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CONSTRUCTION techniques

Common Terms

Hand-Carved refers to the highly-skilled practice of hand-chiseling or hand-carving wood or stone to achieve a finely detailed (delicate or intricate) shape or finish.

Hand-Hewn refers to the frontier practice of using muscle power to manually cut or shape wood, often huge timbers, by hard blows of a heavy cutting instrument like an ax or chisel to achieve desired shape or finish.

Hand-Planed refers to the frontier practice of manually using and hand plane to shape wood using muscle power to force the cutting blade over the wood surface.

Hand-Quarried refers to the frontier practice of using brute manual labor and hand axes to cut stone/rock/gravel/slate by hand to be used in construction and cemeteries. A quarry is a type of open-pit mine in which this rock is excavated from the ground.

Hand-Wrought refers to the frontier hand processes used to forge needed iron products, locks, nails, etc., by hammer and anvil with red-hot malleable iron straight from a furnace.

Pit-Sawn refers to the frontier practice of digging a pit over which lumber is positioned to besawed with a long two-handled saw by two people, one standing above the timber and the other below. It was used for producing sawnplanks from tree trunks, which could then be cut down into boards, pales, posts, etc.

Repointing refers to the maintenance process of replacing small lengths of original mortar where it has deteriorated between stones (causing moisture damage which compromises the integrity), such as in a chimney.

The basic one-room enclosure formed by four log walls joined at their corners, called a single "pen" or "crib." The single pen was improved upon by installing interior partitions or by adding another log pen.

 

Some variations of historic log house plans include: the typically mid-Atlantic "continental" plan, consisting of a single-pen of three rooms organized around a central hearth;

 

The "saddlebag" or double-pen plan, composed of two contiguous log pens; and the "dogtrot" plan, formed by two pens separated by an open passage space (sometimes enclosed later), all covered by a continuous roof.

Corner notching (left) is another of the characteristic features of log construction. Most notching methods provide structural integrity, by locking the log ends in place, and give the pen rigidity and stability. Numerous corner notching techniques have been identified throughout the country. They range from the simple "saddle" notching, which demands minimal time and hewing skill, to the very common "V" notching or "steeple" notching, to "full dovetail" notching, one of the tightest but most time-consuming to accomplish, "half-dovetail" notching which is probably one of the most common, and "square" notching secured with pegs or spikes.

The notching method on some of the earliest eastern cabins and most 19th century western cabins, particularly saddle notching, left an extended log end or "crown." Crowns are especially pronounced or exaggerated in Rustic style structures, and sometimes they are cut shorter as the wall rises, creating a buttress effect at the corners of the building. [NPS.com]

Too often people think that those need to be filled and will daub them with cement, or fill with epoxy. This mistake causes rapid damage to the logs. The fillers that are commonly used, portland cement, modern mortar, plastics, epoxy, etc all trap water and force moisture into the logs, thus accelerating rot.

What is chinking & daubing?

The process of chinking, which seals in warmth and seals out cold, mice, bats and other vermin, can be done in many ways. People use the term chinking to describe the whole process of filling the gaps between the logs in a cabin, but log cabin historians know that it’s a two step process.

First step: find anything on hand to fill the gap between the logs. This is where things got really creative for the original log cabin builders. 

In the blog article The Messy History of Chinking, there was a photo of someone actually using a pair of fruit-of-the-looms to block a gap.

So your underwear, that grass, straw, oakum*, corn cobs, mud, goat hair, or manure - basically anything easily at hand that you can grab to block those gaps - that’s called chink. And the act of actually shoving your underwear/whatever between the gaps, that’s the ancient building tradition known as chinking. (Left, exterior chinking)

Now for step two. It’s known as daubing. This is the grey mixture similar to cement, which goes over the stuffed gap and creates the weather sealing.  Daubing mixtures, like chinking, really have no rules, and a wide range of ingenuity has been used in some mixes.

Here is a common early recipe:

  • Two parts Portland cement, one part oakum*, and one part random grasses

  • One part muddy clay, one part goat hair, one part spit

 

*Oakum is usually long hemp fibers soaked in oil or a pine tar-like substance.

Left, once on the exterior, this chinking is now on the interior.

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