Construction Methods

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Southwest Virginia Project
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Source:Hamilton, 1973 discussing the costruction of the Dingus Mill the poplar cap log on the west side of the mill house was 32 feet long and so perfectly hewn, that when he sawed it into lumber there was less than a quarter inch variation in thickness in the entire 32 feet of length. The log had been hewn 10 inches thick and 18 inches wide. The rafters were very unique, being hewn 5 inches square at the eave end, tapering to 2 inches square at the ridge where they crossed and were fastened together with a wooden dowel. The eave ends were doweled into the cap log.
Source:Skinner, 1921:34 They made their clearings in the forest, built their cabins and stockades, and planted their cornfields, while lookouts kept watch and rifles were stacked within easy reach. Every special task, such as a "raising," as cabin building was called, was undertaken by the community chiefly because the Indian danger necessitated swift building and made group action imperative. But the stanch heart is ever the glad heart. Nothing in this frontier history impresses us more than the joy of the pioneer at his labors. His determined optimism turned danger's dictation into an occasion for jollity. On the appointed day for the "raising," the neighbors would come, riding or afoot, to the newcomer's holding — the men with their rifles and axes, the women with their pots and kettles. Every child toddled along, too, helping to carry the wooden dishes and spoons.
CommentThis is a romanticized view. I'm not sure how much "joy" a pioneer settler took in his hard labor. It was probably not something he gave a lot of thought to. Skinner's view may simply be "his view", and the description may be no more than something that made sense to him, without having a factual source that can be pointed to.
Source:Skinner, 1921:35 The usual dimensions of a cabin were sixteen by twenty feet. The timber for the building, having been already cut, lay at hand — logs of hickory, oak, young pine, walnut, or persimmon. To make the foundations, the men seized four of the thickest logs, laid them in place, and notched and grooved and hammered them into as close a clinch as if they

had grown so. The wood must grip by its own substance alone to hold up the pioneer's dwelling, for there was not an iron nail to be had in the whole of the Back Country. Logs laid upon the foundation logs and notched into each other at the four corners formed the walls; and, when these stood at seven feet, the builders laid parallel timbers and puncheons to make both flooring and ceiling. The ridgepole of the roof was supported by two crotched trees and the roofing was made of logs and wooden slabs. The crevices of the walls were packed close with red clay and moss. Lastly, spaces for a door and windows were cut out. The door was made thick and heavy to withstand the Indian's rush. And the windowpanes? They were of paper treated with hog's fat or bear's grease.

CommentThis is a description of the "popular" idea of a "round log" log cabin. Most log cabins were in fact built of well trimmed logs. An early cabin would probably not have had windows, for obvious defensive reasons. Doors were probably not cut after the cabin was raised, but were created by cutting the timbers to length before placement.


See 1820 American Farm for German home floorplan/design/construction.