Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Let it Snow

First "big" snow on the cabin. Only about four-five inches but thats big for this neck of the woods. I thought it made a nice picture. Just a little bit got in under the door, walls aren't air tight but they are sealed.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

My mother picked this up off the curb outside a home that was being cleaned out to be sold. Its an old Dutch Oven. It has three small legs and a rounded bottom. It is perfect for hanging over a camp fire. 
You guessed it, someone had used it as a planter. Can't really blame them. These old ovens were used on coal fired or wood burning stoves. The rounded bottom fit in the open burner hole and the three little legs kept it from moving around. The same qualities that made it perfect for those old stove tops make it pretty useless on a modern one.
After an hour or so with a wire brush on a power drill it started to shine again. Of course the great thing about cast iron cookware is it's non-stick characteristics. In order to get it ship shape again it needs to be seasoned. Once I got the rust off I coated it with peanut oil and baked it in a 450 degree oven for an hour.
Presto! Its ready for a batch of sliced onions and bratwurst, the real seasoning won't begin until it has soaked up a healthy dose of animal fat. I did a little painting inside the cabin to help showcase my swanky new piece of cookware. Painted the heat shield with some high-temp XO-Rust.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Recently I've been having a conversation with the author of  Relaxshacx blog about one of his upcoming projects and it got me thinking about why I decided to try building my cabin the way I did. If you've been following along from the beginning you know that my original motivation was a result of having a load of dead trees creating a variety of hazards and no real need for more firewood. I was afraid one of them would fall on me and I was getting pretty concerned about the fire load that was building up in the woods.

A snag is another term for "dead tree". But  a snag also refers to trees that have become habitat for bugs, birds and other little creatures. Think of them as wildlife condos. I  thought now would be a good time to reassure everyone that I did not remove all the snags from the property. Most of the leaves are down  now and I can get a good look at what I left on the property. I'll  be honest, there were only three reasons I didn't harvest a dead tree for the cabin.
 1. Size - this is one of my favorite old snags on the property. It is a Sycamore and although it will fall someday in the meantime it is a favorite haunt for the local Barred Owls. I have seen as many as three baby owls at once perched in its branches.This tree is way too big for me to handle confidently.
 There are also some trees I left on the ground because they were too small to be of any use. These smaller trees create a barrier between young saplings and browsing deer. Deer are a lot like people, if they see a trip hazard they will avoid it and that gives green sprouts a place to grow.
2. Characteristics - This one is just too crooked and although its days are numbered it does give the squirrels a short cut from the ground to the higher branches of other trees they call home.
3. Condition - this Red bud has been on the ground for many years and I was originally planning to use it but upon inspection it became obvious that it had serious rot. Meanwhile it has become a nice shelter for rabbits and chipmunks looking for a place to hide from the Coyotes and Red Tailed Hawks that patrol the property day and night looking for tasty treats.

Over the course of building the cabin I learned a heck of a lot about what's out there in the woods and my interest in becoming a better steward has grown considerably. Now that the cabin is up my next goal is to learn more about intentional placement and construction of habitat brush piles to promote diversity of species reduce potential fire hazard and help control erosion.
I'm still working on sealing up the cabin for the winter. A co-worker brought an almost full gallon of stain into work over the summer and put it in the break-room with a little sign that read "Free" on it. The ego-maniac in me is sure that they have been reading the blog and brought it just for me but odds are just as good that it was a coincidence. Anyway, I used it to protect the bottom courses of logs from the snow that will be coming soon.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gussy it Up!

A friend from the Forestry Forum asked me to post some photos of the interior so of course I had to gussy it up first.

Here is the Kitchen (So to speak). I decorated it with a map of my Hoosier home, my grill gear, a jug and mugs I made when I was a student at Vincennes University. The hand crank Ice Cream maker will see some action when the snow flies. Oh ... did I forget to mention the Perfection Oil Heater!
This thing is a beauty. My Grandmother's cousin, Orpha Wickersham, gave it to my cousin before she died in 1989. He saw the blog and asked me if I wanted it. It had been sitting in his shed unused for years. She was a homesteader in Wyoming. She taught school in a one room school house and I remember her telling stories about getting to school before the kids so she could warm the place up. This is very likely the same oil heater she used. While I was cleaning it I found a date of 1925 on the wick cap. The brochure linked above is dated 1920 something and has a picture of it on page 4. It still works like a champ and you can still buy wicks for it. It is one of the simplest machines I have ever seen. And you can boil water on the top in a pinch.
In the living area I give a "Tip-O-The-Hat" to the first European settlers of the Wabash Valley. For those of you who aren't familiar with Illinois history, it might be of interest to know that this area was once part of the French colony of Canada. Along with the fluier de leis flag there is a set of wrought iron chairs, purchased in Paris and sent to Granny Hawkins by her son Daniel. I have a dandy kerosene lamp from my mother and if you look closely at the shelf in the top center of the picture you'll see a Beaver skull. Our intrepid Husky found the skull along the river trails one morning last winter. The beaver are not only the reason the French colonized the Illinois Country, they also are responsible for killing several of the Hackberry trees I used to build the cabin.
Finally we have the washroom complete with basin, bucket and washboard. My sister gave me the washboard. She found it in the garage of her first home in New Albany Indiana. As you can see I still have a lot of work to do on sealing up the walls but I'll be warm, clean and well fed while I work on them. 

Bonne nuit les amis!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Swing Swang Swung

Well, the construction of the cabin is more or less finished. I still have some detail work to do but I probably won't be posting updates every week after today. I will still try to make monthly updates on the goings on at the House of Fallen Timbers. If you haven't noticed the slide show in the sidebar I encourage you to check it out. It was created using a service called animoto. Anyone can get a basic account at no charge and make their own 30 second slide shows or you can pay an annual fee for a pro-level account and make slide shows of any length. If you work or volunteer for a not-for-profit agency of any kind you can apply for a free pro-level account for your organization. Here's my latest slide show, enjoy!

Create your own video slide show at animoto.com.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


“A yerde in which was a shadde where in were five grete dogges.” - William Caxton, 1481

This was the first printed use of the word “shed” in English. There is perhaps no finer example of botanical artistry than a proper English garden. After all there was a time when the sun never set on the British Empire and the result of that early globalization was that many of the finest horticultural treasures in the world can still be found in the gardens of the United Kingdom. The soul of the garden is of course the shed. Not only is a proper garden shed the wellspring of ingenuity its a place where friends can roll up their sleeves and share a pint on a hot summer day. Over the centuries a subculture of devoted garden "Sheddies" has spread throughout the world and thrives to this day!

No where is this tradition more alive than in England. Don't believe me? Take a look at The Shed Blog

I found this blog a while back and I still can't get over the incredible variety of ingenious designs by Sheddies. Every year there is a competition between Sheddies to see who has the "Shed of the Year". The competition for 2011 has begun. The winner will be announced sometime in July. I was delighted to learn that the competition includes an "International Shed of the Year" for Sheddies living outside the UK. So of course I've entered The House of Fallen Timbers in the Cabin/Summerhouse category. Please take a minute to visit the Shed Blog and leave a comment so the judges know which shed you think deserves to win. I know you'll enjoy your visit.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Stuffing it

I used up the last of my workable cement mix yesterday and only covered a little more than half of one short wall. By my estimates in order to daub the entire cabin this way would require an additional 800 lbs of dry cement mix. Not very encouraging.
On the interior I have been experimenting with canned spray foam insulation. I bought three cans and sealed up part of two walls with it. I know this is terribly unauthentic material but something tells me if Daniel Boone could have gotten his hands on this stuff he would have been on it like flies on honey. The color is not great and the bead can be very uneven.
I put some of this on Thursday evening and trimmed it up Yesterday morning. Once it has been trimmed and or sanded it will take stain. 

I did a quick test with some stain to see what it would look like and I have to say for reasons of time and economy this will probably be the way I go to finish sealing the cabin. At least temporarily for the winter. I may still panel the interior with barn wood eventually and I may still mud the exterior someday but for now I'm going to concentrate on sealing up the interior with this stuff.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ridge cap, daubing and paneling

First project this weekend was to put a ridge cap on the seam of the roof. $20.00 investment but should prevent water from damaging the ridgepole.
Next up was a test of the cement mix and unfortunately moisture has contaminated it over the years. It was more like gravel than cement mix. I pulverized it with a hammer and mixed it up just the same but it doesn't have the right consistency anymore and doesn't appear to be drying well. Also, a quarter of the mix only filled the gaps between six courses of logs on one short side of the cabin. Another solution may be necessary to seal up the cabin.
Knowing that the hardest part of daubing would be the gables I returned to the rafters of the garage and found some old floor boards that had been squirreled away years ago. I trimmed them up and used them to panel the interior gables. This will at least reduce the amount of daubing needed to seal up the gables.
Despite the disappointment of the cement mix the cabin is in practical terms, very close to finished! Most of what I have left to do is cosmetic. I may decide to panel the interior walls if I can find enough old barn wood or other satisfactory paneling to do it.

Monday, September 6, 2010


I spent the better part of Saturday and Sunday wedging sticks into the gaps between courses of logs. For the really large gaps I split small Sassafras logs into quarters. Sassafras is very soft wood, splits nicely and smells like root beer!
As you can see I also got the door and shutters for the window hung. Nice bug and rot resistant Ceder left in the rafters of the garage. I used some old cupboard hinges to hang them. After getting the wood chinking, door and shutters finished I decided it was finally time to check out the bags of cement that have been living under the workbench for the last eight years. I had been putting it off because I didn't really want to know if it was unusable.
Turns out the cement wasn't the only thing living under the workbench! A nice healthy Black Rat Snake had taken up residence in one of the open bags of cement. Looks like some mice had been living in it before him. I chased him off with a broom stick and low and behold the cement is still workable. There are three part bags and one unopened bag, all together probably 200 lbs of dry cement mix. Next weekend I'll start sealing up the chinking.
Today I raised my colors to celebrate the beautiful weather and the fact that the snake didn't bite me. Happy  Labor Day!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Please Be Careful

Last night we had our first good soaking rain since the roof went up. First thing this morning I walked my dog down to the cabin to see how the roof fared. To my amazement the walls both inside and out were dry along with the interior floor. I found that to be a great piece of luck considering the walls are not chinked yet, the roof has no ridge cap and I had no idea how far to extend the sheet metal to keep the exterior walls dry. 

As I stood inside the cabin drying off and listening to the rain fall on the tin roof I was thinking this bit of luck was just the latest in a long string that started the day I dropped the first dead tree. Almost every phase of this project could be categorized as Extremely Dangerous.

It is no small miracle that I didn't die, or permanently injure myself, considering how little I understood about what I was planning to do. I took no safety instruction courses and my only experience with the chainsaw and axe was limited to cutting firewood. As I've fumbled along over the past few months I have learned that there are literally hundreds of courses on these skills and schools dedicated to log cabin building.

With all this in mind I thought it was time to clarify what exactly it is I'm doing with this blog. It is a "Brag Book". I started it with the intention of sharing my experience with friends and family who are unable to visit, sit around the cook fire and listen to me spin yarns about how I did it. As with every aspect of the project I have turned the journal into more than I thought it would be. 

In less than three months I have had over 1680 visitors who have made over 2600 visits from 49 different countries! At one point in July over 500 people a week were visiting. 
So ... I'm concerned that someone could get hurt. Of course I hope every visitor learns something and is inspired to get outdoors and learn more but I don't want anyone to consider this a "how to". Especially if your thinking of doing this alone like I did. It is dangerous and no one can help you if you make a mistake.

I am by any definition a novice and my cabin can only be considered amateur. Even my design's structural integrity is untested. There are many things I would have done differently if I could start over. Proper training and tools foremost. I do hope I have inspired and entertained but I don't want anyone to consider this a tutorial or instructions. 

Thank you all for joining me on this journey and I hope your enjoying it half as much as I am. Be safe!

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Three weeks behind schedule but no less satisfying, the roof is on!

I had to splurge and buy ten dollars worth of sheet metal roofing fasteners for this job. They have sharp ends like nails to puncture the sheet metal, threads like screws to turn into the wood and hex heads like bolts so you can use a wrench to tighten them. I put about seventy of these little guys into the roof. Below you can see the green heads of the fasteners. They also have a neoprene washer that seals up the hole as you tighten them.

I know hand split shakes would have been much more authentic but I kinda dig the 1930's depression era grunge look of the sheet metal.

In other news, Kent Griswold posted another House of Fallen Timbers update on his Tiny House Blog for August. Thanks Kent! Also, I registered the blog on the Nature Blog Network. It's a great listing of blogs on all things nature, lots of birders and other flora and fauna related topics!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Purlins, Gables and Ridgepole

Hands down the toughest job so far. As I mentioned before I had to re-design the roof plan based on the lack of suitable dead trees left on the property. I had to scrap plans for a loft over the porch that would have given me an additional 15 or so feet of storage space but I was still able to gable the roof. 
 The first  big challenge was to get the purlins up on the walls. I'm 82 inches high at the corners now so I had to lift these logs over my head to get them up on the walls. These are the Hackberry logs I floated up the river, they are strong, straight and heavy. The largest is 9 inches at the butt and 8 inches at the tip. All are ten feet in length. The ridgepole stands ten feet off the cabin floor. 
I used Cherry, Box Elder and Elm for the gables. I have some left over scraps of bridge decking I will be using as makeshift rafters. Those are the boards you see laid across the purlins. Cutting off the ends of the gable course logs at an angle with the pitch of the roof is extremely difficult, as you can see I still have to get the back side gable trimmed up. The sheeting you see on the side of the cabin is the corrugated metal I'll be using for the roof. The previous owner of the property left around fifty sheets like these stacked up on the side of the garage.
I slid the metal up to see if my rafter scheme will work. Not ideal but it does look like I can make it work. I hope to get the gables trimmed up and the rafters nailed down next weekend. Who knows maybe I'll even get some sheet metal tacked down!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Last Round Up

Friday evening I hiked the entire property and made a treasure map of every fallen or standing dead tree the size I can use. The news wasn't good. I had to re-design the roof based on what I have left to work with. On Saturday I rounded them up and hauled them to the site. I left no stone unturned as they say, one of the fallen trees was hanging over the river, its root ball still attached to the bank. I dropped it and floated it upstream using the water to carry it. Real lumberjack style.
I'm sure this river has been used before to move lumber but I would bet it was a very long time ago.

I got two logs out of the tree and pulled them about fifty yards upstream to a less daunting embankment, closer to the cabin. I ended up with six twelve foot fairly strait logs by   the end of the day. All six have at least a 6 inch diameter at the tip. Today I cut six notches and stacked three logs. The walls are just under seven feet around and I plan to start on the roof next weekend. Weather was pretty good for felling, hauling and notching. My wade up the river was perfect. The temp is like bathwater in August. All in all a great weekend and a real treat to be finished felling and hauling logs.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Close but no cigar!

Cut 16 notches, stacked ten logs over the weekend. Looks like I won't make my deadline for being under roof by August. But pretty close. I have a family reunion next weekend so this will probably be the last update for a couple of weeks. My foraging efforts last weekend helped me find three standing dead trees of appropriate size for my uses.
I chopped this one down with the axe because it was growing up from the side of a steep and slippery ravine. I didn't trust myself with the saw under those conditions so I got a nice workout. I tied a rope around it before I dropped it so that I could haul it back up the hill after it fell. Even at 11:00 a.m. my little point and shoot camera had to turn its flash on to take a picture this deep in the woods. Gives you an idea of how lush the canopy is this time of year. "The woods are lovely dark and deep" - Robert Frost.

The walls are almost finished. I just need a couple more courses and I can start the roof! Can you believe it is almost August? Time flies when your having fun.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Art of Manliness

The Art of Manliness is a blog I came across while doing research on log construction. I know what you might be thinking and if I'm right about that your wrong. It is not a haven for testosterone induced chest thumping by a bunch of he-man woman haters. OK if you go there looking for something to be offended by you will probably find it. They cover a lot of ground and aren't shy about addressing controversial issues. To quote the author --

"The Art of Manliness is authored by husband and wife team, Brett and Kate McKay. It features articles on helping men be better husbands, better fathers, and better men. In our search to uncover the lost art of manliness, we’ll look to the past to find examples of manliness in action. We’ll analyze the lives of great men who knew what it meant to “man up” and hopefully learn from them. And we’ll talk about the skills, manners, and principles that every man should know. Since beginning in January 2008, The Art of Manliness has already gained 53,000+ subscribers and continues to grow each week."

Anyway I noticed today that Brett showcased the House of Fallen Timbers! 

Thanks Brett!!

My analytics tell me that over 100 vistors have been referred here since Brett posted the link so welcome to all of you visiting from The Art of Manliness. 

I really enjoy Brett's work and lets face it guys its getting harder and harder to find good male role models these days. Here is one of my favorite recent articles from The Art of Manliness.Dance Like Zorba the Greek

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Poem in Thanks

One of my friends told me to read this poem and I thought it was worth sharing.

Lord Whoever, thank you for this air
I'm about to in- and exhale, this hutch
in the woods, the wood for fire,
the light-both lamp and the natural stuff
of leaf-back, fern, and wing.
For the piano, the shovel
for ashes, the moth-gnawed
blankets, the stone-cold water
stone-cold: thank you.
Thank you, Lord, coming for
to carry me here -- where I'll gnash
it out, Lord, where I'll calm
and work, Lord, thank you
for the goddamn birds singing!
-- Thomas Lux

Thanks Flash!

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Cut 12 notches and stacked eight logs yesterday. The walls are now over five feet high all the way around.
Which brings me to the next image. Drum Roll please...the first ever taken from INSIDE the cabin!

As you can see the gaps between logs are wide.

My plan is to wedge smaller logs (sticks) into the gaps and seal them up with mortar. Below is a quick example of what I mean for illustrative purposes. I'll whittle them down to make a better fit before the mortar goes on.

Today I'm heading back into the woods to forage for some more dead trees. I need six more nine foot logs to finish up the walls.

In  other news.  Kent over on the Tiny House Blog posted an update I sent him. Thanks Kent! His blog is an incredible resource for ideas and examples of all sorts of construction methods and man does it make my Google analytics go wild when Kent posts an update. I had 193 visits to the blog the day Kent posted the story!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Everything I ever needed to know I learned on Sesame Street

Thought I would share the video that helped me figure out how to move some really big logs out of the woods. I watched this video and noticed the older man using horses to drag a big log. I don't have horses and the logs were to far off the trails to use the tractor but I have been called a jackass myself so I thought I'd give it a try. I was able to drag three big logs out of the woods. Something about having the weight distributed across the stick and all the tension on the rope makes it possible to lift one end and slide it relatively easily. Like so. I dragged the logs up hill, downhill and through a creek bed!

Anyway, enjoy the video and keep an eye out for the log dragging.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

ROI (Return on Investment)

Yesterday I cut ten notches, stacked eleven logs of various sizes and started framing up the window. The weather was nicer than it has been and I worked shirtless most of the day. I took a dip in the river to cool off and noticed that I'm really starting to get in good shape.

The point of this "backslapping"  is that this cabin is a gift that keeps on giving. Not only am I getting a deluxe little outbuilding out of it, I am in the best shape I've been in over a decade. So I thought I would run down the cost of goods and the return on investment today.

The latest expense was a new set of handles. One for the axe and one for the hatchet. fifteen dollars.

I estimate I have used around three gallons of gas give or take, another fifteen dollars.

There was a new chain for the chainsaw, eighteen dollars, and a pound of nails, two dollars.

Grand total = $50.00 (so far)

Building your own log cabin = Priceless!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Half way up!

Happy Independence Day!
I had three days off work and got 28 notches cut and seventeen logs stacked. The walls are half way up.

Nothing particularly exciting to share, except maybe my plumb line. This is the poor man's lazer level. A string with a nail tied to it. Helped me get straight lines to square up the doorway.

Sorry for the brief  update. I spent way too much time in the heat this weekend. To quote my favorite pirate ..."Stagger, Stagger, Crawl, Crawl ... or was it ... Crawl, Crawl, Stagger Stagger?" - Yellow Beard

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I fought the log and the log won


I  am not a smart man but sometimes I amaze even myself! Last March  I cut a nice straight ten foot length out of a fallen elm. This was before I realized I couldn't really work with 15 inch diameter trees. That is until I can afford a mule team. Anyway, I left this log sitting in the woods until I convinced myself that I could split it and get two for one. The last log I split was a red oak. It split into two fairly even halves with a moderate amount of work. So off I go to split this elm at 8:00 a.m. yesterday morning. I have since learned that elm is nothing like oak when it comes to splitting a ten footer. Elm is moderately heavy, hard and stiff with excellent bending and shock resistance. It is difficult to split because of its interlocked grain.

I spent the whole day yesterday beating myself and my tools to death on this log. By 4:00 p.m. I had broken the handle off my hatchet, knocked the head off my axe and stretched the chain of my saw beyond its ability to readjust. CAN YOU SAY STUBBORN! As you can see the log is still not split. It was 100 degrees in the shade all day and I think I lost about a half a gallon of blood to the mosquitoes that surrounded me despite bathing in Deep Woods off. Something tells me this log will be a featured piece of the cabin, some way or another. Maybe a monument to my pigheadedness!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hot and Wet!

Rain finally stopped yesterday morning about 9 a.m. The sun came out and turned the woods into a sauna. I got three logs peeled. Thought I would post a picture of the spud hoe in action on a log. A spud hoe is so named because it is used for digging potatoes....(I think). Its a straight bladed hoe. Works great taking off big strips of bark.

This is the cause of all these dead elms. These little trails you see on the log below are the work of a beetle that carries a fungus that kills the trees. (At least that's the story I've heard)

I decided to try notching this log with just the axe. It was pretty tough and it took a lot longer than using the chainsaw but I have to admit it felt pretty darn good to whale on that log and watch the chips fly!

By the end of yesterday I had eight new notches cut and a new course stacked. No where near the three courses I'd convinced myself I could do. The heat and humidity made four hours seem like eight. We have a 30% chance of rain everyday for the next five days so I got out early this morning and stacked the logs up to get them off the ground. I tacked a couple of salvaged 2"x6" boards up in the doorway to check the width of the opening. I don't know if you can see it but there is an orange trumpet vine blossom tied to one of the boards at seven feet. The bench is 20" tall. So, it looks like the notched part of my walls are just under 1/3rd up.

Happy Father's Day!

Monday, June 14, 2010


Not much to report this weekend. Rained Saturday and Sunday. Got two logs peeled including the Cherry and took an inventory of the logs on site.
  • 15 - 12 footers
  • 10 - 3 footers
  • 7 - 9 footers
  • 6 - 6 footers.
If its dry next weekend I could notch and stack three more courses and get the walls half way up!

In the meantime checkout this amazing collection of videos from an incredible cabin builder known as dirtTdude on YouTube.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Rained most of the day Saturday so I didn't get much accomplished but the new windfall I found in the woods last weekend turned out to be Cherry.
I got a  nice straight twelve foot log out of it on Sunday but couldn't lift it. I didn't want to cut such a beautiful log in two so I used a rope and a stick to drag it out of the woods.

According to the Log Weight Calculator this thing weighs at least 350 lbs. I had to strap it on the trailer crosswise to keep it steady.