It's important to ask yourself is you're actually ready to build your dream cabin before the process start and how much finishing work can you handle.
Okay, okay. Technically, I did say if we bought a cabin kit, I would finish it. However, what I meant was, I would do some of the work and arrange to have the rest finished. Then reality set in. To get a great cabin on our great location and stay at that great price, I would have to do a lot of the finishing work. “No problem!” I thought. “I’m handy!” See also The Best 20 Cabin Renovation + Remodel Tips
The drawing board
My dream log cabin started with a design I drew up on a CAD system. Battle Creek Log Homes in Tennessee worked with me to create a custom log package and delivered the components on a truck to our site. Friends showed up almost every weekend to help with the project. My friend Swede asked, “Steve, what have you built in the past that gave you the confidence to tackle building your own cabin?” “I took wood shop in high school,” I said. “Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t log cabins made from wood?” Ok, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was way over my skis. Building a birdhouse in woodshop didn’t really compare to building my own dream log cabin. There’s a defining moment in every DIY project (hopefully at the beginning) where you should stop and consider the DIY Golden Rule: Just because you think you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Is a Cabin true for you?
If you’re thinking about working on your own cabin, consider the following simple questions. Answer them before you start your project, and be truthful.
Do I enjoy working on a project all weekend, every weekend, for a long time? Am I realistic about what I can tackle?
Take time to consider if you will look forward to ongoing weekend work. If working with your hands isn’t truly fun for you, think twice. Even the most enthusiastic weekend warrior at times steps back and mutters, “What have I gotten myself into?” Be realistic in determining if and when you will hire professionals to take over a specific project. Refer back to the Golden Rule. Major projects like altering a roof-line, changing weight-bearing walls or installing a complete kitchen might call for professionals. Assess your knowledge of construction methods and building codes. Remember that some projects will require permits and inspections from your local municipality.
When I picture myself at the cabin, am I fishing, or am I up on a ladder wearing a tool belt?
When you envision yourself enjoying your cabin are you pulling in the lunker, like “On Golden Pond’s” Walter, enjoying a picnic, mountain biking or chatting with friends and family around a campfire? Will working on the cabin get in the way of those activities? During my first summer building my cabin, I lost weight and fell asleep at the fire pit from sheer exhaustion every Friday and Saturday night, but I loved it!
Is my significant other as enthusiastic about the project as I am? Are we on the same page in terms of expectations?
These questions are critical. Think about how you’ll split your time between the project and family responsibilities. Contractors know how to allocate time and know which jobs should be done in what order. How will you react if you’re tiling the shower, and your spouse says, “Could you take some time off and help your daughter catch her first fish?” Planning and scheduling is important, as well as setting clear expectations up front. Worst case scenario: Your spouse feels you’re working on the cabin as an excuse not to spend time with him or her!
Am I a detailed, organized kind of a person, or do I wing it? Does my Monday-to-Friday job allow me time to prepare for work on the project every weekend?
Time management on a weekend project is critical. Usually during the week, you need to prepare a materials list, buy all your supplies and line up all the tools and equipment you will need for weekend projects. The key is getting everything organized. Weekenders often spend far more time trying to figure out what to do than actually doing it. Your tool inventory is another element to consider. I used to laugh when I told friends I didn’t really want to build my own cabin, I just wanted an excuse to buy more tools. But many tools are expensive, so visit your local tool rental center before you start a major project, if possible. Once you know what tools you can rent, plan your work schedule to reserve tools and allot time for pick-up and return.
Am I okay leaving a project unfinished from week to week or longer?
I’m comfortable leaving a project half done and throwing a tarp over it until the next weekend (or the weekend after). But for some people, the mess of unfinished projects is a no-go. Will you or members of your family need all the debris swept up and all the tools put away after each weekend? Talk this through with your “executive committee” before the project starts.
Can I accurately estimate how much time a specific task will take?
Be realistic from the beginning about your carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills. For every hour you plan to spend swinging a hammer, add at least another hour for asking questions and trying to figure out what you need to do.
How much help can I realistically expect from family and friends?
Picture your friend Jim arriving at the cabin to help for the weekend. You’re eager for the extra set of hands to lay deck boards on the porch. He shows up with his boat in tow filled with water toys, fishing poles and coolers. You discover Jim’s plan is to knock out a quick project the first morning, then spend the rest of the visit kicking back. Time for a reality check. While many friends have the knowledge and stamina for a weekend-long project, you need to ask the right questions, so you know guests’ or helpers’ expectations upfront. Weekend projects at the cabin should be fun. They are for me: I love them. There are few things I get more satisfaction from than showing off my place and saying I put in every nail. I love explaining to someone why I designed and built some part of the cabin for a certain reason. So, how about we open up a bottle of wine, and I’ll show you my NASCAR man cave downstairs? See also Explore This Timber-Frame Dream Cabin in Michigan ABOUT OUR AUTHOR
Longtime Cabin Living contributor Steven Umland is a true renaissance man: cabin builder, writer, photographer, astronomer and more!