Posts Tagged With: hand tools

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,


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Categories: DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Log Cabin, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 3 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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