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How to build a wood frame cabin

Updated February 21, 2017

You can construct a nice cabin with basic materials and a well-thought-out design. Always invest time in building a solid foundation and roof area, however. Materials for a cabin can be replaced over time--even using recycled materials--but the roof and foundation should be built well to last for many years. Build the cabin at least 800 square feet, if your budget permits, since it's difficult to include enough living space in an area less than this.

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  1. Design the cabin in detail. Include a living area, at least one bedroom, a small kitchen and a bath. Place the bedroom behind a dividing wall or in a loft area if the cabin is extremely small to separate living and sleeping space. Sketch decks and porches in the plan as well, since these areas add usable outdoor living space without costing a lot.

  2. Create footings and a foundation. Dig footings for a crawlspace foundation to be filled with 8 inches of concrete. Engage a mason to help you lay a breeze block foundation that is at least 4 feet high. Allow the mortar to dry for 48 hours before you lay floor joists with joist hangers. Don't install joists until you cap open blocks around the entire perimeter with metal flashing to keep out moisture or small animals. Use concrete nails to secure perimeter boards to cap the foundational wall and cover the flashing.

  3. Frame the cabin from the floor up. Cut 2-by-12-inch lumber boards with a circular saw to create floor joists. Cut the joists this deep to allow 12 inches of fibreglass insulation under the sub-flooring. Nail 3/4-inch plywood over the floor joists to create sub-flooring. Use 2-by-8-inch lumber boards to frame exterior walls and 2-by-6-inch boards to frame interior walls of the cabin. Place studs on 18-inch centres. Form roof rafters or an open loft using 2-by-12-inch boards pitched on a minimum of 45 degrees.

  4. Cover the exterior and roof. Secure 3/8-inch exterior-grade wood siding on the cabin by driving 3-inch stainless steel screws into the seams with an electric screwdriver. Install planks or tongue-and-groove siding, if you prefer. Use recycled windows that you have refinished and reglazed, or install energy efficient vinyl-coated windows. Cover the roof with ½-inch plywood and metal roofing sheets attached by stainless steel screws. Attach metal roofing sheets with stainless steel screws. Use metal versus asphalt shingles, since chimney sparks can cause an asphalt roof to catch fire.

  5. Address electrical and plumbing needs. Hire professionals to help or guide you in installing plumbing pipes and drains, plus electrical wiring and outlets. Wrap water pipes under the cabin with heat tape to prevent freezing in cold weather. Finish up the interior of the cabin with fibreglass insulation stapled between all studs and in attic rafters before you cover the interior walls with 4-by-8-foot sheets of drywall.

  6. Tip

    Insulate under the floor areas and in the attic areas with 12 inches of insulation to ward off extreme temperatures. If your cabin is heated with a heat pump, poor insulation can drive up electricity bills astronomically--especially if your cabin is near a lake area. Extra insulation helps block exterior noise as well.


    Always have your cabin treated for termites and insects, especially if you are near a forested area. Consider cutting large trees down that are within 10 feet of your cabin. Falling limbs may injure the metal roof. Excess leaves may block your guttering as well, if trees are too close to the cabin.

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Things You'll Need

  • Concrete for footings
  • Breeze blocks
  • Mortar mix
  • Metal flashing
  • 2-by-12-inch floor joists
  • Fibreglass roll insulation
  • Circular saw
  • 3/4-inch plywood
  • 2-by-8-inch lumber boards
  • 3/8-inch exterior siding
  • 3-inch stainless steel screws
  • Electric screwdriver
  • Energy-efficient windows
  • 1/2-inch plywood
  • Metal roof sheeting
  • 4-by-8-foot drywall sheets

About the Author

Judi Light Hopson is a national columnist for McClatchy Newspapers. She is founder of Hopson Global Education and Training and co-author of the college textbook, Burnout to Balance: EMS Stress. She holds a degree in psychology from East Tennessee State University, and has been a professional writer for 25 years.

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