Today, you are going to learn How To Build A Log Cabin just like the early American pioneers did. You can use modern tools to build your log cabin but in this demonstration. We are even going to use the same tools the pioneers did. I am sharing the exact step-by-step instructions I found in this incredible book called The Lost Ways 2 written by Claude Davis who is a Wild West historian and survival expert.
I have done exhaustive research on the origins of the Log cabin and have not been able to come up with a concrete answer for you. However, most historians do agree that these sturdy and simple structures originated with the earliest settlers to North America. These early pioneers were from Northern Europe and originate from the Bronze Age sometime around 3500 BC. When the first Europeans arrived in North America, they already knew how to build barns and cabins from logs.
Before we continue, I would like to share an amazing video with you that I found not long ago. This video will give you an understanding what it was like to build a log cabin like an early American pioneer. You will get to see how one man builds his very own log cabin by himself with the company of his dog. It’s an hour long video that is time lapsed so you won’t miss a step. Sean uses the same tools the early pioneers did and is a great example of the step-by-step log cabin construction I will be sharing with you today.
You are about to see how to build a cheap off grid log cabin and homestead in the Canadian wilderness. This will include a woodshed, a sauna bathhouse, an outdoor kitchen, a log house and an outhouse. Sean will be building his log home mostly with hand tools. He will also harvest all of his building materials from the forests north of Toronto, Canada. Sean also crafts the materials into shelters and functional tools using traditional woodworking tools and methods just like the early pioneers did.
Two Years Alone in the Wilderness – Escaped the City to Build Off Grid Log Cabin
You will also learn survival and bushcraft skills that Sean uses every day. These skills will include tree identification and harvesting, fire starting, hunting, fishing and camping in the winter and summer, traveling by snowshoe and canoe, water collection and purification, navigation, wild edible foraging and a whole lot more. This is a whole lot of information in an hour long video so sit back, relax and enjoy this must watch video. You are in for a real treat! I hope you enjoy the video.
Instructions On How To Build Your Log Cabin
Fortunately, most Scandinavian countries and North America have an abundance of softwood timber that is very easy to work with. Woodworkers and carpenters used basic handmade tools to cut down their trees and prepare them for construction. The Finns, in particular built their log cabins using varying construction techniques. Some techniques used round logs to build their cabins [Figure 2.] while others would hew their logs into square-shaped or round-shaped logs to give their homes a more appealing and finished look.
When the Finns and Swedes first arrived in New Sweden which was located on the Delaware River. They brought their wood craftsmanship and expert construction techniques with them. Their first settlements were located in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. These regions inside the United States still have some of the oldest and most representative types of traditional log cabins still standing today. At the end of this tutorial. I will be sharing the oldest log cabin in America located in Gibbstown, New Jersey near the Delaware river which you can visit for free. You do have to schedule a tour first. I’ll leave the number at the end of this article for you.
Early settlers and pioneers would have had to carry building materials with them across the Atlantic ocean, mountain valleys and rivers if they did not know how to live off the land. It would have been extremely difficult if they had to do this. They were able to harvest their building materials and make their own tools when they first stepped foot on American soil. Here are the basic tools used by the pioneers to build their log cabins below:
Early settlers and pioneers preferred to build their cabins in forested areas because it was easy to harvest their building materials. They never used iron spikes or nails when fitting the logs together but used notches and dowels made from logs. Even though it is a lot of hard work, building a log cabin is relatively easy. They would cut and trim their trees during mid-winter [Figure 13] then they would drag them to the construction site and peel the trees [Figure 14] and wait until spring to arrive to start the construction of their log cabins.
For this guide, we will use a basic log cabin plan [Figure 12]:
- One space (kitchen + living area)
- Bedroom: 8’5’’ in width and 25’ in length
- Bath: 11’ in length and 6’5’’ in width
The overall size of the cabin’s walls we are going to build today is 25’ feet in length and 25’ feet in width. However, your cabin’s walls might have an additional overall length and width with a few inches of about 20 feet depending on how thick the logs you are using are. Traditional log cabins of the time were approximately 12″ feet by 12′ square unless you were a well to do pioneer.
In order to build a log cabin properly, the logs had to be perfectly dry. These structures are extremely simple and most of them only had one room which the pioneers called a “pen”. Inside the pen would have been a fireplace and chimney that was placed at one of the cabin’s ends. The chimney would have been made of wattle and the hearth would have been constructed out of stone or clay.
Your fireplace [Figure 15] MUST be constructed out of fire-bricks for safety and you can use ordinary bricks for your chimney. If you building a chimney made of stone, you must make sure that you build a fire-brick lining for your fireplace just like in Figure 15. To build your fire-brick fireplace correctly, it is strongly recommended to build the fireplace over three feet in height and approximately three to five feet wide. You need a deep throat because it permits easy elimination of smoke. The face of your fireplace must be made of stone or brick or you can use both of these materials if you wish.
As for the opening of your fireplace, it may be a good idea to choose an arched opening or perhaps a stone lintel positioned across so it will uphold your masonry work at the top. Above the opening of your fireplace, make sure that you build ledges so you can place your mantel shelf. This is very important to do as you are building your fireplace so make sure you do not forget to do it.
Back in the 17th and 18th century America, all log cabins had a basic square shape [Figure 16] measuring approximately 12 feet long (on all four sides) and approximately nine feet in height. As I mentioned earlier, some pioneers built their log cabins approximately 19 feet long or longer (on all four sides) and approximately nine feet or higher in height. Traditional log cabins of this period were also made of simple stone foundations like you see in [Figure 17].
If you decide to build your log cabin the traditional way of using stone for your foundation. Make sure that you dig your holes at least three feet in depth and approximately two feet in diameter. This is extremely important because these holes must be filled with smaller-sized stones until you have reached ground level. The next thing you want to do is to install larger cobblestones. Make sure that you place them on top of smaller-sized stones and that they fit properly into place. This is extremely important if you want a strong foundation that will last for centuries.
The pioneers would place the sills which are basically the four straightest and sturdiest logs on top of their stone foundation. The pioneers would seal their cabins to prevent outside elements from entering their structures by using tar oakum to isolate the holes and extra spaces between the stone foundations and their logs like you see in [Figure 18].
When building the height of your cabin, your logs must be notched at the bottom and at the corners to ensure proper fitting. The early pioneers used several techniques. However, in Figure 19, we will be using the lock notch. There are other forms of notching that you can see in [Figure 20] such as the lap joint notch, saddle and dovetail.
As mentioned earlier, the inside of a traditional log cabin is rather small with just a room or two. The largest room in the cabin was usually the kitchen because it was often was used for cooking, eating and even sleeping if it was a one room cabin. The fireplace had a very important role as well because it was used as a stove as well as the main heating source for the entire cabin.
Preparing the Logs & Settling the Foundation
Early settlers would first prepare their logs before settling the stone foundation. After they cut down their trees in mid-winter, they would go ahead and peel them with a drawknife like in [Figure 14 ] to ensure even dehydration. They would then place their logs off the ground in crisscross piles in order to prevent moisture absorption. Then the pioneers would wait for spring to arrive before starting the construction of their log cabins.
In this tutorial, we will be using a stone foundation just like the pioneers did back in the 17th and 18th century. The stones that you use for your foundation must be approximately 1.5 feet in length and about 1 foot in height.
It is very important that you make sure the top base of the stones are as straight as possible in order to place your sills evenly later on. Make sure that there is a small space between each stone for proper ventilation.
After you have built your stone foundation, it is very important to make sure that your stones are placed properly underground just above the frost level. Then go ahead and place your sill on top of your stone foundation. The next thing you want to do is to choose four of the longest, straightest and thickest logs just like in [Figure 22].
Your sill is the most important part of the structure because it will hold the weight of your cabin. Make sure before setting your first set of logs that you use tar oakum to seal the spaces between your stones and the sill. This will insure that your cabin is will be properly insulated [Figure 21]. Make sure that you carve your logs at the bottom and at the corners to insure that they properly fit.
You can use several notching techniques that that the pioneers used such as the saddle notch, dovetail and half dovetail notch, v-notch or square notch. The main purpose of notching your logs is to improve the tightness at the corners. Make sure that you use tar oakum once again for insulation.
Your first set of logs (the sill) are caved at the bottom to fit your stone foundation properly. You are going to make sure that two of your logs are notched at the top to ensure a perfect fit crosswise of your sill. Then go ahead and use moss and more tar oakum to place in between to seal your logs.
After you set your first set of logs have been placed, fitted and sealed. The pioneers would have then drilled holes (about 1.5’’) in the logs with their auger. Then the pioneers would drill dowels just like in [Figure 23] and place some more tar oakum. They then would have carved a second set of logs on the bottom and place them on top of their sill.
Building the walls, door & windows
The next thing you are going to use is the same auger to drill holes to prepare for your windows and doors. You are going to need approximately 12 to 14 logs to complete a 25-foot section of wall for your log cabin. The height between your foundation and the top end of your wall should be approximately 10 feet with each log being around 14 inches in thickness. These measurements will vary depending on the size of the logs you are using.
The easiest way for you to frame your doors and windows is to notch the ends of your logs surrounding the doors and windows just like you see in [Figure 24.]. The next thing you need to do is your place pre- made boards into place to properly frame your windows and doors. Make sure that you have the proper space between the window frames and log boards (which is approximately one inch) to define your windows. You can easily do all of your fastening with wedges.
In order to verify that all of your frames are aligned correctly, you can go ahead and use a bubble level. Then all you have to do is to install the hinged and glazed frames. The next thing you want to do is to fill in all the spaces between your log boards and your window frames with as much tar oakum as you can. Then go ahead and seal your windows with wide log boards just like you see in [Figure 25].
A log cabin built by pioneers back in the 18th century would simply sit on plain old dirt. What this means is that proper insulation on the inside of the cabin would be fundamental in order to keep the floor dry. The pioneers used birch bark and place it on the ground before they would place their logs that would separate the rooms in order to define the floor base.
It is very important that you create channels with tiles and rocks in order to preserve ventilation. It’s important to remember that your logs must be notched at the corners and fitted properly just like in [Figure 26]. You are going to place these supporting beams approximately 20 inches apart so it is imperative that they are crisscrossed until you have square shapes all around your cabin.
Each one of your squares should be an average diameter of 20” x 20”. However, the squares near your walls should be narrower which is about 5”. The pioneers would have used dirt to fill in the holes at the margins. They would also leave the middle empty so there would be proper ventilation, coolness and for extra storage as well. The next step in the process is to install your floor boards. In that time, the pioneers didn’t have nails or any other adhesive to connect their planks so they used dowels to fasten them together like you see in [Figure 27].
The next thing you want to do is at the corners where the floor meets the walls. You will use a top layer of planks installing them by using nails to insulate your floor. The entrance of your cabin is the small hallway’s floor that you will fill with sawdust. Then what you want to do is use narrow wood planks and place them on top and then fasten them with dowels.
You are going to be using the same exact type of wood planks you used for your floor for your ceiling just like in [Figure 28]. However, you are not going to fasten them with dowels. Instead, you are going to overlap and nail them which is a technique called shiplap shown in [Figure 30].
Before you start placing your planks on the ceiling, your boards must be carved. You are going to make a rabbeted joint at the edges in order to fit the pieces together which will increase their stability [Figure 29]. You will then use tar paper and sawdust to insulate your ceiling properly. You can make a traditional door for your log cabin by using wood planks just like in [Figure 31]. Once again, make sure that the space between your frame and your door hinges are sealed with tar oakum and weatherboards both on the inside and outside. This will ensure a proper seal.
Before you start working on your roof, you must decide on what your roof height is going to be and then build the gable or roof pitch (which is also going to be made out of logs). Once you are finished building your gable, you are going to notch it to the last log you used for your walls. Then you are going to give your cabin a beautiful finish by cutting all of the excess wood off. By using this technique, you will also frame your roof and give it a perfect triangular shape just like you see in the image below.
There are many different ways to build your roof on your log cabin. But for this tutorial, we will also mention plate logs, purlins (or rafters), and the main ridge pole like you see in [Figure 32]. Together, these elements will form your log cabin’s truss. Make sure that all of the elements you use are made of thick sturdy logs. This will ensure to hold the rest of your materials that are included in the making of your roof.
The next thing you are going to do is make sure that your purlins are notched and cut into the ends of your gable. However, some pioneers did not use purlins to stick to their rafters. As soon as your rafters or purlins have been installed, you can start placing your roofing boards (joists) to cover the roof just like you see in [Figure 33].
If for some reason that you don’t have a log that’s long enough for your ridge pole. You can use two logs and join them together by using a hook notch. Your roof’s truss and main structure is very simple but your logs must be notched and fitted perfectly in order to guarantee sturdiness and stability. Your whole roof depends on the ridge beam, ceiling joists and under-purlins so make sure you do this part of the construction right.
Your walls are going to play a fundamental role as well. The last four logs you are going to use to build your walls are also meant to support it too. This means that you need to make sure that they are thick, straight and notched properly in between to fit the roof perfectly. After your roof has been properly fitted, horizontal joists made of plate logs like in [Figure 34] are going to be used to frame your ceiling. It is very important that they are properly aligned with your ceiling joists.
Then the rafters are going to be used to cover your truss to give your cabin a triangular shape. As you are placing your rafters, an overhaul must be created at the end of your roof where the top of your walls meet your ceiling just like you see in [Figure 36]. This is very important because it will ensure that when it rains, the water will properly drain so that no moisture will infiltrate into your walls and your ceiling.
Make sure that the logs you use to fill up the front of your roof are carved to frame and the truss like you see in [Figure 35]. This will ensure that your ridge beam will be stable and fitted properly to your truss. Dowels must be drilled both in the front and at the end of your roof’s edges for a proper fit.
Before you go ahead and finish off your roof, make sure that all of your walls are hewed both on inside and outside. Hewing is extremely hard work. Only the best and most experienced carpenters are able to do this properly. Hewing is important because it will give your cabin a beautiful and uniform look. You will have to use a broad-axe in order to hew your walls properly. If you do not know how to do this process correctly. I would suggest that you hire an experienced carpenter to do it for you.
After the hewing process is completed, it’s time to move on and start installing your rafters from the overhaul up like you see in [Figure 36]. The first rafter you will install is called the “drip board” and it usually extends at least a few inches out from your cabin’s walls marking the overhaul. The technique used by the pioneers to build their log cabins involves placing one log on top of the other using notches. So it will be natural for your corners to a more prominent feature on your log cabin.
It’s optional for you to leave those out or you can cut them to give your cabin that traditional perfect square shape, the choice is your’s. Once you have properly fitted all all of your rafters in place. The next thing you want to do is to start installing your roof shingles. Before you start putting your shingles in place, you need to use a line board and set it into place like you see in [Figure 36]. You need to install your line board about one inch over your drip board. Your first set of shingles are going to be shorter than the others.
If you have decided to use shingles that are 17” in length and 5” in width for your roof. Your first set of shingles will go after your line board and should be at least one-third of that length.
Overlapping your shingles like you see in [Figure 37] must be done very carefully and correctly. Once the first set of shingles have been properly installed and nailed, your second set of shingles made of full-length need to be installed next. The number of layers of shingles installed will always depend on the height of your roof. When you get close to your ridge beam, the shorter shingles will need to be used once again. The side boards are used at the ends to frame your roof and to protect your shingles. A ridge board needs to be used in order to cover your ridge beam. Then you connect the your shingles coming from the right and left sides of your roof.
The techniques, tools and basic materials the pioneers used have inspired modern builders for centuries and even to this day. Even though we have modern materials and new equipment nowadays. We can easily use this same exact process. These very same methods have been used for centuries and are still being used today. The only difference is that modern builders have adapted the process to make it much less painstaking. Shingling a roof is an art the pioneers perfected and made famous for their long-lasting log cabins.
How long did their log cabins last? …
… America’s Oldest Log Cabin Built in 1638
The C.A. Nothnagle Log House (which is also known as the Braman-Nothnagle Log House) and is a historic house. It is located on the Swedesboro-Paulsboro Road near Swedesboro. This American piece of history is located in the Gibbstown section of Greenwich Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey. It is believed that the C.A. Nothnagle Log House is the oldest surviving log house in the United States and the Western Hemisphere. As of 2019, this makes the C.A. Nothnagle Log House 381 years old.
The oldest part of the log house was built by Finnish settlers in the New Sweden colony sometime between 1638 and 1643. The Scandinavian ironware you see in the fireplace in the image below is from the 1590s and the fireplace is original from the time it was built. The fireplace was most likely built out of bricks brought over to North America as the ship’s ballast and is asymmetric and placed in a corner of the cabin. The asymmetrical fireplace was typical of Scandinavian cabins built in that time period.
The original cabin only measures approximately 16 by 22 feet. This would indicate that the builders were relatively well off. Considering the average sized log cabin of that period was only about 12 by 12 feet. This log cabin was constructed out of oak logs. Two logs are removable in order to provide ventilation during the summer months. The logs were double dovetailed in order to provide a tight fit and gravel was used between the chinks in the logs. There were no spikes or nails used in the original construction because hardwood pegs were used as fasteners at that time and there was no ridgepole used in the construction of the roof.
Unbelievably, people did live in this part of the house until 1918. There is a large addition to the original log cabin that was constructed sometime around the early 18th century. Around 1730, a wooden floor was constructed over the original dirt floor. The C.A. Nothnagle Log House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and is still privately owned. The cabin is open for free tours by appointment only through the current owners Harry and Doris Rink who still reside in the adjoining structure. If you are in the area, you can call for a free tour at (856) 423-0916. It’s definitely worth visiting this unique and incredible piece of American History!
Now You Know How To Build A Log Cabin Just Like An Early American Pioneer!
You just learned How To Build A Log Cabin just like a pioneer. These step-by-step instructions come from one of my favorite books in my collection, The Lost Ways II. This fantastic book is written by best selling author and Wild West historian Claude Davis who has beautifully preserved the skills it took to build the greatest country the world has ever known, The United States of America! These forgotten skills were used by our forefathers to tame a wild and unforgiving land.
There are 404 pages inside this awesome book full of skills used by early American pioneers to survive day to day life. Today, we consider these skills survival skills. Every chapter in this unique book will give you insight on what it was really like to live day to day in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Some of these chapters include skills like How to Smoke Bacon in Two Different Ways, How to Render Lard and How to Preserve Meat in it like the Pioneers, How to Make Chuños, The Inca Survival Food and so much more! The Lost Ways II Book is perfect for survivalists, preppers and historians alike!
Once you open up this book, you’ll be taken back to a time before the industrial revolution. This was a time before all of the modern convinces we all take for granted today. There were no grocery stores, internet, automobiles and smart phones. The Lost Ways II Book is almost like a time machine. You’ll get up close and personal with your forefathers and see how things were done. If it wasn’t for these long forgotten skills, we wouldn’t be here today! This is a MUST HAVE book for every American household and should be passed down from generation to generation. In fact, it should be a mandatory course in every American classroom.
The Lost Ways II Book is a National Treasure and is what American History is all about. Thank you for spending some of your valuable time with us today. I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. So, now that you know How To Build A Log Cabin just like the early American settlers did. Go ahead and give it a try and come back and let me know how your log cabin turns out. For more information about The Lost Ways II Book, click on the link below and read my complete review of this American classic now. If you have any questions or comments about The Lost Ways II Book or How To Build A Log Cabin. Please leave them below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Thank you for stopping by and I’ll see you on the next page,