by Todd Walker
In March of 2021, just before my pancreas scare, I decided to build a log cabin on the land I grew up on. I needed a place to retire and our land would provide the resources needed for the project. All I needed was the energy and sweat equity to do the stuff.
My little 10×12 practice log cabin taught me many things. The most important being that log cabin building is nothing but hard work. Counting the cost, I launched with ambition and hope that I could hold up physically. This go round I’d be using all the power tools and equipment I could to easy the pain.
My plan is to construct a 30×32 foot log cabin on the exact spot our family first camped in tents on this land in 1969. Many memories were made in my seven-year-old mind, the most painful being my first chigger infestation. It’s a wonder I grew up to love the outdoors after that miserable, scratchy weekend.
To get started, I needed trees, lots of trees. Pine is plentiful and relatively easy to access on our property. The longest lengths would need to be 45 feet long to accommodate the 12 foot front porch that will overlook the lake.
It’s different building with logs of this length. The longest log on my practice cabin was 21 feet. Now I had to find trees long and straight enough to span a distance twice that. Cruising timber takes patience and perseverance. I spot what appears to be a perfect fit straight away but I walk 90 degrees around the tree, use my ax to plumb that side, and a bow from that angle disqualifies, or saves the tree’s life. When I find a keeper, I do my happy dance and tie a strip of orange surveyor’s tape around it!
As my friend Cokey always said at the onset of any hard work, “It’s like hauling logs, you gotta really want to do it!” I managed to cut about half of the logs needed this summer in crazy hot weather. My cousin, Chris, loaned his tractor out for the skidding part. Nylon chokers and ropes held up for a while to drag hard-to-reach logs out of the woods. I later converted to chains for safety purposes.
Skinning Logs with a Spud
Without a doubt, this is the most labor intensive aspect of the build.
When the sap is rising in Georgia pines (mid-March through late September), my tool of choice for de-barking logs is a long handle scraper I found at Harbor Freight. The 4 inch wide beveled blade gets under the bark and separates the cambium layer from the sapwood efficiently.
To start a fresh log, I remove a strip of bark the entire length of the tree. The spud is then worked under the bark. With enough of the metal spud under the bark edge, the 4 foot wooden handle is used to pry sections of bark from the log. When the sap is rising, it’s possible to remove wide, long sheets of bark.
In the winter months the bark will only release when strongly encouraged to do so. A drawknife outperforms the spud. However, I have no desire to hunch over, straddle, and peel logs with an edged tool.
Seeking a shortcut, I thought to myself, “There must be a machine that will debark logs and save my back.”
The Log Wizard
I ordered this handy-dandy tool near the end of July, 2021. With dreams of upping my log skinning game, I gladly laid down two Benjamins and some change. It’s basically two planer blades attached to the end of a chainsaw. DJ, my brother-in-law, is one of those guys who can fix just about anything. I dropped by his place, and sure enough, he drilled two precision holes in an extra 18 inch chainsaw bar and I was up and running.
I was not impressed with my first attempt at removing bark with the Log Wizard in July. There were two reasons.
First, it gouged the sapwood after removing bark. I thought it was operator error on my part. DJ gave it a whirl with the same result. I figured it was an expensive experiment and tossed it in the box of forgotten tools.
Secondly, it was considerably slower in removing bark in comparison to my trusty spud. Where I could remove wide sheets of bark with my spud, the Log Wizard required that I touch ever square inch of the tree to completely skin a log.
After Christmas 2021, I resurrected the Log Wizard to debark winter logs. I even rigged an overhead cable to help support the weight of the chainsaw. This design relieved the stress on my shoulders but was still slow as molasses in winter.
After peeling a few logs with the Log Wizard, I decided to switch back to the drawknife. I built sawhorses which held the log up at a more comfortable height for debarking. This sped up the process considerably.
I’ve got enough logs on the landing to stack walls 9 logs high.
Grading the Building Site
The foundation piers on the back of the cabin will be at least 18 inches high. Moving forward 42 feet to reach the front porch, piers would be over 5 feet tall without grading the lot. I don’t want that many steps for my retirement log cabin.
I recruited Chris, my cousin from across the lake, to crawl his Cat loader over to dig up root balls and start the grading process. A few big pines needed to come down near the build site. They weren’t suitable for wall logs, too crooked. After felling the trees, I bucked them to length for sawmill lumber. Chris wrangled the root balls and brush into a huge burn pile.
The lot was graded as best as possible with a heavy machine. I then called on another family member to do the finish grading. Joe grades building lots like it’s his job, well, it is actually. He showed up with a skid steer and leveled the lot in less than an hour and a half. I was amazed at the skill and accuracy as he operated his machine!
The next project will be digging for foundation piers. I’m trying to decide if I should go with poured concrete piers or cinder block piers. If any of you followed my other log cabin build, you’ll remember I used big stone piers like the old timers used.
Once the piers are set, I’ll start stacking wall logs.
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
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