Milled Vs. Handcrafted: Discover the Difference

Sorting Out The Differences Between Milled Vs. Handcrafted in Log & Timber Homes

One of the first decisions in the log and timber home buying process is whether you fancy the look of milled or handcrafted logs and timbers.

How to tell the difference at a glance? Milled logs have uniform dimensions. Handcrafted logs are often different diameters and have hand hewn tool markings.

Both methods create log and timber homes, of course. But how they are designed, built, engineered and maintained, makes these two methods very different indeed. Many of the companies that belong to the Log and Timber Homes Council offer both styles. Take a few minutes to discover how they stack up alongside each other.

Milled Market Share
About 90% of in the United States and Canada.

Handcrafted Market Share
About 10% in North America.

Milled Sizes
Milled from raw logs or cants (squared lumber from sawmills), the resulting building material are uniform in size, including common configurations of 6×8, 8×8, 10×10, 12×12 in height and width, with lengths of 10 to 16 feet for each log.

Handcrafted Sizes
Known in the handcrafting industry as “big sticks,” these are large indeed, typically ranging in size from 14 to 28 inches in diameter, and from 45 to 50 feet long.

Milled Species
More than a dozen species used in the U.S. and Canada, with no one species dominating the industry. Producers milling or handcrafted facilities are usually located near the trees they need to produce homes. Although many companies offer more than one kind of wood, as well.

Handcrafted Species
Typically Douglas fir or Western Red Cedar. But others (such as Aspen) are also used.

Milling Technology
No axes need apply. Producers create log and timber packages with a push of a button. Using just computers, software, wood, forklifts, conveyors and milling machines, they cut and process in a few seconds for each log that is cut to an exact size. The amount of prefabrication varies between producers. Some offer a building system that is completely precut at their facility, with holes drilled in the logs for running electrical, by way of example.  On the other end of the spectrum, a producer may offer just truckloads of random length logs that will need to cut on the job site. Naturally this difference effects labor costs and your budget. Make sure you understand what you are purchasing before writing anyone a check.

Handcrafting Technology
A crane for lifting logs and really talented craftsmen who use handheld power tools, such as chainsaws, grinders and sanders, to individually shape each log to fit to the next, to create the shell of the home. Once the shell is created, each log is numbered and then the shell is dismantled and loaded up for delivery to your building site.

Milled Wood Texture
Smooth and uniform from log to log, with similar grain and coloring. Some producers offer hand-tooled accents, where workers roughen the logs with adzes for that handcrafted look.

Handcrafted Wood Texture
Only the very outer layer of bark and cambium is removed, so there are dramatic color and grain variations within each log, with knots and burls visible. So there is a lot of character in this style. Some offer smooth logs, others offer a roughed texture thanks to the use of a draw knife for stripping away bark.

Milled Profiles
D-log profiles, plus round & round, flat and round and round and flat.

Handcrafted Profiles
Round on round or hand-hewn flat on flat

Milled Corner Styles
Butt-and-pass: One log stops where it meets an intersecting log and the other log extends past the corner. In most cases, the passing logs have a mortise or cutout that the butt log fits into, for a tight seal.

Dovetail: This style is used with square or rectangular logs. The corner is cut in fan-shaped wedge, which interlocks with perpendicular logs. It also helps shed water downwards.

Saddle-notch or Swedish Cope: This notch on the bottom of the log straddles the top of the log coming from the perpendicular wall. Both logs extend past the corner.

Corner post: Holds log ends in place with a milled groove in the post.

Handcrafted Corner Style
Saddle-notch or Swedish Cope, except in this instance the artisans scribe the corners to shrink-to-fit after construction. Another option is pièce en pièce system of log work, where wall logs are slotted into corner posts for a cleaner, post and beam configuration.

Milled Joinery
Where logs meet logs, log and timber home producers employ gaskets, tongue-and-groove milling, caulk and splines to keep comfort in and cold air out. Shorter lengths of logs are joined on the same course through “butt joints,” joined by splines.

Handcrafted Joinery
No butt joints here, so handcrafters argue for a tighter seal and better performance. Coped by hand, logs are designed to compress laterally along the length of the log or at corner joints. If the latter, the logs only intersect at the corner sections.

Milled Settling
Many producers (but not all) kiln dry or air dry their logs to keep settling to a minimum. Most will see a slight settlement in wall height, from a quarter inch to two inches, depending on the manufacturer’s specific building system. Settling spaces (hidden by trim) are provided around windows, doors, second floor systems, interior partition walls, posts—anywhere where the log walls intersect with other materials.

Handcrafted Settling
More settling space is provided with this method, especially if green or freshly cut trees are used. Green Douglas fir logs will compress six to eight inches per 10 feet of wall height; Western red cedar will compress three and a half to four inches per 10 feet of wall height.

Milled Fastening
Spikes, screws, lag bolts, through-bolts, drift pins.

Handcrafted Fastening
Typically logs are coped to fit each other exactly. In non-settling building systems, steel pipes are inserted through every course of logs from sill plate to top plate, and steel pins fasten logs in place through the whole course of the home’s walls.

Milled Sealants
Splines, milled tongue-and-groove, caulk, and stains are used to seal the home from drafts and protect the logs from Mother Nature.  (Chinking, if used, is merely decorative.)

Handcrafted Sealants
With this system of construction, corner sections actually grow tighter over time (hence, shrink-to-fit term). Backer-rod and chinking seal the lateral connections between log courses.

Milled Building Time
Two to three days to build the shell of a completely pre-cut log 2,500–square-foot home with a six-man crew. Add another two or three week or more for random length logs that need more cutting on the job site, depending on the size of the building crew and time of year. (In cold weather, more difficult to move around.)

Handcrafted Building Time
On your building site, three to five days, using a crane and experienced set crew for the shell of a 2,500-square-foot home.

Milled Cost
Comparable to other forms of custom building in your local market.

Handcrafted Cost
About 20% to 40% more expensive than milled. Some producers will take one specific design and price the milled and handcrafted cost difference, for an apples-to-apples comparison.

Milled Performance
Thanks to thermal mass, these homes perform well. However, if you intend on building to Energy Star™ specifications, you will likely have to upgrade to a 10-inch log to increase thermal mass.

Handcrafted Performance
The larger logs offer increased thermal mass energy performance.

Benefits of Both
Many producers offer both milled and handcrafted logs. If you like the uniformity of milled profiles but still want handcrafted accents, opt for handcrafted posts and beams to add architectural flair.

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