Monday, June 6, 2011

Log cabin comes together with knowledge and novices

Valerie Barber and Robert Chambers at the construction site.

Robert Chambers at left, a student at right.

Students came from nearly all corners of the world to help build a log cabin at the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer from mid to late May.

Renowned instructor Robert Chambers was the magnet that drew the visitors, said Assistant Professor Valerie Barber, workshop organizer. “Robert is a great teacher,” she said. “He is patient and he explains everything. We are lucky to have him; he’s amazing.”

Participants came from Australia, Switzerland, Colorado, Hawaii and Galena, Alaska, and learned everything from how to start a chainsaw and take care of it to the actual construction process.

For the first time, Barber chose cottonwood for the logs. Even though many consider it a trash tree, the logs made a beautiful cabin. The trees were cut at the farm, then numbered and measured at the tip and butt.

“I like the wood,” Chambers said. “It has a beautiful surface and I love the natural shapes.”

Chambers is often asked what is the best tree for building a log home with. “The best tree is in your neighborhood,” he said, “whether it’s red cedar or lodgepole pine. Use local trees and find the best you can.”

Chambers praised Barber’s efforts to promote use of local trees. “Val is on target,” he said. “Finding local trees is under-targeted. So much is the aesthetics; there’s a certain feel and look. This is the wallpaper of the house.”

Each class Chambers assembles is different. “This one is definitely more international ,” he said. Teaching log building classes in New Zealand, Chambers said he often gets students who grew up shearing sheep. “In two minutes I can tell whether they are gong to be good or not and the same with a chain saw. There is something about the relationship between a person and certain tools. They are immediately comfortable or not. It’s the relationship between your body and a particular tool.”

Throughout the course everyone improves somewhat, Chambers said.

Two who gained from the class were father and son, Tom and Thomas Johnson of Galena (pictured above). When Thomas (the son) decided to take the course his dad agreed to tag along. “We’ve built houses and shops with two-sided construction, not scribed,” Tom said. The Johnsons are considering building a new log building and thought the class would be beneficial.

“Notching cuts and grooving are all new to me,” Thomas said. “It could be useful if we do our project. “

The 16x20-foot cabin at the Matanuska Experiment Farm will likely be used as a type of visitor center. It was constructed with a chinkless system so that the logs fit tightly together. “It’s very fine-tuned,” Barber said.

“I learn something every time I participate in these,” Barber said.

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