Log-rolling: Fame a stone's throw away

So maybe John Grisham has written a few best-sellers, made millions of dollars, and swelled film industry coffers with his mystery thrillers. But can he boast that, in addition to writing his books, he's built hundreds of log, stone, and post and beam houses across the United States?


Seventy-year-old author Charles McRaven can. The Free Union resident has been building and restoring dwellings since the age of 11. And he's been writing books on carpentry, blacksmithing, and stonework for decades.

But these aren't your ordinary how-to books.

Last June, McRaven and his publishers issued the third printing of The Classic Hewn-Log House, which K. Edward Lay, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at UVA, describes as "the bible" of hewn-log construction.

"It's totally redone," says McRaven. "I've updated all the codes and methods and included information on recent projects, many of which are around this area."

He's also reissuing a book on blacksmithing, and his third book on stonework– sixth total– is scheduled for publication next spring.

"I received a request for an all-inclusive book on stonework," he says. "No one else has written one. It should be about 600 pages."

Those who think the topics attract little attention in the 21st century should think again. McRaven frequently lectures at museums and schools, serves as a historic preservation consultant, and writes for magazines such as Country Journal and Fine Homebuilding. He conducts various workshops on log, stone, blacksmithing, and post and beam construction methods at locations across the country. The next local log workshop is in November.

McRaven instructs privately, as well.

"I sometimes train people who come as apprentices," he says. "It's a great opportunity for architects who want hands-on experience. They usually come to learn either carpentry or stonework, but they pick up a little bit of everything along the way."

Since McRaven is an advocate of the do-it-yourself technique, his apprentices learn about every stage of restoration and construction, most of which are highly time-consuming.

"Material cost isn't high," he says. "You put way more time and labor into a project than anything else."

But that doesn't deter him. McRaven seems to avoid shortcuts, even going so far as to build his own tools.

"Of course, sometimes we have to use the occasional power tool," he laughs.

Although there are several masons in Central Virginia, some of whom McRaven works with, he is the only local master mason, meaning he's the only person around who knows virtually everything about stonework.

"He really has no equal in this field," says Lay.

There's no need to find an heir to the stone throne quite yet, though.

"I'll retire when I'm 90," McRaven says– "maybe."

Charles McRaven