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How to Build Your Dream Cabin in the Woods By J. Wayne Fears (Incomplete) October 30, 2010

Filed under: Book Review — indorfpf @ 4:07 pm

[I am taking all formatting suggestions in the comment/reply section. I don’t know if this will be too big for one post?!? Also, personal comments will be bracketed and italicized]

Summary: Highlights the basic aspects of cabin selection and building. For example, has chapters on outhouses, water, lighting, bedding. Showcases 5-6 styles of cabins and pros/cons of each. Focuses more on general planning of the dream as compared to step by step directions on how to build. Pretty pictures.

Backcover Description: For generations, nature lovers, writers, and sportsmen have found an escape from their day-to-day world in living closer to nature. J. Wayne Fears offers a complete guide to building without the hassle of a construction crew or outrageous costs. The ultimate resource includes photos, blueprints, and diagrams, and covers the steps to constructing the cabin you’ve always wanted such as:

  • Selecting a site
  • Gathering construction materials
  • Deciding on a design that is right for you – Adirondack shelters, Alaskan trapper’s-style cabins, or family-size cabins
  • Managing your property
  • Building add-ons such as shooting ranges, an outhouse, or an outside fire ring
  • Installing cabin security
  • And more

Now, with How to Build Your Dream Cabin in the Woods, everyone can have the refuge they want- a getaway beside a trout-filled stream, near a bass-laden lake, or by a mountain trail with a breathtaking view.

Chapter 1 – The Dream

Chapter 2 – Selecting a Site

Getting Started

First, we need to determine what “in the woods” means to you. “The woods” means different things to different people. To some it may be a remote canyon in a desert; to others it may be the farm woodlot.

Before you begin the all-important search for your cabin site, write down a description of the setting that you mentally visualize your cabin occupying. Take your time and write a detailed description that includes your desired climate, surroundings, how modern or self-sufficient you want your cabin, and what recreational pursuits you are interested in. This will help you later in your search for land.

Once you have your desires for a cabin setting written down, next determine how much land you will want. Most people start out wanting large tracts of land until they see the price of land. Be realistic in what you can spend on land, now and in the future. There will be annual taxes and maintenance costs from now on. Remember, you can locate your cabin on a small tract of land near or adjacent to public lands or private lands with public access. If you want solitude, it doesn’t take a huge wilderness area to find solitude.

Before you being looking for specific parcels, you need to set up a budget for either buying or leasing land. At this point, you must be very realistic with yourself. Only you know how much you can spend on land. Don’t forget there will be other costs associated with land acquisition in addition to the cost of the land itself. There will be travel costs to look at potential sites, long distance phone calls, attorney fees, possibly appraisal, survey, and closing costs. If you get a long-term lease on a site, many of these costs will be eliminated, but there may be additional up-front costs such as insurance and the first year’s lease payment.


Back to the subject of solitude, let’s discuss whether solitude is really what you want [i.e., determine amount of solitude]. I have known of more backcountry cabins being sold, soon after being built, due to too much solitude rather than too little. Most of us who live in the United States today really do not know what solitude is. I advise anyone who wants to build a cabin for solitude to first rent a cabin in a remote location and give solitude a real try before spending time, money and effort to build a cabin in a really remote location.


Having written down a detailed description of your ideal cabin setting, decided on how much land you really need, and knowing whether you want an isolated cabin, we are ready next to target a geographical region to begin the land search. If you want your cabin within commuting distance of your home/work, then you are probably living in or close to the geographical region already. Otherwise, you must correlate your idea of what is “in the woods” with a geographic region. Most tourist information bureaus can give you specific information as to regions of their state if you tell them the type of setting you want. State travel departments also have web sites in addition to glossy brochures.

Once you have selected one or more regions to explore, contact the chambers of commerce of towns and cities found in the region. Usually their web sites will give the climate information and much more data that is of use in beginning a search for land.

[I don’t believe RainbowAcre has done -target a geo region- this yet. From talking to people, I have heard that people 1) want a place relatively near an urban center and 2) a place where they can grow lots of food. Urban center = jobs, or clientele depending on whether we own our own business. I for one kind of relish the idea of a four-season climate. I may be biased due to my geographical background. However I do like the concept of combining nature and ritual and find this personally easier where the seasons and their purpose are do vividly differentiated. DISCUSS.]



Should You Have a Partner?

[I include this section verbatim to highlight the difficulties of joint ownership. I am confident we can be successful together as long as we tread carefully and purposefully. Note to self: Research consensus-based methodologies.]

Buying land and building a cabin doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does cost more and requires more work than many things we normally do. To help cut the cost and share the workload, a few people I know have taken on partners or sold interests in the project. While this works on occasion, more often than not, it ends up being an unpleasant experience that leads to the property being sold or disputes being settled in court, and in both cases, friends often become enemies. My advice is that if there is any way you can swing the deal alone, do it alone. Let the friends enjoy helping you with the work, and invite them to spend a weekend at the cabin occasionally.

Irving Price, in his best-selling book Buying Country Property, said it best: “The initial concept to purchase jointly a country place may appear simple and advantageous, but the hazards are many. An attorney should be consulted before joining hands and dancing around the mulberry bush. You may be assured that your council will advise formal agreement setting forth in detail the respective rights and obligations of all concerned with each phase of the purchase, its use, improvements, resale of all or part, individual personal liability, estate involvement, financing, and decision-making policies.”

He continued, “Our files contain the histories of hundreds of join-purchase prospective clients who initially started their search for country property with every good and honorable intention. But along the grueling way of noncompromise and disagreement, the decision was reached to go it alone and live happily ever after.”

Finding Land – Be Patient

You have a good idea as to the type and amount of land you need for your cabin, the general location or region, and a budget as to what you can afford to spend. Now you are ready to begin the search. The first caution here is to be patient, and don’t settle for anything less than what you really want.

Searching on Your Own

Spend a few days in the county seat of the county you are interested in. Pick up copies of the local newspapers and look for tracts of land that are for sale. Get brochures and sale booklets from local real estate companies. This can help you to familiarize yourself with the price of land in the region.

Two of the most valuable sources of information in any area re the county agricultural extension office (county agent) and the Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) office. Both of these agencies work with rural landowners. They know the land and might know of someone willing to sell you the place of your dreams. These agencies usually have offices in the county courthouse or county agricultural office center. Their services are free.

You can take out an an in the local newspaper. In my experience, most of those who respond either overprice their land or tried to sell me land that wasn’t really what I wanted.

Working with a real estate agent may save you a lot of time. You can find good recommendations by asking the local banker, county agent, and farm supply dealer. Remember that a real estate agent works for the seller.

Looking at Property

Before visiting the property, it is useful to get a USGS topographical map and aerial photograph. You can download a copy of the topo map from maptech.com or purchase one from the USGS at usgs.gov. Topo maps can also be found at local sporting goods stores and map dealers. You can download an aerial photograph from terraserver.com or you may obtain a copy from a local NRCS office.

On your first visit, leave your checkbook at home. Rather, bring a notebook and pen and make notes about what you like and don’t like about the property. Observe the main access to the property and find out how the conditions might change during seasonal weather. Ask the seller to point out potential building sites. Ask whether there are any easements or rights of way through the property.

To Buy or Not to Buy?

The first visit will most likely be short. Use the second visit to spend some real time exploring the property and the surrounding environs. Check both neighboring properties and those properties upriver to ensure there are no indirect issues with the land. Try to find problems. Ask the local forest ranger, sheriff’s department, conservation officers, county agent, NRCS agent, county health department. Inquire about natural phenomena as well, such as seasonal flooding or avalanches.

Bring the family [that’s YOU!].

By now you should have obtained a property survey. Walk the land with your survey, maps, and notepad noting such thing as potential cabin sites, swampy or poorly drained areas, open meadows and forested areas [USGS maps get frequently outdated so this is important], what condition the trees/plants are in, pay attention to special vistas/views, rocks and soils, and suitable slopes.

Now is the time to become aware of everything that is good or bad about the property. Remember, there is a lot of free help available if you just ask for it. Water and sewage questions go to the county health department; drainage, soil, erosion, and stream questions should be directed to the NRCS agent; forestry questions to the state or district forest ranger; general land management and climate questions to the county extension office; wildlife management questions to the state conservation offer, local/district game warden, or wildlife biologist. Ask tough questions, including questions regarding vandalism and about who maintains the roads.

The Cabin Site

While walking the property and picking a cabin site ask yourself a few questions: How much land prep will be necessary? Does it have the views you want? How much to install a driveway? Adequate drainage? How secure is site (try “out of site, out of mind”)? Is there wind protection? Does it have good drainage?

Check out old cabin sites if available. Camp out on proposed cabin site several times, possible over a few seasons.Good water supply is important. Will you drill a well, pipe in public water, use a spring on your property, or bring in purchased water? [research rainwater collection systems]

Having a modern bathroom versus an outhouse brings with it differing regulations to follow.

Get this information checked out with the county health department before purchasing the land. Checking on the availability of utilities you want to run to your cabin is a good idea as well. Making you cabin self-sufficient will make much of this work unnecessary.

Closing the Deal

GET A GOOD ATTORNEY. She will be sure to inform you of what rights you are buying and not buying. She will also help you put preemptive clauses in your contract if need be, such as making the finding of well water a requirement to closing the sale.

Chapter 3 – The Look You Want

This book deals with wood as the main material for your cabin. We will start with four exterior siding materials.

1) Logs

Good insulation, exterior/interior raised simultaneously, if cut on own property they are inexpensive

2) Log Siding

Can’t visually tell the difference between this and logs, cheaper than purchased logs, little carpentry skill needed

3) Board-and-Batten

Having siding go up vertically adds structural stability

4) Reverse Board-and-Batten

Not inexpensive, but is easy to put up. Comes in big 4 by 8 sheets.

Protecting the Exterior

Treat your cabin with wood preservative to make it last. Suggested companies: Permachink, Sashco, and Weatherall. Stain is also useful.


1) Cedar shakes

Usually ruled out due to fire hazard from forest fires and sparks from stoves/fireplaces

2) Metal roofing

Strong, lightweight, fire resistant, wind resistant, hail resistant, permanent. Easy and quick to install. Most common style is standing-seam panels. Check out http://www.metalroofingspecialist.com. There are also steel shingles available. Check out http://www.metalworksroof.com.

3) Composite shingles

Good choice if the roofers are skilled, the shingles are of high quality, and they match the cabin exterior. Some brands look just like cedar shakes. Example: CertainTeed Shangle (www.certain-teed.com)

Chapter 4 – The Simple Adirondack Shelter

The Adirondack shelter, also called an Appalachian lean-to or three sided cabin, is an open-faced structure. In the past families would build a lean-to around a fire pit and add more surrounding lean-to’s each season. After two or three lean-tos were built, the main cabin would be built over the fire pit site, connecting all the lean-tos into one large structure. By themselves, each shelter is useful where time, money, materials, or use do not require a full blown cabin. A well made reflector fire pit by the entrance keeps most of the heat within the shelter. Orientation is important as the structure should not be facing the direction of prevailing winds.To build an average-sized Adirondack shelter 12 feet across the front and 8 feet deep requires up to 60 logs of 8 inches diameter. The logs should be cut between July and August so that they peel easily. Trimming and peeling should be done when the trees are cut. Then the logs should be allowed to dry for six weeks before the shelter is built.

An excellent 64 page how-to book can be purchased from the Maine Appalachian Trail Club or the Appalachian Trail Conference.

This is an excellent temporary shelter that can be built in a long weekend. Once built it can be used for shelter while the main building is being constructed then converted to a woodshed, overflow guest quarters, or tool shed.


  • It is an ideal shelter for remote locations where full-sized cabins are not feasible.
  • It is very quick and easy to build, with little help necessary.
  • Often it can be built from logs cut on the site, and can be used for other purposes later.
  • It offers the basic comfort of a small cabin, yet allows the use of camping skills.
  • It is the most affordable permanent shelter, and requires little maintenance.

Chapter 5 – The Alaskan Trapper’s-Style Cabin

Advantages of the simple Alaskan trapper’s-style cabin with no modern improvements:

  • It can be located in remote locations far from utilities and roads.It is inexpensive to build, especially if you use logs cut on the site.
  • Due to its simple design, it is easy to build, even if your construction skills are limited.
  • The self-sufficient design of the cabin makes it a great retreat in emergencies.
  • It blends in with the natural surroundings and looks like it belongs there.
  • The cabin’s high deck serves as a good storage area and is an extension of the cabin’s living space during good weather.
  • This design is highly efficient for heating during cold weather and sheds snow better than cabins that have roofs with less pitch.
  • Like all cabins with few or no modern conveniences, this style of cabin gives the user more of an outdoor experience.

Chapter 6 – The Appalachian-Style Cabin

The Appalachian-style cabin differs from the Alaskan trapper’s-style cabin in that the front door is usually in the center of the long side of the cabin and the ridgepole of the roof runs parallel to the front of the cabin. In addition, the porch is on the long side of the cabin and usually runs full length. The porch roof may be separate or it may be a continuation of the cabin roof. Where the Alaskan trapper’s-style cabin has a porch with a high ceiling and is usually open in the front, the Appalachian-style cabin porch has a low roof sloping to the front, giving more protection from blowing rain and snow. It may be screened easily, and is a good place to cook and sit during warm weather.
Most cabins of this type have a back door and a back porch similar to the front porch. This porch may be screened in to add more covered usable space to the cabin. If the cabin is a self-sufficient cabin, a small table with a washbasin and bucket of water may be available for washing. Often there is a picnic table for fresh-air dining during warm weather. Having two porches adds much to the outside living capacity of the cabin, giving more room inside the structure during much of the year.
Advantages of the Appalachian-style cabin:

  • The simple square or rectangular design makes building easy.
  • This structure can be built as a self-sufficient or modern cabin with equal ease.
  • The large, low porch gives a lot more space for semi protected outside activities.
  • The traditional structure is an efficient use of space.
  • The design is good for those who want a fireplace, but heats efficiently with a wood-burning stove.
  • In a wooded setting, the design looks like it belongs there.
  • It may be built of logs, plywood, board-and-batten or reverse and they all look good.
  • It is one of the more inexpensive cabin designs.

Chapter 7 – The Family-Size Cabin

Larger cabins are useful if you plan on adding modern conveniences, having children, or having guests visit often [the “Second bedroom” definition that classifies a cabin as large can also be used as a study]. It is also possible to convert the previous Alaskan trapper’s- and Appalachian-style cabins into buildings capable of housing more people. You can expand the ground floor plans or, depending on your roofing/porch plans, convert the rafters into a loft.

The more volume to your cabin, the more energy that will be required to heat the whole structure. Cabins with more height tend to be cooler in summer as the hot air rises into the rafters.


Chapter 8 – The Hunting/Fishing Club Cabin

Individual Cabins with Group Center

As I was writing this book, I visited a hunting camp in Missouri where members each had a small one-room Appalachian-style cabin to sleep in. For cooking and visiting, there was a centrally located cabin that contained a great room with fireplace, kitchen/dining room, and shower room. Each night the group would gather in the central cabin for dinner and the telling of tales. Following this they had the privacy of their smaller cabins. This is an interesting concept and must appeal to many, as the club has a waiting list for future memberships.
[Never thought about having the showers being centrally located, this seems to make some amount of sense. I’m going to expand the idea a little bit. Our personal homes could be primitive or modern as we like, but the common room could be situated with plumbing, electricity, et cetera. Financially and practically, this would cut the amount of work and money involved since only one building would have to be modernized as opposed all of them. Socially, this would increase the occurrence of RA member interaction as people go to the common room to take advantage of convenience. I find something elegant there.

If this plan does pass, this affects estate planning. Other group-use buildings that would like to take advantage of the modern advantage of the common room could be attached to the common room. For example, if the common room is the only place with electricity, where would people go to use their computers? I suppose they could use the dining room. OR we could attach a study/library to the common room. What other group use buildings are there? Gym, meditation room? Note to self: Check past log posts.]

[Did not think about this before but we could rent out space to hunters/fishermen also! Part of their rent could be offset by sharing meat. People coming to our land and paying us in food! I like this! Right along the lines of interns coming on the property and paying us in labor. Beautiful.]


Chapter 9 – Building with Log Cabin Kits/Packages

There are many advantages to building your log cabin from a kit. Chief among them is the fact that most log home companies have the experience and equipment to produce a log that will give a lifetime of trouble-free service. Perhaps one of the best parts of a log cabin purchased as a kit is the professional construction consulting made available by the company as you build your cabin.

Cost is the main disadvantage that some log cabin builders point out. Granted, log cabin kits are not cheap, but when you consider what you get for your money, they are not really expensive.

Once you have decided to go with a log cabin kit, contact a number of log home companies and ask for their brochures. Many log home companies sell a planning book and video, both very helpful for learning how to build a log structure from a kit. Do not be afraid to ask for local references to check out what a built cabin looks like. Ask questions like, Why do you like or dislike your cabin? How much did your kit cost and what did it include? How much were the delivery costs and what part of the unloading did you have to do? How long did it take to build the cabin? Were the instructions well written? Is the company reputable?

Look for companies with national reputations, that have been on business fro years, and that take cabins as seriously as they do large homes. Please keep in mind that kit costs will reflect any additions or special requests, that shipping and handling can be quite expensive, that you may be responsible for getting the kit off the truck, and that if the transporting 18-wheeler can’t reach your cabin site you will have to find a way to get they materials there yourself. Remember: the cost of the kit is just the beginning. Double the cost of the kit to approximate the cost of the finished cabin.


Chapter 10 – The World’s Best Outhouse
Chapter 11 – Keeping the Cabin Warm
Chapter 12 – Lighting Options for the Remote Cabin
Chapter 13 – Sleeping Accommodations
Chapter 14 – The Outside Fire Ring – A Must for Any Cabin
Chapter 15 – Cabin Water Supply
Chapter 16 – Planning the Remote Cabin Kitchen
Chapter 17 – Cabin Security
Chapter 18 – Managing Your Property
Chapter 19 – Develop a Shooting Range for Your Cabin
Chapter 20 – Cabin Living

Keep the Dream Alive…


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