What's the Difference Between a Log Cabin and a Timber Cabin?
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What's the Difference Between a Log Cabin and a Timber Cabin?

How are log and timber cabins different? How are they alike? Here are some key differences and similarities between the two styles.

Owning a log or timber cabin is more than just home ownership; it’s a lifestyle choice. Most people choose a log or a timber cabin because they love the look. The quality of the building material or workmanship may play a significant role (certainly it affects the cost/value), but the appearance of log and timber cabins and the emotional element is at the core of their popularity.

Log and timber cabins are about the way they’re built and what they are made of. Indeed, log and timber homes can assume many architectural styles while remaining recognizable by their primary building material. Although modern log and timber houses incorporate a variety of other building materials, such as stone, glass, drywall and metal, it’s the wood that is their defining characteristic.

Having a solid understanding of the similarities and differences between log and timber frame construction can help you as you plan your cabin.

The Key Differences

Though log and timber homes are close cousins, the main distinction between them is how the wood is used. As a result, each achieves a sharply different look. And because timber homes can use a variety of exterior materials having nothing to do with the inside, they may not be recognizable as timber homes from the outside, whereas log homes are almost always easily identified.

Log Cabins

For hundreds of years, log cabins have been an enduring symbol of the American frontier and associated with various presidents, most notably Abraham Lincoln. You notice them in movies, on television and in advertisements. If you saw pictures of 100 different houses and only one of them was a log home, you’d identify it immediately. Yet not all log homes look alike.

Full-log homes are made by stacking the logs horizontally to form the interior and exterior walls. But from there, there are myriad choices that make them distinct. For starters, milled log homes have uniform log diameters and shapes, whereas handcrafted logs vary in size, shape and texture. From there, log style (round, square, Swedish cope, D-shaped, shiplap), interface styles (tongue-and-groove, chinking) and corner style (dovetail, saddle-notch, butt-and-pass, corner post) all contribute to a log cabin’s look and performance and will be part of the decision-making process.

Timber Frame Cabins

Timber frame homes were the earliest permanent residences built in England’s American colonies and remained the dominant building method until the development of balloon framing, which required little skill to build and answered the growing demand for hastily built mass housing.

Whereas log homes are comprised of horizontal stacked logs, timber frames are post-and-beam homes, which employ a big-timber framework, akin to a skeleton, of upright posts supporting horizontal beams. This interlocking frame supports the home’s load and transfers its weight to the foundation. Timber framing is a specialized version of post-and-beam construction that relies heavily on handcraftsmanship to shape the timbers and fashion mortise-and-tenon joinery held in place with wooden pegs rather than metal fasteners. Embellishments to the frame include chamfering, pendants and other decorative carvings. The frame’s interlocking configuration eliminates the need for load-bearing interior walls, creating wide-open living spaces.

Timber home exteriors typically offer just a hint of the extensive woodwork inside. This allows them to fit in with surrounding homes and subdivisions with ease.
Incidentally, although timber framing is a very old craft, yesterday’s timber frame homes were a far cry from the open, cathedral-ceiling homes that many people associate with timber framing today.

See also Cabin Design: Linkages

The Similarities

For such remarkably different homes, timber and log homes have a lot in common. Here are their most significant similarities:

  • Both are custom homes, individually designed and produced, sold disassembled and built according to a precise building system.
  • Both use big timbers (round or square) as a base, skillfully, even artfully, fitted together to form a load-bearing structure.
  • Both flourished in early America, then fell into relative obscurity until the mid-1970s, when log homes and timber framing experienced first a revival and then a boom.
  • They share certain design conventions: open layouts, cathedral ceilings, walls of windows framing great views, intricate roof trusses and soaring fireplaces.
  • They offer a variety of styles and design options within their own genre.
  • Both involve locations that are often rural, sometimes remote. Because these locations probably aren’t ones you’re used to, it’s important to understand the logistics of building a cabin of this type, such as site infrastructure when it comes to access to roads, water and even electricity.
  • The process of buying and building them is similar: Buy land. Design cabin. Prepare site. Build cabin. Furnish and landscape. Live the dream.
  • When built properly, both are highly energy efficient.
Of all the things log and timber cabins have in common, none is truer than this: they are passion purchases, totally discretionary buys that people make because they feel an emotional yearning to live in these kinds of homes. It is not unusual for people to have fallen in love with these kinds of cabins as children and grow up to achieve their dream of living in one.
The best news of all? You don’t actually have to choose a log cabin or a timber cabin. You can build a hybrid cabin that takes log elements and timber elements and combines them into one best-of-both-worlds cabin.

See also What is a Hybrid Cabin?

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