Adventures in Building a Hut in the Woods

Learn how one woman built her own inexpensive hut for a summer in the woods.

| July/August 1972

  • build a hut
    A temporary hut in the woods is the perfect place to spend a summer. 
    Photo by Mary Lee Coe

  • build a hut

With most of my money converted into six isolated acres of a New Hampshire homesteading community, with only $200 to spend on a permanent all-weather house, with a whole summer's worth of hours already promised to self-building that house and readying the soil for food production . . . I faced last spring still needing a special kind of summer shelter that I'd apparently have to produce out of little more than thin air. Because I knew I had a lot of physical labor ahead of me, I wasn't after living hassles and I really wanted a bug-free, rain-resistant dwelling that I could walk around in, sleep in, eat in, write in and meet with at least five friends in . . . in comfort. A tent just wouldn't do. What I needed was an inexpensive (very), summer home which would give me those comforts AND which could be put together by a handful of people in less than a handful of days.

Impossible? Not really. What I came up with was just that and more . . . my seasonal home fit all my requirements to a "T" and added a rich vein of silver to my summer with the unique quality of its interior.

I found the prototype for my temporary house in Alicia Bay Laurel's book, LIVING ON THE EARTH. The plastic-covered, Quonset hut-like structure pictured there, I thought, would surely be inexpensive and easy to throw up in a couple of days. I didn't look forward to the offensive sight of plastic in the woods, of course, but I thought that the shape might make some aesthetic compensations and—with no sharp corners or jarring lines—the tunnel could conceivably be tucked deep under the hemlocks and hardly show. There was still the unappealing prospect (I didn't know then about the silver bonus) of having to move and breathe surrounded by plastic film that fuzzed the trees and sky to dull shadows but the material was cheap and the design was right . . . so it had to be.

Off I went to town and friends for the needed supplies. I bought a 10' x 100' roll of building plastic and some three or four-penny nails for a total of $11. That was the extent of my purchases . . . everything else I needed was donated.

My friend Van gave me some scraps of vinyl-backed felt (an old inner tube would have done) to be cut into one-inch squares and put between the plastic and the nails to avoid any tearing. Another friend donated a piece of screen, an old farmer gave me all the baling twine I needed and a full-length screen door and a four-and-a-half-foot cabinet door came from the basement collections of generous friends. With these supplies and a few hammers, a crowbar, a rake, brush cutters, a small saw and an axe, three friends and I hiked down to my land and got ready to begin construction.

For the site, I chose a flat spot about 100 feet away from the beaver pond. It was covered by a roof of hemlock branches which would protect my home from wind and rain and the native inhabitants—beaver, deer, Great Blue Heron and even me—from the obtrusive appearance of the plastic. The trees were spaced such that I could just squeeze a 10' x 21' tunnel between their trunks . . . a perfect place.

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