Build an Inexpensive Cabin

You don't have to spend a fortune to build your own cabin, outhouse and woodshed.

| May/June 1972

My wife, Meghan, and I have found that a comfortable house, sturdy outhouse and woodshed can still be built for practically nothing here in the continental United States (as we'll soon relate) . . . but one thing definitely costs money today and that one thing is land. So we worked two years at jobs we didn't especially like—Meghan as a school teacher and myself in construction and other odd jobs—and bought our own little chunk of earth with the money we earned. After that, the rest came easy.

We chose to settle in northwestern Montana for four reasons: (1) to get away from hyperactive politics, (2) to drink sparkling, clear water from a mountain stream, (3) to breathe clean air and (4) to be part of the beautiful, snowy, peaceful winters. True, snowmobiles have destroyed some of that peacefulness . . . but the people who own such machines must hold a 9-to-5 job to support them and, therefore, can come up to the mountains on weekends only. Our paradise is still quiet five days a week . . . and it's here that we've built a two-room cabin, a woodshed and an outhouse—all three—for under $215.00 (1972 prices).

Start with Inexpensive Lumber

The cabin—except for log beams and log foundation—is constructed entirely of cull 2 x 4's. It seems that one of the many sawmills in our region cuts only this one standard size of lumber and many of the timbers produced by the still are short, split or have minor flaws. The culls, which average about seven feet long, are sold in large bundles for approximately 7 1/2¢ each. By laminating these "seconds", one on top of another, we found we could build a solid wall four inches thick that was not weakened by the imperfections in the individual pieces of lumber.

We began our new home last summer by constructing a foundation of fir log. We could have chosen spruce, balsam, birch or tamarack just as easily but—of the four—spruce and balsam rot rapidly once subjected to dampness . . . and birch is just too beautiful to cut. Tamarack and fir are both strong and long-lasting and we picked the latter only because two large fir trees were near our building site.

In addition to being tough and tenacious, fir—we soon learned—is also extremely heavy. We felled the trees, cut. them into 20-foot lengths, peeled them and let 'em dry and lighten in the hot summer sun. Even after seasoning, it was a three man job to wrestle each log into place.

Foundations should be both level and square . . . no small feat on our mountainous building site. We placed the largest logs we had on the downhill side of the slope, positioned the smaller ones uphill and filled in around them all until we had the beams anchored firm and true.

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