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Build this cabin in three weeks for under $2,000!

Here are the step-by-step procedures we used for building our backwoods cabin. This is a sturdy permanent little house that can keep you warm and comfortable throughout any weather. The basic design is easily expanded and can be modified to fit materials you may already have collected.

My sons and I used only hand tools and a circular saw. We worked at it part-time over three weeks. The house was weather-tight in 11 days. We spent about $1,400 (or $10/SF) buying almost everything from our local lumberyard. It has used windows and doors, complete insulation, interior wood on the walls and ceiling, exterior wood siding (not yet up) and a wood stove and chimney.

We have yet to install a composting outhouse and rainwater collection and purification system. We are also planning a small 12 volt solar electric system for a few lights and a radio.

#1 Building the low cost getaway cabin

Here's the start of the hidden trail and the retreat cabin at the other end.

Two people carried all materials and tools in and out on this trail.

This is a simple structure just 10 feet by 14 feet with a flat roof deck for sleeping and lounging. If you're in heavy snow country or if you want an interior sleeping loft, then the roof can be redesigned with a steep pitch and loft floor. (See the end of the article for more information on such options.)

#2 An updated post & pier foundation

The floor is built on two pressure treated beams that are supported by standard precast deck piers at three points. These pier blocks rest on concrete patio pavers that spread the weight over the soil. These parts are available everywhere. This means you don't need to mix and pour concrete or have truck access!

This is an updated version of a foundation system that was used in most small homes prior to WWII. This version is much longer lasting because it uses PT wood and precast concrete footings that weren't available to the builders of 50 years ago.

#3 Setting and leveling the beam

Foundation support piers can be built on just about any type of slope and do not need to be at the same level. We did all our clearing with hand tools in about two hours. Excavation was done with a shovel.

We cut PT 4x4 posts to level the beams as needed. We can shim these later (even years later) should one of the piers settle more than the others.

Here the foreman and dog are resting while the real work is done by others.

#4 Setting the floor joists

With both beams in place the 2x6 floor joists can be laid out every 16 inches. Notice that this first joist cantilevers two feet over either end of the beam. This actually makes the joist stronger and the floor stiffer.

#5 Completing the floor platform

After the joists are in place the subfloor sheathing can go down. We used 3/4 in. T&G OSB because it is strong and inexpensive. Plywood would make for a somewhat smoother floor.

Also, you could use T&G decking boards for a handsome wood floor you could sand and oil. We painted the OSB after everything was done on the interior.

This platform becomes the staging area for the wall frames that will be built next.

#6 Framing up the walls

Notice that only the front and rear walls carry the weight of the roof. This allows the side walls to be framed without headers. (No little beams over the windows and doors. The next photo shows them in the other two walls.)

We simply made these rough openings 1/2 in. larger than the windows we were putting in.

#7 Wall Framing - Part 2

Here you see the double 2x6 headers over the doors and windows in the front and rear walls. (These are the 14 foot walls and carry the roof load.)

We laid out each wall right on the deck and took measurements from our actual door and window sizes. We put the top and bottom plates together so we could mark each stud and where the headers go. Then we just laid out the precut studs and pounded the frame together with two 16 penny nails at each stud.

Tilt the wall up, brace it level and then go on to the next wall. Easy, huh?

When all the walls were up we ran a second top plate all the way around overlapping the joints in the plates below. This caps the walls and ties everything together.

#8 Raising the roof

The roof framing is pretty easy with the flat roof. We added two extra plates to the front (high) side wall. Then we just set roof rafters (2x6) the same way we did the floor joists. The roof has three inches of slope over the 10 foot width. The rafters project two feet on each end for weather protection at the doors.

If you were building a gable (this ^ shape) roof you would put clown loft joists, then frame up the end walls and have them support the ridge board for the roof rafters.

#9 Sheathing the walls and roof

We used the same subfloor sheathing on the roof that we did on the floor (because we use it as a walking deck.) On the walls we put 1/2 inch OSB structural sheathing. We then wrapped the house in tar paper because we got a great deal on a load of wet 1x6 fir that we're using on the interior. Later this year we'll use the rest as vertical board and batt siding on the outside. You could also use shingles or a combination of lap siding and shingles.

A less expensive idea is to do single wall sheathing using 5/8 inch T1-11 plywood and be done with the walls in one shot. In most cases this would save you money and be much quicker.

#10 Sheathing - Part 2

As soon as we could we got tar paper down over the roof sheathing. (This is wet Western Washington after all.)

Then we finished up the wall sheathing, put the fascia boards on the roof and covered it all with 90# roll roofing sealed at the seams (see next photo). This makes a great walking deck and it only cost about $38. At that price if I have to take an afternoon to redo it in eight to 10 years it won't be much of a problem.

If the roofing isn't gouged up too much by people in cleats, etc., I actually think it will last as long as a standard composition shingle roof.

And -- we've had no leaks -- even at this very low slope.

#11 Getting close ...

In this photo the sheathing is complete, we have the fascia boards on the roof, and the roll roofing is installed on the roof deck. The house has been wrapped in 15# building felt (tarpaper -- you could also use Tyvek if you're going to cover it soon).

This housewrap has been wrapped and stapled to the inside of the window and door frames. This keeps rain from running into the walls at the openings.

#12 Closed up and ready to use

Now you see our homemade windows and doors installed. The front door was made from a panel of plywood wrapped on each side with a 1x6 fir frame. It has wide gate hinges on the inside and a sliding bolt for a latch.

The windows are recycled 40-year-old wood frame basement windows three feet wide and two feet tall. There are eight of them in the cabin. Here you can see two of them set up high as fixed windows and four more mulled together to make french windows (outward opening casements). Two more make another pair of casements on the opposite side of the house.

Flanking the other door on the opposite side of the house are two large tempered glass panels sealed into the frame as fixed glass.

#13 The tempered glass windows

This is the opposite side of the house and shows the tempered glass windows. These were inexpensive 34" x 76" panels recycled from a standard six-foot sliding glass door. They have wood stops on both sides and sit (on rubber setting blocks) on the rough framing of the opening. The stops are weather sealed with a long lasting caulk.

#14 The interior

This photo was taken a few months after the previous pictures. This is our wet 1x6 fir (now nicely dried out) with a clear Danish oil finish. It makes for a very nice ceiling and wall finish.

The floor is the painted OSB we used as a subfloor. My son lived here during the summer and built the fold-down bed and desk frame you see against the wall. It has adjustable legs that brace and support it. During the day it folds down and leaves the floor area open.

The Heating System

These little stoves were used a lot in the 1940s and 50s. Some people call them trash burners. They have a small wood box with cast iron grates and a removable ash bin below. There's a damper for controlling the heat path, a small warming oven and two removable lids in the cast iron top. They can be used for light cooking.

Well, that's where we're at folks. The Hilton it ain't and you'll never see this little house in the glossy home magazines. Still we've had a lot of fun building it. We still have the siding to do and some other things as well. But it's usable and a charming little place to spend some time close to nature.

PS: Building this was a great experience for our family. All of us gained a great deal.

Little House Building Plans

At press time, he was completing plans for three different size cabins each with a flat roof or a high pitched gable with room for a small sleeping loft. Contact him for availability and prices.

RELATED ARTICLE: The most important person I ever met

One of the reasons I've never become a registered architect is because I've never met one I'd trade places with. I always thought one would come along who would inspire me to "go professional". It never happened. Ken Kern was the architect I learned the most from, but then Ken was never registered either. (Registration involves taking a long state exam.)

After he got out of architecture school, Kern traveled around the world documenting the house building techniques of indigenous peoples. He learned many low-tech ways to get the most out of simple building materials and he later incorporated these ideas into his many books. I went down to see him after I was inspired by his first self-published book, The Owner Built Home. I stayed on and ended up working with him for almost two years.

During the time we were together we built many experimental projects and ended up designing perhaps 100 owner-built homes together. Ken had a mail order custom home design service. These projects ranged from a house for a couple in Arkansas with $500, an axe and a chain saw (we designed a shingle-sided teepee), to a Unitarian minister in Vermont who wanted to grow orchids (he got a stone house with a two story solarium).

-- John Raabe

John C. Raabe Cooperative Design 5010 South Inglewood Dr. Langley, WA 98260 360-221-5535 (voice & fax) Web:

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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Previous Article:No fare-thee-wells are due yet.
Next Article:Special feature: Equipping the ideal homestead.

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