How Hard is it to Build a Log Cabin?


The endearing log-cabin style is a direct descendant of the homes the Pilgrims built when they arrived on North American shores and turned to forested areas on the Virginia and Maryland coastlines to procure basic building materials, from which homes in the Colonies were built. As building construction goes, the log cabin is one of the easiest projects of its type to accomplish, because it does not require plumbing, electrical linkage, elaborate finishing and the extras required of other house-building projects. The style is primitive (not even the bark is stripped from logs in authentic log cabins), embellishments are nonexistent and the practice of joining overlapping logs together at corners to create walls calls for basic tools, basic skills and very little hardware. To determine whether or not you are able to build a log cabin from scratch, consider the following steps, answer some questions, then determine whether or not your skills equip you to do the job.


  • To begin the project, you must own or obtain a piece of land that is on an elevated plot of Earth, so the floor of the cabin will stay high and dry in the event of snow or rain. Decide how large your cabin will be and what you would like it to look like. Use basic math skills to determine the amount of lumber required to construct your design. Add extra logs to the equation, to account for the occasional cutting or assembling error. Remember that splitting logs is a precise art.

    Are you familiar with the process of staking out and stringing the perimeter of a cabin? This is essential to the success of your efforts, and your calculations must be precise before you cut your first log. Additionally, primitive log cabins do not traditionally have floors, so make sure the ground on which you're building is as level as possible. Now the actual construction begins.


  • Review the following steps to determine whether or not you feel comfortable with them all as you consider building a cabin:

    You must be able to cut logs accurately and to specific lengths with power saws in order to accomplish this job.You must also understand the principles of notch-log interlocking construction (Did you ever play with Lincoln Logs as a kid?) Stick to a plan that includes notching every log about 1 foot from each end to accomplish the overlapping technique at the cabin corners. Seat each log by matching up notches and sliding them into each other to build the walls to the height you have determined for the top of the door opening (typically, 6 or 7 feet from the floor).

    Are you familiar enough with the engineering principles of framing out window and door openings? If you are, you're going to find the rest of this project as easy as the progress you have made thus far. Once the walls match the height your plans call for, select from sheets of plywood, shingles or more logs to make a roof. Nail the roof covering to the tops of the walls. Finally, place panes into window openings or install shutters, waterproof fabric or other material.

    Cut a section of plywood to fit the door opening and hang the door from a primitive hinge, made by sinking a pole measuring 4 inches longer than the door into the ground. Nail the pole to the door. If you're a stickler for detail, create a door-securing mechanism with a wood stake and a loop made of rope. There you have it: One log cabin, yours to do with as you wish. Some cabin builders believe that if you can build one of these babies, you can do anything. Of course, this could also prove to be the first and last construction job you ever attempted if the instructions looked easier than the actual building proved to be when you were done!


  • Your chances of successfully building a log cabin grow exponentially if you fit the following profile:

    You have a good deal of patience for new projects.
    You know your way around a variety of power saws and tools.
    You enjoy measuring and crunching numbers when building something from scratch.
    You love projects that offer creativity and innovation.
    You have a good feel for basic construction guidelines and principles.
    You enjoy the challenge of improvising.
    You have a good grip on the concept of notched log construction.


  • Think over your desire to build a log cabin if you meet these criteria:

    The only construction project you have ever attempted took place in a high-school shop class.
    You have a short fuse and admit to being impatient when things don't get done fast.
    Measuring and calculating are not your strong suits.
    You have only a passing knowledge of how saws and tools are used.
    You don't understand the basic engineering theory behind notched log construction.

Expert Insight

  • If, after reading this, you conclude that your skills are not what they should be, don't give up on your dream to build a log cabin. You have a number of options, including:

    Making friends with a knowledgeable staff member at the local lumber yard and getting his input.

    Hiring an expert to do the job for you while you observe the process.

    Finding a construction pro who is willing to let you be her apprentice so you gain valuable experience under her guidance.

    Purchasing a log-cabin kit from the plethora of U.S. manufacturers who market them. Sometimes, all it takes is a very tight plan with explicit instructions to get you moving in the right direction.

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