Harvesting Lumber and Preparing Logs For Your Log Cabin Home

Harvesting Lumber and Preparing Logs For Your Log Cabin Home

Although it is arguably easier to build a log cabin than a traditional brick house, there is more to building a log home than just choosing your logs and stacking them on top of one another to create a wall.

Logs need to be selected carefully, cared for, and treated correctly to ensure the finished log cabin is a stable solid home.

If you haven’t already read how to select log cabin lumber, I recommend that you go and read that first and then come back here!

This article will take you through how to calculate the number of logs you need, sourcing your logs, and finding appropriate trees to cut down, and what to do with your logs once they are cut to dry them out before using them to build.

How many logs will you need?

How many logs will I need?
Before you even think about ordering logs, or felling trees, you need to know how many logs you will require.

Take time to plan your log cabin thoroughly and you may even want to study other log cabins to see how many logs they use on each wall.

Once you have an idea of how you want your cabin to look, draw it out on paper as detailed as possible. Put measurements on the plan to understand the real requirements.

Example calculation for a 20FT x 24FT cabin:

  • 9FT Tall Cabin (108″ height)
  • Log Diameter of 12″
  • So 9 logs (12″ x 9 logs) per width
  • Remember each log needs to be 4FT extra in length
  • Result calculation:
    • 18 Logs @ 24FT x 12″ Diameter
    • 18 Logs @ 28FT x 12″ Diameter
  • Remember you will require further logs for your roof 

After doing this, you will have a good idea of how many logs you are going to need.

Remember, you don’t need full logs for each wall, if you have a window or door opening, you can either use parts of logs or cut a full log into lengths.

By making sure you plan properly at this stage, you can make the most of all the trees you fell and even make use of a tree that curves by using only the straight bit.

Sourcing your logs

Sourcing your logs
There are several options to sourcing your logs, the easiest, but more expensive is to purchase your logs from a sawmill or find a tree feller.

A sawmill will be able to cut your logs to length although this will most likely come at a premium rate.

Alternatively, if you want to keep costs down and happen to own land with trees on it, or have access to cut trees down on land, you may want to consider cutting your own trees.

This can be a much more rewarding way to building your log cabin, knowing you have chosen the logs and prepared them with your own hands.

If you choose this option, you will want to cut your logs in early winter when the sap levels are low. Cutting logs in the winter will also reduce the likelihood of cracking and splitting as the cooler temperatures allow for a slower drying time. The cold weather also minimalizes the likelihood of them becoming insect-infested and subject to both fungal growth and mildew.

Spend time walking around the plot of land and deciding which trees you will use, it is useful to keep note of them, number, and mark each tree as you go.

When looking at trees, make sure you check they are straight from every angle, and that the diameter of the logs is as similar as possible at each end.


Depending on your preference, your logs should be around eight to ten inches in diameter, with only minor tapering, for example in a sixteen foot long tree, the tapering should be no more than 2 inches.

Felling the trees

Tree felling for a log cabin

First things first: safety gear!

You will need:

  • Helmet with a face screen to protect your eyes
  • Safety glasses
  • Kevlar leg protection
  • Steel toe cap boots

Other things you will need include:

  • Chainsaw
  • Axe
  • Wedge

It is best to check which direction the tree is leaning, and cut it so it falls down in the same direction that it leans.

You will need to make sure you have a clear area/pathway for you to move out of the way of the tree once it starts to fall – you want to stand well clear of the tree in case it lands on another tree as it falls and kicks back or doesn’t fall as your thought it would (ideally you will have avoided this by checked there is nothing in the surrounding area the falling tree could damage.)


DO NOT cut trees down on windy days. If weather conditions are not ideal, come back another day.

When you’ve established which way your tree is going to fall, on the side that the tree will fall, make a horizontal cut about a 1/3 into the tree no higher than your hip.

Next, you need to make a 45-degree angle cut upwards, to meet the end of your first cut.

The third cut to make is on the opposite side; about 2 inches above the horizontal cut you first made. You should make this cut about 1/10th of the tree’s thickness.

At this point, the tree should start falling, however, if it doesn’t you can drive a wedge into the last cut you made to help the process.

I would recommend cutting 3 or 4 extra trees down as a backup plan – in case some split or are infested.

Once you have all your trees down, you can take your measurements and start cutting the logs to size. I would recommend over-cutting them by a few inches so you can make a more accurate cut later on.

Keep the four logs with the largest diameter and length for your sills and top plates. The logs for the top plates should be cut two feet longer (minimum) than the other logs to support your gable end support logs.

Don’t cut too many trees down from the same space, the remaining trees will benefit from the extra light and space.


If you are building on the same site as where you have sourced your logs from, you should make sure there is a clear path to move your logs to the storing place.

One of the benefits of felling a tree in the winter is that the ground is hard and icy making the logs easier to move.

If you are transporting them further than you can carry them you will need to organize transport to take them to wherever you intend to store them. Ideally a good lumber conveyor or transporter chains.


You are now ready to peel the bark off the trees. This is relatively easy. You should straddle your log and use a drawknife to peel the bark off towards you at around a 30 degree angle. You might want to use a bark spud for bark that is more stubborn to get off.

YouTube video


You should still be wearing your protective eyewear to strip the log of bark.

Drying process

Lumber kiln
Once the logs have been peeled you will need to store them to dry them out.

They should be kept up off the ground and away from water and other elements. You may want to use a cover if you are not drying them inside (e.g. tarpaulin cover).

You need to make sure that they are exposed to air on all sides; you can use stickers (i.e. skids) for this. Stickers are small pieces of wood (roughly ¾” x 11/2”) used to add space in between logs; these will increase ventilation and allow for even drying.

I recommend that you seal the ends as moisture evaporates most quickly from the ends (ten to twelve times quicker) which could cause ring separation or cracks. You can seal the ends with many different things; paraffin wax, polyurethane, shellac, latex paint, or you can even buy specially formulated end grain sealants. You should seal the ends within minutes after being cut down; you should not wait hours, and definitely not days!

The drying time will vary depending on the wood species and thickness of the logs, but they will take at least one to two years to dry – the longer you can leave them before you start building the better.

Logs need to acclimatize to the atmosphere and reach equilibrium moisture content, this is the point at which the log is neither gaining nor losing moisture, however due to the nature of the climate; this is a dynamic equilibrium that changes throughout the year.

Another alternative is to kiln-dry them.

There are a number of manufacturers that kiln dry their logs – this method can dry them so rapidly that when large diameter logs are dried, the moisture is forced out faster from the outside than the center and causes cracking (checking.)

A benefit of kiln drying is that the process dries the wood quickly and also “sanitizes” your logs by killing fungi or insects.

Personally, I would recommend air drying your logs naturally; it will be worth the wait!

You should now know; how many logs you will need, how to cut and debark your logs, and how to dry them out.

Once you are at this stage, your logs are ready to treat and you can then start using them to build your log cabin – let the fun begin!

Where will you be cutting your trees down? Please do come back and let us know how you get on, did you experience any problems or was it plain sailing? Leave us a comment below; we look forward to hearing about your exciting journey.


  • Hello.

    Is it possible to build a log cabin with dead trees?
    Dead trees that are still standing?


    • Hi Rafael,

      Yes you can use, dead trees that are still standing. This is known commonly as “standing dead timber”, make sure that the timber hasn’t been dead for over two years or it won’t be suitable.

      You can peel and treat the lumber with Borate after felling to maximise longevity of the timer.


  • I have a land with almost a thousand trees and there are 50 – 100 already naturally fallen or dead within the past couple years. Is there a way I can tell if I can use the fallen dead trees or not? I’m wondering if it will take a shorter amount of time to debark and dry out. (We live in a dry climate in Colorado) Just a thought because we thought it would be awesome to build a small cabin from resources on our own land. Love your site. Thank so much for all the info! =D

    • Hi Louis,

      Yes, you can use dead trees that are still standing. This is known commonly as “standing dead timber”, make sure that the timber hasn’t been dead for over two years or it won’t be suitable.

      As standing dead can be a bug magnet, fell and harvest in the Spring and store up off the ground. Seal the logs with wax, but, as the logs have been dead; they may well have lost most of their moisture already.

      Good luck on your build and let us know how you get on.

  • I want to put a piece of log with my house numbers at the curbside. Do I need to treat the wood first, and if so with what?


  • I live in Virginia and I’m going to use popular logs for my cabin is it not a good idea to build with green logs? Thanks

    • Hi Monacoe,

      I always recommend drying your logs for as long as possible, but this also depends on which type of construction you plan on using.

      Some people say the butt and pass method and be achieved with green logs however, I still recommend you dry them.

      Thanks, David

      • Thanks I’m going to use V notch with the logs hand hewn on outside and inside going for the Appalachian look. I appreciate any information you can give me my cabin is going to be 28×36

  • I have an old log cabin up near Glenville NC and I need a few logs with the branch nubs on the log.
    I would love to send a picture to whoever can think they maybe able to help me find a log to match the existing logs.

  • Hello Im planing on building a good size full scribe round log house , with saddle noch
    …for my family. Iv just been waiting on a site. We have 18 to 20 inch white cedar logs some even bigger at stump end….I was wondering when the best time of the year to cut these amazing trees and how long do i have to wait for them to be dry enough ,before i start with the walls. My site is bought foundation is done. Water line and hydro are in.Iv been scouting the Bush for 4 years and have 200 trees picked…..thanks hope to hear from ya all✌

    • Hi Larry, the best time to fell logs is in the winter season. This is because of a lower amount of sap and moisture content in the logs. You will then want to store the logs properly and allow them to dry for 6 months or 18 months.

  • Have land on the top of the mountain in Montana, how late into winter do you have to wait for to fell logs? Cause run into deep snow up there. Also when you are going to be stacking for drying, do I need to get them higher than the snow gets in the winter? Thanks Jeff

    • Hi Jeff,
      Harvesting is usually abut the weather and access to the lumber. It’s probably best to fell just as it goes cold and the ground is frozen so you have easy access. In terms of drying the logs, just make sure they are well covered and have wind moving through them!

  • So I’ve been looking everywhere to see what preparations I would need to use green wood for a log cabin build, but haven’t seen any reliable information. If I was using green wood, what would I need to consider such as shrinkage and Warp and how would I go about minimalizing those effects. Thank you, Forest.

    • Hi Forest,

      Yes you will need to either air-dry or use a kiln to dry the lumber. If you don’t as the water content reduces you will have huge settlement issues.

  • Fabulous instruction for the novice like me. I’m about to buy a house which comes with about an acre of wood. Not huge by your standards but I’m in the UK. I’m looking for recommendations for a woodland clearing for summer use. Thinking of a decking area, simple structure, fire pit. Can you recommend sites with ideas. Ideally I’d like to use wood grim my own plot as soon as possible

  • I’ve Been Told that if you cut down the trees in the fall and winter that is very hard to get them to peel. Is this true? Some have said that in the Fallen winner you could spend up to 8 hours peeling one tree where if you wait till mid-spring you can peel the same Tree in 10 minutes. What is the easiest way to peel in fall and winter and how long does it take per tree? Thanks for any help you can!

      • In your book, peeling is listed before drying. Based on this comment, I just want to confirm the correct order for when we cut down our trees next year:
        1. Cut down trees
        2. Seal ends
        3. Stack off ground with stickers between the logs
        4. Wait 2 years
        5. Peel logs
        6. Treat with Borate solution
        7. Build

        Is that right?

        Thank you,


  • I have a 24″ x 40′ oak tree that was blown over in a storm. I cut and positioned it on blocks across our creek as a bridge and then cut the top 2″ off to make it flat for easier crossing. What can I do to preserve it as long as possible?

  • I live in Arviat, NU. I’m planning to build a log cabin and the trees are quite far from my community. In order for me to be as efficient as possible, I need to plan each stage carefully. First, I want to harvest the logs. In the winter it gets very cold here, so is it better for me to go in spring or fall? The only ways I can go to the area are by snowmobile when theres plenty of snow (March/April) or by float plane in the summer. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Abraham, thanks for your message. I would recommend felling the trees just after the last snow clears and allowing them to dry out thoroughly over the summer. Good luck with your build, I’d love to hear about it as you go! David

  • I would like some info on a D log cabin I have access to 15 acres of 16″ to 20″ pine trees. Should I cut to D log and store to dry or let the logs dry out before i cut. Thanks for any information. The cabin will be 24″x28″ thanks guys.

    • Hi Scotty, I would allow the logs to dry out and settle and then cut them to D logs when you’re ready to use them. Thanks, David

  • This advise has been extremely helpful. We are in Western NY. We are building a cabin on a hundred acres. It’s winter time and the trees are being cut next week. Do you recommend we de bark them as they are being stacked? Also what should we use to treat the logs to preserve them? We have a beaver pond right next to where the cabin is being built.

    • Hi Tami, I’d recommend debarking them as you go, before stacking them. Just seal the ends, you don’t need to use anything to preserve them as long as you can keep them dry, with plenty of air surrounding each log. Good look with your build. I’d love to see photos as you progress! David

  • If I build my log cabin with pine logs that have only dried for a few months what will most likely happen? This cabin is only for somewhere to hangout not a home.

    • Hi Doug,
      The reason we suggest leaving the logs to dry is that they will change shape and contract as they dry. If you build with them as they are, the cabin will settle and possibly shrink in height slightly. In you build with this in mind, it shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Hi I’m enjoying your website and learning a lot. I have a red pine plantation I will be harvesting for my future log cabin. The trees average 10-12 inch diameter. I have read here and other sources to cut the trees in the winter for lower moisture content but I have also read to cut in the spring to make debarking easier. So, if I decide to cut in the spring can I limit drying issues if I take necessary precautions by sealing the ends and stacking the logs to allow for good air circulation? I plan on leaving the logs for two years to dry.

    • Hi John, yes as long as you seal the ends and stack them with plenty of gaps they’ll be fine. Best of luck with your build! David

  • Thanks for info, I am wanting to use my own timbers for vertical deck supports, do I still need to let them dry for so long or theoretically can they dry in place seeing they are upright and I have no concerns regarding joint gaps or such. thanks

  • Hi I’ll be using a mixture of logs, but mostly pines in Maine, won’t the logs turn blue if I peel them in the spring, due to all the sap?

    • Hi Brian. Yes, there is a good chance that some – if not all of your logs – will get blue stain. Some people like the aesthetic and it’s quite trendy at the moment for its rustic appeal, but if you’re against it then you can try bleaching it out with a 10% sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) solution https://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfd/library/documents/bib94923.pdf. In that study it was effective in removing the blue stain from lodgepole pine, so there is a good chance it will be effective for yours.

      If you’re strongly against it and don’t want to take the chance, then hold off on the peeling for now.
      Good luck with it, David.

  • Hey David,
    I just finished building a cabin style sauna with green white pine. I am curious -now that its put together – what would you recommend I stain the outside with to protect the wood while allowing the logs to continue to dry out? Is it worth letting them sit untreated for a bit (winter? A year?) or is it better to cure immediately?

    • Hi Clay, I would recommend waiting a while (how long depends on the wood’s moisture content and the local climate) for two reasons. First, the wood is still shrinking as moisture evaporates so staining now can leave streaks. Second, the stain may not take to the wood as the moisture near the surface works its way out. Good luck, David.

  • Thank you for the great information. Some thing I am running into is my logs are in hard to reach areas and the equipment I have is lacking for the size. I was wondering if I was able to drop, debark and treat the ends, would I be able to leave the tree where it fell? I would have it off the ground but wouldn’t be covered by the elements. Would this be a worthwhile venture to dry it or would you think it would fail terribly. Also these are white oak logs btw. Thanks!

    • Hi Matt, debarking and sealing the ends as well as keeping the log off the ground greatly improves its chances of success. As they are debarked they will need to be covered, however, and not with anything that that rests on them. Airflow is paramount. Also, when keeping them off the ground, make sure they are supported evenly to prevent bowing – pallets can be a cheap option for support. I wish you luck with them, David.

  • Is there any way to treat freshly cut timber that will ultimately be in contact with the ground, to prevent or retard rotting?

    • Hi Mike, yes there is; it’s called concrete! Sincerely though, the usual treatment will slow down rot but if the timber is in direct contact with the ground then it will decay. David

  • My question is if I cut down trees in late spring and cut them into cants and seal the ends and keep them off the ground what concerns should I have with them having sap in them? Thanks

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