How to Build a Log Cabin (…from Scratch and by Hand)
Living in a beautiful hand crafted log cabin will make a lot of homesteaders and off-grid dreams come true…
…and that is exactly what we want to achieve in this guide! This guide is the starting point for anyone looking to build a log cabin from scratch.
In an age of pre-fabricated furniture and modular concrete homes, a log cabin provides a unique character oozing craftsmanship, rustic charm and nature.
Undertaking the challenge of building a log cabin is very exciting!
Building a log cabin does not have to take huge amounts of previous experience, skill or talent, but, it will take hard work, planning, good tools and natural resources.
The guide below will reveal, in-detail, everything you need to know when it comes to building your own log cabin.
So continue reading if you want to know how to build a log cabin…
How to Build a Log Home – The Complete Guide to Making Your Dream Home.
Before You Explore How to Build a Log Cabin, Get Some Motivation From This Alaskan Couple!
The Steps Involved
Here are the five stages of construction you will need to follow to build a log cabin:
- Planning Your Log Cabin
- Picking and Preparing the Logs
- Building the Foundation
- Laying the logs
- Log Cabin Exterior and Maintenance
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How to Build a Log Cabin
Building a log cabin requires lots of physical and hard-work. Most of your work will be felling, cutting, peeling, notching and lifting your logs as you build the cabin. Lots of beginners will often ask:
- How long does it take to build a log home?
- How much will it cost to build a log cabin?
- Where should you build a log cabin?
- Can someone without any craftsmanship experience build a log home?
- and… How many logs will I need?!
This guide will answer all of those questions… and more importantly it will show, discuss and teach you how to build a log home.
Step 1. Planning Your Log Cabin
Planning to build a log cabin is the most important phase…
Not planning your new log home is one of the most common mistakes beginners make.
It will take around 280 days to build a log cabin from scratch; make sure you spend significant time planning and making yourself comfortable with all of the phases and construction processes involved.
When we talk about planning – we don’t mean a floor plan and design. We mean a full construction schedule detailing: log preparation; site clearance; foundations; construction; and everything else that you will discover goes into building a perfect log home.
To prepare a construction schedule you will need to have:
- Goals (i.e. how long do you want to take to build a log cabin? How many bedrooms do you want etc…)
- Research (i.e. talk to log cabin owners, watch YouTube videos on construction techniques)
- Purchased Land
- Finalized a budget
- Finalized Resources (i.e. How much labour have you bribed, how and when can you use it?)
- Designed the Log Cabin and its Floor Plan
Before you attempt to start building a log cabin make sure you’ve thoroughly planned it and finalised costs.
Floor Plan and Design
The actual design of your log cabin can either seem like a very daunting phase or an opportunity to express your creative genius… depending upon your personality type and skills.
If you are the former then I would suggest contacting a specialist log cabin architect; we have a host of advice, questions to ask and how to find the right architect here.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to build a simple log cabin, then there are loads of free floor plans and designs for all sorts of log homes… start by looking at these cabin plans. These plans have been drawn by architects and feature floor plans and elevations.
If you’re the later and are looking to showcase your creativity by designing you log own log cabin then:
- We have a design series of articles to give you inspiration, it’s a great starting point!
- We also have important factors to consider when designing a log cabin to maximize your space and create an elegant home.
That should be more than enough for both the left and right sides of the brain to complete their log cabin designs!
Once your plans are finalized; visit the municipal planning department to ensure your plans adhere to building codes. Also, get a builder or structural engineer to validate the structural properties of your cabin.
Zoning Laws/Building Codes
Most, if not all, countries in the world have planning laws, regulations, building codes and zoning laws.
If it weren’t for them, we would have weird and wacky houses popping up all over our cities, countryside and rural areas!
With every system comes loopholes and avoidance, however, typically you must get really creative or just build a really small log cabin to avoid these regulations.
The size varies from county to county, but your log home would need to be built less than 20x15ft to avoid state regulations.
Make sure you read and understand building codes and zoning laws. Seek legal advice wherever possible, the last thing you want is a municipal building regulator ordering the demolition of your log cabin.
Most of you will already have your land, so we will keep this section brief.
If you haven’t yet purchased your land, then look at perfect log cabin locations here which will guide you through the process and give you handy checklists.
Make sure you understand and know about:
- The local state and legalities
- Building and code restrictions in-place, future development/municipal construction plans and zoning laws.
- Utilities and services
- Ensure you can connect to local utility lines, water and drainage infrastructure. Utility services will typically provide 100ft of line to any new customers for free before charging $7 per foot
- Ground conditions
- Analyse soil type (rock, clay, gravel etc…), boundaries, water tables, slopes, contours and topography to ensure suitability.
- Where to site your Log Cabin
- Ensure adequate natural shelter and beautiful views
The easiest, cheapest and fastest way to get logs for your log cabin is to buy land with suitable trees already there.
For those who already have land or are building on family land then the primary factor should be to research any legal elements and ensure good utilities and services are available to connect your log home to.
Costs of a Log Cabin
Keeping the cost down for your log cabin is obviously an important factor. During the planning phase, you should look to eliminate all uncertainty around costs, materials and tools.
Significant costs for a log home are incurred during the following activities and or purchasing the following materials:
- Site Preparation and Foundations – dependent upon foundation and ground type
- Utilities and Services
- Lumber (i.e. Timber) – how many logs will you need?
- Insulation – dependent upon insulation method and technique
- Roofing – dependent upon roofing materials (singles, felt, logs or tiles)
- Fixings (Interior, Windows and Doors)
A lot of the costs above can be saved or minimised if you look to use your own natural materials and build the cabin by hand.
Building a log cabin on a very tight budget is achievable, however, you will have to upcycle, bribe free labour and use your own logs.
You should expect to pay around $25/square foot. So for a 800 square foot log cabin, the cost will be just under $20,000 (this excludes purchasing land and interior furnishings).
For a detailed cost breakdown read how much does it cost to build a log cabin.
Your log cabin’s size and complexity are the two most significant factors that will drive cost. A simple square or rectangle log cabin with the same square footage will be much cheaper than a “new” or “alternative” L design log home.
Let’s pause and recap the planning phase
We have now covered planning your log cabin. You should be able to answer the following questions:
- How much will it cost to build my log cabin?
- Who is going to build my log cabin?
- Where is my log home going to be built?
- Are there any zoning laws or building codes impacting my log cabin?
- What will my log cabin look like once it has been built?
If you can’t answer them, STOP, and find an answer before moving onto the construction phase of your log cabin.
The construction phase can come across as being very daunting! Don’t worry! We are confident that you have all the information and expert guidance required in this guide to succeed.
Step 2. Picking and Preparing the Logs (Foraging)
At this point, you will have your land for your log cabin, so it’s time to hunt for logs!
It’s time to get physical. Foraging for trees involves: finding; felling; hauling; debarking and drying.
Selecting the best logs for your log cabin is essential as it will reduce maintenance, improve insulation properties and improve the longevity of your log home.
So, what should you be looking for?
There are over 800 species of trees in North America alone, but, log home manufacturers will typically only use a dozen of these tree species for a log cabin.
Whilst it’s true, most tree species are suitable, providing that they grow straight and tall. Some species are superior than others due to strength, insulation properties and ability to naturally withstand weathering.
If you live in North America you want to be looking for the below trees:
- Pine Trees (Red, Yellow or White)
- Cedar (Western White)
- Hardwoods (Walnut, Poplar or Oak)
In Europe the rules are similar, but, your selection is limited. Focus on either a good pine or spruce. In Australia look for Redwood and Douglas fir.
If you can’t find any tree species above on your site then look at log cabin lumber selection; there you will find a glossary of tree species and their suitability for being used in log homes.
Once you have found your lumber, you will be looking for trees with the following profile:
- 30ft to 40ft in length
- 10” to 14” in diameter
- Limited warping/tapering
- Any more than 4” of warping over 30ft length is too much.
How many logs will I need to build a log cabin?!
The only thing left before felling your logs is to calculate how many you need.
If we are building a rectangular log cabin that measures:
- Width: 20ft
- Length: 40ft
- Height: 9ft
If your average log diameter is 12” then you will require:
- 18 x 24ft logs for the width
- 18 x 44ft logs for the length
- 22 x 24ft logs for the gable ends
- 3 x 44ft logs for the ridge and purlin logs
That’s a total of 61 logs to fell.
This example is simplistic as it assumes all logs felled will be okay to use (no warping, checking or cracking after drying) and a 4FT log overhang for notching. A calculator can be found here to determine the exact number of logs your build will require.
So, you now need to go and fell your trees… all 61 of them.
If you haven’t felled trees before, read this for guidance, tooling and advice.
Once felled… debark and dry
After you have felled your trees you will need to debark them.
Bark holds lots of moisture and acts as a home for inspects causing decay and infestation. Debarking your logs is a simple process requiring a drawknife and patience.
Use a drawknife at a 30 degree angle you can peel the bark from the log very easily.
Now your trees have been debarked they will need to be left to dry.
Keep all of your logs off the ground.
When stacking the logs, space them out using stickers; this will increase ventilation allowing logs in the centre of the pile to dry too.
Cover them with plastic or something breathable to keep the elements off the logs.
Different species require different drying times. If you have selected a good spruce or pine then you will want to leave them for a year.
Seal the log ends with paraffin wax. This prevents moisture evaporating too quickly causing cracks and ring separation. If you decide to perform this step, do it within minutes after felling the trees, not days, as the moisture will have evaporated.
Ideally you will want to fell, debark and seal the log on the same day of felling. This prevents too much moisture escaping and prevents the bark form adhering to the log post felling.
This will save you lots of work with your debarking knife and stop logs from unnecessarily checking, splitting or cracking.
Step 3. Building the Foundation
Contrary to popular belief; choosing a foundation for your log cabin is not as simple as picking a shed foundation.
A log cabin foundation must carry the weight and load of a log cabin.
This is an important step.
A log cabin foundation is used to transfer the load of your cabin safely into the sub-ground. A strong, durable and stable foundation should adhere to the 3-s rule;
- Subsidence – prevent subsidence when soil moves away from your cabin
- Strength – strong enough to transmit the load from your cabin
- Settlement – prevent your cabin from sinking into the ground
Your log cabin’s foundation will be decided upon and influenced by a few key factors:
- The land’s rock and/or soil types
- How big your log cabin is
- Land contours
- Local resources (i.e. local cement providers)
When researching log cabin foundations, lots of advice relates to traditional housing, which require a far more substantial foundation. Focus on shallower foundation types such as strip, raft, pads.
A great option is the pad foundation. This foundation will lift your cabin away from the ground and the “splash zone”. Providing a natural damp-proof zone where it become more difficult for water to splash back onto your log cabin.
For log cabin foundation construction techniques and more advice on foundations read this article.
Step 4. Laying the Logs
So, you’ve probably spent what feels like a long time and not seen much visible progress… lots of planning, preparation and groundwork.
All that changes in this section of laying the logs.
You will now see major daily progress with your log cabin as you start to lay your logs.
Before you start to lay your logs you need to decide upon what notching system you will use to construct your log cabin corners.
Notches are scribed into logs and join the corners of your log home. Start by reading log cabin notches for beginners, before choosing the notch for your cabin.
You will probably choose one of the four following notches:
- Butt and Pass
- Full Scribed (Traditional)
- Full or Half-Dovetail
- Corner Post
The butt and pass notch is a modern favourite. This notch technique was invented recently with a goal of being very easy for novices to build log homes.
This notch doesn’t require skill or craftsmanship and minimises settling when building your log cabin. The idea behind the butt and pass notch is to “stack” whole logs without scribing them and using rebar to fix them.
Once your foundation has been laid, and you have selected your notch type, the first round of logs will need to be laid.
Sill the first four logs
Setting your sill logs into the foundation is normally done by using the best logs you’ve felled. In this instance, the best logs are the largest in diameter, straightest and longest.
You should have provisioned the better logs for sills (4), purlins (2) and the ridge (1).
Now you have prepared (i.e. cut to length and pre-drilled) your four sill logs you can lift them into position.
Technically, sill logs are the first two width logs and sleeper logs are the first two length logs.
You will want to hew, or half-log, the sleeper (i.e.) sill logs. You can do this using a chainsaw or adze depending upon your preference.
Once hewn, drill a hole at either end of the sill logs. Lift the logs over the foundations’ rebar and slide the log down through the rebar (this assumes you are using a pad foundation).
Laying the sill logs is mostly a question of strength and lifting as opposed to craftsmanship. These logs are very heavy and it’s better to be patient, spending time to work precisely, and getting them in place.
Now the two sleeper (i.e.) sill logs are in place (fixed with rebar), lay the two-remaining sill logs using the butt and pass method.
Fix the logs together using short rebar pins.
At this phase in the build, call the municipal planning office and get a qualified structural engineer to approve the foundation and first course of logs.
You have now fitted the perimeter of your log cabin.
Installing the Floor
Log cabin floors are typically very fast and easy to assemble because their construction uses a suspended lumber floor.
You will ideally want 2 x 7” floor joists.
To determine the depth of your floor joists you need to divide the span of your sill log in half and add two.
e.g. 10FT span / 2 = 5FT (+ 2) = 7”
Notch your sill (i.e. sleeper) logs so you can insert the floor joists.
You will want to lay floor joists every 14” apart. So every 14” on each sill log create a notch to receive a floor joist.
Ensure the notch is the same width as your floor joist so you can create snug friction fit with the floor joist.
If you joists span more than 7Ft then install struts for lateral restraint and pillars for vertical restraint; a strut should be in the midpoint of your joists.
Make sure the joists run parallel, are plumb level and sit flush with the sill logs.
Finally, plank the floor, at right angles, to finish the floor.
Log Wall Construction
Now it’s time to build and rise your log cabin’s walls!
Build your log cabin as if it doesn’t have doors, windows or openings. Using your selected notch technique, keep stacking your logs and erecting all four walls.
For each layer of your log cabin, rotate the direction of each log (i.e. alternate between the log’s butt and tip). This is an old trick to ensure the wall is kept roughly level due to the natural tapering of the log.
Use short rebar fixings (assuming you are using a butt and pass notch) to fix each log. Alternatively, scribe each notch and stack them.
If you do opt to use a traditional saddle notch, when scribing ensure you use a downwards facing notch in high rainfall areas.
Finally, if you hew your logs, hew the bottom of the log you’re about to fit, as opposed to the top of the most recent.
Doors and Windows
Creating door and window openings is as simple as removing the lumber in its place, supporting with a lintel log and tacking cleats to hold the opening.
Once opened, install the window frames or door jambs to hold the opening in place.
Ensure you use lintel logs above each opening to maintain your log cabin’s structural integrity.
Roof (Frame and Attach)
As most log cabins are either square or rectangle you won’t have much difficulty roofing it.
Once at roof height, like with notching techniques, you have many options for log cabin roof designs.
Keeping in tradition with classic log cabins, you will want to build a pitched roof for your log home.
Take the earlier purlin and ridge logs… it’s time to use your strength.
Continue building your gable wall, using the same technique you used to erect the cabin’s walls, until half-height. Now fix the the two purlin logs. Repeat this process to complete the gable wall and fit the ridge log.
The ridge log holds up the rafters which are fitted to it. In turn, the rafter holds the final roofing material in-place.
This construction technique is known as “purlin and rafter” as opposed to flat roofs. This roof style is preferred for its ease of construction and ability to withstand high window or snow load testing.
Notch your rafters into the purling and ridge logs. Fix plywood roofing boards to the rafters.
For more information on log cabin roofing construction techniques read this article.
You will now need to decide upon the finish of your log cabin’s roof, typically there are four choices:
- Thatched Roof
- Traditional Wood Shingles
- Roofing Felt
- Metal Sheeting
You have now have finished roofing your log cabin.
Step 5. Log Cabin Exterior and Maintenance
Once you have built your log cabin, the final stage is to weatherproof it.
Moisture in humid climates and dampness in cold climates can very quickly cause your log home to rot if left unfinished.
The most important factors are to clean, seal and stain your cabin.
Cleaning your logs
Your logs may have collected dirt from your construction site, or haulage, so the first activity is to clean the logs.
Washing your cabin’s logs will also remove dust, pollen and deposits too.
Wet the logs with water, then take a mild detergent, and with a soft bristle brush, scrub in small circles moving from the bottom of your log cabin to the top. Then repeat this process from the top of your log cabin to the bottom,
Leave the cabin to dry for at least two days.
Staining your logs
Treating or staining your logs can be done during felling or after the build.
Typically once you have removed the bark from your logs you can apply a borate solution to protect them.
Then once your cabin has been built, you can stain your log cabin to maintain the original logs’s color by protecting it from UV rays.
When you first stain your cabin it will last for between 18-24 months, depending upon UV exposure.
Typically, south facing gables weather more than the rest due to direct sunlight exposure.
Take an oil based stain, and work in small horizontal areas paint “wet on wet” (i.e. backroll the stain).
Sealing your cabin
Caulking is the sealant for your logs to prevent air and moisture infiltration.
If you have used a butt and pass notch technique you will absolutely need to seal your cabin. Some of notching techniques (dovetail) don’t require sealing.
First, any crack, split or check over 2cm in size should be filled and sealed with caulk.
Then, take your caulk and, using a trowel, apply it along the length of the joints in your logs.
Clean using a damp cloth to give a nice finish.
In the future you will need to maintain your log cabin by being proactive and performing bi-annual checks using this checklist.
You have now Finished How to Build a Log Cabin!!!
You have now built your own log cabin!
That’s all there is to it, your cabin is as traditional and well-made as your ancestors.
You can now enjoy your first night in a log cabin!
If you have ever built your own log cabin, or would like to share some advice and ask any questions you have, then do so in the comments section below.