by Todd Walker
The cracks and gaps between the logs needed to be filled to make it look like a real log cabin. The process of filling the gaps is called chinking. Before modern products came along, chink was made of mud and/or clay, and straw. Chink serves as an insulator against cold wind, moisture, and insects.
When I started this project in January of 2018, I thought of using Georgia red clay for chinking. That idea lost momentum as the project drug along. I decided to go with masonry mortar. It’s quick, easy and relatively cheap.
I chose to use the Butt and Pass method of log home construction. The folks teaching and using this method recommend masonry cement or mortar for chink. Nothing I read suggested adding anything to the mortar mix to help prevent the chink from cracking over time. Butt and Pass log cabins are not known for settling as other construction styles are prone to do.
My mix ratio of water to one 60 pound bag of mortar was 3.5 quarts to 1 bag. The bag instructions said one gallon per bag. I found that much water made the mortar too wet and had a hard time hanging in the gaps.
Before slapping any mortar in the gaps, I used my pneumatic framing gun to drive nails 2-3 inches apart in all the cracks between the logs on the outside of the cabin. I dropped the air pressure so an inch or so of the nail stuck up above the wood. Some gaps can be fairly large in the corners due to the Butt and Pass method. I had to get creative there. I then went back and bent the nails vertically to give the chinking something to hold on to.
Once I nailed all the outside gaps, foam (Great Stuff) was sprayed into the large corner gaps. I then stuffed fiberglass insulation into the remaining gaps between the logs. It’s important to not stuff the gaps too full of insulation. There should be a little space between the nails and the insulation in order for the mortar to grab the nails. After the foam set up, I trimmed the bulging foam to make it recessed from the nails.
Now comes the fun part! Experimentation with applying the mortar was frustrating. I tried scooping it in the gaps with the masonry trowel. Most of the mortar ended up on the ground.
Then my good friend Melonie of Mel of the Mountains, who I’m apprenticing under for brain tanning deer hides, came to help with the chinking. She owned a bakery for sixteen years and made extravagantly decorated cakes. While on a scaffold board at the top log of the cabin, I glanced over at her while she was chinking and was shocked at how easily she applied the mortar. When I questioned her ease with this skill, she said it’s the same technique as icing a cake. She held the mortar board up to the gap and swiped the mortar into the gap and smoothed it with her trowel. Amazing! That was a game changer for me.
There’s a learning curve to every skill you’re tackling. Chinking is no different. Having the right tools helps. I used a one and half inch masonry trowel which is rectangular in shape to apply and smooth the mortar. The joints are somewhat convex. A flat finish didn’t appeal to me.
The corners were a challenge to create a smooth finish. The trowel wouldn’t get into the spaces to smooth the mortar. I ended up using my gloved hands to smooth the finish as best as possible. If anyone has a better idea, I’d sure like to hear from you!
Once the chinking was complete, I stood back and realized that my log building actually looked like a traditional log cabin! A very satisfying feeling came over me.
Below is the chinking video on my YouTube channel if you’re interested in this sort of thing.
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I appreciate your honesty where you write about more mortar on the floor than in the gaps and how you give credit to the lady who used her cake icing technique for chinking Bravo to all of you.