The log cabin is the quintessential icon of Northwoods living. Brought to the United States by Scandinavian immigrants in the 17th century, log homes became essential to the rapid settlement of a young and wild country.
Isaak Beran is continuing the log cabin tradition with his own log cabin building company in Grand Marais, Beran’s Handcrafted Log Cabins. His grandfather owned a log cabin that captured the imagination of the young Isaak.
Beran grew up in LaCrosse, WI. His father, described by Beran as a builder, was a longtime Athletic Director in his LaCrosse day job. His mother was a teacher. His brother, an engineer by trade, assists Berans with log and trusswork calculations for the cabins he builds.
Unlike others in his age group, Beran took a job at a dairy farm when he was in high school, a job that kept him busy for six years. He’s not afraid of hard work.
In 2014, Beran attended the Great Lakes School of Log Building in Isabella, MN, taught by Ron Brodigan, where he learned the trade he practices today.
Beran mainly uses Red Pine logs that he buys from logging firms in Northern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin. The logs are 30 feet to 50 feet in length and are delivered over the winter to his build site off Ball Club Road north of Grand Marais.
“It usually takes two to three semi-loads of logs for the typical cabin,” Beran said. Beran estimates a per-square-foot cost of $60 for a modest cabin. Elaborate designs will raise that cost significantly. And a shell still needs a foundation, roofing, plumbing and electricity, and interior finishes.
In the spring, the logs are stripped of their bark using hand-powered draw knives. Friends, family, and the occasional casual laborer sometimes help with the stripping of the logs. After removing the bark, Beran treats the log with a preservative to prevent insect infestation and discoloration. The logs will be stripped again to remove any sap that has emerged before the logs are notched.
Beran hand scribes each log used in construction. The logs are fully scribed to make sure that the notches, laterals, and log ends are mirror images of the log below. This allows a tight fit, chink less style of the cabin to improve insulation and eliminate airflow.
Beran uses saddle notches in his cabins which keeps everything tight as the logs settle. “I build with green logs,” Beran said. “And it can take up to five years for a log home to fully settle.”
The log cabin shell is assembled on Beran’s Cook County location, numbered for identification, disassembled, and shipped to a buyer’s site by flatbed truck where it is reassembled, much like a kit. Each log has its place.
Beran has an exciting resume leading to his current log-building venture. He attended Western Technical College in LaCrosse and was certified as an EMT and structure firefighter. After a few years practicing that, he went on to be a wildland firefighter/sawyer with the Chena Hot Shots out of Fairbanks, AK. In 2014, Beran moved to Cook County and joined the US Forest Service, working out of the Seagull Lake facility while starting his log cabin business.
By 2019 the log-building business and his USFS job were conflicting. He chose to give up the security of a full-time job with salary and benefits to become a self-employed entrepreneur.
He found a used Bobcat and trailer and then searched for a truck to pull it all. His first big job was helping a fellow Brodigan student build a log home in Hovland.
He began an advertising campaign with outdoor print publications to promote his new business. That didn’t really bring in many inquiries so he built a couple of log cabins on spec and advertised those. And he was off to the races. His next available time slot for a building is in 2024.
In addition to building log cabin shells, Beran builds other fixtures like log staircases. He also does a bit of log restoration work, notably at the Johnson Heritage Post museum in downtown Grand Marais. Photos of his work can be found on Beran’s Handcrafted Log Cabins Facebook page and their website, beranslogcabins.com/.
Beran enjoys living in Cook County. His property and business are fully solar-powered and surrounded on three sides by public lands. He enjoys fishing for Lake Trout--and Walleye of course. And hunting in season.
As a young man, Beran was an avid Motocross racer. Once a motocross rider, always a motocross rider, Beran has constructed a motocross trail through the woods on his property. “It lets me be a kid again,” he said.
This summer, Beran will finally build a log cabin for himself, a goal he’d set when he attended Brodigan’s training.
Beran will make his work site available for potential customers or folks interested in observing the log-building process--provided an appointment is made. Contact information is on Beran’s website.