Making My First Log Cabin From Scratch

I have always wanted to build a log cabin.  As a child in fifth grade I literally dreamed of going to a remote wooded wilderness and carving a cabin from the woods and living off the land.  Needless to say that has just been a childhood fantasy until recently.  Last spring I bought a Logmaster portable sawmill as an investment to use during retirement.  It had to be fabricated and that took about 4 months.  During that time I purchased a tree shear for my skid loader, an old international log truck, a Logasol planer molder and some additional related equipment.  The log cabin idea was in the back of my mind as I bought the equipment, but mostly I was looking at is just as an investment to supplement retirement income.  I expected to retire at 62 and was just collecting the tools to create a retirement business.  After four months, I finally got the sawmill.  It is sweet.  I did a couple of custom sawing jobs, then started cutting wood for a shed in my spare time.  Everything worked as advertised.

Last June, my wife of fifteen years left leaving me with 2 children to raise and home school, a bed and breakfast with no one to run, and of course the sawmill.  Necessity being the mother of invention, I retired and started to build the sawmill business full time.  Needless to say so many changes at once is a bit like experiencing a tornado.  Lots of soul searching and emotional upheaval accompanied the lurching steps I took toward developing this business.  I can't say that it's successful yet, but I'm directing it toward the childhood dream of a log cabin.  

I first had to decide where to put the sawmill. My property in Iowa is hilly, but I owned it free and clear before I met my soon to be ex.  So that decided it.  I dug out trees that were in the way and graded and graveled the spot for the sawmill.  Last month we graded an additional spot for a wood storage building and the small cabin that will serve temporary wood shop.

A couple of weeks ago, I started what will be my first cabin.  No I don't intend to live in it.  I'm actually going to use it as a wood working tool shed until I get a bigger shed built, but for now, I'm finally starting to do what I've wanted to do with the sawmill.

I'm building it entirely out of wood from the sawmill.  I used 6x8" oak skids set on railroad ties for the foundation.  Full 8" oak floor joists with blocking for added strength.   I'm going to build it like a small portable hunting cabin with a beamed ceiling, loft, small, an overhanging roof on front, and log siding with simulated dovetail corners. 
Once the framing is complete, I'll use the planer molder to make tongue and groove for the floors, walls, & ceiling; and bead board for wainscoting.  I should be able to complete it for around $500 max.   I'm using my own logs, windows, and plywood I already had.  I have asked myself repeatedly why I didn't have a log cabin yet.  I guess, I just needed to find my round tuit. 

My boy and I knocked out the floor over the weekend and managed to get in a 14 mile horse ride as well.  I'm still a little stiff and sore, but the kids had fun.  Anyway, my red neck certification is intact.  I can basically build anything from native lumber for the cost of windows, roofing, plumbing and wiring.  There's gotta be a profit in it somewhere.  If nothing else, I'm enjoying myself which is perhaps the most important return on any investment. 

A week later, we've finished the sheeting and have the ceiling joist beams in now.  The sheeting is oak  and maple.  I used oak for the bottom boards for rot resistance, then maple for the rest,  I really like working with maple, it cuts easily, leaves an almost planed surface and doesn't seem to have much if any wood tension or warping when sawed.  I'm excited, today we're going to build our first ceiling trusses.  These are going to be 5x5" oak held together with 9" lag screws.  We are building them in place because I don't have a convenient tool to lift a finished truss into place.  They're heavy to say the least.  Each piece is all two men need  to lift manually.  We're going to build a temporary floor on the ceiling joists to build the trusses on.  There's nothing like moving a couple hundred pounds around manually while 10 feet in the air.  It should be a rush.

Well, my son and I got the first truss up before we got rained out for the day.  I was not nearly as difficult as I thought it might be.  Everything fit perfectly, and it’s all lagged into place and braced in case we get a wind storm.  But it’s up!  It’s natural to procrastinate or slow down when you hit something new in a project like this.  This truss had me a bit scared.  I haven’t built anything like this before, so I had the usual butterflies about getting it right and doing it safely.  The idea of falling off the ceiling joist and having a 250 lb beam land on top of me was not an appealing prospect.  I was even less enthused about getting it 10 feet in the air and then having to trim or cut something to make it fit.  But, the worries were wasted.  Everything went off like a Swiss alarm clock.  Four more trusses and then we get to start on the fun stuff.

The log siding is going to be interesting, I intend to use oak 2x8"s full length with a one inch gap to be filled with grout, the end will be dovetailed with fake dovetails attached to give it the appearance of a squared log cabin.  I would have built using real logs, but it takes a few more logs than I have available, and limits the cabins portability because of weight.  Perhaps there is a moral to my story, but I'm not sure what it is yet.  I'm finally doing what I intended.  I'm not sure what took me so long, but so far it feels good.  I'm new to this, but I'll try to update photos as I progress on the cabin.  It's really very easy other than some of the beams and boards weigh a ton, I can't imagine doing it with green wood.  I have a drying technology that rapidly dries the wood, but that's another story....
It's been a bit, but I said I would update the story when I made more progress, Well I finally started working on the cabin again.  Here a picture of the progress, I should get it sided this year and finish the inside this winter if everything works out.

My first impression is that the log cabin siding doesn't look rustic enough, but I intend to stain the wood darker and use a light grout between the "logs"  I may do something like use slabs off the sawmill that still have the edge of the logs for the siding on the peak to rough it up a little. I intend to add a porch on the front with a small deck under it.  I switched from dovetail corners to butted corners because they are easier to do, but otherwise the cabin is progressing as planned, except that it's been a longer birthing process than I intended.  My son and I started logging right after I started the cabin, and that got first priority.

jthitt jthitt
56-60, M
4 Responses May 15, 2011

Hey, I'm a woman and was wondering what things I need to learn to build my own cabin from scratch, all by myself. Of course I won't start right now, as I don't know anything about building a house, except a roof. However, I would love some direction on where to go for good, well-grounded building information. If you could spare a moment to chat I'd love to hear what you have to say :)

wonderful job!!!! I would love to ask you just a few questions. would you have time to reply to me. it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Phil

Sorry I didn't respond sooner, I'd be happy to chat about the cabin

Hello, I've read your journal and it has inspired me to build a structure of my own. My Logmaster is on its way, and I'm very excited to see what can be done with it. I have minimal large equipment, however, making the process of moving workable logs very tough. I have a few ideas in mind that may make things a bit easier for me at least. We are still in the planning stages though: choosing a spot for the sawmill, building extra track for it, etc. We will hopefully be able to cut 30 ft boards if everything goes as planned. I'm a noobie when it comes to carpentry or building, and I'm exploring in the depths of the unknown; I'm just 23 and very green, and I just thought I'd say that it looks like you've done a great job so far, and keep up the good work while chasing your dream.

Sounds like you know what you're doing.....maybe you can help me build log can decorate with alot of cool stuff.

Thank you for your vote of confidence, That is the plan, building cabins for sale. I am learning this business from the ground up. I just started skidding professionally this week. I'm skidding logs with for a logger whose skidder broke down.

Right now, we are logging 640 acres. It's very enjoyable work. I've put the cabin on hold for a bit while I concentrate on step one, getting logs. We are attempting to cut 10,000 board foot per day, but haven't made it yet due to minor mechanical delays. Those problems are fixed now and Monday starts a new week. I'm thinking 60,000 board feet next week is in the bag.

I'm probably 6 months from having marketable cabins finished. Stay tuned I'll update my progress as it happens.