Great Lakes School of Log Building
1350 Snowshoe Trail
Isabella, MN 55607
voice: 218.365.2126 fax: 218.365.2335
2014 courses are on this website
under "Dates and Rates." Seven log building and one
stonework course will be offered this coming year.
Building logs for sale. Joe Foster of
Isabella, MN has around 50 red pine, 50+ ft., large diameter
logs ready to build with. You can phone him at 218.365.7133.
Probably enough for a large house.
20-ton military Crane for sale in NE
Minnesota from a former log building student who built his
log house with it. Two gas engines, 60' boom. $3,900.
See it on this website:
Some good courses have been held
during 2013. 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 fifty years 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.
We have 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 in lateral grooves, notches, or
any for other insulation application, because of its
toxicity to the lungs from the fibers and formaldehydes as well as other negatives.
Contact Ron for more information on the denim insulation, which
is available at Menard's Lumber.
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
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
This may interest those who have been here as log
building students and who appreciate the natural beauty of
the area, the headwaters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area,
Hudson Bay, and the Lake Superior watersheds. The school
property and much of the surrounding area are directly
affected. If you are a Minnesota resident, you can help by
writing your legislators. Fights such as this - people &
environment vs. destructive sulfide mining for precious
metals - are occurring all over the continent.
- a great
more info at
May 27: Our
in love with
week - May
10:00 am in
27: Our bill
the House of
failed to be
heard by the
up for a
and the rest
of the Iron
being in the
We will try
here in the
will be May
- finally a
domain as a
her name to
Many of us
- our bill
to get rid
by Rep. Nora
many of us
east of Ely.
DNR Lands &
part of NE
seems to be
our local NE
that it will
to the area.
Get in touch
if you want
to be added
to an email
assist us in
part of the
Below: A northeastern Minnesota
logger unloads a fine stash of red pines for use by the 2012
Used crane for sale. Scroll down
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
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
wilderness property for sale as well as old, small farms.
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.
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
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.
Know how to raise your own food. Decide to have more
garden space. Build fences.
Understand and practice the raising of chickens, ducks, hogs,
goats, milk cows. Did I mention building sheds?
If you have a horse or two, use it for work and
pleasure. Horse rescue services are overstocked with
However, you need to have good fenced grazing areas & hay,
shelter, and water for
winter. Horse feeding and vet care can be expensive.
Gain knowledge of how to hunt and fish for food, how to butcher
animals - if you consume meat.
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.
Haunt used bookstores and secondhand stores. Some
even take your old books in trade.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Some of you remember the great Soren Erickson Swedish
chainsaw and logging tapes we used to watch on the first day
of a course. These finally wore out and are no longer
available. For the last two years, we have used another,
very technical dealer-oriented Stihl film, the utility of
which was probably questionable. However, Stihl, Inc. has
recently produced a DVD called Chain Saw Safety,
Maintenance & Operation, which is very comprehensive and
understandable. At some dealers it may be free; others will
charge. Regardless of your level of experience, you will
benefit from it.
In the March 2007 issue of Log Homes Illustrated,
Dr. Edward Burke, professor 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
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. They have purchased several kinds - pictured
Or, you can do it like my neighbor, Bob Moss, used to.
(photo from John German)
Garrett Ferderber and Ann
March work on a wall during the August 2006 stone course
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 at Schroeder Log Home Supply.
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.
High Sierra: 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 note: All 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.
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 the Log Building Standards.
Inexpensive Cabin Rentals:
There have been increasing family outing weekend visits to the school by former students. With electricity, refrigerators etc. in all of the rustic log cabins, it's a great place to hide away and go canoeing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fishing,
or hunting. The place is fairly busy with skiers and snowshoers in the winter, but in summer and fall there are lots of vacancies. Get in touch for a great weekend or weekday hideaway.
We haven't raised rates in 15 years and it's a pet-friendly
Visit our lodging website maintained by the golden retrievers, Willie