How to Build a Small Log Cabin

by Kent Griswold on October 14th, 2010. 56 Comments
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Keith Stonebraker has recently developed an interesting take on a log cabin. I want him to share his design idea with you. I’ll turn it over to Keith.

I have always wanted a log cabin, just some little place to get away with my thoughts and relax. I had helped a friend with the building of his log cabin back in Michigan and found out how difficult it could be with the heavy logs to move around and get into position. This wasn’t anything that I wanted to attempt on my own.

After doing a lot of research on the web I soon found out that a simple log cabin wasn’t exactly what I call cheap and nothing was available locally if I wanted to do it myself.

When I saw the laminated log cabins, suddenly a light went off in my head and I wondered if it were possible to do that myself with ordinary lumber. The next day I put a few boards together to get a better idea of what it would look like and then my idea really took off.

I had already planned on building a garage so this was the perfect way to test my theory with minimal problems.

With this idea you basically are just gluing and nailing three boards together into a tongue and groove log that will interlock into the log above and below it. Before the log is stacked I just planed the corners to give it that groove between the logs that make it look like a log cabin. Construction adhesive is also applied between logs.

I didn’t do a lot of measuring for the logs. I just used 2″ by 2″s as spacers for the clamping jig to eliminate most of the measuring. I also used a 2″ by 2″ as a guide so that I didn’t apply construction adhesive or nail into the wrong areas. I used a nail gun but there is no reason that it couldn’t be done by hand nailing.

For chinking the small cracks between the logs I used more construction adhesive on the inside and outside to seal everything up and make it even stronger.

To my suprise this turned out to be pretty low cost as well as efficient. My walls for this 24′ by 35′ garage only cost about $3000 and is nearly all twelve foot, 2″ by 8″ lumber.

This method of alternative construction gives you something that the others doesn’t, the ability to easily resell it if necessary.

I finially have my own piece of heaven here in beautiful Middle Tennessee.

56 Responses to “How to Build a Small Log Cabin”

  1. Derek says:

    This is pretty genius. Were any special permits required for this type of construction? How well does it hold heat with only 3 boards?

  2. deborah says:

    Great idea and perfect looking in it’s environment! Just out of personal interest, how much did it cost total to complete and how long did it take you? Did you have assistance with any of it?

  3. Drue says:

    I’ve been alive how long and never thought of it? I am ashamed at the simplicity of it and how nice the results look.

  4. Heather says:

    What a sharp looking garage. Good enough to live in. Nice work.

  5. Pierre Fortier says:

    Very clever! And it must give a very rigid structure. Also very nice to look at. Bravo!!

  6. jay says:

    Looks like you could modify that plan just a tiny bit and throw a layer of that 1 or 2″ insulation (the stiff kind, not the rolls) and get a good bit of insulation going in there, easily.

    • Keith says:

      jay,
      Conventional thinking would make you believe that it would be a good idea to increase the insulation. I believe that this could hurt more than help because you could be blocking the logs that give you that thermal mass and collects heat. In essence not allowing the logs to breathe.
      My alternative solution to this would be to increase the log thickness by adding an additional 2″ by 8″ to the inside, This would increase the thermal mass and give you a way to conceal your wiring. I would add this after building the walls in my suggested manner.

      • Joe Cioffi says:

        Hi Keith, great idea, I know you probably been asked this a thousand times but where might I find either your plans or more detail on how you built this structure? Any info. would be appreciated. Joe Cioffi

  7. Anne says:

    Wow. Great idea and very nice results.

  8. Micah says:

    This is very cool! Is there any way I could get a better picture of the construction diagrams. There really hard for me to see.

  9. et says:

    Search “solid wood walls” for more on similar building techniques.

  10. Keith says:

    Hello everyone. Thank you for the kind words. I will try to answer a few of these questions.
    Regarding permits, this structure as with all alternative building does not fit into the normal building code. All the building inspector required was a third party approval to get the permit. A local engineering firm approved my drawings with no problems at all and only charged $35.
    My entire building only cost me less than %10,000 w/concrete and I could have done it for about $7000 without the expensive garage doors, better shingles and epoxy floor.
    A really good friend came down from Michigan and helped me with the walls and I hired 2 guys to help me with the trusses and sheeting the roof. The two days work (part time) by them cost me $400. Money was well spent.
    It took us about 10 days to put up the walls but we only worked about 6 hours per day.
    This seems to hold heat really well. I am insulating the ceiling now and still have to put the chimney in for the wood burner. The concrete also serves as thermal mass for heat retention.
    Efficiency wise I think that it would be equal to any other log cabin with walls of equal thickness. The most important thing with log cabins is air infiltration and this issue is address with the interlocking of logs and the chinking.
    For a short amount of time I have a few of my booklets available on Ebay at a very reasonable price to help people who need a little more information. It is listed under “Lumber Log Structures”.

    • Randy says:

      Hello Keith, Very clever. This is the idea I have been looking for. I looked for your booklet but it does not appear to be available any longer. Do you plan to produce any more copies or is there anyone out there who has a copy. We want to build on our vacant land up on Lake Superior which is 9 hours North of us. Your technique would allow me to prebuild a cabin kit and then trailer it up to our lot for assembly. Thanks for sharing your great idea! Randy

      • Keith says:

        Randy,
        I’m sorry that I have not responded but I didn’t notice your message since it was attached to an OCT post.
        My booklet is now available again on EBAY for about a week. After that I can be reached at braker1@bellsouth.net for additional copies.

        Thanks

  11. Joseph says:

    Very cool

  12. Joseph says:

    Very cool are you going to sale the plan for making the logs and building.

    • Keith says:

      Joseph,
      My booklet is basically a method of building log walls. Since I don’t know what kind of building that you want I cannot be that specific. You still would need to get your own building plan since you might have different load bearing walls and structural elements.
      This same method would be used to build the walls of most types of structures and and not limited to cabins or garages. (sheds, barns, cabins etc.)

  13. This is brilliant! I’m amazed it wasn’t more expensive…I researched “bought” logs years back and decided I couldn’t afford them either…

  14. Elizabeth Goertz says:

    Hello? why take a tree haul it off to be milled, and sawn into lumber so that you can buy it and glue it all back together to make it like a log?
    Could you possibly make this more energy wasteful? how about coating it in concrete?
    How about you cut the trees your selves, and peal them and stack them. Its not easy, but it is simple. and it doesn’t involve trucking the wood all over the country. Really people, think.

    • Keith says:

      Elizabeth,
      This method that I invented is intended to be an alternative to log cabin kits. Most of the logs used for these kits are hauled from long distances, energy is used to haul these and then more energy is used to mill and laminate them together and then more energy is used to transport them to the construction site that is many miles away.I have eliminated most of these steps by using locally grown lumber.
      As with all log homes I have eliminated the need for exterior plywood, siding, insulation, drywall or paneling and also the energy and labor needed to manufacture these products. I consider my method more energy sensitive than these kit homes.
      If it were easy to cut trees, haul them and stack them I would continue to do it this way. I don’t consider your method to be a one or two person task. I also don’t believe that your log home would be as energy energy efficient to heat as mine would be with the interlocking logs.
      I respectively disagree on most of your assumptions.

      • scott says:

        Wow!! I really hate to ever post any kind of negative comment, especially to disagree with another poster as I normally look at all posts as opinions and we are all entitled to our own, I have to agree with Keith here and respectfully disagree with Elizabeth. First let me say Im not looking to start a huge argument about logging in general but all of my working experience growing up and to date invovles lumber production of all kinds, timber buying, along with tiny house building, I just have to chime in here on the remarks about ….could you be more wasteful? That comment , to me is so out of line it made me laugh, to be honest if you want to get the most use out of a log you do not need to peel it and put it in a house, it should be milled, the quality lumber will be milled, the bark will be used, the sawdust and chips will be used for more products than you can imagine and there truly is no waste, and believe it or not, it is much more economical and therefore less wasteful to sell logs and buy what lumber you need. Again, I hate to posts such comments and probably should have just kept silent but heres my take, nearly every reader of this blog can take Keith’s method and build a log structure, I seriously doubt there are even a handful that can take the suggestion of cut logs, peel em, stack em up and actually do it, do you realize what is involved with doing such a project, most people wouldnt have access to logs for one, nor the know how to safely harvest the trees, not to mention loading a log , having the correct equipment to haul it, then there is the handling of the log once in place, and peeling it, I just have to ask Elizabeth, have you ever peeled a log? I have and its not an easy process. Again, I mean no disrespect and I think having the different opinions is what makes the world go around, and while Im venting, I do think cutting trees, haluing them, peeling them and building with them is a good fit for lots of folks that truly want to build their own cabin. Let me wrrap up my rant, and say again as a man with deep roots and experience in the timber business as well as building, I smiled at Keiths post and like many others thought, why didnt I think of that, but I also laughed at the sarcastic comment that included the remark about coating the logs in concrete as it is totally obsurd to this builder/timber man.

      • Elizabeth Goertz says:

        Thank you for being so respectful, when I was not.

  15. Elizabeth Goertz says:

    Sorry to be so negative, but this is not environmentally sensitive, not to mention poisoning yourself with construction adhesive, I hope you didn’t use treated lumber.

    • E:

      Can you recommend an adhesive for this application that would be effective and safe?

      b

      • Keith says:

        Bill,
        Construction adhesive has long been a standard in stick built construction. I don’t know what is in these adhesives since I am certainly not a chemist.
        On the outside I would use an adhesive that is definitely rated as “Outdoor” or “Indoor/Outdoor”. The large tubes are the cheapest. I used Subfloor adhesive on the inside.
        If you are still concerned about using these, I would substitute a colored silicone caulk for the chinking. I don’t know what is in commercial chinking products either. Most of the gaps are not very deep so I applied the adhesive like caulking. You don’t want to fill the gaps that you created to make them look like logs.
        The best place to start is to take the drawings that I have provided and the booklet if you have it and speak with your building inspector. He will tell you what will be required as far as building plans. With the drawings he will be able to see just how it is constructed and get a better idea as to its strength.

        • K:

          I am waiting for your book before I begin. I was hoping that Elizabeth might have some recommendations for a preferred alternative. I have been researching and found references the sub-floor adhesive that you mentioned as well at Titebond GreenChoice by Franklin.

          Without the book I can only speculate that I would glue and screw each plank between the three boards during production as well as two to four beads on each beam/log to fill the joints while sealing the seams inside each groove to prevent air infiltration.

          You mentioned the idea of adding to the thermal mass by increasing the depth of the interior wall after assembly and I was wondering if you would do this continuing the horizontal pattern of the wall or switch to a vertical board/baton style application. I guess this could be simply a personal preference but I thought that vertical might enhance the structural integrity of the wall. What are your thoughts?

          b

          • Keith says:

            Bill,
            I am not really familiar with the Titebond product so I can’t make an educated comment.
            You pretty much have the process figured out but I only used adhesive and nails into the outer boards. The adhesive is stronger than the nails and that many 3- 3 1/2 inch long screws would be pretty costly but you could use them.
            To increase the thermal mass there is no reason that you couldn’t run the lumber vertical to the logs. The logs are already so strong I don’t think that running them that way would be needed for strength. I suggested the horizontal method because it didn’t change the look of the log wall and made it easier to conceal the wiring. This will increase the cost of the walls by 25%
            I got your booklet order just when I got back from the post office so it will probably go out Wednesday. Thanks

          • K:

            Have you done anything else to attached each Lumber Log to the one above or below? I was speculating about toe nailing or some other method in addition to the adhesive.

            Do you have a web site or a blog about your structure?

            b

  16. I think this is an excellent idea and like others, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this already. Good job! Where do I start?…

    • Keith says:

      Bill,
      If you look at the CAD drawings again you will notice that the Logs are nailed along the bottom to attach it to the log beneath it in addition to the adhesive.
      Sorry, I don’t have a Web site or Blog. Kent was kind enough to let me share the information here.
      The booklet might make these things clearer for you. I really hadn’t planned on offering the booklet. I hoped the drawings and photo’s that I provided here would have been enough information.

  17. Aaron says:

    I am very interested in your method, but what exactly is the name of the booklet you’re talking about on E-bay? Please let me know so I can get a copy. Do you know specifically what the R- rating is for three thicknesses of wood? We live in the Pacific NW and have a relatively mild climate. We really like your inovative idea and think it has merit. You make good points regarding all the other products needed to build a proper structure.

    • Keith says:

      Aaron,
      My booklet is called “Lumber Log Structures”.
      The actual R-value of three boards is only about R 4 1/2 but this is misleading as to the efficiency of the building. The efficiency is more related to thermal mass in a log structure. I suggest that you research “Solid wood walls” and “Thermal Mass”. Many of the Commercial Log Cabin builders have information on this as well. Air infiltration with most structures is a big factor in heat loss and this method really keeps the cold air out.

  18. Kim says:

    Very simple, very smart, very attractive. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Elizabeth Goertz says:

    I apologize again for my tone. It was rude and combative and not appropriate for this forum.
    So, To answer. I once bought a piece of land, with lodge pole pines on it, for this purpose. My husband and I, who are city kids who had never built any thing, got some tools and some books and taught our self’s how to fell trees how and when to peel them and stack them for drying. We did most of the work our selves, having a couple of friends come over to help move some logs from time to time. So yes I have peeled a tree , yes it is hard work.
    The logs were never shipped any where, and the bark and sawdust stayed on site. I know this is sounding holier than thow, or defensive, and perhaps it is a little. but my point is that it can be done, and that I did not make my earlier post without knowing what I was talking about.
    My point is not about logging per se, but using locally available building materials to there best advantage. I would not have chosen to poor a concrete slab either. concrete is very energy intensive. I would have put it up on stone piers, or a stone (from the site) foundation.
    If it were being built in Arizona, I would say don’t build with logs, use adobe. Where there is stone build with it.

  20. Elizabeth Goertz says:

    Also, this site has many fine examples of owner built log homes, so there are not so few people who can do it. A recent post was about a couple who took it one step farther and built theirs without felling a single tree. They used dead fall.
    Now you will probably make some comments about me being a hippy tree huger or some thing, and you would be right.
    As per my apology, I honor you for getting motivated and actual building some thing, even if It is not the way I would have done it. If it pleases you, and suits your needs , more power to you. I think My next building project will be straw bale and cob, even though we have plenty of trees here, and not much straw!

  21. Neil says:

    Very nice! The $3,000 cost really appeals to me; many of the other buildings I’ve seen are way too expensive. Despite the price, it has the nice appearance of much pricier buildings!

    I have several questions for you…

    • how did get get the walls plumb? Did you have to insert shims to keep the walls going up exactly vertical?

    • why is the bottom row darker than the other rows? Is it pressure-treated, and perhaps the other rows aren’t?

    • what would be the minimum number of people required to get the upper rows in place? Could it be built by only 2 people?

    Thanks!

    • Keith says:

      Neil,
      The only think I had to do for the walls to be plumb was to use a level on the corners before I nailed them. This was all I did for that and the top was only 1/2″ off square at 13 courses of logs.
      The bottom row of logs is Pressure treated. I had to do this because it was not 12″ off the ground. I wasn’t going to live in this garage so it wasn’t a factor for me. If I were building on piers or a foundation then this wouldn’t have been necessary.
      It only took two of us to put up the walls. You just have to have something to stand on to reach the top. The logs are not really that heavy for two people.

  22. My book (handbook) arrived today and it explains most of the assembly details that I have relating to the actual hands on work of building. Thanks for the quick shipment and the color pictures are nice. It may be a better description for others to note that this document is more like magazine because there are only 25 single sided pages. I am very satisfied and look forward building my “Lumber Log” structure once I have collected my building materials. I have located some windows and doors today so acquisition is progressing. Thanks again for such a great idea!

  23. TJ says:

    Very cool Keith.Just came across this today.Now that the building has been up for a couple of years,have you experienced any “log” settling? I’ve seen real log homes that need slip-jambs at doors and windows so as the logs shrink over time the doors and windows still operate properly. Any issues/observations?

    • Keith says:

      I have been watching very closely for any movement to the logs but I have not been able to find any change. I allowed about one half inch for all of the jack studs on the doors and windows but the gap is still there. The logs are so tightly constructed with the nails and adhesive that it keeps everything in place besides the weight of the logs themselves pressing against each other.

  24. Bill, (or anyone who will soon build using this method)

    I am a Chaplain in Afghan and coming home soon to Georgia. I would love to help someone in order to learn before I start on my project. Any chance that you haven’t started? If not, would you like some free help? I am in States in about 2 weeks.
    Thnx,
    Chaplain Gary Williams

    • Bill Zaspel says:

      G:

      I have not started this project yet. I have been “practising” my building skills while finishing my honey-do list. Almost completed the second bathroom and getting ready to start the rec room. That should go fast and they I will begin on my Tiny House using Keith’s Lumber Log method. My plan is to make the logs in my drive way and transport them into a back field where they will be assembled into a remote farm structure for storage. I’ll probably work this summer.

  25. Tinordy says:

    Hey, just was wondering if you could just offset a middle 2×8 to make the tounge and that would also create a better block (no seam staight through)?

  26. Tinordy says:

    Never mind….. just checked out the rest of the diagrams :) May try this some time….. looks like a good project! Thanks

  27. J.B. says:

    Did you have any trouble with the ends of the overhanging logs coming apart? Looks like there might be shearing stress on the glue bond at the ends. Also, did the same log overhang at both ends or did you have them overhanging on one end and flush on the other? Strength-wise would it make a difference?

    • Keith says:

      J.B.

      I haven’t had a problem with anything coming apart. The adhesive is nearly stronger than the lumber. My logs overhang at both ends but I wouldn’t think that it would make a difference one way or the other.

      • Chaplain Gary Williams says:

        Keith,
        I came home from Afghan but then got sent to Ft Bliss, TX and hence couldn’t start my barn project. Will be retiring in Oct and hope to start my large garage using your method of construction. Wondered if you still had any booklets I could purchase. Thanks for your gracious help to the many people asking questions of you. Sincerely,
        Chaplain Gary Williams

  28. David Poisson says:

    Hi Gary, very interesting in getting your brochure. The following elements I think I understand well:
    - Starter plate
    - Templates to help build logs
    - The whole lamination process (except 1 thing, see below)
    - Top plate
    - Door / window frames

    I’m a little fuzzy about the following details (please let me know if these are covered in your brochure):
    - Did you use simple woodworking glue?
    - How did you do the gable ends?
    - How did you do the roof (this part really mystifies me)?
    - Do you think it could be feasible to add a loft to such a structure?

    Cheers and congrats on such a great idea!

    David

  29. David Poisson says:

    Oh, I almost forgot, what is your average snow load in winter in your area (if any) and what is the lowest temp you usually get in winter?

    Cheers

    David

    • Keith says:

      David,

      Thank you for the questions.
      The glue that I used is similar to Liquid Nails in a large calking tube. There are also other brands of construction adhesive that will work.
      I only describe the log wall construction since the roof is is determined by your preference and the load requirements for your area. (rafters vs trusses) I hired some help with the roof very reasonably and cover this in the booklet.
      There is very little snow in Middle Tennessee but the roof still had to meet local code. I used trusses but I could have put in a loft just as in other types of construction.
      Most winters it doesn’t get much colder than the 15-20 degrees but it has gotten colder.

  30. Michael says:

    Hey Keith,

    First off, I love the ingenuity and creativity that went into this. Very cool.

    Second, would you mind posting up some new pictures to show how the building is doing after a few years?

    Thanks much.

  31. jamekia says:

    i like ur log cabin i have a project 2 do on a wood log cabin

    thanks a lot
    jamekia

  32. Paul says:

    The oil is gone. Potable water is poisoned. Good thing we all have a stash of rice and gold and a cache of long arms. Now if I only knew how to hunt, fish and grow food. Only people with full bellies think of these things. So turn off CNN, cut your dosage in half kiss your kids and feed the cat. Leave the wood-felling and tower building to the pros. Oh, and my name……. Paul. Paul Bunyan. P.S. Teach a man to fish and, no,no,no just gimme the fish. I’m Hungry.

  33. Gary says:

    Dear Keith,
    I am building a prospector cabin 12×16 in NW Ontario. What would happen if I did not glue the logs together? My building could be temporary. Would love to see it stand at least 10-15 years though. Could this be built by one person?
    Gary

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