How to build a basic cabin

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Whether you want to build a cabin to use now for a retreat or want the knowledge of how to build a cabin should you find yourself in an emergency need of shelter, this brief guide will tell you what you need to know. In a survival situation, shelter is a priority, especially if the weather is inclement. You cannot afford to be out in a snowstorm, rain or even extreme heat. You need shelter and a basic cabin is the perfect option. It provides you with more room than a standard lean-to or hut and can be fortified to withstand severe weather. It also gives you a feeling of having a real home, which is important when you are struggling to find peace and comfort in a post-chaotic world.

For the purpose of this article, we are assuming this is a primitive, one-room cabin made with your hands and little else.

Determining Size

Your best bet is to keep it small. You don’t need a 4 room cabin. 10X10 or around that size is plenty big. The smaller the cabin the easier it will be to heat. It will also be easier to find the materials needed to build the cabin, assuming you are using natural materials you find in the environment. You can buy complete cabin kits for under $5000. They are fairly simple to put together and do not require any real carpentry skills.

Materials Needed

  • Logs—straight and as long as you plan on making your cabin
  • Lashings
  • Mud/Chinking material
  • Chainsaw
  • Ax
  • Winch/pulley system or crane
  • Measuring tape or string and chalk

Step 1

Level the area where your cabin will be. Ideally, you will want to create a post and pier foundation. You don’t want your logs sitting directly on the ground. This creates a moisture problem. However, if you are in a true survival situation, you could leave the ground as is—a dirt floor and add a floor in later. If you are going with a dirt floor, throwing down dried grass and straw will help reduce the cold that seeps up.

Step 2

Establish corners where your cabin will set. You can use stumps as part of your pier and post foundation or in today’s world, use wood to create a basic frame foundation.

Step 3

Place 4 log poles upright in each of the corners. You will want to put the logs in the ground at least a foot so they stay upright. The taller the pole, the deeper the hole needs to be to provide stability. If you have access to cement, add cement to the hole for additional support. If you do not have cement, some rocks in the hole will help firm up the pole and prevent the ground from settling too much.

Step 4

Place 2 logs parallel to each other so that they are against the upright poles. Then add 2 more parallel logs in the opposite direction to complete a square or rectangle. The second set of logs will sit on top of the first edge. To help them sit flush against each other, you will want to create small notches in the area where the logs will come into contact with the bottom logs by using an ax. Think of Lincoln Log toys. Notched pieces of wood will fit together and be more secure than round logs sitting on top of each other. Your logs should be about 2 extra feet longer than what your actual cabin size is.

Step 5

Use lashings to secure the poles together. Make sure you lash the poles to the 4 corner poles as well. If you are going to be putting in a floor, now is the time to do it. You have a couple of options here. If you are not using a pier and post foundation, place a few logs across the cabin floor directly on the ground. You will build your floor on top of these logs. Ideally, 2x4s would be best for a wooden floor. This means you will need to cut the wood from your logs. Lay the wood across the logs to create a plank-type flooring.

If you are purchasing material to build your cabin today, this isn’t an issue. You can build a frame on top of the logs or on the ground itself and place sheets of plywood across the frame to give you a nice, even floor.

Step 6

Stack logs on top of each other doing what you can to get them as close together as possible using the notching method. Depending on the circumference of your logs, you will want to have anywhere from 10 to 12 logs high. This is assuming your logs are about 8 inches around and you are making a 7 to 8 foot high wall.

Thick logs are very heavy. A couple of people will struggle to lift the logs as the cabin walls get higher. A winch or a pulley system is necessary to put the logs on top of one another. If you are building your cabin today, hiring a crane or renting a forklift is your best option.

Step 7

Use a chainsaw to cut an opening for your door. Placing the door in the middle of one of the sides offers the most stability. You can add smaller logs around the edges to create a door frame, which will make hanging a door much easier. If you plan on adding a window or two, now is the time to cut the hole for it. Hang either a door you have around or make one by lashing small branches together. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You could even hang a blanket over the opening as a temporary door.

Step 8

The roof can be made flat by placing logs across the top. This is probably the easiest. However, in areas where heavy snow is prevalent, this could be dangerous. You need a slanted roof so snow and rain will slide off and not put your roof at risk of collapsing.

To build a slanted roof, you will need to cut or place logs on top of opposite ends of your side walls. If you are building a 7-feet high cabin, you would only need to place about 6 of the long logs on opposite ends and slowly bring the wall to a peak. 6 long logs with another 4 to 6 logs of shorter logs in descending order to reach the peak is what is needed.

You could also do a gable design, but this would require a lot more time, energy and skill. For the purpose of this basic cabin, the aforementioned option is your best bet.

Step 9

Place a long log across the top, between the two peaks. Add an additional long log that extends the length of the cabin on each side for additional support.

Step 10

Place small logs vertically to form the roof. Lay the logs pointing upwards as close together as possible. You will want to notch them to keep them flush to the support beams. Use lashings to hold the logs to the support beams.

Step 11

It is time to chink the cabin. This is essentially filling in all the gaps between the logs. You can use mud, mortar, chink material you buy at the store or foam insulation. You can even use newspaper, leaves or whatever material is in your environment to stuff in the cracks.

In a typical home, you would want to leave some air gaps to allow the home to breath and reduce the moisture level. However, a basic cabin in the wilderness will need to be sealed as much as possible to reduce the risk of bees making nests inside, wind and rain blowing in and bugs in general. No matter how well you chink the cabin, there is still going to be plenty of ventilation, especially if you put in a chimney or are using a makeshift door.

Conclusion

This is a fairly easy and basic structure that can be added on to overtime. You can start out with a single room cabin and grow it into a nice home that will keep you and your family happy and comfortable. Once you get the hang of placing the logs, the rest is fairly simple, minus the actual physical labor of lifting the logs.

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Survivalist, woodsman, writer.

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