Welcome... and Warning:
Because I seem to have “an ax to grind” with many folks (some fellow ax nuts, some nuts in other ways), perhaps I ought to apologize beforehand for any ego-harm some of my comments (plus unintended prejudices and bias) in the discussions below may cause.
Rest assured, however, that my intent here is to elevate the potential usefulness of an ax – one of the tools which, as the future unfolds, I believe we will be glad that we know how to apply seriously and efficiently.
At the same time I wholeheartedly welcome constructive criticism, of course.

April 10, 2011

Log Cabin In Progress...

Some photos of a log cabin being built for the youngest member of the Vido family.  To be continued...

Addendum dated January 6, 2012:
I regret that in spite of the apparent interest in this topic we have not continued the thread. One reason is simply that during the (8+month long) "farming season" much of the computer-related work needs to take a back seat. And, as destiny would have it, we were moved to put off the finishing of the cabin until more pressing matters (among them other building projects -- like a bee house, a root cellar and a new barn) received attention.

Of course, the few photos we sent were not meant as a "how-to" piece -- to necessarily be followed up  For one thing, there are stacks of books that outline the step-by-step process of log structure building -- so anyone desiring written guidelines is (potentially) well served. It is true that practically all contemporary how-to manuals on the subject consider a chainsaw a given. Consequently the described techniques of log squaring, corner joinery, etc.  are, unfortunately, chainsaw-dependent...
Nor were those photos meant as a little show of the "look, we're cool" kind. Rather, the core message was simply the re-stating of what every backwoods person of this continent knew 100 years ago: To build a home from standing trees, the only tool one really needs is a good ax.
We did use additional tools, simply because they were at hand's reach, made the job easier or quicker, and still adhered to the hand tool principles. However, I'm mindful that many of the tools we are presently privileged to own may not be available to all people needing (or wanting) to do similar work. So as I work I find myself continuously gaging the "essentiality" of them -- in my present life and in view of most people's "less fat" future. Let's be honest -- how many of the Earth's citizens could ever own all the tools we used in this little cabin project? 
In any case, here is the list of additional tools (besides the various axes), in order of their importance (as perceived by us):
1) the buck saw or bow saw -- used primarily to cut the logs to length and to make the cross-gain cuts while shaping the dovetail joint. I should add that had we chosen to make the more popular round notch corner joint, the saw would quickly lose its merit.
2) the level  -- to mark the center-line of each log end, before hewing and/or defining the dovetail joint.
3) a small (12") square -- to mark the width of the dovetail.
4) two drawknives -- the straight one for touching-up the squaring of the log's sides (primarily accomplished with a standard double-beveled ax), and an acutely curved, hollowing style one for the finishing of the groove on the underside of each log; this, of course, only for the so-called "chink-less" method of contour-fitting that is used in this case. Both of these drawknives, however, could be dispensed with easily because the side of the log touch-up is purely cosmetic, and the underside grooving can -- even if it is somewhat trickier -- be accomplished with the ax, which is how we initially remove most of the wood.

Of course, we do use a marking tool -- a soft pencil (or an indelible one when the wood is wet). It is convenient, but one can get by without it. A spike, point of a knife, thinly shaped piece of charcoal etc. can come to the rescue, if need be.
Other convenient aids are a scribe, an adjustable angle gauge, flat chisel (1 1/2")  and/or a slick. Any of these may or may not be found with us on the building site. The last three of them are only useful for the dovetails, but progressively more often the chisel and the slick have been made obsolete by a nicely sharpened 1-3/4 to 2 lb ax on a 23 to 25" handle. (The two other versions we use on a project like this are a 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 or 4 lb, the latter with a rather wide 6" face, though not a bona fide broad ax.)

Please understand that all of the above is NOT a "recipe". These are simply tools that (after more than a few hours of experience) we presently use -- a "kit" that tomorrow may change...

In closing: 
Taking the "between the lines" intended encouragement of that little cabin profile (just do it!) a step further, we hoped to remind the readers that the ax (as well as other human body-powered tools) is likely to make at least a partial comeback -- not as a cute re-enactment of history, but as a serious energy-conserving alternative. An ax, in my view, is not an "old fashioned" tool.  "Timeless", or -- at this point in history -- "futuristic" may be a more fitting term...



  1. AnonymousMay 17, 2011

    when will there be a cabin update? this is amazing work.

  2. AnonymousJune 23, 2011

    more cabin pictures!

  3. I'd like to learn how to do this :)

  4. Some information was added to this post today.

  5. Looks good! I like the king stud/door framing. The biggest mistake I see in most of the simple homes made by the backwoods person of generations past was the omission of an appropriate foundation. For longevity, for the avoidance of pest issues, and for efficient livability a good foundation is essential - ideally one containing a basement/root cellar accessible from inside the structure. I trust you have something planned? Will the cabin be moved to a different location?

  6. I have a couple of questions if you wouldnt mind being bothered-- And not knowing anyone else who even comes near to having the audacity to say that a home (however “rustic” it may be) can be built with a good axe, and nothing more, im not sure these would be well resolved by anyone else. The more I buy into that, the more opposition and dismissal I run into amongst todays builders, even of the “backwoods” sort. Most consider a form of sawn timber a given, power tools (even if only a chainsaw), machinery, tedious drafts, blue prints, and worst of all, a hefty budget (12,000 dollars is not something I can afford, however cheap it may seem to an employed mortgage slave). For a young person it is disheartening at best, and debilitating at worst.
    To the aforementioned questions (and apologies for the philosophical ramble);
    -What species of wood were used? A wide variety seems to be used, and everyone has a different take. For example, some use poplar, others condemn the use of poplar due to rot issues. Pine seems to be the standard here (southern and central Maine), but there is so much poplar being left to rot that it seems almost to be a shame. I cant tell if you used poplar, pine or perhaps something else entirely. Wood ID is not my strong suit.
    -I see what appear to be floor joists partially covered with floor boards, are those mortice and tenoned into the sills? What do the sills rest on? Would setting the sill logs on corner stones provide enough of a foundation? And are the short spans of boards between joists the end product for the floor of the cabin?
    -How much drafting, designing, and general deliberating is even worth doing in the construction of something like this, with the opposite being just doing and executing a mental plan? It would seem to me that if you have a clear vision of what you want in the structure and enough skill to execute that, the aforementioned is a redundancy, to put it mildly, or a waste of time if I were sure that no architects were within earshot.
    I hope these questions werent too broad to answer. I look forward to your response if you can get around to it-- I know you are busy. Thanks

  7. Ricson,

    Your query appears to be far more one of a philosophical/ecological/moral nature than whether it is technically possible to build a home with an ax as the only tool, whether an architectural blueprint is necessary or if a sole (but solid) rock is adequate to hold up a corner of a house.

    As you must already know, IF all the 'primitive' building tech stuff (ax only, no blueprint, no "proper" foundation) was a hoax, thousands of the initial western settlers of this continent would have perished, period.

    Of course, once the 'rational' concerns of present reality enter the debate, you are in a different territory. It would be difficult to out-argue the time-related efficiency of a chainsaw or the convenience of mill-sawn lumber for the floor, and secondly, for the roof. I do not claim to be some purist; during the decade we lived altogether without engines, we still made use of lumber mill-purchased (as well as old barn demolished ) boards, but have done enough experimenting to know that, in a pinch, an ax will do. The 'pinch' is not quite here yet, so it is no surprise that the convenient/'efficient' methods dominate the building realm. But to get disheartened (or even 'debilitated'??) by it is YOUR choice!

    Our love affair with axes does not stem from the perceived 'Long Emergency' but rather from some sort of primitive heart within our 20th century bodies.

    And whether society at large 'progressed' to an all automated robot-like state, we'll continue using axes, as well as other basic tools (scythes, hand-hoes, shovels, etc.) -- and put up structures without 'proper' foundations. (In 32 years on this place -- and some dozen buildings later -- the largest of which is 26' x 70' -- we have yet to use even a handful of cement...)

    What I can suggest, in a nutshell: don't let yourself be intimidated by the status quo. Instead, (as others have put it) -- dance to your chosen drummer!

    With best regards,

    P.S. As for the various species of wood -- learn to make best use of whatever is locally available. Poplar, for instance, is a fine material for everything from tool handles to homes.