Have you always wanted to build a DIY cabin at your home? If so, you have come to the right place. Building a small cabin does not take as long to build as you think it might. With the proper tools, location, and materials, you can build your own DIY cabin in no time. The cheapest way to build a cabin is to build it with your own materials. However, there are plenty of prefab cabins (cabin kits) to choose from. I'll go over what small cabin kits actually are later in this article, as well as how much they cost. So, let's dive in and take a look at how to build a cabin of your dreams.
Choosing a Location
The first step to building a small cabin is choosing a location. Foundation is everything when you are building a cabin, shed, or house. Without the proper foundation, your cabin will not be strong and secure. If your cabin is built without a firm foundation, there is a chance that it could sink or even become lopsided when the soil moves away from your cabin over the years. The foundation you decide to build your DIY cabin on will depend on your site’s rock and soil type, the size of your cabin, water tables, drainage design, and your budget. There are multiple foundation options available, including a raft foundation (concrete base), strip foundation, and pad foundation (concrete piers).
In addition to making a firm foundation, you'll also need to decide where you want your DIY cabin to be built. Where you want it built will greatly depend on how much land you have. To choose a location, consider what your cabin will be for. Will it be a guest room for people who visit? Will the cabin be a get-away cabin for you to take a mini vacation? By deciding what the cabin will be used for, you will be able to decide exactly where you want to build your DIY cabin.
Preparing the Foundation
In this cabin design, we will use the pad foundation. You need one pier at each corner of the cabin, one in the middle of each long side, three piers spaced evenly on the front of the porch, and one in the middle of the back wall. In light soil, you can dig the 10 holes you need for 8- to 12-inch-diameter pier forms using a shovel. But if the soil is not soft, you may need to use a tractor-mounted auger.
The best way to mark your foundation outline is with 12-inch spikes pushed into the earth and connected with nylon string. You can also use a laser level if you will be doing this project alone. Make sure everything is level and measured correctly. When setting the concrete piers in the ground, dig the holes large enough to allow room for side-to-side adjustment. The outside edges of the pier forms should extend a little bit beyond the outer dimensions of your building. Set the pier forms into the ground, and pack soil around them. Next, vertically insert five-eighths-inch L-shaped threaded metal rod anchors, extending at least 7 inches above the concrete with the short end down. Later on, these metal rod anchors will hold down the base of the floor frame.
Building the Floor Frame
After placing the concrete piers into the ground, it is time to build the floor frame. Start by gathering rot-resistant 6-by-6 timbers for the outer rim. Make sure that the wood is long enough so that you don't need to splice two timbers together. Splicing the timbers together is ok, but it is best if one piece of wood does the job. Now, measure, mark and drill 1-inch-diameter holes in your 6-by-6s for the five-eighths-inch threaded rod anchors you inserted in the concrete piers. Place the timbers over the rods. Before you bolt down the timbers, check that the top surfaces of the 6-by-6s are level to within the one-eighth inch of each other. Fix any problems that you notice before you begin installing the floor frame.
Begin running joists across the 14-foot width of the cabin. 2-by-10s spaced on 16-inch centers across the span of this cabin will give you a good floor. You'll want to use five 3 1/2-inch nails on each joint connecting the floor joists to the headers. Make sure the edges of your floor frame are perfectly straight. A string can be used to make sure everything is level and straight. Use 3 1/2-inch hot-dipped, galvanized nails driven at an angle to connect the floor frame to the timber rim. Galvanized connector plates will also work well.
Laying the Floor Surface
Out next step is to lay out the floor surface. Although there is a variety of floor options, the best way to go is to use wood planks. Three-fourths-inch softwood planks are easy to work with and are normally inexpensive. Even if you don't stain the boards, they still look rustic and are easy to sweep. Another floor option is ship-lapped floorboards, which is similar to wood planks. The difference between ship-lapped floorboards and wood planks is that ship-lapped floorboards prevent board-to-board gaps. Plywood is a good option, as it keeps drafts out. However, plywood doesn't always look as nice as wood planks.
Building the Wall Frame
Now it is time to build the wall frame. Once the wall frame is built, your DIY cabin is really starting to look like a cabin. Although you can use 2-by-4s to build your wall frame, it is recommended to use 2-by-6s instead. The extra 2 inches of frame depth is stronger, looks better, and also creates little shelves in your cabin. Therefore, it would be best to use 2-by-6s.
Stud-frame walls have three main parts: the plates (horizontal members that form the top and bottom of the walls); studs (vertical frame members); and lintels (horizontal members that span doors and windows). It is important to know the structure of a cabin because then you will know exactly how you will build it. Start by cutting one top and one bottom plate for the rear wall, which is the one opposite the door. Make these plates out of one 2-by-6 each, then temporarily screw them together so all sides are level. Make these plates 13 feet, 1 inch long.
Measuring the Wood
Use a carpenter’s square (also called a steel square) to draw lines across the edges of the plates. Each pencil line shows where one side of each stud should be located. Studs measuring 92 1/2 inches long should be spaced 16 inches apart from center point to center point, with extra studs where door and window openings will go later. Make window openings 1 inch wider and 1 inch taller than the overall size of your window. For your door, make it 1 inch wider and a half inch taller for a pre-hung door. But this step will come later.
Remove the screws that temporarily held the top and bottom plates together. Separate these pieces about 8 feet apart (with the bottom plate near its final place on the wall), and then position your wall studs between them. Nail the plates to the ends of the full-length studs, then cut and add shorter studs to form the window opening. Use three 3 1/2-inch nails per joint.
Raising the Wall Frame
The next step is both difficult and exciting. It is when you will raise the wall frame into its spot on the cabin. To do this, you'll need some help from a couple other people. You'll also need some tools. In addition to a hammer and some 3 1/2-inch nails, an 8- to 10-pound sledgehammer is helpful for jostling the wall into final position. You'll also need a level to make sure the frame is plumb. With the help of a few other people, raise the wall frame and then push, pull, and hammer it into alignment with the edge of the floor frame. Drive two nails into each space between the studs on the bottom plate, extending down into the floorboards and header.
Although your wall frame is up, it still isn't strong. Add some long pieces of lumber to the wall frame to secure it. After you have completed your first wall frame, go ahead and finish building the other wall frames. When you’ve framed the last wall (the one with the door) and raised it, check the walls to make sure they are plumb. This can take a little while to do, but it is important that everything is level and installed correctly. After you have made sure everything is plumb, cut and apply another layer of 2-by-6s over the existing top plate.
Finishing Up and Adding the Siding
Fasten two 6-by-6 vertical posts to the front corners, and then add three horizontal 6-by-6s on top, extending to the porch posts temporarily supported by props of lumber. When all this is in place, tie everything together with a second 2-by-6 top plate. By now, you should have four walls of the cabin raised, with an additional 4-foot frame extending from the cabin’s front wall which will support the porch roof. Once you have completed the wall frame, screw on some wood planks or plywood to your cabin as the siding. You can also use some oriented-strand board (OSB) wall siding panels. OSB wall siding panels are similar to particle board.
Adding the Roof
Your cabin is close to being complete. All you must do now is add a roof so that the inside of your cabin stays dry. You’ll need 34 rafters in all, which includes the porch roof. You could use 2-by-6 rafters, but if you plan to insulate the roof, it would be best to use 2-by-8s spaced on 16-inch centers. Start by marking rafter locations where they will sit on the top of the side walls. It is recommended that they sit on top of the wall studs. Then measure the width of your cabin. Next, cut out a pair of rafters. Tack a piece of 1 1/2-inch-thick scrap wood to the top end of one rafter (to mimic the ridge board that will be part of the completed roof) and then get some help for raising the rafters up and leaning them against each other.
What you’re looking for is a gap-free fit where the rafter meets the top of the walls, and where they come together at the peak. While you’re working, test the location of the rafter pairs at various places across the building. If they fit in one place and not another, that’s a sign the width of your cabin isn’t consistent after all.
Continue making the rest of your 34 rafters. For 12 of them, you will need to cut notches, about 1 1/2-by-3 1/2-inches, along the interior edge of these rafters to accept 2-by-4 braces. These rafters will support the outer pair of rafters on each end of the cabin. Use a circular saw to cut these notches.
Making the Ridge Board
Next, you'll need to start making the ridge board. The ridge board will have to be made in two lengths of 2-by-10s Lay the ridge boards end-to-end on top of one wall plate. When it is time to raise the rafters and ridge boards, do one half of the cabin at a time. Raise one pair of rafters at the end of the cabin and another pair in the middle, near the place where the ridge board will end. Fill in the spaces along the wall with more rafters, angling screws so they go through the ridge board and into the ends of the rafters. Repeat this process with the other half of the roof. Add the 2-by-4 rafter supports, then the four rafters that form the front and back eaves.
You are almost done with your cabin. Add the ceiling joists that tie the cabin together at the top. Shingle the roof, apply your exterior wall treatment and install the doors and windows. Congratulations on completing the DIY cabin of your dreams!
DIY Cabin Kits
If building a small cabin sounds too hard, you may want to consider trying DIY cabin kits. Also called prefab cabins, these pre-built cabins are easy to build because they are already put together. All you have to do is raise up the frames so that it forms the shape of a cabin. Because a build-your-own cabin kit is easy to put together, this may be a good option for you. However, it is important to realize that DIY cabin kits are very expensive. Some can be as expensive as $20,000, and that does not include shipping costs. If you look around, you may be able to find a $5000 log cabin kit or even cabin kits under $5000. But if you are looking for the cheapest way to build a cabin, the best route is to build your own DIY cabin from scratch.
I hope this article today has inspired you to build your own cabin. Although it may seem difficult to build, a DIY cabin is actually fairly easy to construct. First, you'll need to choose a location and the right foundation. Then you'll need to build the floor frame and the wall frame. After completing the wall frame, you'll add on the roof. If this sounds too hard for you, you have the option of using a DIY cabin kit. However, DIY cabin kits can be very expensive. The cheapest way to build a cabin is to build it from scratch. Have fun building your DIY cabin! Your hard work will result in a cozy place to get away and relax in.