How to build a log cabin from scratch

Written by gail logan
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How to build a log cabin from scratch
Example of an old-fashioned log home with concrete fill between the logs.

Although not a great feature of British history, log cabins have been a staple of North American and Australasian homebuilding since the founding of those countries, and they remain a popular choice for residential structures. Because log homes are made only of wood, they are a renewable resource that is good for the environment and affordable for homeowners. By following the same simple steps and just changing the footprint of the home, log cabins can be made as small or large as desired.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Logs
  • Saw
  • Timber boards
  • Nails
  • Hammer
  • Shingles
  • Water
  • Bleach
  • Brush
  • Wood sealant

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  1. 1

    Choose a piece of ground that is clear of brush and elevated so that the area surrounding the log cabin foundation will remain relatively dry. Level the ground as much as possible, adding soil if necessary.

  2. 2

    Place large logs on the ground to form a square or rectangle. This will serve as the foundation of the cabin and can be as small or large as desired. If desired, a stone foundation can be stacked in the shape of the cabin rather than placing logs directly on the ground.

    How to build a log cabin from scratch
    Example of log cabin foundation using sill logs and a stone foundation, as appeared in "Popular Mechanics" magazine. Illustrated by Harry Schaare.
  3. 3

    Notch the sill logs used for the foundation with a saw every 60 cm (2 feet) so that they accommodate the timber supports over which the floorboards will be placed.

    How to build a log cabin from scratch
    How to notch logs, as appeared in "Popular Mechanics" magazine. Illustrated by Harry Schaare.
  4. 4

    Lay timber support beams into the notches of the sill logs so they stretch across the foundation from one end to the other. Place the timber boards chosen for the flooring across the support beams to cover the floor. The floor boards can be notched to fit over the support beams, but if they are placed side by side, they should fit snugly on the cabin floor with no gaps and will not shift.

  5. 5

    Cut a notch into each log that will form the walls 30 cm (1 foot) from each end. Place the notched logs over the sill logs about 30 cm (1 foot) from the end of the sill logs. This notch system is referred to as a lock joint and will lock the logs into place.

  6. 6

    Continue notching the logs, laying each log on top of one another until the desired height is reached. While laying the walls, alternate between the long ends and the shorter ends if the cabin is a rectangle, or just placing one at a time on each side if the cabin is square.

  7. 7

    Cut window and door openings into the logs when they are at the proper height, about 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) for a door and 90 cm (3 feet) for windows. Install door and windows into the openings, per manufacturers' instructions.

  8. 8

    Layer the logs for the roof the way you did for the floor, placing notched logs into the wall's top log from one end to the other, placing each one closer to the centre of the cabin as you go. Lay notched timbers across the tops of the logs so there are no gaps. Nail shingles onto the top of the roof boards in even rows.

  9. 9

    Using a solution of two-thirds water and one-third bleach, wash the logs with a brush. Rinse with water, using a hose, and apply a wood sealant. Repeat every two to three years for proper maintenance.

Tips and warnings

  • Logs can be hand-hewn or purchased from a log-home company.
  • The type of wood you use in a cabin will be the most important choice you make. Cedar and Eastern white pine are two popular log-cabin building options.
  • Choose logs that fit the size of the cabin. For example, a small cabin should be built with logs that are 15 to 30 cm (6 to 12 inches) in diameter, while a larger log cabin can accommodate logs of 35 to 40 cm (14 to 16 inches).
  • Do not build on wet land, such as a marsh, or at the bottom of a hill where water collects as the water can seep into the wood and lead to wood rot.
  • Do not wait until the walls are built to cut the openings for the doors and windows.

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