Repairing a log cabin
and an old stone kitchen

LLast year MM demolished a 60s-era bathroom in a house we are restoring.

When the dust settled and a mountain of laminate was carted way in a shiny red dumpster ...

... we were able to uncover some of the oldest parts of the house, the back wall of a quarry stone kitchen and part of a log cabin.

Inside log wallsWe knew the log walls would be there. We could see them from the living room where they are a prominent feature. But we had never seen log walls with all of their inner secrets exposed—that is, before restoration.

So for the better part of a year, as they stood there naked and dusty, I've been asking myself what exactly should we use to chink between those old logs?

Stone kitchen wallIn early American times, they apparently used whatever was at hand, mainly bricks, sticks, and rocks, and sometimes a corn cob they finished for lunch, or a shoe whose sole had begun to flap. After stuffing in those bulky-handy things, they mixed up batches of local soil, cement, and water, and used trowels to smooth over the gaps.

That dirt-cement easily falls away now, revealing the aforementioned bulky stuff.

But what exactly do we use now, in this era of big box hardware stores, to cover up the gaps again?

I'm the researcher in the family, so over the past year I've been asking people who have repaired log cabins in this part of the world what they used. The most common answer I heard was Portland cement.

"Hmmm"

Portland cement. That's the expensive stuff right?

I thought, maybe we should use some filler too, maybe crumpled paper or packing material? These are interior walls so they do not need a lot of weatherproofing. I looked up prices of cement mixers. I dithered over the whole process and pondered many creative ideas, all the while working on more pressing projects.

MM, on the other hand, is the more spontaneous type.

Yesterday, out of nowhere, he said, "I'm going to do a test patch with QuickCrete".

So while I worked outside, literally just on the other side of a wall, tucking fresh concrete and mortar between stones of the old kitchen, MM was inside filling in the spaces between the logs. He used a not-too-wet QuickCrete mud, applied and smoothed by hand, wearing thick dishwashing gloves. QuickCrete fills in all kinds of gaps just fine, between stones and also logs.

Log cabin original fireplace

QuickCrete is not pretty stuff. It is gray, coarse, and dull. On the other hand, it is easy to cover with something prettier, like thinned down white cement or stucco mix. I sift stucco mix first to remove any fibers added by the manufacturer, then add water until it can be used as paint.

I have learned to apply top coats with inexpensive paint brushes and use numerous kitchen tools like flat-topped table knives, disposable gloves, and clean as I go with papertowels dampened with spray bottles of water. In one day, you will feel like an expert. As long as you don't breathe the dry mix, let it dry on your skin, or let it harden where it shouldn't, working with cement is as easy as making muffins. Maybe easier. Oh, but you should definitely plan on using drop cloths, even outdoors, to protect floors and pavements.

Do you want to experiment with the color of your cement? I once changed the color of mortar between fireplaces stones three times, using thinned top coats in various shades and powdered pigments. Outdoors, I have been using thinned brown acrylic paints to give an antique tint to fresh QuickCrete.

We manage by mixing a small amount of concrete and working a few hours here and there. You can do the same on any restoration project you have. Just keep the dry concrete mix in a waterproof place, like a plastic storage box, and work on days when it is above 55-degrees F.

Our renovation dreams are big and progress is slow, but we love the adventure and hope you do too!

MM Floor Work

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