Building the Foundation

You cannot dream yourself into a character;

you must hammer and forge yourself one.

– Henry David Thoreau, naturalist, writer, cabin dweller, 1817 – 1862


When it comes to building cabins (or any other permanent structure for that matter), I’m completely sold on the idea of creating things for the long haul. If a cabin won’t last a century with minimal maintenance, then it’s not worth building. Several centuries of working life is certainly not unreasonable to expect. This means working to at least the same standards of durability and beauty you’d apply to any full-size city house, even though the style, size and soul of a good cabin is entirely different. The reason I’m big on maximizing durability is because it takes such a small amount of extra care, materials and money to yield a huge increase in long-term usefulness. Building durably is actually an especially great deal when you consider the cost/benefit analysis. Any lapse from the durability mindset is simply a waste of time, money and resources. Although you can certainly build a cabin much more quickly and less stoutly than the design here, the wisest use of resources often means going beyond what’s merely good enough according to building code minimums. And while this might seem like a waste to some people, it’s actually good stewardship.

These foundation piers were made on-site using local stone. Mortar still needs to be applied to fill the joints between stones. More on this later.

The first and most important area where the quality mindset rules is with your foundation. The cabin featured here uses masonry piers built to support the structure 16” to 24” off the ground, depending on how the soil happens to sit underneath the cabin. Our building site has flat limestone bedrock about 12” below soil level, offering the most solid footing possible.

In the interests of authentic good looks and strength, we built foundation piers out of limestone rock quarried from the area, shaped by hand and assembled with mortar the old fashioned way. This is the approach you’ll find in the plans, with more detailed stoneworking instructions later on. That said, many people who have built a cabin following this course have used concrete blocks or concrete piers poured into cylindrical cardboard forms. These certainly work fine, too. Here at our place we have the stone, so we’ve built plenty of things using it.

Click below to learn about simple geometry and how it can help you lay out your cabin accurately with square corners . . . 

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