible and you must clean all work within about 6 hours, meaning dry wire-brushing all cement from the rocks, after which it is immediately wet-scrubbed with non-metallic scrub-brushes and rinsed. This has to be done once or several times per workday.

The other mortar mix commonly used is mason’s cement, type S, which is good both below and above ground. 1 shovel mason’s cement to 3 of clean sand is your mixture.

Ready-to-go bags of cement known as Sacrete are generally too expensive for everyday mortar or concrete use. It is commonly used for small repairs, especially in an off-season when it would be difficult to obtain sand or gravel.

Only after finishing the entire project, and after vigorously dry-brushing with wire brush (above) will you wish to scrub (with non-metallic brushes) and wash one last time. My preference is Sure Klean 600 Detergent, a mix of muriatic (same as hydrochloric) acid and special cleaners. This product is easy on the mortar, in contrast to heavier solutions of acid and water. It must be applied to wet rocks and rinsed within minutes of scrubbing!

At this point it is wise to cover your work for a week or so with wet burlap or black plastic sheeting. This will allow your mortar cement to cure properly rather than drying out.

Caution is advised on cement and rock coatings. They may temporarily improve the appearance of the rock and offer protection to the mortar, but many of them (due to chemical cross-linking) will turn the rocks gray over the years. Removal is accomplished only with sandblasting, which will also substantially alter the appearance of the stones – negatively, in my opinion.

My preference, from no small amount of experience, is leaving the rocks untreated. If you do use coatings, bear two things in mind: (1) that these materials are very toxic and require safe handling. Read and follow the instructions with the product. (2) You will never be able to remove the coating, except by sandblasting, which changes the appearance significantly – perhaps for the worse.

Brock-White Co., a regional mason’s supply house. is a good source for metal fireplace basic structures, known generically as heatilators (also a brand name). With these, the damper, throat, smoke shelf, smoke dome, and interior ducts and fans for good heating, are all properly done and included. This type of fireplace, known for producing good heat, is easy to cover with cement blocks, topped with an outer layer of rocks for the appearance.

Some good stonework references

Ken Kern & Steve Magers, Fireplaces, Charles Scribner & Sons

Basic Masonry Techniques, Ortho Books (publ.)

Basic Masonry, Sunset Books

Kern, Magers, & Penfield, The Owner Builders Guide to Stone Masonry. Owner Builder Publ.

If you want a more complete list, contact us and request a copy of the (printed) Stonemasonry Bibliography.

In addition to a number of stone barbecue structures, there were several display foundations done during  courses several years ago, including mortared rock foundations, rock facing on cement blocks, and Eco-Block foam forms filled with concrete and faced with medium-sized round rocks.

Products of Interest:

Jack Wrap: Nortek Log Home Systems in Wisconsin, 1 (888) 488-2380, is making “Jack-Wrap” to conceal small settling jacks at the bottom of vertical posts. Made of copper and other materials, it can be seen at www.jack-wrap.com  The jacks themselves can be obtained atSchroeder Log Home Supply.

Mildewcide/fungicide: We sometimes use a copper-based product known as Mitrol PQ-80 (from ISK Biocides in Memphis) for inhibiting the inevitable mold, mildew and sapstain in logs right after peeling. Simple household borax, sodium tetraborate decahydrate, in powdered form mixed with water and brushed onto the logs (rather than sprayed), also works well. “Twenty-Mule-Team Borax” at the grocery store will do the job. Whatever biocide, fungicide, or mildewcide you choose, be sure to keep it out of reach of children and pets at all times. To better keep the borax in suspension, introduce it into boiling water, then add more borax. It does not need to be used hot.

Clear Wood Finish (CWF): A favorite for the final exterior coating on a log building. It’s fairly safe to use (brushed on), easy to apply, has good longevity, and the price is modest: $14-22. per gallon at hardwares and paint supply centers. It’s provided in redwood, cedar, clear, or honey tones (looks great) – all with ultraviolet ray protection.

Transformation: A stain product available in several colors, has been around for several decades and seems to have proved itself. It can be used for exterior and interior coatings.

Cautionary noteAll products and chemicals used in log or stone construction should, or course,  always be handled with prescribed safety gear (heavy rubber gloves and respirator, at least), stored properly, and kept away from pets and children. You should always secure and read the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for any product you plan to use, and, of course, read and follow the manufacturer’s label directions.

Furniture projects:

A brief description of the making of a red pine pole bed: this was built in several days using an electric chainsaw (indoors) for cutting and trimming the wood. Round mortises were cut to a 3″ depth with a 2 9/16 ” self-feed bit on a Milwaukee 1/2″ heavy-duty drill. Tenons were marked with pencil and scored with a hand saw, the 180C Stihl and a #5 Tyrolean gouge (or the Two Cherries #3) took out the remaining wood.. A hand rasp and some elbow grease with the sandpaper – 36, 100, and 220 grit (in that order), completed the project. Boards across the lower ties to support the mattress were 1 X 6″ red cedar. Finish was 1/2 quart of sanding sealer and two quarts of marine spar varnish. Any furniture project can be accomplished with the foregoing tools, along with a homemade “tenon checker” – a scrap of plywood drilled with several specifically sized holes. Besides Norways, good poles for such a project are young balsam fir, spruce, tamarack, jack or lodgepole pine, any of the aspens/poplars, and others.


Wool has replaced fiberglass

In the 1970s we used local sphagnum moss from local bogs or oakum (tarred fibrous hemp or jute) for a filler in the lateral channels on the undersides of the logs and within the notches. These worked out satisfactorily, but when it became trendy to use fiberglass, we got on that wagon for a time. Unfortunately, the fiberglass, unless very well sealed into the lateral channels with caulk, can become damp and moldy from moisture generated in the house, or from condensation. Moldy fiberglass insulation causes its own health concerns throughout the housing industry, in many different kinds of buildings. The glass fibers, leaking from the laterals, get into the air of a building and, for the most part, are swept around, vacuumed through, and remain airborne unless taken up with a HEPA air filter of some kind. Some medical sources regard this as one of the exacerbating factors in the American epidemic of asthma, and, in some cases, a cause.

In the early 1990s we began experimenting with wool alternatives to fiberglass for packing the log laterals, notching and other insulating uses, including framed structures. We went from washed raw wool to grey-top, and then to inexpensive bales of flocking from Faribault Woolen in Minnesota. Some German and Australian students got me interested in the idea during the ’80s. Fiberglass is pretty much out of the picture in many other countries, and it is, unquestionably, very dangerous stuff – not only the tiny airborne fibers getting in the lungs to stay, but the toxicity of the formaldehyde used in the manufacture of the stuff. If you would like to do your own internet research on the subject, begin with “Victims of Fiberglass” or fiberglass hazards. In any case, there is no need to use it on log buildings or any other kind of construction these days. Lots of safe wool products, some treated with borates, are made specifically for the log home industry. A good example is Good Shepherd Wool Insulation in Alberta, (403) 845-6705 (www.goodshepherdwool.com). It is sold both in rope and batting forms – convenient for lots of uses. Schroeder Log Home Supply in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, (218) 326-4434, is also offering several kinds of wool lateral insulation products in both rope and batting forms. There are also sources on the Internet for cotton insulation products.

And, if you are living in a log home that was insulated with fiberglass, in order to isolate that material and prevent it from continuously contaminating the interior air, caulk the inside seams with the product known as “LogBuilder” – available from Schroeder Log Home Supply and other vendors. It comes in several colors and Schroeder has some good applicators.

If you don’t already have gasketing, such as EMSeal, in your laterals, a thin bead of either LogBuilder or any high-quality silicon/acrylic caulk on the inside and outside seams of your log structure is a good idea in any case, and will probably be universally required by code in the near future – as a means to preclude any air infiltration, no matter how good the workmanship.

International Log Builders Association – ILBA

For those who may not have it, the contact for the International Log Builders Association (ILBA), the largest group of handcrafted log builders in the world, is PO Box 775, Lumby, BC V0E 2G0, or (800) 532-2900). Membership is slightly lower if you have been a student here). You will receive the quarterly, Log Building News, and much more in the way of meeting announcements and educational articles. The Log Building Standards , a consensus among handcrafted log builders of the best methods, is available on the website, which is:www.logassociation.org. It is absolutely necessary  for any handcrafted log builder to read and internalize the Log Building Standards.

Great Lakes School of Log Building is a member of the International Log Builders’ Association, and instructs students in accordance with theLog Building Standards.

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