Scribed Log House

Having located over two hundred Norwegian-American log houses within the northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin areas, I’ve only found two houses in which the logs are scribed.  Scribing eliminates the spaces between log courses by scooping out the inverse shape of the adjoining logs so as to create a solid log wall.

The Norwegian-Americans who built these houses almost always left spaces between the log courses and filled them with chunks of wood and lime mortar.  This construction practice is likely attributable to several factors, including the availability of (mostly) hardwood timbers, the cost and labor skills associated with scribe joinery, and the presence of Yankee and other ethic-influenced horizontal log buildings the settlers must have encountered on their travels to the upper midwest.  The spruce timbers the Norwegians shape are straight, soft and easy to work.  Conversely, the timbers of the North American upper midwest are predominately gnarly hardwoods that are difficult and time consuming to mold.  Think of the prototypical bur oak with its stubby trunk and spread canopy.  Scribing this type of wood is really difficult.  Getting the log courses to fit snuggly with one another requires lots of fiddling, patience, and time, all of which a hard-up immigrant did not have.  And finally, by the time the Norwegian-American settlers made it across the continent they were surely exposed to the building traditions of other ethnic groups (and the Americans) whose traditions employed the use of spacing between log courses.

Below are photos of a building I located last fall outside Spring Grove, Minnesota.  This thing is a rare gem.  It’s tiny and measures just 12’x15′.  The timbers are all scribed oak, and the corners are dovetailed.  The second floor joists are hewn oak 2x6s.  The building has been altered significantly from its original construction as evidenced by a new(er) roof framing system and chiseled numbers denoting a previous relocation.  The logs of the second floor were added when the building was moved.  There remain intact two six pane sashes with ogee style muntins, which likely date to the 1850s.  The building sits on an abandoned farmstead next to another Norwegian-American Akershus three room log house.  Sorry these photos are mediocre- they were taken with my cellphone.  Enjoy!

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