Build Your Own Log Cabin - How to Build a Log Cabin Yourself

Build Your Own Log Cabin - How to Build a Log Cabin Yourself - excerpt from the book "The Scientific American Boy" by A. Russell Bond
Our third expedition completed the number of logs we required for the log cabin. Two large 12-foot logs were chosen for the foundation logs at the front and rear of the building. The logs were flattened along the bottom so that they would have a firmer bearing on the ground, and particularly on the corners, where they rested on foundation stones. Each log was now notched about a foot from the ends. The notches were 8 inches long and about 2 inches deep. Care was taken to place those on one log squarely opposite the notches on the other. A pair of 14-foot logs were now laid across the foundation logs and rolled along them until another half-turn would have dropped them into the notches (shown in Fig. 266).

Fig. 266. Foundation Logs Notched.

Then notches were cut in the 14-foot logs to correspond, so that when the final half-turn was given one notch would fit over the other, making a mortise joint (Fig. 267).

Fig. 267. Foundation Logs Fitted Together.

When the side logs were in position notches were cut in their upper surface to receive a pair of 12-foot logs which were rolled onto them, notched and dropped into place. Then another pair of side logs were laid on, and so the work progressed. The notches in each log were cut to a depth equal to one-quarter the diameter of the log; that is, if the log was 8 inches in diameter the notch was made 2 inches deep, and if 6 inches in diameter it was cut to a depth of 1-1/2 inches. When the logs were laid in place no space intervened between them, as will be clearly understood by reference to Fig. 268.

Fig. 268. A Corner of the Log Wall.

We found, after a few logs had been set in place, that our cabin was growing faster at one end than at the other. The trouble was that our logs were not of uniform diameter throughout, and we had been laying the butt ends, which were larger, all at one end of the building. So we had to take down the logs and relay them with the butt end of the front foundation log at one end and that of the rear foundation log at the other. Then the cross logs were laid on with their butt ends on the small ends of the foundation logs. The next end logs were laid with their small ends on the butt ends of the cross logs, and so on, taking care never to lay the butt end of one log across the butt end of another. In this way the walls were built up evenly to a height of 3 feet.

We had planned to make a large open fireplace in the cabin, and this necessitated cutting an opening in the rear wall. But we did not want to cut the opening until the wall was built up to its full height lest it might buckle while the remainder of the logs were being placed in position. So we merely cut a piece out of the top log to make room for a saw when we were ready to cut the complete opening. As our fireplace was to be 5 feet in width, a 5-foot piece was cut out of the center of the log. Then the ends were supported by cleats nailed on each side, as shown in Fig. 269.
Fig. 269. Piece Cut Out to Admit Saw.

This done the building was continued as before, but as the walls grew we found it more and more difficult to raise the logs to position. We could not lift them directly to the top of the wall, but had to roll them up on “skids”; that is, on a pair of 14-foot logs which were laid against the top of the wall. When the walls had reached a height of about 5 feet above the foundation logs, a length 4 feet 9 inches long was cut out of the top log to allow space for sawing out the front door and window, and also a 30-inch piece was cut out for the side window. Cleats temporarily held the sawed ends of the logs, while the walls were carried on up to a height of a little over 6 feet from the foundation logs.
Fig. 270. Skids

The Roof of the Log Cabin.

Then we started laying the roof. A 16-foot log was now notched in place at each side, with its forward end projecting about 3 feet over the front of the cabin to form a shelter in front of the building. A pair of 12-foot logs were then laid in position. The next pair of 16-foot logs were laid about 20 inches in from the sides, and after a pair of the cross logs had been set in place a third pair of logs were laid about 40 inches from the sides. Finally, a single 16-foot log was set in place at the center, to serve as the ridge beam of the roof. The roof logs were all carefully tested to see if they were sound before we laid them in place, because we did not want to run any risk of the roof falling in, particularly in the winter time, when it would be heavily covered with snow. A chalk line was drawn from the ridge beam to the lower roof beam, and the cross logs were sawed off along this line, as indicated in Fig. 271.

Fig. 271. How the Roof Logs were Laid.

Several slabs were now procured and laid across the roof beams to serve as rafters. These rafters projected about 18 inches beyond the side walls of the cabin, so as to support the eaves. Over the rafters we laid a roofing of slabs, starting with the bottom and lapping them, as we had done on our tree house.

The Door and Window Frames.

We were now ready to cut out and frame the doors and window openings. The front window of the cabin was to be close beside the door, so we merely widened the door opening at the top to include the window opening as well (see Figs. 271 and 272). The door was made 2-1/2 feet wide, and was cut down to the foundation logs. The window opening was cut to a depth of 24 inches. Before sawing out the opening we wedged pieces of wood between the logs along the line we were to follow with the saw, so as to keep them in place. After the opening had been made a couple of stout boards were nailed to the sawed ends of the logs at each side, to hold them securely in place and make a suitable framing for the door. The cleats were then removed. The foundation log and the one at the top of the opening were flattened, to serve as the sill and lintel of the door. Between the door and window a short post was wedged in place. This post was flattened on opposite sides, so that the door jamb could be nailed against it on one side and the window frame on the other. The side window was next cut out and framed. After it had been framed it measured 2 feet square.

Fig. 272. The Finished Roof. 

The Fireplace.

Then came the task of building our fireplace. First we sawed out the opening, cutting right through the rear foundation log. Then we gathered from the river a large number of the flattest stones we could find. With these we planned to build the three outer walls of our chimney. But the question of getting mortar to bind the stones together bothered us for a while.
“If only we could find a bed of clay. Don’t any of you know of one around here?” queried Bill.
But none of us remembered seeing any clay bed in the vicinity.
“If we were in south Jersey now,” I said, “we could use some of that red mud they have down there. It sticks like the mischief to shoes and pant legs. I bet it would hold those stones together.”
"Red mud? Why there’s plenty of it over the hill, back of Lumberville,” said Reddy. “All the roads over there are red shale roads, and I saw some red banks along the river when we went after the logs.”
That was just what we wanted. The banks Reddy referred to turned out to be genuine red shale, and soon we had ferried several scow loads of the stuff down to Kite Island. When the shale was wet it made quite a sticky mortar. The foundations of the chimney were laid in a trench about 2 feet deep, and the side walls of the chimney were carried inside of the cabin and covered the ends of the logs at the chimney opening. The side walls extended outward a distance of 3 feet, where they were joined by the rear wall of the chimney.

The Proper Way to Build a Stone Wall.

In making our chimney we could not rely on the red shale to hold the stones as firmly as good lime mortar would, so we had to be careful that each stone, as it was laid, had a firm bearing. The stones were embedded in a thick layer of mud, and if they showed any tendency to teeter we propped them up by wedging small stones under them until they lay solid. Another thing that we were very careful about was to “break joints”; that is, to keep the joints in each layer of the stones from coinciding with those in the next layer, above or below. To make sure of this we made it a point to lay a stone over each joint in the top of the wall and then to fill in the space between the stones with smaller stones. In this way the wall was made very substantial.
When the masonry had been carried up to the top of the chimney opening, a heavy timber about 12 inches wide was laid across the walls close against the wall of the building. This was to support the fourth wall of the chimney, and so we flattened its upper surface. To prevent it from catching fire it was covered with a thick plastering of mud, and then to keep the mud from cracking and flaking off we procured a piece of tin and tacked it over the log. The tin also extended over the top log of the opening. Then we went on with the building of the chimney walls, carrying them up about a foot above the ridge of the roof. Our chimney was completed by paving the bottom with stones, well packed in mud and nicely smoothed off to make the hearth. The hearth extended about 18 inches into the cabin, and was framed with logs, as shown in Fig. 275.

Fig. 273. How to Build a Wall.

The Floor of the Cabin.

A number of logs were now laid on the ground to serve as floor beams. Slabs were used for the floor. We had some trouble in making the floor perfectly even, because the floor beams were rather irregular, and a great deal of time was spent in smoothing the logs off to a common level. If we had the work to do over again we would have bought two or three planks and laid them on edge to support the flooring.

Fig. 274. Building the Chimney.
Fig. 275. Section through the Fireplace.

The Door Hinges and Latch.

A door was now constructed by battening together a number of slabs. In place of a hinge a hole was drilled into the sill and another into the lintel directly in line with it. Two sticks of wood were then whittled to fit snugly, but without jamming, into these holes. These sticks were then nailed to the inner face of the door, with their whittled ends projecting into the holes, forming pintles on which the door could turn. A narrow strip of wood was nailed to the outer jamb for the door to close against.

Fig. 276. The Door Hinges.

The latch consisted of a stick of wood, fastened to the door at one end with a nail. It hooked onto a catch whittled out of hard wood to the form illustrated in Fig. 278, and nailed to the jamb. Then to keep the latch from dropping too far when the door was open, and to guide it when slammed against the catch, we whittled out a guard piece to the form illustrated in Fig. 277, and nailed this to the door, with the latch projecting through the slot of the guard. A string was now fastened to the latch and passed through a hole in the door. A block was tied to the end of the latch string to prevent it from slipping back through the hole; but at night, when we did not want to be molested by any intruders, we untied the block and drew in the latch string.

Fig. 277. The Latch Guard.            Fig. 278. Door Catch.

The Window Sash.

For our windows we made wooden sashes which fitted nicely into the window openings. A small hole was drilled through the sash at each side into the frame, and nails inserted in these holes held the sash in place, and served also as hinge pins for the sash to turn on. The sash could be taken out at any time by removing these nails. As we could not afford to use glass for our windows, we covered the sashes first with cloth, and later, when it occurred to us that in winter time it would be difficult to keep the cold air out, we used oiled paper.

Fig. 279. The Latch.


Our next work was directed toward providing sleeping accommodations in the log cabin. A large log was laid on the floor the full length of the cabin, as far out as possible without interfering with the opening of the front door. Stakes were laid across this log, with their opposite ends wedged in between the logs of the wall. A nail or two in each slab held it in place. This formed a sort of shelf 12 feet long, which was divided at the center to form two bunks, each wide enough for two persons. But as there were six of us in the society, we had to provide two more berths. A stout post was set into a hole in the ground, and nailed firmly at the bottom to the lower berth log and at the top to one of the roof beams. This post supported a second berth log, which extended the full length of the building at a height of about 3 feet from the floor, and was wedged at the ends between the logs of the house. Cleats were nailed to the walls under this berth log to make it perfectly secure. Then slabs were nailed across it to form the two bunks.

Fig. 280. Hinged Window Sash.
Fig. 281. Bunks.

Stopping up the Chinks.

The log cabin was completed by stopping up all the chinks between the logs of the walls. Strips of wood and bits of bark plastered with mud were driven into all the cracks and crevices until everything was made perfectly tight.

How to Build a Cave - DIY Cave - excerpt from the book "The Scientific American Boy"

How to Build a Cave - DIY Cave - excerpt from the book "The Scientific American Boy" by A. Russell Bond
Bill had read somewhere that if you dig a cave under a tree the roots of the tree will support the ground on top and make a natural and substantial roof. It sounded very reasonable, we thought; in fact, we never questioned the truth of the statement, because we had somehow gotten the notion that books were never wrong, and that whatever was set up in type must surely be so. But events proved that the man who wrote that book had never attempted to build a cave in the manner he described, at least not in the loose,  sandy soil of south Jersey. A large spreading cedar was selected as the tree which should support the roof of our cave. It was situated on a mound at the edge of the woods. First a passageway, or ditch, was dug at the bottom, and then we begun tunneling in the side of the mound under the roots of the tree. For a while the ground above held, and our tunnel had reached a length of about four feet, when suddenly, without the slightest warning, the sandy soil gave way and we were engulfed. Bill, who was furthest within the cave, was almost entirely covered, while I was buried to the shoulders. A crowd of boys came to our assistance and dug us out. Poor Bill was almost smothered before they scooped the sand away from around his mouth and nose. The boys made slow work of it, having to dig with their hands and a couple of shingles, because the two spades we had were buried with us at the bottom of the cave.

Of course, this little episode gave us a scare, but it was only temporary. We swore every one to secrecy, so that Mr. Clark, the principal, wouldn’t hear of the mishap and suppress any further cave building. It was obvious that the only roof we could depend on for our cave would be a wooden roof. If we had been at Willow Clump Island we would have gotten any amount of slabs from the lumber mills across the river.

One of our schoolmates, a day scholar, came to the rescue. His name was Chester Hill, a little bit of a chap, about the shortest for his age that I have ever seen. His name was so at variance to his size that we called him “Hillock,” for short. Now Hillock lived on a farm about eight miles from school, and used to drive in every day on a farm wagon. He had helped us dig the cave under the cedar tree, and when he learned that we would need some lumber to build a safe cave, he told us that he had an uncle who owned a lumber mill on the Morris River, from whom he was sure we could get all the slabs we wanted. Of course, we were delighted, and laid our plans for an elaborate cave house. Hillock promised to be on hand on the following Saturday afternoon with his load of lumber.

Excavating for the Cave.

We immediately set out to make the necessary excavation. The side of a bushy knoll was chosen as a suitable site. First we carefully transplanted the bushes that grew in the square we had marked out for the cave, and cutting the sod into squares, piled it all neatly to one side. Then we shoveled away the top-soil and heaped it up for future use. After that we dug away the sandy subsoil. The cave proper we planned to make about 8 feet by 10 feet, with a passageway 2 feet wide and 6 feet long, leading in from a large bush at the base of the knoll. Our excavation was therefore somewhat T-shaped (see Fig. 182). At the deepest part we had to dig down about 10 feet.

Fig. 182. Excavation for the Cave.

The digging was all done by Saturday, when Hillock pulled up with a big load of slabs. Slabs are a very unsatisfactory kind of wood for most purposes. Being the outside cut, they are usually very irregular and weak in spots. In many places they are almost clear bark. Of course, had our pocketbooks permitted, we would have used stout scantlings for the corner posts of our cave house and substantial boards for the walls, roof and flooring, but we had to be content with materials at hand. Eight of the best slabs were selected for our corner posts; four of them we cut to the length of 8 feet and the others to a length of 6 feet. The long slabs were set up at the rear of the cave, two at each corner, one flat against the rear wall, with its edge buried in the corner, and the other against the side wall, with its edge tight against the rear slab, as in Fig. 183. The same was done at the forward corners with the shorter slabs. A couple of slabs were now set up on each side of the passageway, and a corresponding pair against the rear wall. The upper and lower ends of the uprights were then connected with slabs, called string pieces.

Fig. 183. Framework of the Cave.

The sides were now boarded up with upright slabs nailed to the string pieces. An opening 3 feet 6 inches high was left in the forward wall for a passageway. Several slabs were now placed on the edge across the bottom of the cave, to  serve as floor beams, upon which a flooring of slabs was laid. Next the rafters were set in place, one on each upright slab. Slots were cut in the ends of the uprights to receive the rafters, which were slabs placed on edge. As the forward uprights were 2 feet shorter than the rear ones, the rafters were given a good slant, so that the roof would properly shed any water that might soak in through the ground above.

Fig. 184. The Siding and Flooring.

The roof was laid on the same way that we had made the roof of our tree house; that is, a slab was first nailed at the forward end of the rafters with its edge projecting far enough to make a good eave; then the second slab was nailed on, with its edge overlapping the first, and a third with its edge overlapping the second, and so on with the rest. At the rear end of the roof a hole was cut, into which we fitted a piece of stovepipe. We didn’t plan to have a fire in the house, but set the stovepipe in place to provide the necessary ventilation. As the pipe had an elbow in it, there was no danger of rain or dirt falling through it. The upper end of the stovepipe was concealed among some rocks at the top of the knoll.
A suitable flooring was now laid in the passageway, and the sides were boarded up to a height of 2 feet from the floor at the entrance to a height of 3 feet 6 inches at the inner end. A roof of slabs was nailed on, and then we were ready to cover our slab house with dirt.

Fig. 185. Notching in the Rafters.

Covering the Cave.

We avoided piling on the dirt very deep, because there was danger of breaking in the roof with a heavy load. A thin layer of sand covered with the top-soil brought up the level to about that of the rest of the knoll. Then the sod was laid back in place and well watered, and the few bushes planted back in their original positions. Our sodding should have been done in the spring for best results. The frost soon killed the grass, and the bushes withered away. But a few cents’ worth of grass seed was sowed in, and in time gave the knoll a very natural appearance. A bush at the bottom concealed the entrance of the cave, so that no one who was not in the secret would have suspected that beneath that innocent looking knoll were gathered the members of the “Big Bug Club.”

Fig. 186. A Section through the Completed Cave.