Have you ever thought about building a log cabin in the woods but been put off by the idea of the huge expense and the complicated tools that you’d need?
What if we told you that there was another way?
That you could, perhaps, build one cheaply and easily with just hand tools (though if you wanted to bring some battery powered ones – that would work too)?
Well, you can but you do need to spend a bit more time thinking about how you will construct your dream home in the woods than you might if you had a huge budget.
The most important factor is that you need access to low cost or free timber (ideally, you find it on the land that you are about to build a cabin on).
If that’s the case, then all you need are some simple tools and you can get things underway without laying out an arm and a leg. So, now, let’s look at the basics of how to build a log cabin.
Log Cabin Design Matters
A lot of people aim for something ridiculously complicated when it comes to a house in the woods but really, if you want to keep your expenses down, you don’t want complicated – you want simple.
You can go through a lot of different designs but one that springs immediately to mind is the traditional Norwegian stabbur.
This is, essentially, a storehouse but there’s nothing to stop you from adapting it to make it into a home.
You are looking at a raised building (using stilts or pillars – which help to keep pests out of your home) that has extra-wide eaves.
These eaves are meant to protect the building against extremes of weather.
Then you use small windows and a low door (which yes, means learning to duck when you enter the building) that keep heat trapped in the cabin when it’s in use.
You also build a loft in the building and this gives you twice as much floor space as you might expect from the design.
We would recommend that you don’t opt for something too ambitious to start with.
No longer than about 16 feet (as logs longer this tend to be hard to move around and work with).
We’ve written a whole guide to living off-the-grid but we need to make certain that we stress the importance of planning to build your home near a water supply or somewhere that you can sink a well into groundwater.
Life without water is not a good idea.
Get The Logs
OK, assuming that you’ve bought land with trees on it and that it’s legal for you to cut those trees down.
You want to look for trees that are too small to have any real commercial value but which are big enough to work with your plans.
As soon as you have felled the tree (use a crosscut saw for this purpose), it’s best to strip the bark (with a barking spud) immediately.
If you leave it, this can become a much harder job because the bark starts to adhere to the wood.
Then you haul them to the site of the cabin where you shape them into the sizes required by your plans.
Sills First, Then The Floor, Then The Walls
If you raise the sills first, it gives you space to put the floor in before you turn to the walls.
We strongly recommend logs for this rather than dimension lumber, they have more character, and they are also cheaper.
You can easily cut planks from the lumber that you find.
Then cover in tar paper to seal before laying the most attractive planks over the top for a standing surface.
Finally, to get the walls in place, you may thing that lifting poles of wood will be hard work, but if you tag and notch them, they’re easy to raise using a ramp as long as there are two of you to manhandle them into position.
Just remember to alternate the big ends of your timber as this will ensure the walls are more stable.
Then The Loft
You just need some logs for joists and installing the loft floor is actually very straightforward.
It’s much less challenging than the rest of the cabin.
The roof is hard though and most people will need to call in a contractor to do this but if you read up on roofing techniques, you can do it with branches as long as you’re very careful about it.
All that’s left after that is to frame your windows and doors and to install them properly (you may need to run some draught excluding insulation around these frames as they probably won’t fit perfectly).
And that’s about it. For more information regarding building small homes and cabins check out Tiny House Design & Construction Guide.
PRO-TIP: We recommend you put a composting toilet (see our guide here) somewhere nearby.