What is a Log Cabin?

Mary McMahon

A log cabin is a cabin or house built from logs. Especially in the United States, many people have very specific associations with the log cabin, thanks to its widespread use by early settlers in the American Midwest. Log cabins are associated by many people with simplicity and self reliance, two traits which many Americans find laudable. As a result, log cabins are often used in the branding for various companies and organizations.

Log cabins were built by many settlers of the American Midwest.
Log cabins were built by many settlers of the American Midwest.

In fact, homes built from logs can be found all over the Northern Hemisphere, generally in areas where trees are or were abundant. The log cabin represents a relatively efficient use of timber, allowing people to cut down trees to make a clearing for a home and then utilize the same trees to build the home. By using whole logs, people can create thick, well insulated walls, making the home livable almost as soon as it is constructed; many cultures use plaster on the inside of their log cabins to make them lighter inside and to block up any chinks between the logs.

Abraham Lincoln was born and raised in a log cabin.
Abraham Lincoln was born and raised in a log cabin.

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To build a log cabin, people cut notches into logs which allow them to be stacked on one another. If the notches are well cut and the logs are carefully selected, the spaces between logs should be very small, with snug joins at the corners of the walls. The construction requires no nails, pegs, or other hardware, just logs and an axe to cut the notches, along with a method for moving the logs.

Often, a log cabin is very small, as the size is limited by the size of the logs used. As such, the interior must be utilized in an efficient way, making the best use of the space. Visitors to frontier museums can see a wide assortment of log cabins and interior layouts, exploring these often cramped spaces for themselves. The design would have made privacy rather difficult to obtain, an issue which is often discussed in historical accounts of life on the early American prairie.

For Americans, the log cabin has become an idyllic form of architecture. Many early American presidents including Abraham Lincoln were born and raised in log cabins, and many Americans associate the log cabin with wholesome American values and a strong work ethic, believing that someone who is born in a log cabin is truly “of the people.” Advocates for simplistic and space efficient design are also fans of the log cabin, because it is relatively easy to build, and for many, it represents the pinnacle of simple and efficient home design.

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