How to Design a Practical Log Cabin

Reader Contribution by David Woods and Log Cabin Hub
1 / 2
2 / 2

Photo by Tony Basilio

Designing a practical and usable log cabin isn’t easy. The planning stage of a log cabin build is the single most important stage. Spend enough time on this stage and your build will be successful. Rush it, and you are likely to hit many hurdles. These hurdles will increase the cost and the duration of your build. The three most important design considerations for your log cabin are:

1. The location

2. The exterior

3. The floor plan


Most people make the mistake of jumping into the planning process at the floor plan stage. Instead, you should decide where you want to build your log cabin, and then design the cabin and floor plan around the specifics of your land.

The natural habitat your cabin is placed upon will heavily impact the design and layout of your cabin (i.e. your plot of land is crucial to the design of your log cabin). It is nearly impossible to design your cabin without knowing where it will be situated.

You need to think about the orientation of your cabin and how best to utilize your land. Knowing your location allows you to plan where best to place your windows to make the most of the suns’ natural energy:

• If you live in a cooler climate, position your log cabin so it is south facing, and put most of your windows on the south wall too. Avoid using north facing windows.

• Conversely, if you live in a hot climate orientate your cabin so its south-east facing and have counterpart windows on the north side to save on cooling costs.

If the land you have chosen has natural slopes, you have the option of building the front half of your cabin on stilts or incorporating an under-cabin garage to make the most of the natural grades.

Finally, your site may provide natural shelters or wind breaks (e.g. wooded perimeters) that will reduce weathering and protect your cabin from extreme natural forces (e.g. wind, rain and snow). Using natural shelter can combat against south-facing gable weathering due to direct sunlight, wind and rain exposure.

Orientation, grade, and natural shelters will all impact the design and practicality of your log cabin.


Before you start thinking about the interior of your log cabin, you will need to decide what you want to achieve from the exterior. Do you want a traditional log cabin to use as a home? A small weekend trapper’s cabin? A large glamourous ski-in ski-out cabin? The exterior of your log cabin will likely be determined by its future use.

Many prospective cabin builders forget to think further ahead than the finished log cabin design. But one of the most important exterior aspects is to decide upon the construction method (i.e. notch type) and the logs’ profile (i.e. cut and type of log).

There are over 700 species of trees in the US, but, only two dozen of them are used for building log cabins. Your choice of log will most likely come down to appearance, cost, energy efficiency and availability. The most popular choices are Pine, Cedar, Cypress and Oak.

Once you have selected the lumber, the next design consideration is your construction method (i.e. notch type), each of them has a distinct design appearance. There are three main notches which will determine your cabin’s exterior appearance, full dovetail (Appalachian log home), Scandinavian saddle notch (traditional log cabin) and butt and pass (DIY log cabin).

If a contractor is building your cabin, the decision will most likely fall down to which is more aesthetically pleasing to you. If you are building your own cabin, you will want to consider your carpentry abilities, butt and pass is the most preferable method if you are a novice.

Floor Plan


Floor plan by David Woods

After you’ve decided upon your cabin’s location and exterior appearance, it’s time to start on the exciting part: the floor plan! A floor plan is vital to ensure space maximization, good flow and practicality. There are two places I recommend starting at during your floor plan design: pre-designed floor plans and your current home.

You will know what size cabin you want (i.e. square feet). This will be determined by three factors:

1. How many people will live in or use the cabin

2. How many function rooms you want

3. The purpose of the log cabin

Start off, by looking at similar sized floor plans for inspiration. Use them for inspiration and guidance. Look at how the rooms flow from one to another and really imagine yourself living in a space just like that. Do you foresee any problems?

Then think about your current home, what works well, what doesn’t? Are there any aspects you want to carry over to your new home? Once you get some ideas about the layout of your cabin, you can start to think about the practicalities of the room layouts. Write down all the rooms and spaces you want to include in your home, and start thinking about how each of them will connect.

Do you need particular places to be open plan? If you like entertaining, you’ll likely want a large open plan kitchen and living space. Do you need quieter areas? If you work from home, you’ll probably want a quiet office space away from the main living area.

The more thought you give to your lifestyle, the more you can ensure your floor plan is practical and flows well for you, your family and guests.

A Successful Log Cabin Build

If you give thoughtful consideration to each of the points covered above, you will end up with a practical design for your log cabin — practical in its use and practical in its design for energy efficiency and weatherproofing.

Remember, what is practical for one person, may not be practical for another. The important thing to ensure when designing your cabin is that it fits your lifestyle and your needs. If you take two things away from this article, they should be, to design your cabin around the land you are building upon and to design your floor plan to be practical for you.

David Woodsis a carpenter, outdoorsman, and author with more than 30 years of professional woodworking experience. He is the author of best-seller How to Build a Log Home and has educated more than half a million people on how to build a log cabin via his blog,Log Cabin Hub. Connect with him onFacebook.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.