How to build a small log cabin

Updated February 21, 2017

A log cabin is a simple structure that can be built entirely by hand. Nowadays, most are built from kits, but you can build your own small log cabin with the barest of necessities like a chainsaw and your own timber. You need to choose a site where there is enough good logs around to build your cabin. For a small cabin you will need at least 25 good logs, and maybe more depending on how thick they are.


Lay a foundation of small rocks, gravel or poured cement in a square to the dimensions of your cabin. The foundation should be about 30 cm (1 foot) high in a ring shape. Gravel is a good choice of foundation material because it also provides drainage, but a foundation of rocks piled on the ground is sufficient enough.

Cut foundation boards that are flat on both sides to the width and length of the foundation and lay them on top of the foundation itself. Each foundation board should be notched at the ends, and overlapping so each of the logs interlock.

Lay a centre foundation beam across the foundation. Then mark a space on the foundation beams under this centre beam and cut another notch, so the centre foundation beam sits inside of it and is the same height as the two foundation beams parallel to it.


Select your first two logs for the walls. These logs will be laid parallel to each other, and will be thicker than the logs that are used on the top of them.

Cut the logs to length, leaving about 60 cm (2 feet) extra for the overlapping ends. Then plane off the bottom of these logs to make a flat surface so the logs rest flat on the foundation beam.

Lay the first log on the foundation beam and secure it using a long spike or cement if necessary. You can drive a spike through the side of the log and into the foundation beam, or use an adhesive to secure the first log to the beam.

Lay the second log on the parallel side of the cabin and secure it to the foundation beam as in Step 3.

Measure the width of the logs you will now lay across these two parallel logs on the other side of the foundation. Use a simple ruler to sight measure the width of the logs where they will intersect with the logs already on the foundation. Then cut your notches into the logs now on the foundation. These notches can be cut with a little practice using a chain saw. Cut diagonally into the log, then cut straight down from the top to remove the end of the notch. You can now cut horizontally to complete the notch.

Repeat this step on the other end of the log, shaping your notch as needed with a large wood chisel or hand saw as necessary.

Set each log into the foundation log notches, then determine how deep and how wide you will need to make your notches on the logs you are going to lay. The combination of both notches will allow these logs to sit right on the foundation.

Seal or secure the new logs as necessary.

Select your second layer of logs. These should be just a little bit thinner than the first layer of logs. Roll each log onto the cabin wall and mark where the notches should go. Then shape your notches until you have a secure and flush fit all long the length of the wall.

Repeat Step 9 for each layer of the walls until your cabin walls are finished. When you are ready, cut out the window and doors using a chain saw.


Cut the first log to size then roll it onto the roof across the shorter side of the cabin. Notch these logs just as you notched the logs for the walls, positioning them about 90 cm (3 feet) apart along the top of the cabin walls.

Cut your roof trellis logs from smaller thinner logs and fasten them to the roof beams, just as you build a regular roof.

Fasten the trellis logs by notching each side and securing them with a large spike or wood pegs.

Lay boards or notched logs along the trellis logs, careful to secure them in place with spikes or adhesive.

Cover your boards or notched logs with moss, shingles or other roofing materials.

Things You'll Need

  • Chainsaw
  • Site
  • Logs
  • Foundation material
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About the Author

Steve Smith has published articles on a wide range of topics including cars, travel, lifestyle, business, golf, weddings and careers. His articles, features and news stories have appeared in newspapers, consumer magazines and on various websites. Smith holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from University of New Hampshire Durham.