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A log cabin is a small house built from logs. It is a fairly simple type of log house, and was established both in rural areas and in cities in timber-rich regions, particularly in early United States and Canada. Some very old buildings in the American Midwest are actually log structures covered with clapboards or other materials. Many original log cabins still exist, although very few were originally intended to have exposed logs.
Traditional log buildings in America
The crudest log cabins were built like palisades, with logs of various sizes set vertically in a trench to create the walls. Later log cabins were built from logs laid horizontally and interlocked on the ends with notches.
The most important ingredient, naturally, was the logs that were used to build the walls. The length of one log is generally the length of one wall, so tall and very straight trees of a similar size were preferred. If possible, the logs were hewn lengthwise with a broadaxe to make flat sides. This made the logs stack better, with less chinking between them, and (in the case of fully squared logs) allowed the walls to be flat enough to be covered with plaster or paneling on the inside and clapboard on the outside.
A basic method for building a traditional, no-frills log cabin requires a few labor-intensive steps, lots of trees and stone, and a sharp axe:
Usually, a dry stone foundation (without mortar) was set, consisting of a perimeter of rocks on which the first logs are placed to keep them off the ground, protecting them from rot.
The builders chopped down a quantity of tree trunks and removed all branches and bark (useful as firewood) and prepared them for stacking.
About 1 to 3 feet from each end of the log, the builders cut square or V notches on opposite sides of the log.
Two notched logs were laid down in parallel, then a third notched log was placed so that the notches fit together at a right angle.
The builders repeated these steps, building up the cabin walls, eventually shortening the logs on the ends of the cabin to come to a point, creating the gable for the roof.
A chimney was constructed as the walls went up, made of sticks covered in mud plaster or else natural stone.
The roof was constructed out of logs of a smaller diameter and covered with cedar shingles.
Doors and windows were chopped or sawed out and framed with plank lumber.
Chinks between the logs were filled with small lengths of wood and a simple plaster made of mud and straw or clay and rags to seal it up.
If the logs were sawed to have flat sides, the interior and exterior were finished with plaster or paneling and clapboard.
Many log cabins had a sleeping loft in the roof peak and some even had a substantial second story. Most had dirt floors, but wooden plank flooring was often added later along with room additions as families grew and became more prosperous.
By the 20th century, log cabins had nearly died out except in northern Canada and Alaska. But Scandinavian construction techniques allowed for easier construction, hollowing out the underside of logs so they fit smoothly over the logs below them, that also required little chinking.
In 1930, the world's largest log cabin was constructed as a private resort in Montebello, Quebec, Canada. Often described as a "log château", it now serves as the Château Montebello hotel.
The modern version of a log cabin is the log home which is a house built most often from premilled logs. The logs are quite visible as the exterior and sometimes interior of the house. With the advent of cranes and modern construction techniques, log homes (sometimes called timber homes) are popular in rural areas, and even in some suburban locations.
William Henry Harrison and the Whigs used a log cabin as a symbol to show he was a man of the people. Other U.S. political figures after him also used their upbringing in log cabins for the same purpose. It is well known by most Americans that Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin. Presidents Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan were also born into log houses.
Log Cabin is also used as a vernacular reference to the Internet. Referring to the solitary, shut-in nature of computer geeks in spite of the internet as a communications technology.
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