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BUILD THIS

Anyone with
basic carpentry

Cozy
skills can
construct
this classic

CABIN
one-room cabin
for under $4,000.

by STEVE MAXWELL
Illustrations by
LEN CHURCHILL
R
ays of early-morning sunlight In this cabin design, you need one The outside edges of the pier forms should
gently peek through the windows, pier at each corner of the cabin, one in extend a bit beyond the outer dimensions
easing you awake. Looking down the middle of each long side, three piers of your building. As inexpensive insur-
from the sleeping loft, you see spaced evenly on the front of the porch ance against frost jacking of foundation
everything you need: a pine table, a box of and one in the middle of the rear wall. piers (when the piers are pulled toward the
split firewood, and a compact kitchen in In light soil, its reasonable to dig the 10 surface by seasonal freezing, even though
the corner. This is the cabin dream. holes you need for 8- to 12-inch-diameter they extend below the frost line), wrap the
On the following pages, Ill show you pier forms using a long-handled shovel. outside of each pier tube with black poly-
how to build a 14-foot-by-20-foot cabin Otherwise, call in a neighbor or contractor ethylene plastic before setting them into
with a sleeping loft over the porch, all for with a tractor-mounted auger. You can use the holes and packing soil around them.
about $4,000 (see Page 81 for the design). 8-inch concrete piers, but the larger size is While the concrete is wet, vertically embed
I will alert you to the main challenges of more forgiving if you dont get the align- five-eighths-inch L-shaped threaded metal
framing a cabin and explain how to clear ment just right. rod anchors, extending at least 7 inches
the most important hurdles. Even if you The best way to mark your foundation above the concrete, short end down. Later
never build a cabin of your own, these ba- outline is with 12-inch spikes pushed into on, these will hold down the base of the
sic instructions will be useful when build- the earth and connected with nylon string. floor frame.
ing a garage, shed or other outbuilding. Regardless of the foundation design, the
I believe in building for the long haul. main construction challenge is the same: Building the Floor Frame
When it comes to cabins, this means leveling the top of the foundation pads or There are many ways to frame a cabin
working to the same standards of durabil- piers. Try to borrow a laser level from a floor, but I favor the timber-rim approach.
ity and beauty that youd apply to a full- friend to successfully level the foundation. Timber rim refers to a load-bearing
size house, even though the style, size and When setting concrete pier forms in frame of timbers that defines the perimeter
soul of a good cabin are entirely different. the ground, dig the holes large enough to of the floor area. Its better than a continu-
Im sold on durability because it takes allow room for side-to-side adjustment. ous foundation wall because it eliminates
such small amounts of extra care, materi-
als and money to yield a huge increase in
longevity. Although a cabin certainly can Cost Estimates for Your Cabin
be framed less stoutly than the design Ill The following includes the frame, rough floors and shingled roof, but not windows, doors
show you here, Im convinced the wisest and exterior siding. All costs are rounded up to account for miscellaneous expenses.
use of resources often means going be-
yond whats merely good enough. TOTAL COST: UNDER $4,000 Roof: $1,500
t YCPBSET SBGUFST

A Firm Foundation Floor assembly: $900 t UXPYCPBSET SJEHFCPBSE

Every well-built structure begins with t UXPYSPUSFTJTUBOUCFBNT t YCPBSET DSPTTUJFT

the foundation. In regions where frost (timber rim, length sides) t GPVSYTUVET SBGUFSTVQQPSU

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the approach used on new houses in and headers) t XPPEFOTIBLFTGPSTRVBSFGFFUPG


your area, then its OK for use under t OJOFwQMZXPPEUPOHVFBOEHSPPWF roof surface; roof liner; gutter apron
your cabin. subfloor panels
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choose is established easily with minimal t YTUVET XBMMT


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tools and time. Concrete piers extend- t YCPBSET t wUISFBEFESPEBODIPST


ing below the frost line, poured within (wall plates) (foundation)
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approach to lightweight construction wooden posts (porch) (header anchors)
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of your cabin, without the need for full- (exterior wall trim) t QPVOETPGwSPPGJOHOBJMT
scale forming and pouring.

WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM 79
Im sold on durability
the need for lots of block work or a because small steps yield on each joint connecting the floor
poured foundation, offers great sta- joists to the headers. Make sure the
bility, and is durable and simple for huge increases in longevity. edges of your floor frame are straight.
first-time cabin builders. For this Use 312-inch hot-dipped, galvanized
project, it provides continuous sup- nails driven at an angle to connect the
port for a building thats held up at only under 2-inch washers; then check one last floor frame to the timber rim. You also can
10 points around its perimeter. time with a level. You now have a sturdy use galvanized connector plates.
Start by gathering rot-resistant 6-by-6 timber rim on which to begin building the Next youll apply a floor surface to your
timbers for the outer rim. Timbers for the cabin. As long as the bottom of the timber joists. If you want flooring thats easy to
ends of the cabin and porch should be long rim is at least several inches above the soil, build, inexpensive and requires no main-
enough to do the job in one piece. If you natural ventilation should keep this struc- tenance for a cabin that wont see much
need to splice two timbers together for the ture strong for many decades. cold weather, then three-fourths-inch
20-foot cabin sides, thats fine. Just locate The timber rim supports floor joists and softwood planks are the way to go. Even
the splices directly on top of your concrete headers (the frame around the joists) that left completely unfinished, these form a
pads or piers. (It is possible to get away in turn form the cabin and porch floor. fine, rustic floor thats easy to sweep clean.
with thinner pieces of wood here, but that By running joists across the 14-foot width Over time, bare wood like this also takes
would require adding more piers an of the building, youll have the stiffest on a burnished beauty. If you want a better
option thats probably less attractive than possible floor for a given width of joist, floor to keep out drafts and bugs, consider
dealing with thicker timbers.) Be sure to minimizing squeaks and ensuring long- shiplapped floorboards. Theyre one step
make half-lap corner joints to connect the term durability. As a general rule, 2-by-10s up from square-edged planks, offering
rim timbers (see illustration, Page 81). spaced on 16-inch centers across the span all the same advantages as plain boards,
Measure, mark and drill 1-inch-diameter of this cabin will give you a good floor. But while preventing board-to-board gaps.
holes in your 6-by-6s for the five-eighths- because the type of wood affects the total The best floor option is five-eighths- or
inch threaded rod anchors you embedded allowable span, double-check floor joist three-fourths-inch plywood, though this
in your concrete piers, then settle the tim- sizes with your local authority (building makes sense only when youre planning to
bers in place over the rods. Before bolt- codes vary). Consider using 2-by-10 joists apply a finished floor material over the top.
ing down the timbers, double-check that across the porch and 2-by-12s for the main Plywood keeps drafts out and adds an ele-
the top surfaces of the 6-by-6s are level floor (but if you do, remember to use a ment of rigidity that dimensional lumber
to within one-eighth inch of each other. 12-inch-wide header for the main floor, cant match, but it also looks unattractive.
Pouring concrete is coarse work, and its or your joists will be taller than the floor
possible the foundation piers arent exactly frame). Using 2-by-12s raises the cabin Wall Framing
the same height now that theyve hardened. floor slightly, creating a lip at the door that With your rough floor in place, you can
Nows the time to correct any errors. Install helps repel water and snow. now build the walls. Stud-frame construc-
shims underneath the uneven timbers to Regardless of the floor framing wood tion is still the most popular approach for
make them level; bolt them down tightly you choose, use four or five 312-inch nails residential projects, and it makes sense for

Choose a Rock-Solid Start


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80 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GREAT DIY PROJECTS


WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM 81
Exterior Options
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cabins, too. Although you can save money rate these pieces about 8 feet apart (with 2-by-6s over the existing top plate. Youll
by framing with 2-by-4s, I recommend the bottom plate near its final place on the need to arrange these parts so they over-
2-by-6s instead, even if you wont be insu- wall), and then position your wall studs lap the joints between wall segments, but
lating. The extra 2 inches of frame depth is between them. Begin by nailing the plates theres another detail you need to address
stronger and looks better. The illustration to the ends of the full-length studs, then first. Page 81 shows you how two 6-by-6s
on Page 81 shows how stud-frame walls cut and add shorter studs to form the win- or log posts should be installed extending
have three main parts: the plates (horizon- dow opening. Use three 312-inch nails per from the top corners of the side walls to
tal members that form the top and bottom joint. If youre planning to build insulation provide support for the porch roof. Begin
of the walls); studs (vertical frame mem- into your floor, add a second bottom plate by fastening two 6-by-6 vertical posts to
bers); and lintels (horizontal members that to the wall to raise it up. Now get ready to the front corners, then rest three horizon-
span doors and windows). Start by cutting heave the wall upright and into position. tal 6-by-6s on top, extending to the porch
one top and one bottom plate for the posts temporarily supported by props
rear wall (the one opposite the door). of lumber. When all this is in place,
Make these plates out of one 2-by-6 Softwood planks form a fine, tie everything together with a second
each, then temporarily screw them 2-by-6 top plate.
together so all sides are flush. Joining rustic floor that takes on a For siding, I recommend wall
them together ensures the marks you planks because they look so much
make to show stud location are ac- burnished beauty. better from the inside of your cabin.
curate. Make these plates 13 feet, 1 If you are looking for inexpensive
inch long. The completed front and siding, or you plan on insulating the
back walls will measure 14 feet wide when Raise the frame with helpers, then walls interior and adding interior siding
flanked by the two long walls. push, pull and pound it into alignment (covering the 2-by-6s from the inside), you
With the pair of plates on edge, use a with the edge of the floor frame. Use your can use plywood or oriented-strand board
carpenters square to draw lines across the level to align the wall so its perfectly ver- (OSB) wall siding panels.
edges of the plates at the same spot. Each tical (plumb), then drive two nails into
pencil line shows where one side of each each space between the studs on the bot- Roof Framing
stud should be located. An X marks the tom plate, extending down into the floor There are many ways to frame a roof,
side of the line where the stud needs to sit. boards and header. Now brace the wall but when you want to create usable loft
Studs measuring 9212 inches long should with some long pieces of lumber extend- space, you need to address a few design
be spaced 16 inches apart from center ing to the ground (youll take them off issues. The first is roof pitch. For both aes-
point to center point, with extra studs later, so use the good stuff), then repeat thetics and efficiency, the 12:12 pitch is
where door and window openings will go. the wall framing process for the two best. This means the slope is 45 degrees
Before you frame openings for windows neighboring side walls. from horizontal, with a 90 degree angle
and doors, you need to know the sizes of When youve framed and raised the formed at the peak. The parts of your
the openings required for them. Make last wall (the one with the door), check cabin that form the slope of your roof are
window openings 1 inch wider and 1 inch and adjust all walls so theyre straight and called rafters, and cutting them accurately
taller than the overall size of your window plumb. Dont continue until youve care- will be the most challenging part of build-
(1 inch wider and a half inch taller for a fully finished this detail. Use taut strings ing your cabin. But if you tackle the job
prehung door, when you get that far). to make sure the top edges of the walls are with care, youll succeed.
Remove the screws that temporarily held truly straight. When youre satisfied, get The first step is to take another look at
the top and bottom plates together, sepa- ready to cut and apply another layer of Page 81. Fig. 1 shows a side view of the

82 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GREAT DIY PROJECTS


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rafters you need to build. Youll need 34 should fit nicely on your cabin, double- in two lengths of 2-by-12s. Prepare these
in all. This includes 30 that span the cabin check your cuts with a tape measure. Tack now, arranging the joint between them
itself, and two more pairs that extend to a piece of 112-inch-thick scrap wood to so it lands in one of the spaces between
create the overhangs at the porch and the the top end of one rafter (to simulate the rafter pairs. Next, lay the ridge boards end-
rear wall. You could use 2-by-6 rafters, ridge board that will be part of the com- to-end on top of one wall plate and then
but if you plan to insulate, youre better pleted roof), then get some help tempo- transfer rafter locations onto these boards.
off using 2-by-8s spaced on 16-inch cen- rarily hoisting the rafters up and leaning When it comes time to raise the rafters
ters. Although it costs a bit more, the extra them against each other. You want a gap- and ridge boards, do one half of the cabin
wood actually makes it easier to create the free fit where the rafter meets the top of at a time. Raise one pair of rafters at the
required notches and angles because theres the walls, and where they come together end of the cabin and another pair in the
more wood with which to work. As with at the peak. middle, near the place where the ridge
the floor joists, check with local building When youre satisfied with your pair of board will end. Fill in the spaces along the
authorities on exactly what size of wood is test rafters (and have adjusted their size if wall with more rafters, angling screws so
required where you live. necessary), make the entire batch of 34 they penetrate the ridge board and sink
Start by marking rafter locations where rafters. Of these, you must add a special into the ends of the rafters. Repeat the pro-
they will sit on the top of the side walls, feature to 12 of them. Page 81 shows how cess for the second half of the roof. Add
ideally atop wall studs. Use the same line- you should cut 112-by-312-inch notches the 2-by-4 rafter supports, then the four
and-X marking scheme you used to lay along the top edge of these 12 special raf- rafters that form the front and back eaves.
out the top and bottom wall plates. Next, ters to accept 2-by-4 braces. These sup- Dont worry about a two-part ridge
measure the width of your building across port the outer pair of rafters that create the board. The roof sheathing will join these
the top of the side walls. It should be 14 overhang. The best way to cut these notch- two halves together solidly. I recommend
feet. Chances are good that your cabin es accurately and quickly is by temporarily using solid-wood planks that are three-
width across the front and back walls will clamping two sets of six rafters together, fourths inch thick, not the more expedi-
match this measurement, but maybe not marking each set as a group, then cutting ent option of plywood or OSB, unless you
across the middle. No problem. Take one the notches with multiple passes from a are building in a hurry. The underside of
or two spare planks, rest them across the roof plays a large visual role in
the top of the building and spike one this cabin, and sheet woods never
end of each in place. Get some help Your cozy, affordable cabin enhance the natural backwoods aes-
wrestling the walls inward or outward thetic. Just remember to lap the roof
(whichever is needed to get a 14-foot will make you realize that planks across the area where the two
building width), then spike the sec- ridge boards meet.
ond end of your brace planks down. small really is beautiful! Youre now well on your way to
These will come off later, when the finishing your cabin. Add the ceiling
rafters and cross ties are added, so joists that tie the cabin together at the
dont pound the nails all the way home. hand-held circular saw. Its easy to knock top and form the floor of the sleeping loft.
Also, make sure these temporary braces out the slivers of remaining wood with a Shingle the roof, install doors and win-
are well away from the rafter locations you hammer and chisel. dows, and then apply your exterior wall
marked earlier. You dont want them to get Total length of the cabins ridge is 22 treatment. Once your cozy, affordable
in the way of the rafters. feet (20 feet across the building and porch cabin has become part of your life, youll
Follow the pattern on Page 81 (Fig. 1) plus 1 foot of overhang at each end), so the realize something that many folks never
and cut out a pair of rafters. Although they ridge board probably will have to be made understand: Small really is beautiful!

WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM 83