Q&A / 

Dream Log Cabin Challenges

DEAR TIM: I've always dreamed of building a true log cabin. I'm nearing retirement and have purchased a piece of ground to fulfill this dream that has all the trees I need to make this happen. I'm really pretty handy and wonder if I can tackle this on my own. What the best advice you can offer to me to help me make my dream come true? Scott B., Marais, MN

DEAR SCOTT: If you were to talk to my children, they'll readily offer up a nickname they've coined for me over the years. Around the Carter Casa, I'm called "Dream Crusher". Whenever my kids told me about their dreams in the past, I tried to temper their enthusiasm with a few tidbits of reality to make them think about what they need to do to get to their goal. I'll try the same with you.

On a personal level, I like to encourage people to dream and work to fulfill them. I clearly remember being eighteen years old and walking across a 240-acre piece of ground that had a stream going through it. I grew up in the city on a tiny lot 40-feet wide by 150 feet deep. I decided that day I was going to own a large piece of ground with a stream on it. I do own that piece of ground with a stream on it here in New Hampshire.

Here's a small log cabin that looks big because of the roof pitch and generous overhangs. Photo Credit: Scott Brown

Here's a small log cabin that looks big because of the roof pitch and generous overhangs. Photo Credit: Scott Brown

Here's what you need to know about log cabins. You bet you can build one. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. Has it been done by others with limited tools and technology? You bet. I urge you to discover what it takes to produce the gorgeous photos of log cabins you see in the magazines and books.

Your brain probably has a perceived image of a gorgeous cabin with perfectly fitted logs and even chinking. What you may end up with are ill-fitting logs that beg for a professional's touch unless you obtain the needed skills and tools to create a magnificent structure.

The first thing I would do if I were you would be to go online and spend lots of time at any and all log home association websites. Look for ones that have forums where you can discuss the process with others like you who want to build, or who just recently completed a log home. Immerse yourself in their stories.

If you then feel that you want to go to the next level, consider enrolling in a log building school. I did a quick search on the Internet and discovered quite a few businesses that will teach you how to transform trees into a log structure.

Be sure to do your due diligence, read reviews, search the Internet for school horror stories, etc. I read one story where a student was asked to peel the bark from logs for the first three days of the class. He immediately withdrew from the class and went to a better school. Look for stories like this.

Make a list of all tools and heavy equipment you'll need to harvest, process, cut, fit and lift the logs. Be sure that you have the resources and any needed help to do each task.

Before I would do anything at all, I'd make sure that the trees on your land are suitable for log building. At this point, you're basing your dream on the assumption that you have the needed material for free. Now's the time to discover if you have ideal trees for log construction.

Just about every log home I've seen has logs with no bark on them. How hard is it to peel the bark from the trees on your land? Are your trees straight and long enough? I'm sure there are countless other questions about just the logs!

I'd also spend some time investigating the building code issues with respect to log homes. Familiarize yourself with what your building inspector will require you to do. If possible, get her/him to show you everything it says about log homes in the actual code book. You don't want to have any misunderstandings once the job is underway.

As crazy as this sounds, I would actually try to build a very small shed before I'd start on a real cabin or home. See if you really enjoy the entire process. Imagine what the challenges will be working with logs that are five times the size of what you use for the small shed. Hone your skills on the shed. Make your mistakes there!

If you have the time, I would seek out at least five people who have done what you want to do. Contact them. My guess is they'll be happy to talk with you. If they live close to you, ask them if you can stop by and visit.

Talk to them and ask them all sorts of questions. The most important thing you need to do is listen. Listen well. Ask them some of these questions:

  • Did it take longer to do than you thought it would?
  • Was it harder to do than you anticipated?
  • What were your biggest obstacles?
  • What were the top three mistakes you made?
  • Did the project cost considerably more than you thought it would?
  • Did you attend a log-building school?
  • Would you do it again?
  • What would you do differently?

Dreams do come true. Make yours happen!

Column 998


3 Responses to Dream Log Cabin Challenges

  1. I purchased a log home in '97 and I have come to like (not love) the attendant maintenance. It is constant! If you want the cabin to be your hobby, go for it. If you want the cabin to be a base for outdoor fun, build stick frame with a 30 yr stucco siding and go fishing/hunting/hiking instead of sanding, washing, treating, caulking, dusting. And for God's sake, build a composite deck or porch.

  2. I am in the finishing stages of building a log home in ca.It will be about a ten year project when we are completly done. I would be happy to talk to Scott about it if he wishes.Warn him that its a nine beer story!

    Bryan Turner

  3. Hi Tim,

    Thank you for your great column. I am a handy man and contractor going on eight years in business, build largely on good service and the referrals that flow from that and very little advertising. Problem solving and making things both functional and beautiful for my clients is my favorite part of what I do, as well as seeing them happily pay my bill for a job well done. As with many of your readers, I used to harbour the dream of someday building and living in a log cabin and believe I could probably do it, too. But, the research I did back at the turn of this century - well before I got into business for myself - made me realize that it would have to remain a dream for the foreseeable future, mainly due to costs and the time commitment it would take.

    I love the idea of building my own log home, but the reality of doing it is a whole other thing. I don't see anything you wrote as the musings of a "dream crusher". On the contrary, I think you're doing people a great service by helping them to understand what it will take to put a foundation under their dream, hopefully without making every costly mistake that others have already made (and paid for).

    Thanks again for all your work in sharing your insights with your readers. I read your columns faithfully and never fail learn some tip or trick that I can use in the future.



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