News about chinking
Sun, 30 Mar 2008
I have a few minutes before heading off to work so wanted to comment on
the chinking in the cabin.
The logs were squared on
the exterior face, which probably means two faces, including the inside.
The top and bottom of the logs were left "round" however, as was typical
of the Puterbaugh Log House, circa 1831, and the Collins log house 1826,
and then chinking was applied between the logs.
The material used was
rich with lime. Peter and I noted the large inclusions of lime in the
sand-lime mix, but also big clumps of clay that were not well mixed with
The sand-lime mix was
durable, and insect proof, but rather brittle. Since logs shrink as they
dry, and are only really supported at the corners, or where the rough
bucks (large planks) framed the window and door openings, the logs would
flex and cause cracking. Lime is self healing, to a certain extent,
migrating to the cracks with moisture and re-sealing the gaps. This only
works with minor (sub-millimeter cracks however, as would be typical
with a brick house). With logs the shrinkage can be measured in tens of
millimeters over the height of the wall. To make the chinking/mortar
more flexible, they would try to air-entrain the mix so that the many
small bubbles would cushion the shrinkage and action of frost. Why?
Because maintenance of chinking was an annual PITA, (pain in the ass).
The whole family would be out there in the spring mixing and applying
chinking to all the new gaps, everywhere. this is why most cabins can be
found with bits of rag and paper stuffed in various gaps, stop-gaps,
used in the dead of winter to block some new draft in the wall. This is
also why most early cabins were covered with siding as soon as this
option was available. (More on repair options later).
Pioneers also used
clay-straw chinking as we found at Puterbaugh. We actually salvaged this
mix and examined it carefully. It often contained a percentage of cow
manure as well, since this would ferment in the mix and cause small
bubbles that would help to make it more flexible than mud. The exact
methods of mixing were not recorded (at least in my experience), but
also included a bit of sharp sand to provide some body to the mix. The
straw was often meadow grass, since this was about the only thing
available the first year that cabins were built. Later they might have
straw from grains, but at Puterbaugh we actually remixed the chinking
with new grass, that I cut by hand and trimmed to short 2 or 3" lengths
and then worked into the mix. We applied this to the interior finish of
the walls and then whitewashed the entire inside, (as was almost
universal as a way to make the dark interior of the house more bearable
on dreary days.) Remember that the sooty smoke from the constant wood
fire in the fireplace, would tend to make the walls quite dark after a
winter, so multiple layers of whitewash over soot are commonly seen in
these houses. Gradually the whitewash built up to resemble a plaster.
In this house, the clay
inclusions may represent an ill conceived idea that clay improves the
flexibility of the mix, because big lumps of clay (the size of something
that you would throw at a a person) would only provide locallized
weakness in the chinking.
The lime may have been
burnt on site, or at another farm close by. The round edge of the log
that we examined did not have bark on it, but appeared to have been
peeled before the chinking was installed. While Puterbaugh was in many
respects a cruder cabin, the bark was left on the logs, and it did
provide a better Key for the chinking to adhere to. If the settlers
peeled the logs, they may have found recurring problems with chinking
falling out over the winter, and this may have contributed to their
decision to cover it all with clapboard as soon as possible.
The style of clapboard
appears to be from the 1870's or later. I could not see exactly how the
corners were finished between the older house and the addition but noted
the narrow corner board at the junction, even though the two segments
are almost in the same plane. This may indicate that the older house was
clad with siding before the addition went on.
The smooth texture of the
end log that was examined, may represent about 40 years worth of
weathering. I could find no saw marks or axe marks to indicate the
method of preparation, but the delamination of fibres on the face of the
log suggested that years of rain and sun was causing the surface to fuzz
and erode, before it was clad. This may indicate that the cabin was
considerably older than the siding. The bits of panel door that I
observed in the addition were in keeping with heavy panel doors of the
About the millrace above
the creek, next time you are on the bridge take a good look along a line
running north-north west from the east abutment of the bridge. With snow
on the ground, and no trees or shrubs, the channel is clearly visible as
a hollow about 5 feet wide which runs more or less straight across this
level shoulder of the bank, to a point just east of where the creek
turns south. I have seen similar millraces as the only surviving
evidence of mills below the bridge on Dundas Street where 16 mile creek
had seven mills, and near the very small undershot sawmill that Charles
Sovereign operated on a rivulet approximately 3/4 mile west of the mouth
of Bronte Creek. If you there was no record of a mill being there
previously, it must be checked out. There is a possibility that this was
a dry channel of the creek before it cut down the additional 12 or 15
feet to its current path, but it does not have the sort of outcrops or
profile of a dry channel, and is U shaped not V shaped.