How to Build a Hand-Hewn Log Cabin

Johan Hjelm

Log cabins were the main form of housing in the woodlands of pioneer America. The log cabin still has a romantic image. Where available, it is an ecological form of housing. The use of whole logs make good insulation.

Building a log cabin is hard work. It takes a team of builders at least a month to construct even a small cabin using machine tools. A skilled craftsman can build a log cabin using only a hand axe, but it takes a correspondingly longer time.

Prepare the Foundation

A skilled craftsman can build a hand-hewn log cabin using only an axe.
  1. Prepare gravel, sand or earth beds for the foundation.

  2. Place four large stones or cement blocks where the four corners of the cabin will be. Purchase or chisel blocks or stones with a flat top of at least 5-by-5 inches. Rest the corners of the cabin on the stones.

  3. Place the stones so that the diagonals are equally long and the sides are the same length.

  4. Balance the stones horizontally. Level the corner stones.

Prepare the Logs

  1. Select fresh logs which are of sufficient and equal length.

  2. Remove the bark of the logs with the bark removal knife and the drawknife.

  3. Cut the logs with a chainsaw so that they are of equal thickness. Draw a line from the top end to the root of the log. Cut along the line so the root end is equal in width to the top end of the log.

  4. Cut one of the remaining sides flat.

  5. Cut a U-shaped groove in the last cut side, except for the last 10 inches at each end. Cut the edges of the U so they are no more than 1/10-inch, and so the depth of the U is no more than one-sixth the width of the log. Cut all logs except two.

  6. Plane the sides of the log with the axe. Cut very shallow chips in parallel with the woodface, not to remove wood but to smooth it.

Build the Cabin

  1. Place the first two logs on the foundation. Set each log so it overhangs the foundation stones by about 6 to 7 inches. Use the logs without U groves.

  2. Place two logs on top of the first two logs, about 6 to 7 inches from the ends. Set the second two logs so they overhang the first two logs by 6 to 7 inches. Mark where the second two logs overlap the first two logs at the underside of the logs.

  3. Cut notches in the second logs so that they rest firmly on top of the first two logs. Cut notches in the first logs for the second logs to rest in. Cut the notches so they are no more than one-third of the log's thickness.

  4. Repeat for all logs.

  5. Cut the logs at the desired width to form doors and windows. Insert a post, which will gradually be fastened to the logs as they are added. Inspect the last two rows of logs to make certain they are unbroken.

Build the Roof

  1. Fasten a post as roof support on top of the unbroken last two rows of logs. Construct an A-frame to support the roof.

  2. Put a roof beam across the posts. Put support beams from the roof beams to the logs.

  3. Cover the roof in plywood or fiberboard. Cover the gables using standing lumber.

  4. Add the roofing material.

  5. Allow the cabin to dry and settle for approximately a year. As the wood dries the logs will fit better together, but the cabin can shrink by up to 5 inches. Then, insert doors, floor, windows and fireplace. The cabin is ready to use.