Folk Architecture Page 2

  Arkansas’ antebellum homes were very often braced frame, with massive, hand-hewn timbers forming the outlines of the building. The separate pieces were carefully shaped to interlock with each other using the mortise and tenon joint. A mortise is a square hole in a timber, and a tenon is a matching projection on the end of another timber. The tenon fits tightly into the mortise. Then workmen usually drilled a hole through both mortise and tenon and drove in a long wooden pin to lock both timbers together. Balloon frame, on the other hand, used  a large number of small two-by-fours, held together by nails. This kind of construction became increasingly common after the Civil War and especially after the great lumber boom of the 1880s.

            Another construction technique associated with the lumbering boom is box or “single wall” construction, which was a cheap and rather flimsy way to build. No studs were used to brace the wall. Instead, the builder simply nailed wide boards vertically to a lower sill and an upper plate and tied the walls together with the ceiling beams or joists. This kind of construction remained popular in Arkansas through the depression of the 1930s because a man could haul his own trees to the nearest sawmill, have them cut into rough boards, haul them back home, and build a house for the cost of the sawing, the nails, the windows, and the doors. Narrow wooden strips were often nailed over the cracks between the boards, producing what is called “board and batten,” or the whole house might be covered with horizontal weatherboards like those used on frame houses, or, later, with asphalt roll siding which imitated brick.

            Mention folk architecture, and most people think of log cabins. And even though all construction methods were used by traditional builders, log construction was important, especially in frontier days. While barns and temporary shelters were often built of round logs, most houses were built of hardwood logs which had been hewn flat on at least two sides. The logs could be joined at the corners in a variety of ways: the saddle notch, the V-notch, the half-dovetail, and the square notch. Saddle notching is found on round logs. V-notching occurs on both round and hewn logs, but square notching and dovetailing are found only on hewn logs. The best choice for durability, strength, and stability is the half-dovetail, which sheds water and which locks the logs into place.


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