Posts Tagged With: hand tools

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists

by Todd Walker

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~

As the song says, “I started out with nothing, and I’ve got most of it left.”

Those lyrics summed up my feelings since starting this log cabin project in February. I all I had to show for my effort was a bunch of skinned logs scattered through the woods and fields. That all changed this summer. Here’s the progress as of mid July…

Setting Sill Logs

I had my doubts about dry-stacked stone piers as my foundation. The largest sill log measured 14 inches in diameter by 18 feet long. A handy online log calculator estimated the weight for this one log to be 925 pounds. The stones/boulders were far from flat. I did my best to shim them with smaller stones to keep them steady.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~

Dry-stacked stone piers have supported log cabins for hundreds of years… but I had my doubts.

I spent way too much time with a water level trying to ensure all the piers were the same height. Round logs are not dimensional lumber. Get the stones close to the same height and lay logs on top.

In all honesty, my plan was to use only hand tools for this trial of self-reliance. Trees were felled and bucked with an ax, debarked with a bark spud and draw knife, and hauled to site by me as the mule pulling my LogRite Junior Arch… until I attempted to move those half-ton sill logs. A real mule was needed for this job.

My best friend Philip had just finished skinning the two sill logs when Allen, the land owner, walked up to visit. He told us he had just acquired a Kawasaki Mule. Perfect!

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~

Philip taking a break after debarking one of the 925 pound sill log with the barking spud in the foreground.

Even with Junior hooked to the back-end of the Mule, the big sill logs were a beast to haul back to the cabin site. But it worked!

Log Lifting Tripod

Lifting close to a half a ton of wood, even a few feet off the ground, would require a lot of mechanical advantage using simple machines. Dead cedars were cut and lashed together to form a tripod. The largest leg/pole was about 6 inches in diameter. Standing this heavy tripod up by myself was like watching the Three Stooges. Wish I had filmed this for some comic relief.

Here’s the video of how I lashed the tripod for those interested…

After positioning the tripod over the heaviest sill log, I attached a four-to-one block and tackle system at the top of the tripod. Upon testing the pulley system, I could only lift the log a couple of inches. Not good. I quickly realized that, even if I was able to lift the log, I could not hold the log in place by myself and control the placement on the piers with precision. I needed a lifting device I could control when working alone. I bought a one-ton chain fall (hoist) for $60 the next day. This one tool revolutionized the job!

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~

The chain fall rigged to the tripod made light work of heavy logs.

Our video below shows how maneuverable the logs are when choked at the balance point.

Sill Logs Notched and Set

I positioned the first sill log on the ground next to the piers to mark for notching. I made relief cuts with my bow saw on each mark about one inch deep. I used a boy’s ax to remove wood chips between the saw cuts. This produced a flat surface for the log to rest on the non-flat stone piers.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~

Flat notches were cut using a buck saw and ax.

I re-choked the log with the tow strap near the bottom of the log. Lifting by myself with the chain fall, the log slowly turned until the notches faced down. Then the log was lifted to the height needed to be lowered onto the piers. On the way up, the log scraped the side of the piers toppling a few. I re-stacked them and lowered the log cautiously. They held up fine but had a touch of wobble. Small rock shims were inserted to steady the piers.

After months of preparation, the feeling of seeing a huge log off the ground and resting on rocks was pure excitement!

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~

The first log up!

Square Corners

The next day I set the second log to create the first corner. How do you make corners square using different sized logs which are not even? Here’s how I did it…

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~

The corner nail is near the head of the hammer where the two chalk lines intersect. The tape measure forms the hypotenuse of the right triangle.

I’ve used the Pythagorean Theorem many times to square corners using dimensional lumber. You need straight lines for this to work. I popped a chalkline down the center of each log. I tacked a nail at the intersection where the two lines crossed in the corner. From that corner nail, I measured three feet down the chalkline and tacked another nail. On the other log, I measured four feet and drove in a nail. I lifted the second log just enough to allow me swing in or out until the distance from both nails measured five feet. This creates a 3-4-5 right triangle ensuring the logs are perpendicular in the corner. A 6-8-10 triangle would be more accurate, but I was by myself and didn’t want to stretch a tape measure 10 feet from nail to nail.

Tight-Pinned Corners

The Butt and Pass method requires no notches. Metal pins hold the logs together to create a sturdy, solid structure.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~

The brace and bit used to make pilot holes for the rebar pins.


I cut 1/2 inch rebar in 20 inch lengths at my shop. Back at the build site, I use a brace and bit to bore a 1/2 inch hole almost through the first log. Probably should drill all the way through but almost through seems to work. Now I drive the pin through the pilot hole and into the adjacent log. I started using a 6 pound sledge with a 36 inch handle. My accuracy suffered. The long handle also kissed my ribcage a few times while hammering bent over. We sawed the handle in half and found it to be the ticket.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~

A twenty inch rebar pin hammered flush.

A note worth mentioning on driving pins. If you miss hit and bend the pin, stop. Straighten the pin as best as possible before pounding more. A bent pin will find its way through the side or top of the adjacent log. Once all four corners were pinned together, the sill logs became unbelievably steady on the piers.

Log Floor Joists

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~

3 of 5 log floor joists set in sill logs. I’ll explain the leveling process on our next article.

I’ve begun hewing log floor joists. Dimensional lumber would speed up the process but I want to use as many raw resources as possible on the cabin. One side of a log gets hewn flat and notched with tenons on both ends. The tenons will mate with mortises notched into the sill logs. I’ll do a more detailed article on what I’ve got planned for the floor system.

Until then, here’s our latest video on the floor system…

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

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Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Homesteading, Log Cabin, Self-reliance | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods

by Todd Walker

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~

Image used with permission from the builder, Wiley Log Homes.

We built crude log forts in the woods growing up. They weren’t water tight or warm. The wind would cut through the muddle of sticks and threaten to take your hat off. Those were fun times. A bona fide log cabin was what I dreamed of then… and that dream remains.

At nearly my age (55), Dick Proenneke set out to live in a remote area of Alaska. For 30 years, he lived in a log cabin he built with his own hands. You can learn more of his remarkable legacy of self-reliance and conservation by watching the documentary, Alone in the Wilderness.

For those following my cabin project on my YouTube channel, I’m in the early stage of cutting and debarking logs. I don’t have the luxury of waiting a year or more for peeled logs to season. I could wait but patience isn’t one of my strong suits. I’ll build my little “practice” cabin with green logs. I’ve already been asked in video comments how long I’ll let my logs season before building.

Here’s the thing, I’m not going to use traditional saddle notches to connect corners. I may try my hand at saddle notches on cured/seasoned logs at some point. Until then, my research turned up a little-known (to me at least) construction method which uses green, unseasoned logs in construction. If you’re not familiar with this style, let me introduce you…

Butt and Pass Style Log Cabin

The advantages of using the butt and pass construction technique is it requires little in the way of tools and construction experience for a DiY log cabin builder. I’ve got plenty of construction experience and tools. My dilemma is that I have green logs and want to finish the cabin before the end of the school year. This no-scribe, no-notch method will speed up the construction process.

The top photo of this article is a butt and pass log home built by Wiley Log Homes. Ronnie, the owner, gave me permission to share a few of his beautiful handcrafted log homes here. I hope to have a few shots of my own cabin corners soon. Until then, take a look at the corners of these Wiley Log Homes.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~

This cabin has a stone basement.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~

Five foot eves help keep water off the logs.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~

A good shot of the butt and pass corner style.

No matter what method is used green logs will shrink. However, with tight-pinned butt and pass construction, settling will only happen if the foundation/piers are not properly formed. With each course of logs, holes are drilled through the top log through the bottom log. A length of 1/2″ rebar is driven through the logs (tight-pinned) about every two feet. As the green logs cure and shrink, the logs shrink around their center line. The gaps between the logs increase but the wall height remains the same. Touching up the chinking over the first few years will have to happen as the logs cure, so I’ve read.

Self-Reliance on Trial

I plan to build my cabin with hand tools only. That’s a tall order especially when I have power tools at my disposal. The pioneer method doesn’t trump someone who chooses to use power tools. I have a comfortable home and don’t “need” this cabin. But somewhere, back in my deeper, primal self, I want this cabin, if for nothing more than to put my self-reliance on trial. Who knows, I may not make it through the project using just hand tools. Either way, this project has been brewing in my gut for years and feels good to take the first step.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~

My cousin said this to me after he saw the first logs de-barked. “Hardest step is the first one. I’ve been told this but usually by someone who ain’t doing the stepping.” ~ Tim Hester. This is a photo of Dick Proenneke peering out of his cabin door (Image credit: National Park Service)

I’ve only bucked and de-barked one pine tree so far. My first attempt at skinning logs was with a draw knife. The tool peeled bark really well but would not be a sustainable method for this old man. I needed a method where I’m not bent over scraping with pine sap flying in my face. Enter the tile scraper. I ground the edge on this old long-handled tool and it’s a far cry better than my draw knife on my back. I’ve been using it like a draw knife, scraping long strips of bark off the length of the logs, but will try peeling whole sections off logs by prying around the round part of the log. Not sure how well this will work since the sap is not rising like in spring time.

Another hand-tool concerns that comes to mind is boring holes to accept the rebar pins. Twisting a half-inch auger through logs can’t be easy. Yet another challenge will be transporting 12 and 14 foot logs to the build site in the woods. I won’t be able to split them in half or into rails the way I did in last year’s Axe Cordwood Challenge. I need draught horses, or oxen. Seriously!

Progress Report

To keep up with the log cabin journey, I’ve created a playlist on my channel titled, Log Cabin Build. Most are mine but a few are of Dick Proenneke’s cabin. I’ll also be updating here on the blog.

This is the last video in the log cabin series. I traded my draw knife for a DiY bark spud…

With only one day per week to work on the cabin, progress is slow. Winter break should offer a few extra work days. Below are some photos of my progress.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~

A storm blow-over bucked and ready for de-barking.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~

Two debarked logs.

After the first two logs, I mentioned in my video about the fun you can have debarking logs. In honor of Tom Sawyer’s fence white washing pitch, I had a buddy and his son show up to my first Barking Party. Evan Newsom, first picture below, was the first to party on!

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~

Tom Sawyer would be so proud!

I even have my school students convinced…

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~

Introduced students at RISE to the draw knife. They have acquired a liking for this tool.

Sure appreciate having the physical health to be able to attack this pioneer project. It will take longer to construct using hand tools. Patience may become a strong suit of mine after all is said and done.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Log Cabin, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Michelangelo’s Subtraction Solution: Carving Your Masterpiece Preparedness Plan

by Todd Walker

Sometimes preparedness means saying no to 1,000’s of things – and people.


On our journey to preparedness, we’re suppose to add to our skill set, physical preps, and knowledge base. But our magnum opus, our greatest work, comes through subtracting everything that is not prepared for our future.

It occurred to me recently that we prepper-types are not keen on the concept of subtracting stuff. The latest, greatest, and shiniest must-have items don’t always make life easier – or survivable. Take a cue from Michelangelo and start subtracting. Chip away at stuff that doesn’t belong in your plan. Instead of constantly adding, subtract stuff strategically.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

~ Michelangelo

Let’s assume our world as we know it crumbles. All the technology, elevators, ‘reality’ shows, and food trucks stop. No more electrical grid, fiat money-spitting machines, or Ben and Jerry’s ice cream kiosks in the mall. Our fragility catches up to us.

Those who make it through the reset are left to rebuild. But how? Even SmartPrepper’s stuff will eventually expire or be consumed. What then?

We’ll have to become producers. The most necessary stuff first. We all know the importance of water, food, and shelter. Do we have the skills, knowledge, and tools to enable us to produce these?

Oh yea, I’ve got all that stuff saved on my computer. Oops!

Below are three key areas that will greatly benefit from applying the subtraction solution before the reset occurs. Keep in mind that less is more and simple is better.


Open your copy of The Encyclopedia of Country Living. You do have this in your library, right? Bury your face in the pages. Breathe deeply. The scent of a bound book can’t be replaced or duplicated. I love the smell of a good book in the morning!

The Encyclopedia of Country Living

Below The Encyclopedia of Country Living is one of my 3-ring binders of how-to’s and such. Print hard copies of important stuff before the reset.

Now, try this exercise with your eReader, tablet, or smart phone. There’s an obvious in-your-face difference, something lost on moderns and our neo culture.

Time is the best method to determine what preps need to be chiseled away. Modern technology is young. And fragile. And I use it. I have apps that help me identify wild foods, survival techniques, and other need-to-know stuff.

But I’m not counting on electronic gadgetry to be around after the reset. If a thing is resilient, it will rebound from stressful events. If not, like all living or non-living fragile things, they will exit the gene pool or become useless paper weights.

Granted, resourceful folk have ways to charge all their gadgets for blackout events and emergencies. But don’t overlook the wise choice of hard copy, ink on paper, resources. They go long-term. And smell better!


Humans are tool-using animals. Our use of these tools separate us from other animals. Before Michelangelo turned granite blocks into angels, he needed the right tools.

Primitive technologies are time-tested. Something as simple as a wheel or lever fall out of favor in our modern mania. Mystified by flashes of light and cute ring back tones and shiny objects, we’ve traded non-fragile for fragile.

Here’s an article on 6 simple machines every SmartPrepper needs if you’d like a refresher.

Simple machines save labor. More importantly, time has proven them to be both useful and robust. The tools that survive are the ones that have been serving mankind for hundreds, even thousands of years.

I love my power tools. They save time and labor as well. Over the years I’ve tried to whittle away my dependence on these machines. What I’ve learned is that using simple hand tools ain’t so simple. They’re simple, but they take practice.

Hand tools you may want to start adding to your reset tool box include:

Woodworking: Hammers and mallets, chisels and knives, sharpening supplies, saws (rip, crosscut, miter, etc.), brace and bits, augers, rasps, planes, pliers and wrenches, screw drivers, measuring tools (steel carpenter’s square, tapes and rulers, try square, bevel), axes and adzes, drawknives and spokeshaves, levels (4 foot, 2 foot, and torpedo levels), and lots of hardware.

Bits for my brace. $10 at a yard sale!

Bits for my brace. $10 at a yard sale!

Timber harvesting: 2 man and one-man crosscut saws, felling axes, wedges, sledge-hammer, mauls for splitting, log-jack and peavy, and sharpening supplies.

buck saw

My buck saw and a small wash board. Clothes will get dirty using this tool.

Kitchen: Cast iron cookware, hand mills, containers of all kinds, knives, canning equipment and supplies, meat saws, butchering equipment, and hand-cranked meat grinders.

Metal working: Basic blacksmithing tools (forge, anvil, post vise, hammers (again), quench tub, tongs, punches, hacksaw, and files). Note: The ability to shape metal tools seems to have been delegated to China. It’s hard to find well made tools now. When and if you find a quality tool artisan, invest in his/her robust tools. Even better, learn to make your own.

Multi-use tools: Ratchet and socket sets, utility knives, adjustable wrenches, oil cans, allen wrenches, clamps and vises.

There’s many more tools to list, but in the spirit of subtracting, I’ll stop here.

Where to find tools: Flea markets, antique shops, yard and estate sales, swap meets, and farm auctions. If you want to buy new, spend some time online shopping at Lehman’s.


Cutting crappy people out of your masterpiece maybe the most difficult task, but it’s the most important. Dealing with crappy people is like carrying 179 pounds of s****t in a sack on your back. They drain your life of energy and attract flies.

This may come as a shock to some, but there are crappy people who are preppers, too. For the most part, I’ve only encounter a few of this variety. The one’s I’ve been unfortunate enough to meet are scary.

Avoid them like the plague. They will hurt you. Here’s my test to determine if someone is a crappy person and/or prepper. They exhibit the following:

  • It’s all about me attitude. They’re the center of the universe and your brain if you let them in.
  • They’re not F.A.T. – Faithful – Available – Teachable – they’re toxic. And the worst part is they think they are actually helpful and F.A.T.
  • They can be family, friends, coworkers, bosses.
  • If you’re a blogger, they show up as trolls in your comment section. They attach to you like ticks and drain your blood, energy, and creativity. You’ll never change their mind. So don’t try.

Erase them. Especially online, faceless trolls and haters. Resist the temptation to prove your point. If you jump in the fray, you’ve just proven their worth and stroked their ego. Even if you ‘win’ the battle, you’ll come out bloodied. Don’t waste your time.

When you stand back and look at your work of art, the useless shards of rock no longer hide your masterpiece. You’ll only see what belongs.

Add as many thoughts as you’d like in the comments. I promise not to subtract them.

Keep subtracting stuff strategically,



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Categories: Preparedness, Self-reliance | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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