Build a Log Cabin for $100

Here's how an Oregon couple combined love of the land, native materials, traditional hand tools, and hard work to build a log cabin for $100.

| May/June 1981

  • 069 build a log cabinn 5 main view
    The author and his wife chose to build a log cabin following the Norwegian "stabbur" design: raised foundation, small windows, low door, and wide eaves.
    PHOTO: BILL SULLIVAN
  • 069 build a log cabin 1 cabin and yard
    The home stands in Oregon's isolated Coast Range, miles, from any road or powerline.
    BILL SULLIVAN
  • 069 build a log cabin 2 hand tools
    Using these traditional hand tools, the author and his wife built the cabin over two summers.
    BILL SULLIVAN
  • 069 build a log cabin 3 interior
    Interior of the cabin by the main window.
    BILL SULLIVAN
  • 069 build a log cabin 4 stone and mortar piers
    Stone-and-mortar piers capped with sheet metal keep the dwelling dry and termite-free.
    BILL SULLIVAN
  • 069 build a log cabin - diagram 1
    Diagram shows method of notching the sills to provide a secure seating for floor joists.
    BILL SULLIVAN
  • 069 build a log cabin - diagram 2 side view
    Side view of the log cabin.
    BILL SULLIVAN
  • 069 build a log cabin - diagram 3 front view
    Front view of the cabin.
    BILL SULLIVAN

  • 069 build a log cabinn 5 main view
  • 069 build a log cabin 1 cabin and yard
  • 069 build a log cabin 2 hand tools
  • 069 build a log cabin 3 interior
  • 069 build a log cabin 4 stone and mortar piers
  • 069 build a log cabin - diagram 1
  • 069 build a log cabin - diagram 2 side view
  • 069 build a log cabin - diagram 3 front view

Living in a cozy little cabin nestled in the woods is part and parcel of the classic Thoreau-inspired lifestyle most folks dream of now and then. But the romantic vision of log-home life is shattered — for many people — by the sheer cost of such structures, which can be as high as that of equivalent conventional homes.

That doesn't have to be the case, however. My wife and I kept down the cash outlay for our “Walden” by gathering most of the materials from the land where our house was to stand, and then building it ourselves, using only hand tools. As a result, our small home cost us only about $100 to construct … and the project was so simple that we’re convinced anyone with access to a few basic implements and a good supply of timber could build a log cabin too.

First Steps

One of the ways in which we kept our expenses down was to choose an uncomplicated design for our cabin. After researching several log house styles, we decided to build a home patterned after the Norwegian stabbur, which is a storehouse built on a raised foundation of pillars or stilts. A traditional stabbur also features extra-wide eaves, which repel rain and snow; small windows and a low door, which help reduce heat loss; and an upstairs loft, which serves to nearly double the available floor space.

The size of our cabin was limited more by our stamina than by the design. We didn’t want to have to deal with logs any longer than 16 feet, so our home measures 10 feet by 13 feet inside. Creative planning and the careful placement of doors could allow a much larger house to be built, but I always encourage first-timers to think small (and then possibly add on needed space later).



When our plans were drawn up, we chose a cleared and level site with nearby water, pitched a couple of large tents for temporary shelter, and packed in enough flour and beans to sustain us during a summer of hard work. While my father — who had volunteered to help during his vacation — worked on our outhouse, I marked the borders of the cabin’s foundation with stakes and string. Next, I dug six holes, three on each side, to a depth of 2 1/2 feet, right at the wall line of the cabin, and hauled in 20 wheelbarrowfuls of large, flat rocks that we’d gathered on the property. Using four bags of mortar mix, I made sturdy cement-and-stone piers in each of the holes, extending the supports 18 inches above ground level. After the extra spaces in the openings were packed with gravel, I topped the “stilts” with large plates of sheet metal to keep termites and small rodents out of the cabin.

Log Foraging

Next on our agenda was the exciting — and often backbreaking — task of finding, cutting, and hauling in the logs that would soon become the walls of our home. We selected trees from our dense second-growth forest which needed thinning. Most of the conifers we earmarked for our dwelling measured only about seven to nine inches in diameter and thus were too small to have commercial value. Working together, my wife and I felled each tree using a 5-foot crosscut saw and then removed the limbs. Then, with an axe or a hardwood barking spud (a 2-foot-long stick with a wedge-shaped tip) we stripped the bark off each trunk. We found that it was better to peel the logs immediately, because if the bark was left on the trunk for more than a few days, it would adhere to the dead tree and have to be laboriously whittled away with a drawknife.

HeathenPride
8/14/2018 2:10:17 AM

In the article, it said you built it in one Summer. But the pictures say 2 Summers. Which is right?


HeathenPride
8/14/2018 1:56:26 AM

In article it says you built it in one Summer. But pictures says 2 Summers. Which is correct??


HeathenPride
8/14/2018 1:56:26 AM

Hello, and good morning. I saw your comment on Mother Earth News article about building a Norwegian "Stabbur" cabin for $100. Best way to find land is to just do a simple search online. You can find land cheap right now, at least that is my experience. I am thinking about making that same exact cabin, as I am in need of a home here soon. And this is too perfect to pass up. Btw, it would cost around $277 in today's money to build. Just a little FYI. I believe around there. You can look up online the exact amount. It is 3:07 am here and I am tired, so could have the exact figure wrong. Anyway, just wanted to share that bit of info with you, I do hope it helps. @Hood







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