The notion of felling trees and building your log home with your own two hands may sound romantic, but the pioneer life can easily prove laborious. The task involves chopping down trees with axes, peeling them with drawknives, and shaping them with adzes and broadaxes. Then comes the real work: fitting the finished logs together so the walls don’t tumble down.
Using machines to cut the logs so they fit perfectly is better than sliced bread. Credit for this advancement goes to Bruce Ward.
Ward was a long-ago lumberman in northern Maine who supplied cedar logs for telegraph poles. He liked his logs so much that he used some to build himself a small cabin beside a lake. It was crude, but Ward’s friends and neighbors liked its looks. A few asked Ward to build them cabins just like his. He obliged and soon realized that if he could somehow mechanize the log processing, he could make and sell more cabins.
In 1923, Ward set up a small mill in Presque Isle, known as the Ward Cabin Company. His first pre-cut cabins lacked the precision cutting and sophisticated joinery that make today’s well-engineered log homes possible, but they were popular as fishing and hunting camps and vacation cabins. One of Bruce Ward’s early cabins still stands, serving as an American Legion meeting hall in Yarmouth.
As his business grew, Ward refined the process. He devised a locking log seam that allowed the logs to stack evenly atop each other. This system evolved into tongue-and-groove joinery that now characterizes many log profiles, ranging from a single horizontal tongue-and-groove surface to the exotic “triple ripple.” It expanded his market, and he eventually moved the business to Houlton, which today is the last stop on I-95. It’s still doing business, 89 years later, as Ward Cedar Log Homes.
The company inspired other improvements, fostered by the development of advanced milling equipment that eventually led to today’s most popular milled-log profile: the D log, so named because it’s rounded on the exterior and flat inside, giving interior walls a finely finished look.
Of course, the biggest benefit of these developments was that they allowed logs to be sold and shipped as pre-cut kits that ensured the logs all fit tightly. Companies could determine where in the walls individual logs would be positioned, cut them accordingly, number them and ship them to the job site. Builders had but to follow the assembly directions. These early kit log homes were quite popular with do-it-yourselfers looking to build weekend and summer cabins. Later, they became the impetus for the development of today’s log homes, providing milled, pre-cut logs for complex designs and homes exceeding several thousand square feet.
Bruce Ward was the great emancipator of log homes. Without him, when folks started clamoring for log homes in the 1970s, they would have had to grab axes, adzes and drawknives and head for the woods. Instead, all they need do is call their nearest log-home company and say, “Pre-cut me a log home pronto.” And presto, it’s a fact, lumberjack.