Cover image for The owner-built log-house : living in harmony with your environment
The owner-built log-house : living in harmony with your environment
Mackie, B. Allan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Willowdale, Ont. : Firefly, [2001]

Physical Description:
232 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 27 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TH4840 .M326 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Log houses inspire fascination across most of North America. They evoke a simpler time - a tradition of independence and self-sufficiency missing in today's high-tech world. But a log house does not have to be a fantasy. Ownership is within the means of almost anyone reasonably handy with tools.

Allan Mackie believes - and demonstrates - that attitude is at least as important as carpentry skills. Given a will to learn and a desire to make something of one's own, the average person is more than capable of building a log house that will serve an individual, a couple or a family for years to come.

In this profusely illustrated book, the author takes the reader step-by-step through the building process - the selection of land, the purchase and preparation of the logs, the sharpening of tools and the cutting, lifting and fitting of logs, and all the other steps involved. With hundreds of photographs and detailed diagrams and drawings, The Owner-Built Log House is much more than a how-to guide. It is nothing less than a testament to the belief that where there is a will for self-reliance, there is the possibility of achieving it.

As a unique feature of the book, the author takes us through his current building project on a 100-acre wilderness site. The reader experiences the entire process - from buying land right up to moving in and spending that first winter.

Chapters include:

Purpose in Building a Log House The Building Tree Making a Set of Plans How Long Will It Take and How Much Will It Cost Good Site, Good Tools, Good Work Log Walls Notches of All Kinds A Roof Over Your Head Windows, Doors and Stairs Interior and Finishing Touches.

Author Notes

Allan Mackie , the author of many books on log building, is recognized around the world as one of the foremost builders of log houses. The founder of the B. Allan Mackie School of Log Building, he teaches log building not only throughout North America but also in Europe and Asia.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Most library users are interested in homes using traditional construction methods, but comprehensive collections should offer information about alternative technologies. These three titles offer good options. Pearson offers instructions to build yurts, tipis, and benders all dwellings that consist of a collapsible, lightweight frame covered with cloth. Examples range from simple, temporary designs to much sturdier structures appropriate for year-round use. The examples are from all over the world, but brief instructions allow anyone to build a rather exotic structure inexpensively. The Sanchezes provide a wealth of information about the history and techniques associated with the use of adobe, an ancient material common in the Southwest. Twelve plans for both traditional and modern homes are included some of which look surprisingly conventional to the casual observer. This title will be of particular interest to readers in the more arid regions of North America. Mackie, a well-known author and educator of log home-building techniques, shows how to construct a log home in a low-impact, environmentally friendly manner. The homes shown are beautiful, with a great deal of exposed joinery; Mackie's step-by-step instructions and excellent illustrations show how everything is done (the author, who is in his mid-seventies, is still building homes a feat that many half his age would find taxing). These titles are recommended for comprehensive collections or for those with a regional interest in the particular technology covered. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1: The Purpose in Building a Log House A Personal Log House From the dawn of human history, people have used trees and rocks to build the shelters they needed. By the time tools had developed enough to be able to shape and refine stone, men would already have had tools capable of shaping wood. Therefore, wood is among our oldest building materials. And I believe that everyone in any pre-history community would have been familiar with the ways of log building. It would be a skill as important as hunting, food gathering and fighting. This was not a matter of fashion for them, as it is for us. It was a matter of survival. How welcome, and what a blessing those shelters must have been! And from those ancestral feelings of gladness toward the tree-walls which protected them, come our own feelings for log buildings. When I first started to teach the skills of timber building in 1970, I was not fully aware of this phenomenon. It sometimes annoyed me that people interrupted my work to tell me the "only way" to build with logs, when I could see that their information was the product of fantasy or faulty folklore. I would try to change their minds, so that if they tried to build in the future, they would build better houses. But often they wouldn't listen. They would go away angry and hurt. Then, slowly, I began to realize that they were coming to me to share a dream. It was the dream I should discuss with them, in its proper place: why we love log buildings. Later, when their minds were resolved to build, I could teach the correct methods for building. When I built the Kerry Street House in Prince George, British Columbia, in 1973, one of my students was totally inexperienced. At one point we needed him to pass a sledgehammer from the second floor to the roof structure we were framing and he didn't even know how to tie it to the rope we lowered to him. I became increasingly frustrated by my inability to explain this verbally. Finally, he defused the situation by falling off the building. The next year, when I was in the Eastern Townships of the Province of Quebec, he contacted me and asked if I would like to see the house he had built. I did and saw that he had done an excellent job. I have learned a lot from students and I learned right then to respect everyone's dreams, no matter how impractical they may seem. There are many dreams within the big dream of living in a log house. One is for young people: they see their energies invested in the beginning of their worldly estate. They see themselves with the wind in their hair and the sweat on their foreheads glinting in the sunlight as they express their joyful hopes for a good future through hard work. The best of dreams! Others, like doctors and teachers, see a health dimension. Carpenters, construction workers and accountants also seek to cure something in their work lives that is not satisfying them. Many see the log building as merely possible: something that looks easy that they can build without a heavy mortgage debt. All of these dreams are worthy of respect. And I believe that all of these dreams arise from our deep ancestral needs to feel again the sheltering warmth of the logs, to smell their fragrance, and to know that within those tree-walls, we are safe. All these students had much to learn. They had to learn everything! If pre-screening had been allowed, my students would never have passed the entry requirements. But I knew from the beginning that all I needed in students were their dreams and their determination. So I have never refused entry to a student. And so, for these reasons, the log house becomes the most personal house. It is not only a true reflection of the builder, but it also binds the builder to nature because of the materials he uses. He cannot dominate those trees, and say, "There! I will force you into this space, whether you like it or not!" It just won't work. The builder must enter into a dialogue with the trees and discover their essence: how they might fit, are they big enough, small enough and so on. When the builder and the tree understand what is needed, they work together in harmony, each aiding the other. This builds an intense appreciation and love of building. All by Yourself You're never all by yourself as long as you have the ancestral dream. This reassures you that many others, just like you, have built their own log homes; therefore, you can too. In actual practice, you're never really alone. To be independent does not mean that only you must do every bit of work, little or large. This is not a competition. You will find that another person, or your whole family, or a dedicated group will stand by to help you. Do as much as possible by yourself because this provides you with a single-minded purpose. For example, if a contractor is involved, a new purpose is added: his purpose may be profit, or convenience in his work schedule, or experimentation using YOUR log house. Be aware of that and keep your own purpose clearly in mind. You'll know very early that the real reason you need a log house is to heal or strengthen your soul by providing a true place for your heart to touch (ever so gently) nature, to which we are all connected. If you believe this, as I do myself, then you will agree that it's necessary to experience as fully as possible the hard work, the sweat and blisters, the worry, the thrills, the hopes and the pride of accomplishment in your new log home. If you allow someone else to do much of this work, you will give away part of that wonderful opportunity to stand close to your ancestors. You will feel, too late, that you have been robbed of your chance to bond with the nature of the experience. But if you perform most of the work all by yourself you come that much closer to realizing your goal of working in harmony with nature. One group of workers belongs with you: your family. For they, too, wish to stand close to your shared ancestors, and to experience the log house as you do. The days you spend together working the wood will always be with you. Can you, one small person (even with a family of helpers), expect to build a log house to a good standard of quality? My answer is "Yes you can," even though there are big logs to be lifted, logs you cannot budge. There are dangers from the machinery, from the sharp tools, the unfamiliar heights, the weight of the logs, even the costs. But still I say, "Yes, you can build a log house all by yourself." Many have done so: thousands of people. Some were in their mid-seventies; some were children. Men and women alike, they built with logs and in the process built up their inner strengths. You will, of course, need those strengths as the months go by. For the Love of Building There are many beautiful building materials in the world. The best of these are natural materials: wood, stone and mud brick. The best material to use depends on what part of the planet you're on. Mud brick or adobe, for example, is ideal in those hot, treeless regions where the soil can be baked. But I am Canadian, and trees are my natural material. I offer two definitions: natural house logs are from trees that are modified only by hand-held tools. Lumber is from trees that are modified by large power machines. Let us go deeper into our dream log house now, and ask ourselves why we want to use natural logs in construction when modern technology provides us with so many easy choices. There are three main reasons for using natural logs in construction. First, a log house is one of the most aesthetically satisfying in which to live. Logs bring the world of nature back into our lives in a way that becomes ever more necessary to our survival. There is a deep sense of peace to be had from living in a house made from natural trees. No stripped, chipped, cooked, compressed, treated or otherwise manufactured product of industrial technology can give us such an awareness of each living tree, just as it once stood. You, as the builder, will remember long after the house is completed, whether a tree had few limbs or many because of where it grew. You'll know how it looked as it fell to the ground. A scar may remind you of the day the log was skidded to the loading site. The length of time it took you to build will be recorded in the faint darkening of the rising walls as they become drier and less easy to peel. You will remember a log that chased you down the skids and one that resisted mightily before it was subdued and fitted into place. The scrubbing, oiling, and perhaps varnishing will warm the colors and highlight the textures of the new walls -- revealing curves, limb lines, the lacework of bark beetles or the claw marks of a bear -- all signs of nature to be saved and treasured. Finally, there is a growing understanding of all vegetation having consciousness. I accept that view, and I believe it accounts for that intense feeling of peace and thankfulness which permeates a natural, carefully built log home. I leave it with you to consider what response the living spirit of a tree must feel when it is put to rest as part of your well-loved household. The family that builds a log house knows their home as a work of art. They can savor its unique qualities better than anyone else. None but the log house provides its own sweet incense of sap and resin. Solid timber walls have an acoustic quality that makes music sound richer. Harsh household clatter does not strike, echo and bounce as it does from plaster surfaces. The natural brown earth tones are restful to the eye. Above all, there is a quality of snug security in the fortress-thick walls. This may come from tradition, log construction being old and honored in history. A log building ties that time-tested tradition into our uncertain present, giving a welcome sense of continuity and stability. The second advantage of log construction is durability. With a good foundation to protect the building from the composting urge of the earth, and a wide overhang on the roof to shelter against rain and snow soaking the walls, the log building will rival concrete and stone in its long life. In style, the log building has an amazing durability. The pressures of fashion have never succeeded in making a log building look outdated. It is in timeless good taste whether it is a simple building or one of the dramatic 20th-century designs. Logs have an innate harmony with the landscape as long as they are used with dignity and with care. Third, log construction is the only contemporary construction method that enables an individual to exchange labor and ingenuity, rather than cash and a mortgage debt, for a home to be proud of. My first home was built on the shores of Francois Lake in 1953 for a total cash outlay of $200. It was 700 square feet and the only purchased items were glass, roofing, spar varnish and rough lumber. The rest was accomplished with a good deal of innovating, trading, scrounging, and neighborly co-operation -- all activities which are still permissible in many parts of the world. But where the use of logs as a building material requires not only the purchase and delivery of all materials, but also the hiring of builders, the log house will be as costly as frame or masonry construction. This should not deter the family able to afford what pleases them most. And savings will occur both in heating and air conditioning as well as the low cost of building maintenance over the centuries. Building with logs does require hard work but it is healthy, pleasant work that is not at all beyond the strength of most families, as long as it is undertaken at a pace that permits full appreciation of the process as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Ecological House What is ecology? Ecology is the science of plants and animals in relation to their environment. For a great and increasing number of these plants and animals, this relationship is now fully explained with one word: extinct. This is not a new occurrence in history. Even before the extinction of the dinosaurs, species were being obliterated by environmental change. Natural environmental change is beyond our ability to control, just as it was beyond the ability of the dinosaurs and mastodons to cope with the sudden disruption of their world. What is significant is that we are inflicting artificial change on the earth's environment, change that has the potential to include us in that list of extinct species. This is not a condemnation all of our activities, because many are positive and progressive. Fishing is a great and honorable activity, but drift net fishing is a terrible exploitation of our ecology. Logging is a great and honorable activity, but clear-cut logging devastates large areas of environmentally sensitive sites. The subject is vast and complex. What it tells us is how careful we must be in building with logs. Done well, we will harvest and preserve at optimum usefulness: this is our goal. Our responsibility is specifically to build an ecologically compatible log house. By this, I mean a house that will not disturb or damage the relationship of plants and animals to the environment. Ideally, no living trees would be cut; the only wood material available for heat and building would be deadwood. This seems like a strange and impossible objective, yet for many millions of years, this was the case. Because our forebears lacked the means to utilize standing trees, we became the inheritors of this vast resource. This has been our great good luck and we have squandered this wealth like immature children inheriting the family estate. We are looting the planet. Trees are felled on the steep mountain slopes of British Columbia in vast clear-cut areas because this is the cheapest way to do it. The soil and foliage wash into the streams, rivers and into the ocean. Rocks and ground soil that have not seen direct sunlight for millions of years now bake in the sun or wash away during the runoff. The trees are dragged to the roadsides, loaded onto great trucks and hauled to the beach, then through the sortng ground and on to the mills. They eventually reach the print shop and become comic books or junk mail to be directly turned into waste. We all realize that it would be difficult to abruptly reverse this practice. We are locked into so many systems of waste and pointless production that change has to be gradual. But we would all be so much better off if we could redirect our activities. Starting right now, we must begin to set aside ever larger tracts of the earth's surface, including the oceans and the plains as well as the mountain tops. They need to be reserved from human intrusion to allow the earth, the water and the air to heal. It is noteworthy that as I write, scientists examining the exclusion zone surrounding the worst nuclear accident to date, the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, find the plant and animal population thriving. Clive Cookson, of the Japan Sun Times , reported on October 30, 2000 that, "while the radioactivity may put individual plants and animals at greater risk of cancer or deformity, this effect is outweighed at the population level by the advantage of not having people around." This indicates that from an environmental perspective, we are very poor citizens. The first step then, in building our ecologically acceptable house, is to obtain the required logs without disrupting the plants and animals within the associated environment. Trees for a log house should be sound, straight and of a uniform size and shape. At one time, these could be found scattered throughout a suitable location in the forest, marked, carefully felled and skidded, most often with horses, to the building or loading site. This was the way we did it when I first started building log houses in 1947 and for the next 25 years. Such a process is still possible in unique situations where there are tracts of private forest available; otherwise logs are purchased to specification, from a logging company. This is necessarily the case if you have to import logs, but now we have fallen right into the same rut and we are contributing to the destruction of the forest environment. There is no easy answer to this. To say, "Where these logs come from is not my problem," is untrue. No matter how far removed you are from this forest, you will still be deprived of trees. We will all eventually find ourselves little better off than the other creatures of the earth who watch with incomprehension as the air turns to poison and the water rises over their homes. As a builder, there are presently two things you can do to help. One, insist on bona fide information that part of the purchase money for the logs is directed to reforestation, and two, join the worldwide effort to eliminate waste and exploitation from the forests and oceans. Once you have located a supply of logs in as environmentally peaceful a manner as possible, look to your building location. Many houses are built where no house should be and on this ever-more crowded planet, the choice becomes increasingly limited. I have lived on an island that at one time was covered with huge Douglas fir and red cedar trees. Now it is largely covered with houses and any remaining big trees have to come down because, with the extensive clearings, the big trees are no longer wind-firm and become dangerous. If possible, place your building gently within the landscape. Work by hand if possible, remove only the trees within the foundation's perimeter and care for those that are close to fills or excavations. This was done when we built the first house on Kerry Street in Prince George, British Columbia. The excavation was made with care that no trees were injured and the house was placed by hand so that clearings for machines were not needed. All the trees that were originally on the site are still there. In the front, where we needed to use approximately one-and-a-half meters of fill, the new owner found planks at the base of the trees. He was distressed, believing that they had been carelessly abandoned. As he began to remove them, he discovered that we had carefully placed the planks so that the roots of the trees (which were now much deeper in the ground) would not be suffocated while they became acclimatized to their new condition. The trees are still healthy. Build by hand. I am aware that this is an idea that finds little support in today's industrial world, but as I have done many times before, I must insist that it is realistic. I do not object to chainsaws; they do a great deal of work for the amount of fuel that they burn. But this is a personal log house we are building and the clear measured ring, of a good axe is far more acceptable than the stench of burning oil. Take delight in this skill and the acquiring of it. I have found that a house reflects the care and love that was expended on it: this is its true value. There is no better way to approach this true value than to work with hand tools, to work with skill and to work with respect. So let us begin this discussion of how to build with logs knowing it to be truly a discussion, for there are always different ways to do each task. Every axe-man will find many new answers of his own, because a good part of the exercise of log building is that of the imagination. This is part of the craft. It is what helps to make each house unique and it is what makes each house both a work of art and the embodiment of a dream. Excerpted from The Owner-Built Log House: Living in Harmony with Your Environment by B. Allan Mackie All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

IntroductionNadina Mackie Jackson
Chapter 1 The Purpose in Building a Log House
A Personal Log House
All by Yourself
For the Love of Building
The Ecological House
Shanty Lake: A New House
Chapter 2 The Building Tree
What Makes a Good Building Tree?
The Natural Tree
Buying Wood
Harvesting Trees
Felling a Tree
Horse Logging
The Tree in Danger
Chapter 3 Planning
Early History of the Log House
The Log House in North America
The Best Log House
Site Selection
Making a Site Plan
Placement of the House
Chapter 4 Making a Set of Plans
Getting Organized
Design Portfolio
Drafting Equipment
Basic Plans and Elevations
Planning Your Environment
Shanty Lake: Planning and Preparation
Chapter 5 How Long Will It Take and How Much Will It Cost?
Estimating Building Time
The Economical Approach: Do It Yourself
A Simple House
A Personal Estimate
The Butterfly Effect
Blueprint Estimate for a Log Shell
Preliminary Costs Estimate
Chapter 6 Starting a Log House
Building the Foundation
The First Logs
Placing the Logs
Shanty Lake: The Walls
Chapter 7 Good Site, Good Tools, Good Work
The Work Site
Peeling the Logs
Moving the Logs
Tools and Equipment
First Aid
Shanty Lake: The Road
Chapter 8 The First Notches
Blind Dovetail Notch
Log Selection
Layout for the Preliminary Notch
Cutting the Preliminary Notch
Aligning the Logs
Cutting the First Notch
Treating and Insulating the Notch
Chapter 9 Log Walls
Lock Notch
Fitting the Overhang
Electrical Installation
Window and Door Openings
Floor Joists
Plate Logs and Cap Logs
The Satisfaction of a Job Well Done
Shanty Lake: Building the House
Chapter 10 Notches of All Kinds
The Qualities of a Good Notch
Round Notch
Dovetail Notch
Blind Wall Dovetail Notch
Sheep's Head Notch
Chapter 11 Different Walls for Different Halls
My First Log House
Advantages of Piece-on-Piece
Development of Piece-on-Piece
Preparing the Logs
Assembling the Logs
Piece-on-Piece Variations
Chapter 12 A Roof Over Your Head
Log Gable-Ends
Raising the Roof
Post and Purlins
Shanty Lake: The Roof
Chapter 13 More About the Roof
Truss and Purlin System
Post and Purlins
Gable Ends
Trussed Rafters
Hammer-Beam Roof
The Finish Work
Roofing Materials
Cedar Shakes
Completing the Inside
Chapter 14 Windows, Doors, Log-Ends and Stairs
Cutting the Windows
The Keyway and Spline
Trim and Skirting Boards
Some Unobtrusive Frames
Log Ends
Spiral Stairs
Shanty Lake: The Windows
Chapter 15 Interior Needs
Heating and Cooling
Shanty Lake: The Interior
Chapter 16 Finishing Touches
Guest House
Learning More
The Great Adventure
Shanty Lake: An Ecological House