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Log Cabin Living in the San Juan Islands

Learning the Value of a Quiet Vacation

Our friend David Bryce, wrote another article for the Log Home Directory earlier this year. In this article he shares some experiences from his log cabin vacation in the San Juan Islands.

I’m not quite unoriginal enough to suggest that there are only two kinds of vacationers- those seeking after excitement and stimulation, and those looking to get away from excitement. There are certainly contingents of both crank-it-up and turn-it-down vacationers but many (maybe most) of us are looking for a little of both, often during the same trip. While I tend toward the more adventure-based excursion, I was not so long ago taught a fantastic lesson on the essence-recharging benefits of a tranquil vacation.

This lesson was imparted to me by the San Juan Islands. For the unfamiliar, the San Juans are a chain of postcard-beautiful islands in the Northwest corner of Washington State near the Canadian border. My wife, daughter and I began our serene adventure in a beautiful beachfront cabin we rented on Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juans and the second most heavily populated (still less than 5000 people). The cabin was pet-friendly, as many of those places seem to be, which was a bonus for our pet Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Squirrel.

Our days were generally filled by touring Orcas Island, we did a little bit of island-hopping as well, and visiting a number of the apparently countless charming little art galleries that featured both work from artists around the country and great arts/crafts stuff produced by locals. We checked out a few of the admirably (and frankly, surprisingly) tasty restaurants.

Great as the local cuisine was, about half the time we made our own dinner- chiefly dinner taken from the ocean that washed in about fifty feet from our cabin’s front door. The market closest to us didn’t have much in the way of beef, pork or chicken and were modestly stocked in a number of other amenities, but their seafood… The fourth or fifth day in we found tuna steaks that were unlike any steak or fillet I’d ever seen before. The flesh was a beautiful mottled swirl of pink, red, purple and near-blue. It was the prettiest cut I’ve ever seen and it tasted like it looked- fresher and more delicious than the chicken of the sea had any right to be.

The gallery visits dropped off considerably after my daughter and I discovered clam and geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”) hunting. It’s a blast- you look for the telltale bubbling hole in the sand and dig quick as you can to capture your prey. Clams may not be pretty, but they can move in sand. As soon as go for them, they zip down into the wet sand with uncanny speed. An amused local later enlightened us regarding rent-able clam guns- tools that look like posthole diggers and made for what my daughter and I were tackling with shovels. The two of us had become purists, however, and politely declined.

While we clammed or walked the beach, Squirrel kept himself busy tearing up and down the sand, occasionally barking at waterfowl and once at a surfacing whale- which was incredible (the whale surfacing that is, not Squirrel barking- there’s nothing incredible about that). Squirrel was as happy as he’s ever been as the wet sand allowed him to indulge in his favorite pastime throwing up on expensive rugs being a close second)- getting filthier than any fancy dog should capable of.

My wife is both far tougher than and a scientist so was tasked with the clam and geoduck cleaning and preparation. All three of us would then collaborate in cooking up the freshest clam chowder you’d ever taste. After dinner we’d sit around a fire we built, my wife and I sipping on wine or a beer, roasting up ‘smores and talking or telling stories while we waited for fog to roll in or the sun to go down. One night, not long after we went to bed in the loft of our cabin, rain began to fall on the roof. I stayed awake for an hour listening to it- perfectly content. That’s one of my clearest and fondest memories of that vacation.

Although I’m sure this has been made clear- our time in the San Juans proved one of the best family vacations we’ve had, hands down. It was exactly as it should have been: fun but not activity-crowded, low-key but not boring, exciting but not manic. We are already plotting out the foundational sketch of another trip. If you have a vacation coming but aren’t sure where to go- just head north and west until you hit the San Juan Islands.

About our guest:

David Bryce is a blogger lucky enough to write about his passions- golf, travel, vacationing, fishing, his cabins in Branson, MO and what he refers to as “log cabin living” in general. He has a lovely and patient wife, an amazing daughter and a very spoiled Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Squirrel.

Summertime Log Home Projects

Do you like to create things for your log home?

Log RailingI would bet that the vast majority of log homes have log railings on the porch and stairs.  It is hard to beat the look and functionality of these accents. Additionally, many of us DIY types like to create furniture and other decorative items for use around the house.  This photo shows a log gate I built to keep our pooch on the deck and out of trouble. (see original project article)

To build such things you must have the right tools.  A mortise is easy enough to create just by having the right size drill bit. However, when cutting tenons and especially shoulder tenons, having the right tool can save hours of work and the finished product looks so much better.

You can cut a tenon using numerous techniques. From using a drawknife to shape the tenon by eye or rotating your post over a table saw blade removing wood slowly.  Such methods work, but neither will produce the look and finish of a tenon cutter attached to an electric drill.

I happen to own a few tenon cutters of various cutting diameters and from different manufacturers.  The prices for these tools increase substantially as the cutting diameter increases.  If your project requires a lot of cutting as in the case of building a railing, I recommend the Lumber Jack Tools Industrial Series of tenon cutters.  As the name implies, these are industrial-rated and will stand up to cutting scores of posts before requiring maintenance to re-sharpen or adjust the cutting blade.

Tenon Cutters for DIY Projects

More about tenon cuttersFor smaller jobs, I highly recommend the Veritas tenon cutters. These are excellent tools and available in most any cutting diameter you will need.  Of the two manufacturers, I prefer the Lumber Jack Tenon cutters as that just do the job right and will last for decades.

Solar Powered Pumping System

Are you in the process of building a log home?

Most of us choose a rural location for our log homes and that means electrical power can sometimes not be as reliable as it is in the more populated areas. As a result, you may be looking for an alternative solution or a back-up system. If this describes your situation, I just received a press release today about a product that you may want to check out.

Solar Powered Pumping System

Franklin Electric has a new product, the SubDrive SolarPAK, a complete, one-box, system solution that provides the pump components needed to build a solar powered water well system. Designed specifically for pumping clean water using a renewable energy supply, SubDrive SolarPAK includes a solar-powered controller, a submersible pump and motor, and a flow switch, in ratings from 5 to 90 gpm. Using a solar PV array as the input power source, SubDrive SolarPAK is ideal for use in applications where traditional grid power is unavailable, unreliable, or undesirable.

Solar Powered Pumping System - SubDrive SolarPAK

System-specific support software available on its solar-dedicated website, The Solar Selector allows users to input simple location information and water requirements to determine which SubDrive SolarPAK fits the application. The Solar Selector also provides recommendations for panel array configuration based on user-entered panel characteristics.

I have not investigated this product, nor am I being compensated in any way, my purpose in sharing this with you is in hopes of offering a solution to a common issue related to log homes or rural cabins. Let me know if you decide to use this or have another solution to share with our readers.  Thanks.

More info, visit:

Masonry Heaters, Cookstoves, Wood Fired Ovens and Outdoor Kitchens

The great outdoors & comfy indoors!

We spend a lot of time talking about log homes, wood, corner styles, building challenges and virtually everything associated with the process of building a log home or log cabin. I will admit that we don’t talk enough about other things that can make our home unique or more enjoyable. With that in mind, I asked my friend Evan Moore to tell us about his company and what they do.  His company, Superior Stoneworks, is a designer and builder of Masonry Heaters, Wood Fired Ovens, Masonry Cookstoves and Outdoor Kitchens.

Superior Stoneworks‘ mission is to create structures that will stand the test of time, respect the environment by using a natural renewable fuel, and to regain quality of life by taking the time to do things properly and to share them with others.

Specializing in construction of masonry heat acclimating masses; we design and build Finnish contraflow masonry heaters, wood fired pizza ovens, masonry cookstoves, and direct and indirect passive solar heating masses. We also enjoy building outdoor masonry fireplaces, kitchens, patio’s and barbeques, along with many types of decorative masonry, tile, and landscaping.

Masonry Heaters

Masonry Heaters are efficient, clean burning heat-storing fireplaces. They produce a gentle long-term radiant heat, from a minimal amount of daily fuel. A heater can be fired once, twice, or even three times daily as necessary. A fire cycle will contain around 20 to 45 pounds of wood depending on burn frequency, and when fired properly will combust at a rate of 80 to 90% efficient.

Masonry heaters can be made with built-in masonry bakeovens, great for entertaining guests with homemade specialties like pizza, casseroles and breads. They can be built with a raised hearth where fire exhaust gases are routed, creating a heating sitting bench great for warming up after a long day of winter fun. They can also be built in conjunction with masonry cookstoves, which along with cooking can act as a heating source on mild days, and likewise a source for heating domestic hot water.

Wood Fired Ovens

Superior Stoneworks constructs Wood Fired Ovens using 100% organic materials from the foothills of the Rhone Valley in France. Wood Fired Ovens or Brick Ovens are exceptional in their ability to render heat by radiation. Brick ovens are typically shaped in a dome form, which creates a uniform reflective surface perfect for baking. Precise sizing of the oven door opening and dome height are crucial to proper respiration during the firing process.

Our ovens are very efficient in that they rapidly store heat, and evenly release it over a long period of time. A brick oven fired in the evening can be ready for baking within 45 minutes, and could hold enough heat to bake bagels the following morning. You can bake breads, crispy pizza crusts, and roasted meats right on the hearth tiles.

Around one hour following firing your brick oven, you can bake cakes and risen dough products like croissants. Aside from the outstanding cuisine wood fired ovens are very fulfilling in that they attract your attention. From their appealing design, color, and wood fired aroma, to watching your pizza’s cook and taking them out at just the right moment, a wood fired oven can be a very satisfying addition to your home or business.

To learn more about Superior Stoneworks and view past project photos please visit us on the web at:, call 515-313-1700 or email at

Greatest Places for the Cabin Lifestyle in the US

If you’ve considered renting or buying a log cabin, you’ve probably given considerable thought into where you want to spend your time.  Not only that, you’re also considering how you want to spend your time.  And if you’re heading away from urban or suburban life for a few days or an entire season, or even longer, how you’re going to spend your time is likely also on your mind.

So, where are the greatest places for living the log cabin lifestyle?  Well, it depends solely on your tastes, preferences, budget, and goals.   People tend to know what they want, or at least have a list of their idealized cabin.  While the U.S. is packed with a diversity of amazing and unique places to visit or settle down in (a diversity that is arguably shrinking), what defines “great” can depend on what you’re looking for.


If a view is what you’re after, and it’s always high on many people’s lists.  Some want to look out and see the ocean.  Others want the picturesque mountains.  A few prefer the sparse desert.  And, of course, everything in between.  Tastes vary so dramatically, but luckily there’s a place for everybody.  It’s just a matter of finding it.  Want a coastal view?  Try the central Oregon Coast.  It’s close to civilization, yet features an air of seclusion, especially the region between Lincoln City and Florence.


Many people choose the cabin lifestyle not for the views or the novelty of escaping for a few days, but because they want to live in seclusion.  They want to be more self-reliant and in control of their own individual lives with limited or no influence or intrusion from others (others, which can be defined by a great many things).  One great place to live at a distance?  Central Idaho, near Stanley in the Salmon River Mountains may be a great destination.  Luckily, the whole Rocky Mountain region is dotted with vey secluded locals, so if that’s your goal, it’s usually one that’s very achievable.


There are number of choices when it comes to climate.  Are you looking for heat, cold, rain, snow, or a sweet 75°F?  There’s a place for you somewhere, literally anywhere between Alaska, to New Mexico, to Florida.  People desperate for that dry heat head to the Southwest, usually New Mexico or Arizona, and find a place in the desert between the metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson or Albuquerque and Sante Fe.


Activities are also a major defining point of what makes a place great.  Fishing, hiking, wildlife observation, stargazing, napping, writing, or whatever else is on your mind, there’s a place for you.  Cody, Wyoming and the surrounding area makes for a great “activity” location.  It’s close to basically everything in the second sentence.  It’s situated next to Yellowstone National Park, plus the town of Cody always has something interesting going on.

David Bryce is an online publisher for Thousand Hill’s Cabins in Branson, MO. He blogs on the topics of golf, travel, and vacations.