Building an Aspen Timber Octagonal House in Finland

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Building an Aspen Timber Octagonal House in Finland

Who doesn't have dreams about owning a holiday house, a summer cottage, a hunter's hut, or a chalet for winter sports? It is so wonderful to come home after skiing and sit by an open fire! A place to escape from everyday routines and spend time in a pleasant, relaxing house.


It's surprising that thoughts about leisure call us to work harder! When it is time, people stop dreaming and build a house of their dreams.

John Ujanen also had a dream. But unlike the people who would be fully happy with a house with four walls and a roof, he wanted something more: an octagonal house made up of aspen timber.

The Octagon

The idea of octagonal design is not a new one. We may see the samples of octagonal churches and temples not only in Europe but also in Asia, where the number eight is associated with endlessness or immortality.

However, real popularity came to octagonal houses in America in the middle of the 19th century. It relates with the name of scientist and lecturer Orson Fowler, who built such a house for his family and called it The Octagon, and after that wrote a book "The Octagon House: A Home For All, or A New, Cheap, Convenient, and Superior Mode of Building." The book was printed for the first time in the year 1848, and the following half a century, the octagonal design came in fashion and not only from the aesthetic points of view.

An octagon includes approximately 20% additional space with the same perimeter compared with a square. The house has more living space with the same wall square and needs less heating per square meter. Fowler calculated that an octagon house is cheaper to build, allows for additional living space, receives more natural light, is easier to heat, and stays cooler in the summer. These benefits derive from an octagon's geometry: the shape encloses space efficiently, minimizes the external surface area, and, consequently, heat loss. An octagon is the closest approximation to a circle which is the most efficient shape but challenging to build and find suitable furniture to put inside a sphere.

The construction is essentially based on a 6 metre high center beam, like the trunk of a huge mushroom, with its ´hat´ covering the space for a couple of bedrooms, a kitchen, a sauna/spa department and a vast open living area.

"At first, there was just an octagonal dream…"

Well, John Ujanen dreamt and built what he wanted. His octagonal holiday cottage, some 120 square meters by size, is standing at the center of a little island on a beautiful lake which he owns with the immediate surroundings. The house may not be exceptionally high, but even so, its unique location and grand presence make it look like a beacon or a watchtower, controlling the neighboring sea in all directions.

John built his house from aspen half beams. This construction style is widely popular in Finland. John cut logs in half beams and made the gussets with 'Norwegian locks". The wooden house from half beams looks so healthy and lovely that it doesn't need to be covered by siding.

John, being a keen motorist and a collector of fine cars, simply would not get along without having, at least a few, of his many cars nearby, ready for a ride, at all times. The massive garage space can easily accommodate 4-5 vehicles.

Usually, you make half beams from northern pine, but John decided to make it from his aspen logs, an excellent timber of light yellow color with a greenish tint, reliable, dense, without cracks, and easy to process.

The only important rule is that you need a half beam with ideally flat and geometrically accurate cut surfaces.

How to get an ideal half beam

Being a real perfectionist with any technical aspects, keen to get everything right - genuinely right, not just nearly right – John wanted a particular sawmill that would help him reach the best possible finish with his mighty aspen logs. And the Wood-Mizer LT15 sawmill did precisely that for him: ensured the flawless finish he wanted - thanks to the sawmill's precision blades and excellent handling.

But all this proved to be just an overture when a few years later, a very determined knock was heard on the Wood-Mizer representative's door in Finland. When they opened the door, Mr. Ujanen stood there, with a rather special twinkle in the eye.

"I'd like to buy one," said John, "one of these saws of yours, the same type of a bandsaw we used for the sawing of those aspen logs for my holiday cottage." Very typical John, a man with no habit for small talks.

To make his sawmill easily movable, John´s solution was to to put the whole thing on wheels, into a truck container. When on (the wanted) location, you just open the side doors (the whole wall, actually) and start sawing!

"Well, all right, great!" replied the Wood-Mizer dealer, having just completed his probably quickest sawmill deal ever. "What are you up to, my friend?"

"I'm going to build a bigger house, many times bigger in fact, to make it my principal residence. This new house will also be octagonal by form and made of massive aspen logs. So the best possible precision and outstanding finish are pivotal for making the project succeed."

And so John, a man used to getting (at least most of) his dreams turned into reality, is having his dream house project completed.

"Perfectly happy, I'm happy to say," said John." You often have to be prepared to settle with some compromise - one particular thing might be all right, the other just not as good. So you'll have to live with such a relative balance. But not so with LT15. The sawmill has proved to be a very well-balanced combination of ease, speed, accuracy, and safety of handling, all of which make it a most reliable tool for reaching the results and standards you want, the outstanding finish you want. Any builder, I think, would therefore hold such competence and performance in quite a high regard."

Based on Martti Kirsitie

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