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Book Review: October 2013

Finnish Log Construction—The Art

by F. W. Eld

Finnish Log Construction

For those of us growing up in the United States, the log cabin has long been a symbol of the American pioneering spirit. What the majority of us are probably NOT aware of is that one of the fundamental underpinnings of that spirit is SISU ... a term used by Finns to describe determination and gumption.  The log cabin most of us think of as almost exclusively American is in fact based on some of the earliest log structures built in North America—houses designed and hand hewn with little more than an ax and hundreds of years of Finnish experience.

For more than 50 years, Frank Eld has worked in museum and preservation work specifically focusing on the restoration and preservation of Finnish log structures. This self-published book is the anniversary celebration of a lifetime of passion and work reclaiming buildings and documenting many more that represent the Swedish and Finnish heritage of craftsmanship.  

I recently researched an article for the Swedish Finn Historical Society in Seattle, Washington on the Erik Lindgren house, which is located now just north of Seaside, Oregon and was introduced to this little book by another Finnish researcher.

The book covers not only the early history of American hewn log houses as constructed by the early Finns and Swedes of the New Sweden colony in the 1630s, but goes into a fair amount of detail on the defining characteristics and unique building methods used.

As a lifelong Idahoan and preservationist in Long Valley, Mr. Eld uses that area as his research laboratory. The book describes in layman’s terms the basics of Finnish log house design, but with enough detail on tools used — including the essential vara or scribe — to provide a vivid picture of how these small houses were so well constructed that contemporary Finnish architects have recently spent time studying exactly why they “breathe” so efficiently.

The book is richly illustrated with dozens of photographs of the houses, saunas, and barns built across the US as well as examples of comparable structures in Finland. There is also a section on the non-Finnish log house and how it differs from those constructed by Finns.

This small 105-page volume is primarily a picture book with lots of good images. I have it next to my desk where I periodically pick it up and admire the handiwork of my tribe. If you like small house architecture, especially small hand-built houses, you’ll enjoy this book. There are a number of small errors but those are more than compensated for by the rich information and detail Mr. Eld provides.

For copies, order through Roseberry General Store by calling (208) 325-5000 or by mailing a check for $29.95 plus $6 shipping to P.O. Box 660, Donnelly, Idaho 83615. You can also order online at and pay using Paypal.

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