Log home construction a family tradition

Cliff Hagen must have tree sap running through his veins. He built his first log home at the age of 12, and then his second at 17.
“I haven’t looked back since,” said Hagen, who now owns a log home business called Hagen Log Homes up Highway 71 in Finland.
Hagen said he took odd jobs as a young man, trying different things. He even ended up in Alberta, but the forces drawing him back were too strong.
“Two things drew me back,” he said. “Log homes and my beautiful wife, Cheryl.
“The business is a joint effort between the two of us,” he added. “It really should be ‘Cliff and Cheryl Hagen Homes.’
“My wife has a love for log homes, too,” Hagen remarked. “We built ours back in 1980. We started with an axe, went into the bush, and carved ourselves a home.”
He can’t pinpoint what it is about log homes that he loves.
“I wish I could go back and ask that 12-year-old boy that,” he said. “I don’t know, it’s just a fascination I can’t get over. It’s nice to be outdoors doing something like this.”
Though the pair call Finland home, Hagen’s roots are only a generation removed from Norway. His grandfather came to Canada from Norway, settled near Blackhawk, and was skilled at Norwegian log home construction, which probably is why Hagen has such a love for building.
Unfortunately, he had to learn how to build on his own by reading books—and through trial and error. He started the business 23 years ago with his brother, re-kindling the family tradition.
His brother has since left the business but his 23-year-old son, Justin, has grabbed on to the tradition and now is Hagen’s crew foreman. And now, Hagen’s daughter, Cheryl Hyatt, has a son who already is showing a love for logs.
“My four-year-old grandson, Terrell, wants to be a builder,” he smiled.
Hagen’s grandchildren are very important to him. In fact, he has plans for a 16’x20’ log cabin on a nice piece of land by a pond for them.
“It’ll be a place for them and Papa to hang out,” he said proudly.
“I’m happy to be keeping things in the family, keeping a family tradition going,” Hagen continued. “The big reward is the family is interested, right down to Terrell.”
Hagen said Terrell will spend eight hours a day on the job site helping out. He’s already got a little hard hat and steel-toed boots.
“He’ll drag smaller logs around,” Hagen said. “He’s all ready to go, he just has to get through school first.”
Hagen hopes the business continues to grow so he can pass it on to his son, Justin, someday, and perhaps see a day when Terrell is at the reins. And the way business is booming now, he’ll probably see that wish come true.
Since moving the pre-fabrication site to its present location along Highway 71—just two miles from his home—a couple of years ago, interest has really grown, Hagen said.
“In the last 10 years, the interest [in log homes] has really picked up,” he said. “Over 300 business cards have been taken from the display cabin in just a few months.”
And that’s translated into an expanded business. In the past few years, Hagen has gone from three to seven employees. They have a crane for moving the logs, and are very busy building new homes and doing restorations.
“We put 16’x20’ homes together by hand back then [when he worked with his brother], so it’s a real treat to have machinery,” Hagen recalled.
The company is building between three-five log homes each year, depending on their size, and doing as many off-site restorations as possible. Most of the restorations are on cabins that are 60 to 70 years old, he noted.
The key, Hagen explained, is to get the old cabins off the ground—and that takes the whole crew of workers.
“They take their chainsaws, I take my pencil,” he joked. “After 20 years, you can put the chainsaw down. I’ve made that a Norwegian tradition, so my son has a few years to go.”
Hagen said if a log home is built properly, it will need very little maintenance. He builds all of his up off the ground and with long eaves. Keeping the moisture away from the logs is the most important thing, he stressed.
“I’ve had some older people come by,” said Hagen. “They think of a log home like the log homes they lived in as children. Some couldn’t believe how the building has changed, how tight they fit.”
Hagen is meticulous about the construction of his log homes. Each one is custom-designed and handmade.
“Everything is hand scribed,” he remarked. “Then we walk the line with a chainsaw. It takes time to get good at it. And if it doesn’t fit right, it comes down.”
Most of the building is done on the pre-fab site. To build the roofs, they build the base on the top row of logs, then lift the whole thing down to the ground, square and level it up, and build the roof.
When complete, the home is taken apart piece by piece and re-assembled at the final location.
“I’m the only one with a map,” Hagen said, referring to how the puzzle of pieces goes back together.
Most of the homes are made of poplar, Hagen noted, but he uses red pine, too—or Norwegian pine as he calls it. He said it also makes a difference what time of year the logs are processed.
Logs that are shaved during the summer will get a dark hue to them, causing more sanding work, but those whose bark is removed in the winter stay clean and white.
Peeling—as the process is called—is one of the more labourious tasks.
“We’re always looking for young blood in peelers, with big arms,” Hagen laughed. “When it’s minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s like shaving an ice cube.”
But no matter what the temperature, they keep going 12 months of the year, Hagen said. And he hopes it stays that way. He’s been building log homes and cabins for all types of uses, from fly-in fishing lodges (who have him bring the log buildings in over the ice in winter) and First Nations bands to hunters and lake cabin owners.
“Lake cabins seem to be getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “People seem to appreciate them more and the craftsmanship. It’s not the cold old cabin anymore. They’re the cozy cabin.”
Hagen attributed this trend to better construction habits. And even though a log doesn’t have an R value like conventional insulation, he stressed logs can be just as warm.
“They’re measured by retaining value, their thermal mass,” he explained. “The logs soak up the heat and radiate heat back. It’s kinda like a bank, it takes heat in and lets it out when needed.
“It takes longer to heat a log, but it also takes longer for it to cool down,” he added. “Once you have the logs warm, you have a cozy home.”
Hagen said each log home is custom-made to what his customer wants.
“We don’t have any stock plans because there are so many ideas out there,” he remarked. “People come in with their own plans and ideas so there’s a little piece of them in it.”
This seems to appeal to those who have shown interest so far. Hagen has had a lot of people come in to discuss direction, and at roughly $22 a lineal foot for a pine building, it’s a big decision.
“The irons in the fire are unbelievable,” he said of the interest. “If next month ever comes along, we’ll really be booming.”
And if next month does eventually come along, it’s a good thing Hagen has his future forman in waiting in his grandson, Terrell.