Don’s Ash Cabin

Update new photo below 4/11/14

Don Richmond wrote me the other day about his cabin project and I wanted to share it with you. Here is Don’s story.

I was stunned by the similarity of the House of Fallen Timbers story to my own. I live in rural Southeast Lower Michigan, and my 2.25 acres has been ravaged by the ash borer problem. So last winter I had quite a few dead ash trees to cut down and clean up. Like David, I had plenty of burning wood, and I was afraid they would start falling down and causing (safety) problems, and I was also tired of how bad they looked, as well as having to clean up all the shed during windy conditions. But I got to looking at them, and at how many “straight” sections of log they had in them, and I thought “Hmmm…crazy idea, but I wonder if I could build a small log cabin from the straight pieces.” I also had seen Dick Proenneke’s PBS special, and was impressed that a single person could do that.

So on January 2nd of 2010, I started cutting down trees. A friend helped me, a guy who burns wood for heat, and I told him that if he helped me cut them down and cut them up, he could have all the crooked stuff to burn. It took a while, but we got them all cut down and stacked the straight ones in drying piles, and he got quite a few loads of excellent firewood out of the deal, which I helped him cut to burning size pieces and load onto his trailer. He was happy, and so was I.

Making a long story short, it’s 11 months later now, and I have ended up with an ash log cabin. The only thing I have left is to install the stove pipe so I can burn wood for heat in my Grandfather’s 1887 wood stove that I have in there.

The costs for building were minimal, as I attempted to (and took great pride in) using resources and materials I had already laying around or could recycle from other sources I could find. I did buy some things, like the USB sheets for the roof and floor, 3 insulation rolls to stuff between logs, hinges/handle for the door, but that’s about it. It was a great project, and I learned a lot, and gained great appreciation for the pioneers who did this type of thing for their families to provide them with shelter. I also pretty much did it solo. Besides the friend helping me cut down the trees and stack the logs, one other friend came one Saturday and did some odds and ends – peeling some logs, doing some notching, etc… – more because he was excited about what I was doing and wanted to learn how to do some of those things than out of necessity. Other than that, I did the rest myself, including the nut-busting-back-breaking moving around of VERY heavy hardwood logs. Luckily, I got through it without any big accidents, though not without some scary moments, particularly getting the real big logs up to higher and higher levels.

So I just wanted to share some thoughts and ideas on our projects. Congratulations on your own completions. I share and understand your efforts, and give you credit for all your work.


Don Richmond
drichmond (at)

New photo of patio below.

new patio

35 thoughts on “Don’s Ash Cabin”

    • No. Unlike termites they feed on living trees.

      They are an invasive species that arrived on wood in packing crates. Customs inspects little of the cargo arriving here and the US doesn’t like to keep the profiteers waiting.

  1. Great use of available resources and barter/trade.
    Lovely little cabin. I suspect Mr. Proenneke would have been happy to know he inspired you πŸ™‚

  2. That’s a very cool cabin – famous now that it shows up in the Google search results. Well done Don, but you couldn’t have done it without that spoke shave πŸ™‚ πŸ˜‰

  3. Wow, thanks for the comments everyone. I have actually never read any of them. A friend – actually the guy who lent me a hand with it for a day – stumbled across this and pointed it out to me. I am seeing it 3+ years later.

    Anyway, it is still standing. πŸ™‚ Actually, I’ve added features since I last posted. I’ll try and include new pictures. I added a cement slab in front, yet another reuse/recycle “project”. There was a cement slab patio on the back of my house, but tree root growth caused it to start tilting toward the house, which of course caused water to run towards the house, resulting in…you guessed it, basement water problems. So it had to be removed. Looking at it, I realized it you fit in front of the cabin. One small issue…transporting this very cumbersome, HEAVY item 100yds or so. Well, sparing you the details, we used “rollers” (ash log cut-outs from the cabin door/windows actually), leverage, and a tractor to slowly transport it. Several hours and lots of patience later, it became a cabin patio. πŸ™‚

    Answers to other questions:

    Elizabeth – No real regular practical use for the cabin, other than relaxing/enjoying, my kids (grown) and grandkids hanging out, camping out, etc…

    Joyce – ash borer no longer a problem for the logs once the bark is gone. They just like the material between the wood and the bark, which kills the tree but doesn’t compromise the integrity of the wood itself.

    Moontreeranch – the “slab” you see is cosmetic. “Foundation” is actually broken up concrete that was saved after removing an old sidewalk after we moved into our house. Lines up and pieced together in a 10ftx12ft “base”, nice and square. After the cabin was built, I just used “forms” around the perimeter/base and poured a few bags of quickcrete to make it look like a slab from the outside, as well as a barrier for critters getting underneath.

    David – I am NOT a big guy, so lugging 10ft-12ft logs that are 6″-10″dia was a practical lesson in physics/leverage, especially as I got higher and higher. =8-0 I had to get creative with how to move large, heavy things.

    Thanks everybody. Will try and attach a newer/latest picture.


  4. Don’t think you can add images to a comment. The “upload your photo” link they show in yellow is for the icon next to your name (like Kent, et. al. has). Your best bet might be to upload to a hosting location like Imgur [], which doesn’t require registration, and paste the link to the photo(s) in your comment.

  5. Very creative! You did such a great job. Nice touch with your grandpa’s stove! It’s a cute little cabin you can certainly be proud of building mostly by your self. My wife and I have always dreamed of living in a log cabin in the mountains somewhere. Maybe that day is still to come, even at our age. Unfortunately, due to health issues, I won’t be able to to the work myself. Take care, and have fun in your new cabin.

  6. Great build.

    I’ve watched the Dick Proenneke story half a dozen times; and thought when I have a lot of time, I want to try my hand at building something the traditional way.

    One nitpick for the aesthetics and but more so for durability: the builder should have gone whole hog with real wood for the roof.

    That chipboard / OSB (not USB) will bend and warp when it is not supported 16in OC end to end. A few inches overhang is OK, but not 1-2 feet. Being in Michigan you probably get a decent snow load in the winter … so something to watch out for.

    Plus you can’t leave the edges of OSB exposed to weather. It’ll start to split open in short time and then begin to further disintegrate on the edges.

    But, maybe the OSB roof is more of a temporary thing? To be replaced with a log roof in the future?

  7. This looks like a fun – and very eduational- project. Yes, imagine trying to do this alone on the prayer with just hand-tools! Amazing. It would have been great if you could have had some school kids come and watch the process- quite a learning experience for them.

  8. Just read this for the first time. Awesome job Don. The best part is the feeling of satisfaction of doing something yourself and doing it well. Especially when you are learning as you go. We are building our second owner-builder home and plan a tiny place up in the woods for guests down the road. I love it when people choose to simplify!

  9. WOW. Great story and excellent use of the available wood. I am wondering if the cabin is usable during a Michigan winter. For now all I am doing is reading but in the future I may try a small project. You’re an inspiration for someone like myself who is on the “sidelines” for now. Best luck with your next project. Bonnie

  10. Wow guys, thanks for all the comments and interest. Some replies to comments and questions:

    icerabbit – yes, a log/wood roof would have been more suitable from a authenticity standpoint, but from a practical standpoint, I was also aiming to recycle/reuse materials available to me that I had stored or laying around and didn’t want to waste. I had shingles (coincidentally it came out to exactly the amount I needed, with just 2 shingles left over when finished…way too weird). Of course, if I was concerned about authenticity, I would have built a real chimney instead of using my Grandfather’s old wood stove and new stove pipe, but again, I wanted to make use of items I had available, and there was a big sentimental factor in using my Grandfather’s stove as well.There is some support for the overhangs that you don’t see, so I think that will be okay. It was important to have a LOT of overhang to keep all moisture off the logs that I could, which I’ve read is the #1 factor in log cabin longevity. We had the 2nd most snow in recorded history here, and it held up fine, so seems okay. The OSB edges being exposed may be an issue, you’re right, so I have considered using some type of drip edging to prevent the swelling due to moisture. Thanks for the suggestions.

    David Pierce – The trees had been standing dead for years, so they were plenty dry I think, but I kept them in drying piles for a while anyway. They continue to dry/split, but haven’t seemed to shift/move much, so hopefully we are okay.

    Wendy – education…great idea. I contacted the schools in the area to see if any history or social studies teachers would be doing a unit on early American History type of things, and offered to have kids out to teach them about how this kind of thing was done, but got no bites or interest. Either teacher apathy, or in this day and age, liability concerns. πŸ˜‰ Oh well.

    Bonnie B. Gilliam – Great place to hang out in the middle of Michigan Winters, definitely. Big key is to have the size of the wood stove match the space that needs to be heated. I think it’s pretty close.

    To all who would think about doing this, it’s hard but not complicated. There is no hardware whatsoever in building the frame. All just interlocking logs and very stable and strong. The first nails I had to hammer into it was when I cut out and framed the door & windows. Once you get the logs and get the hang of notching, it’s just patience and diligence and being persistent to just focus on one log at a time and don’t be in a hurry. As rewarding as anything you could ever do I think.



  11. All of north Jersey where I live is full of beautiful log homes that were made out of the stricken Chestnut Trees during the blight. the logs have survived beautifully and I have restored a two story home and am getting ready to turn a little garage into a tiny ‘home’ or as the swedes say my summer Stuga.

  12. LOL, I am in the same situation and have the same idea. I am currently researching various log cabin designs. I think I will probably do a little of what I read and a little of my own ideas. It’s kind of neat to know that there are like minds out there.


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