Q&A / 

DIY Log Cabin

Dick Anderson is a motivator who lives in Darlington, WI. He took issue with a past column of mine that discussed the challenges a DIY person faces when building their first log cabin. STOP now and read my past column titled Dream Log Cabin Challenges before you read Dick's comments below.

After reading Dick's comments, please do me and others a favor and put a comment below this post. I'm wondering if you feel I'm a Dream Crusher in my column. Thank you!

"Dear Tim (aka Dream Crusher),

Just found and re-read a column of yours "Log cabin a nice dream - reality can be a challenge" from August 4, 2013  and was wondering how did you get so good at tempering enthusiasm?

From your answer to Scott B. of Marais, Minn. and having been in education I think that you have another calling, that of being on your local school board.

I would have got to you sooner but as you will see in my attached picture have been pretty busy.

I believe as they say, leap and the net will appear! Many times I have told my students, "Crossing a bridge in your future will be a bit easier after you have built one or two."

Most often thinking about things too much tends to spoil it."

Here's a log cabin that Dick Anderson is working on. The massive roof overhang is to protect the narrow porch you see on the front of the structure. Photo credit: Dick Anderson

Here's a log cabin that Dick Anderson is working on. The massive roof overhang is to protect the narrow porch you see on the front of the structure. Photo credit: Dick Anderson

Here's the email reply I sent back to Dick. I did a few minor edits to it for clarity:

Great great photo and email!


I need to go back and read that past column.


I got great at tempering the enthusiasm homeowners experience when they try to eat elephants by reading *thousands* of HELP emails from people who jumped and the magical net you talk about - for some reason - never appeared.


I feel that it's vital to give people a true picture of what's ahead and then allow them - if they're BRAVE enough - to jump.


The problem with the average person trying to build a log cabin is a vast majority of them will simply not succeed.


Those that WILL do it because they read a column like mine and mumble, "Heck, I CAN DO that! What can be so darned hard?"


That's how it is with anything. If you have the three D's, you'll succeed.
  • Diligence
  • Determination
  • Discipline
What's the gallows for in the structure? To hang yourself if you fail? (That was a pun as it's a manual crane for lifting logs and purlins up to the roof.)


🙂   Love love love that project. Tell me more about it.



7 Responses to DIY Log Cabin

  1. I concur with your assessment of the task and your recommendations. A lot of folks get involved in projects that they can't control so it ends up being both a financial and physical disaster. And in this day and age a lot of times it becomes the other guys fault, the Statue of Responsibility (that mirrors your Statue of Liberty) that used to occupy your left coast has disappeared.

    Your recommendations are spot on Research, ask questions, try a small one, and repeat the process again and again. Once you have the ability and confidence you are ready to proceed.

  2. Maybe thirty years ago I volunteered to help a friend assemble his four bedroom, three bath log home kit. Piece of cake, right? How hard could it be? All the logs were cut, cleaned, notched, grooved, numbered and all the windows, doors, hardware and foam strip gaskets came with the kit. When it was finished it was beautiful. Would I do it again? Maybe, but with a ton more preparation and a larger, more experienced crew and proper equipment. Two or three people is just not enough to do things quickly and efficiently. Moving, rolling and then lifting logs that really needed a small crane was a back-breaker. And we found out at least twice the once you've driven huge spikes down through the WRONG log, you can't just put your roofing hammer claws on it to pull it out. Yikes! Like you've advised Tim, GO INTO IT WITH YOUR EYES WIDE OPEN 'cause it ain'ta gonna be as easy as it looks.

  3. I agree with you Tim. Tackling a project as huge as building a log cabin, especially at the age the prospective builder was, is pretty much a recipe for disaster. With the vast majority of people who would attempt something that expensive and time consuming the end result would be, at best, a half completed venture. The initial enthusiasm in most folks would soon die under the grinding effort of trying to harvest and prepare the logs, long before they ever got the foundation built for the structure. Perhaps a log home kit would be more reasonable. In certain parts of the country there are Amish crews who specialize in assembling log structures. I lived for nine months next door to an Amish family who had a log milling machine. It sized the log, put flat surfaces on three sides, grooved the top and bottom surfaces for gaskets and caulking, as well as perfectly rounding the exterior surface, all in one pass. Believe me, even in their shop building having to work without a powered crane and having the right setup to handle the logs they put in some serious sweat on just getting those logs ready to ship to the site. I would hate to even contemplate taking on a job of this magnitude at retirement age.

  4. Hi Tim,

    I read both of your replies and do not feel you are being a dream crusher in this case. Scott B. asked you for your opinion on his dream and so it was right for you to give the response you did as someone who has been in the business of building for a long time. If you had been an old buddy of his and not a builder your response might have been more like Dick Anderson's - "Absolutely . Go for it!" As a contractor myself I am also rather pragmatic answering such questions as I too have seen a lot of the results of people trying to do things they do not have the knowledge or skills to accomplish. It is always better to do some research before starting a project you have never tried before, and the bigger the project the more research you should do. If Scott B. really wanted to build a cabin, and followed the advice you gave, he might have not done everything you suggested but once he got a good feel for what he was likely to encounter, went ahead with the project with the belief he could do it, and with more knowledge than if he had not gotten your advice.

  5. Tim I fully agree with your recommendations on research, including talking to others, investigating each piece and portion, from building codes, to talking with county planners and DIYers. And I never seem to finish my projects "on time"! Either extra, unexpected issues crop up, or despite careful thought and analysis, I simply under-estimate the time required!
    I really like you idea of building a smaller version first. Maybe he'll need a well house or a workshop. Even the small well house, will introduce him to the labor and time involved. There is always a "learning curve", the first time I do a project, like assembling a chair. The second one always goes together Faster and Easier!

  6. I forgot to add that I'm a retired forester. Working with wood, especially logs is great. A couple words of warning...Discover the Safest and Best way to treat and handle logs! They can roll suddenly and are often extremely heavy. Get caught between a rolling log and its neighbor can seriously injure or actually kill you. Peel the logs as soon as possible after falling the trees and cutting them to length.
    Reason 2. Is the bark comes off way easier while freshly harvested. Reason 1. Bugs will often (as in MOST of Time) invade under the bark and create galleries and tunnels that disfigure your logs and make more challenges to preventing rot.
    That said, get your peeled logs under cover to slow drying or there is a greater likelihood of warping,cracking and splitting!

  7. Dear Tim,
    Looks like I am the Salmon swimming up stream on this one guys. I know that all the things you and these experienced people are saying are sound advise and supported by conventional wisdom and engineering. That said I just want to provide a bit of balance. Dream with me for a minute... What if...?

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