There are two categories of log homes: handcrafted and milled log homes. Initially, you may not realize what you are looking at, but there are some basic guidelines that will clarify the differences. A handcrafted log home is just that; the logs are peeled by hand, notched by hand, and in many cases, each log is scribed to fit exactly on top of another log. In many handcrafted homes, the logs are stacked alternately, so the large end of a log is stacked on top of the tapered end of the log beneath. A milled log home will feature logs that are uniform in shape, and the logs will be cut to fit together, such as with a tongue-and-groove or Swedish cope, so that they stack easily and evenly. There is a big price difference between a handcrafted and a milled log home. This is mostly because of the intense labor required to construct a handcrafted home, and because of the larger diameter logs that are normally used. The vast majority of homes built today are milled log homes.
If you see a log home with round logs and chinking, that is a first indication that this is could be a handcrafted log home. Chinking was historically a mortar-like material that filled the gaps between the logs. Modern science has created an acrylic compound that expands and contracts with the wood; it is applied as a wide white stripe. If a handcrafted log is not scribed, then chinking is a must because the logs leave gaps along their length. Some people do use chinking as a design feature even when it’s not necessary, though for the most part milled log homes are not chinked.
The characteristic corner of your log home will speak volumes to the person who knows how to read it. The profile and joinery system of the log will usually be reflected on the ends. For instance, on a handcrafted log home you’ll see the different diameters of the stacked logs. To stack them, these corners will be notched so that each log sits directly on the log below it (like a Lincoln Logs(TM) toy). A milled log that is saddle-notched will stack the same way (of course, every log will look exactly the same). Because saddle-notched logs are staggered, course to course, the log ends will be visible on the interior corners of the house as well as the exterior. This gives a very rustic look. A butt-and-pass corner gives you an end where there is a space between every other log. This is because one log butts up against the intersecting log, which runs past it. These logs are all laid on the same course, so that with the interior corners of your home, the logs will come to a squared edge.
On milled logs, there are many joinery systems to choose from. Today, the most popular joinery is called a “Swedish cope”. This is where each log is scooped out to fit snugly on the curve of the log beneath. It gives a very smooth and natural look. Another joinery system is the tongue-and-groove, or double tongue-and-groove depending on the manufacturer. The tongues are cut into the top of the log and corresponding grooves at the bottom. These create a tight fit and stack easily. A more traditional, early American notch is called the dove-tail, which is a mortise and tenon notch usually cut into squared timbers. There are many other corner systems available, but these are the most commonly used.
The shape, or profile of your log is another feature which will help you decide what kind of package to purchase. Many people prefer a “D” log, which is round on the outside and flat on the inside. This gives you a horizontal wood-paneling look, and is easy to hang pictures on. Others prefer a round log, which is a little more rustic and presents many challenges – such as how to join the logs to the sheetrock. Squared timbers, which give a more Appalachian look to the home, tend to be tall and fairly narrow, and are often grooved for the application of chinking.
The average milled log home will use pine logs in 6″ and 8″ diameters. You can also find them in 10″ and 12″ diameters. Anything larger than 15″ will probably roll you over to a handcrafted home. Cedar logs are an upgrade, and can be found in 6″, 8″ and occasionally 10″ diameters. Some manufacturers more rarely use oak, cypress, fir, hemlock, larch, poplar, spruce, and walnut. These rarer woods will be a price upgrade. Because of the superior log care products on the market today that protect all the logs effectively, the wood species largely becomes a matter of personal taste. The best rule of thumb when choosing log species is to stay with a wood that is native to your area. The logs will adapt to the environment more comfortably.