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Building a Timber Cabin

Traditional timber cabins have no metal hardware connecting the walls and ceilings, which necessitates using pegs to connect the timbers and joints. Building a timber cabin is challenging, but the task is much less daunting than it was before the advent of computer aided design (CAD) and manufacturing, which measures the larger interlocking pieces to facilitate assembly. Some contemporary timber frame and cabin companies sell traditional plans and materials as well as kits that mimic traditional designs but use nails and other metal to connect the wood.

Timber Cabin Aesthetics

Building a Timber Cabin

Timber cabins have fully exposed wooden interiors. The beams, posts, rafters and joists create the exterior and interior at the same time, with everything exposed inside. This creates a solid, spacious, open environment with large window-walls and the richness of exposed wood adds warmth to the atmosphere. The exterior can be left natural or finished with stucco, brick or stone. Conversely, balloon framing, the conventional home construction method, uses nails, two by fours and drywall to create the interior of a house and give it stability. The walls and ceilings have to be finished and painted and have holes cut for windows and doors. Balloon framed homes do not commonly have wall frames shared by the inside and outside of the building.

Timber Cabin Construction

Once you have your lot and blueprints in place, you can start your timber cabin construction project. There aren't a lot of steps involved, although each one takes a considerable amount of time and patience.

Find a local warehouse or other large covered structure with a concrete floor and adequate electrical outlets near the lot where the cabin will be constructed. You need a place that can comfortably accommodate your wood supply and provide a good environment for sawing and laying out the timbers in the positions in which they will be attached. Measure all the wood to create the walls and lay them out with the posts at the corners, beams at the top and internal supports in between longer spans.

Next, cut your mortises and tenons. Mortises are the slots in the beams into which the tenons slide and are commonly at least four inches long and one and a half inches wide. Tenons are the tongues you cut in the corresponding beams to slide into the mortises. The most efficient way to make the cuts is to deeply mark them with a reciprocal saw and then finish them off with hand tools like chisels, mallets and hammers to ensure they tightly fit together.

Notch the side wall beams on top with angled cuts about two inches deep called dovetails. These mortises, which require creation with chisels, hold the top roof beams in place. The ends of the roof joists must have slightly smaller tenons cut into them to make joining the timber easier. You can use a saw to start the tenons and finish them off with a chisel.

After you've finished all the cuts, test each of them for tightness and conformity. Mark each timber at equal increments and notch them to hold supportive braces at 45-degree angles on the bottoms of the beams and down the sides of the timber posts.

Using a heavy-duty power drill, bore holes through all the mortise/tenon joints. You will need one hole on each knee brace connection and two on each post connection. Drive hardwood pegs through each hole, using a mallet to avoid marring the wood surface. You can leave the peg ends exposed or cut them flush with the timber. Mark each piece to define its position when you put the walls together.

For the final step, you will need a lot of manpower or a crane. Transport each wall to the lot where the cabin will be located. Set each wall in an upright position and brace it with ground stakes and temporary two-by-four supports. Keep repeating the process, connecting each wall with the next using the precut notches and preset wooden pegs. When the walls are securely joined, attach the roof joists and drive wooden wedges into the perimeter to make the roof tight and stable.

Cabin Fever

Building a timber cabin is a major construction project that is challenging for even the most experienced construction contractors, so don't hesitate to delegate the job to a professional. The cash investment of hiring a seasoned cabin builder may be worth avoiding the time and headaches involved in notching and fitting together hundreds of pieces of timber.