Pole Shelter Building for Owner-Builders

Live in a pole shelter while building a homestead on your land.


| March/April 1984


No doubt about it, prospective homesteaders have a passel of problems to overcome! After all, most would-be back-to-the-landers begin without any land to go back to, and must start out by finding a suitable plot to purchase. Then, unless the property includes usable buildings, the next step is to construct a house. Between the acquisition of land and the building of a home may lie years in which money, materials and skills are patiently accumulated, while the owner-builders struggle to work and pay rent in some other location.

But if you have access to a good woodlot (with luck, your own) and if you're willing to tackle a little hard work and to rough it for a while, it's possible to link up with "the good life." Pole shelter building offers inexpensive, yet attractive, temporary lodging until you can afford to build a permanent home. Furthermore, you can do so with a few hand or power tools (you'll need wood chisels, an ax, a good bow saw, hand drill, draw blade, ruler, and posthole digger to get under ways some very basic building skills (such as measuring, sawing, notching logs, drilling and nailing), and a friend or two to help lift poles into place, attach siding, and so forth.

Time-Tested Shelters 

Now I'm not saying that constructing such shelters is exactly easy, but I do know it can be done—because I've been building them for two years, with children for my work crew. As an outdoor instructor for a year-round camping program, I teach youngsters many aspects of wilderness living, including how to design and build their own shelters. In order for each camper to have an opportunity to put up at least one such structure during his or her camp stay, we intentionally design our shelters to last only three to five years. However, in the past fifteen years our school has found that these so-called temporary structures hold up pretty darned well, under conditions ranging from Florida hurricanes to heavy Vermont snows!

Pole Shelter Building Designs 

At camp, we utilize the basic designs listed below, each of which presents a different challenge to the student builder.

The Forester (see Fig. 1): This familiar design, consisting of a centered roofline that breaks away from the peak on both sides, has been perhaps the most widely used housing design in history. (In fact, early pioneers and mountain men relied on the similar, more mobile "wall tent" as they explored the great frontier.) The Forester is probably the most fundamental multipurpose shelter available.

The A-Frame (see Fig. 2): When it comes to looks, this abode is my favorite. As the name implies, the rafters are arranged in an A-shape along both sides of a centered ridgepole. When the interior is unmodified, heat rises into the unused peak, but the addition of a lowered ceiling renders the structure more energy-efficient and provides extra space for storage or a sleeping loft.





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