Log Cabin RoofThe log cabin roof goes on immediately after the walls are built. Here we discuss your different options including ways to frame and insulate, log cabin metal roofs, shake shingles and more.
There are many ideas on how to build log cabins and their roofs. You can use heavy rafters and leave them exposed. You can use standard dimensional lumber and conceal it. I debated for weeks the “right” way to put up my log cabin roof until I visited the Smokey Mountains and saw how every settler had done their log cabin framing and roofing differently.
For my Michigan cabin, I chose 4”x 8” rough sawn beams. I have 7 of these that each span over 22’, The tops are half notched and pegged. The collar ties are mortised and pegged in place to hold them together. The decking is 1’x 12” sycamore. This exposed timber framing gives a nice touch.
Your pitch is optional to suit personal taste. Steeper pitches like 12/12 give lots of headroom if you have a loft or second story. Steep pitches shed water and snow easier also. The steeper roof is harder to work on though.
The best decking options are plywood or wide boards. When using shake shingles, some builders (including many old settlers) use narrow boards with gaps between, but the potential for leaks, critters and cold air are too great for my liking. Plywood is harder to get up, especially if you are alone, but with such large sheets, the decking goes up fast. It is easier to work with wide boards, but they may cost you more than plywood if you cannot saw your own lumber. Once you are finished decking, put down a layer of 30lb.felt paper.
Now let’s discuss some roof coating options. The most common covering is asphalt shingles. These are cheap and common. No frills and no character. It will do the job but so does vinyl siding. (Yuck!)
Second of all we have log cabin metal roofs. Barn tin is corrugated or grooved in various patterns. This is nailed down with washered nails. It kind of gives you that look of low budget depression era desperation, which can be very authentic. Many old barns and cabins are found with this covering. Standing seam metal choices are bare or painted galvanized, Galvalume, and aluminum. This is not a true hammered standing seam, but who cares?. I have heard that the aluminum is rated over 100 years! Widths vary from 12” minimum to custom widths. A 12” wide panel with a 1” tall seam looks nice like many of the old barns and cabins.
The last and truest to original choice is hand split shakes. This option is neat looking and will last 30-40 years realistically if you have good cedar. Hand split shakes can be ordered ready made. I have noticed price differences that vary drastically in this market. It is worth shopping around.
Wood shakes can also be cut on a shingle mill. I have heard from more than one reliable source that white oak makes a good shake. If you decide to split your own, get lots of straight grained wood and a couple of froes and mallets. Hold a shake splitting party and have fun. The satisfaction will reward your eyes for years.
Once you have decided on your log cabin roof covering you should consider insulation. If the ceiling is exposed beams and decking, the insulation has to go on the outside of the house.
The moisture barrier must be on the heat side of the insulation. If it is on the outer edge the moisture will be trapped. My solution was decking - tar paper - 2”foamboard - ½” plywood – standing seam metal. I was satisfied with 2” of insulation because my cabin is not lived in full time.
These are the most popular log cabin roof options, but there are more such as sod roofing. The ones on this page are the basics most cabin builders will gravitate to. If you have successfully used any method, please contact me and send pictures so others can learn from your experience!