Folk Architecture - Origin of Log Construction

"Horizontal timber construction has a long history in Norway where a number of such buildings from the Middle Ages still exist so that it is possible to trace changes in construction methods over the centuries. In southern Indiana, however, existing log buildings date mostly from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and conform quite closely to one main type with certain easily understood exceptions. It is quite likely that the earliest settlers, in desperate need of shelter, hastily erected crude shelters of round logs, but none of these have survived to my knowledge. Since the 1930's, too, many log houses have been constructed as vacation homes and for other purposes. Most of these have either been built with old logs salvaged from houses and barns or with smaller round logs. It is only the main type of horizontal timber construction of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that will be considered in this paper. Both the very early and the late use of round logs will be ignored… In the very earliest buildings from the Middle Ages in Norway, the logs were left almost entirely in the round, but for centuries later the logs were carefully shaped before being built into the wall. The inside and outside surfaces were gently rounded, the top was flattened, and the bottom had a concave groove to allow the timber to fit snugly over the one below it… In this way no chinking was needed between the timbers to produce a weathertight wall. Pine or other softwood was customarily used because, of course, it was readily available, and the timber was given its final shaping with drawknives of various kinds. The timbers were shaped in this way for a variety of reasons. The gently rounded shape was decorative and the shaped timbers did not protrude on the inside of the walls as the round log would. In the process of shaping, most of the outside sapwood which decays most readily was removed and the harder heartwood which resists decay remains as it comes from the tree, a log is, of course, bigger at the butt end than it is at the top, and the process of shaping the timber straightened it so that it was more nearly the same size for its entire length. In relatively late work after sawmills came into use, logs were sometimes sawed square at the mill and used in buildings."

Warren Roberts, "Some Comments on Log Construction in Scandinavia and the United States". Folklore Students Association Preprint Series, vol. 1, no. 3. July 1973. 1-2.