Slow Down, Look Around, Learn

Take Time to Learn Your Site

When it comes to choosing the precise spot for your cabin, do everything you can to gain experience observing your proposed building site, ideally over all four seasons. Drainage issues, unusual snow accumulation patterns and the interactions of sunlight and wind are all impossible to imagine properly ahead of time. A little patience with your building plans now means you’ll probably never be disappointed by some hidden feature of your building site that you didn’t know was there.

Clearing land of trees and brush might prove easy or difficult, depending on the kind of growth you’re dealing with and how thick it is. The work usually involves the use of a chainsaw and the potentially dangerous job of cutting trees and moving them out of the way.

Skills for safely using a chainsaw aren’t something I have room to cover here, but let me leave you with two essentials. First, always wear proper safety gear. This hardly ever happens in the real world of chainsawing, but things are different at my place because of a lesson I learned in the late 1990s.

I was making firewood with my chainsaw, and after finishing a cut, I swiveled the saw away from my body with my left hand as the chain  was slowing down. The still-moving chain – razor-sharp from a fresh session with the file – whisked across my pants and cut through the fabric without leaving a scratch on my skin. That close call was enough to make me take chainsaw protection seriously ever since.

This is the basic chainsaw kit you’ll need when building a cabin in a forested location. Safety equipment is just as important as the saw.

Nowadays, my boys and I always wear a forestry helmet with face shield and ear protection, work boots and safety chaps when cutting. We’ve all got our own set of gear. Don’t wait for an accident (or near miss) to prove the importance of these things to you. Also, there’s nothing like a thicket of small saplings to knock the chain off your saw while cutting. Keep your chain adjusted taut at all times, but especially whenever you’re sawing through small brush and saplings. If chainsaws are new to you, check out the best book I’ve seen on the subject. It’s called Homeowner’s Complete Guide to the Chainsaw by Brian Ruth.

Before you start clearing, get yourself a roll of something called flagging tape from the hardware store. It’s florescent orange or pink plastic, it’s not sticky, and is especially made for breaking lengths off easily by hand and tying around trees and brush in the forest. Use it to mark the outer perimeter of the area you’ll be clearing.

A Word About Philosophy

Cleared cabin site with foundation pier forms ready to be installed. This image will make a lot more sense to you later in the course.

Chances are that if you’re the kind of person to build a cabin, you’re probably going to feel at least a little grieved about cutting down trees, trampling vegetation and turning what was a nice spot into something of a mess. I know I had to come to terms with this issue early in my building career and the process took many years. Things would have been easier for me if I understood one thing that’s impossible to recognize without help when you begin. The earth heals. It really does.

Of course your job is to inflict minimal injury on your building site, while also setting the stage for your building site to become something more than it was before. It’s not only entirely possible to do this, it’s actually easier than it seems. That’s because the earth possesses an amazing ability to partner with and enhance our own creative efforts. Eventually, in a surprisingly short time, your messy, ragged, freshly cleared building site will heal around your beautiful cabin, and all your worries about being a destroyer of the land you love will seem silly. Trust me. It happens, and thank goodness it does.

Beware of Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is vital, but it can also get the better of you. And when it does, impatience, mistakes and regret are crouching at your door. That’s why it’s vital to complete all construction steps in the right way and the right order before moving on. When you run into the roadblocks that are an inevitable part of every building project – like running out of materials, or a tool that’s stopped working, or some construction error has become apparent  – shift to some other part of the work or stop completely until you can solve the issue properly before moving ahead. This pattern of work-stop-solve-proceed is the secret behind every successful building project and every successful life. It’s the difference between slipshod work and great craftsmanship. Achieving a stunning cabin is no mystery. It’s nothing more than a series of successfully completed steps, one on top of the other.

Milestone #1

You’re ready for the next step when your site is free of brush and trees over an area at least 50 feet wide and 70 feet long. You’ve made decisions  about where to get water, where water and power lines will run, and the location of a driveway or path.