The winters in Åre, Sweden are long and cold. Yet Isak Stålenhag and his colleagues at Åre Timmerhus work outside the year round building log houses. Dressing right is a necessity to make it possible.

Working with wood was what made Isak Stålenhag take up a career as a carpenter. Yet as an apprentice with a major construction company in Stockholm he discovered he barely got to touch wood at all.

– We worked mainly with concrete, steel and plaster. Only the skirting and door frames were wood, he says.

HOUSE BUILT TO STAND FOR CENTURIES

Rethinking his alternatives Isak headed for traditional carpentry, left the big city and took a course in the craft of timbering log houses. Since 2004 he runs his own company Åre Timmerhus, completely dedicated to the traditional timber craft.

– We build and renovate using techniques that have been around in Sweden since at least the 12th century, he says.

Many of the houses he has renovated are from the 18th century, but on occasion even older from the 17th century. 

– No matter where in the world you go, a great thing with old building techniques is that they have been refined over a long time to adapt to the geography and climate of each place.

BUILDING NEW HOUSES USING OLD TECHNIQUE

As we are talking, Isak and his colleagues are about to raise a big new house, in total 180 square meters. The customer has expressively asked for the new house to be organic, free from chemicals and made from great materials.

– We build it like houses were built a hundred years ago. All walls are timbered, with wooden facade panel on the outside. The insulation is made from foam glass, a kind of recycled glass which looks similar to leca-blocks. Apart from this we only use wood, stone and clay, Isak explains.

THE HOUSE IS BUILT AND DISMOUNTED

To timber a log house at the construction site takes three days. Yet, it is preceded with long preparations indoors. The carefully selected logs from slowgrown pine trees are sawn plane on two sides. Each log is prepared to fit for a specific place and carefully marked with a number. Log by log the house is built indoors in a big barn.

When finished, it is dismounted and loaded part by part on a truck and transported to the site.

– When the walls are up and the roof laid, the house is more or less finished. The weight of the roof pushes the logs together and creates tight, dense walls that actually don’t need additional insulation.

"What is good for the ecology, is good for the economy."

GOOD ECOLOGY IS GOOD ECONOMY

Timber construction creates a house that is stable and stiff and less likely to suffer from subsidence and ground frost damage compared to modern building techniques. The basic cost of building a traditional log house is a bit higher, but the expected lifetime of the building is a lot longer.

– We believe we are onto something. The houses we build are free from plastic, they breathe and they stay healthy. And in the long run we believe that what is good for the ecology, is good for the economy as well, says Isak.

Log houses in brief

A log-house is built from logs up to 20 cm thick. The logs are placed upon each other joined in each corner in braid-like knots. To keep the walls straight with no chance to bend the logs are fixed with round dowel rods.

A traditional roof with clay roof tiles adds a great weight which helps the log form dense and wind-tight walls. In Sweden, log-houses are traditionally covered with wooden panes on the
outside and painted red.

Log houses are built with neither nails nor screws. Everything that is needed is an axe, a saw and a chisel – although modern electrical tools save time. The broad axe is an especially important tool when the logs are to be cut and the knots of the house corners are to be shaped.

CHALLENGING CONDITIONS

In a climate where the temperature often drops below -30 degrees C there’s a need for well built houses, as well as for great clothes for the craftsmen building. 

– Normal winter days aren’t too bad. They are a nice and dry. But when the temperature drops below -30 we run into problems. In real cold the steel in our tools becomes fragile. If I chop with the axe into a rock-hard knot the edge might break. Crowbars and spanners might also break, says Isak.

"In cold so deep axes are bound to break."

HANDS AND FEET ARE HARD TO KEEP WARM 

Another problem in really low temperatures are the hands. A good idea is to wear a thin inner glove inside your regular work gloves. According to Isak this enables him to work in ten degrees colder. 

– But in order to stand -30 you need mitten gloves, and that makes you clumsy. And to take off a slightly damp glove in the cold is difficult. Isak makes sure to bring 3-4 pairs of identical gloves each day, so that he always has a dry pair to change into. 

– The same rule applies for the feet. I wear a thinner wool sock next to the skin, and then a thicker sock that I change every break. Safety footwear with steel toe caps is problematic since the steel will chill the shoe and make your toes cold. 

THE ART OF DRESSING RIGHT 

To keep himself warm Isak dresses in layers.

– Next to the skin I have a wool base layer. Even if it’s really cold you sweat a lot. Wool is special in the way that it transports moisture, but it also keeps warming you even when it is slightly damp, says Isak. Over his base layer Isak wears regular workwear trousers. On the upper body he adds a warming midlayer to his wool base layer shirt. Sometimes he adds a padded vest and on the outside a shell jacket. 

– I’m a warm person. It is only when it rains that I add a shell layer to my trousers. But I like wearing a jacket. It’s important that the shell jacket has room for the clothes I wear underneath. And a high collar is important to protect the neck. If possible, I like my base layer to have a turtle neck.

"Wool is more expensive, but I won't use anything else."

NOTHING BEATS REAL WOOL

During the years Isak has learnt one thing, wool is in a class of its own when it comes to warmth, moisture transport and staying fresh. 

– Wool is more expensive, but I won’t take anything else. A benefit is that it stays fresh, doesn’t start to smell and needn’t be washed as often, says Isak.

Meet Åre Timmerhus

  • Name: Isak Stålenhag
    Age: 38
    Lives: Offerdal, Jämtland (Sweden)
    Does: Founder and owner of Åre Timmerhus

  • Name: Olle Nyberg
    Age: 36
    Lives: Valne, Jämtland (Sweden)
    Does: Log house builder

  • Name: Robert Lindberg
    Age: 51
    Lives: Krokom, Jämtland (Sweden)
    Does: Log house builder

  • Name: Linus Persson
    Age: 27
    Lives: Offerdal, Jämtland (Sweden)
    Does: CEO and log house builder

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