I’ve been thinking I ought to dedicate a post to some of the various books, blogs, and other media I’ve come across that have inspired me. I think every one of us has an innate yearning to build a cabin in the wilderness with all that entails: a sense of self-sufficiency and pride of accomplishment, to commune with nature and our primitive impulses, or just simply fulfilling a basic survival need to construct a shelter from the elements. Building a cabin in the woods, in a way, is the root of human ambition. This impulse for the most modest of conquests has been described in literature through the ages with some of my favorite and well-known examples being Thoreau’s Walden, Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil, and Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. I remember seeing an enthralling documentary on PBS, Alone in the Wilderness, about Dick Proenneke who hand built a log cabin in Alaska where he lived for 30 years when I was younger and finding it just as inspiring when I revisited it on youtube a number of years later. In that same vain, a number of bloggers I’ve been following have left me with a similar sense of awe and provided me with some degree of confidence that I could also pursue this dream. Lou Ureneck’s From the Ground Up blog on the New York Times’ website details the account of the author building a cabin in Maine; Philosophy professor Mark van Roojen’s website about building a timber frame cabin in Wyoming’s Sierra Madre; and joiner Peter Follansbee’s blog about working green wood with hand tools have been some of my favorites. These are just a few examples of some of the great blogs out there that have made my dream of building a cabin with my own hands seem so tangible. There are also some great video series available for free online that I watch religiously including Paul Sellers’ Woodworking Masterclasses, Wranglerstar’s Modern Homesteading, and Roy Underhill’s The Woodwright’s Shop on PBS. If you’re reading this and dreaming of building your own cabin, I highly recommend checking out some of these other sites. And if you have suggestions for other great sites, drop a link in the comment section so we can all keep pushing the dream forward.
The Aurora Borealis viewed from Saganaga Lake in Minnesota/Ontario.
While browsing through some of the resources on the website of the Timber Framer’s Guild (an essential stop for anyone seriously considering a DIY timber frame project: http://www.tfguild.org/), I found some references to timber frame plug-ins for Sketchup, an open-source 3D drafting platform offered free from the company, Trimble (http://www.sketchup.com/). Having used Trimble GIS equipment as an ecological researcher, I began running through the possibilities of mapping the complicated terrain at my building sites in my mind. I thought it would be a useful exercise for planning layouts for the cabins in terms of views, window and door positions, access to the water, drainage, etc., but I was blown away by how much more I could do with this software and it was all free! Not only was I able to teach myself the CAD software in an hour or so just watching the free instructional videos online, but the software has add-ons specifically designed for timber framers to formulate and layout joints, generate building material lists, and much more that I’ve yet to try. After I spent some time messing around with different frame concepts, I started adding roofing materials, SIPs, foundation elements, staircases, furniture and appliances, and all sorts of other items offered in their user-generated warehouse. I tend to be an adherent to the old-school methods of doing just about anything, but it was certainly easier and less time-consuming to manipulate design features within this software rather than erasing pencil marks and redrawing. Not to mention all of the measurement calculations for drafting to scale were no longer necessary. I’m attaching one of the frame designs I completed below.
It seems that for a DIY person like me, I could mock up a timber frame design myself and submit the design to an engineer for tweaking and approval, and save myself some billable hours avoiding all the professional drafting work. And as long as I’m on the topic of engineers, I should mention that the Timber Framer’s Guild is a great resource to find engineers specializing in timber frames to help with your designs.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with architect David Salmela and discussing some design ideas for the cabin. The cabin he designed with the Saganaga site in mind is beautiful, elegant and very much characteristic of his modern aesthetic. The footprint is small, 18’x20′, but cantilevers out over the foundation walls that double as the garage. Everything is designed to take advantage of the views and build as vertical as possible. The living space is at the very top. I appreciated the conversations we had about design and I gained a lot of insight into some of the things I’ll need to keep in mind moving forward. Here is a picture of the scale model he built of his cabin design:
If you’re not familiar with the work of Salmela Architect, it’s worth checking out his web page to see a clean layout of photos from different projects he’s completed over the years. Truly amazing and unique designs from a master: http://www.salmelaarchitect.com/
I’m starting this blog to document the construction of some timber frame cabins and outbuildings on two adjacent parcels situated on the shore of Saganaga Lake in northern Minnesota. For those not familiar with the area, Sag Lake is at the end of the Gunflint Trail about an hour drive from Grand Marais on Lake Superior’s north shore. The U.S.-Canada border passes through the middle of the lake, and the lake serves as an entry point for both the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the Superior National Forest and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario. Together, these areas contain over 2 million acres of undeveloped wilderness surrounding 1700 lakes.
So, why the blog? Since this project takes place in such a remote wilderness area, much of the construction will be done by myself using fairly basic tools and methods. I’m hoping to document the progress both for myself and for others looking to do something similar. I have found a wealth of information from other sites and blogs on the subject, and I hope in some way I can contribute to this valuable online knowledge collective. Along the way, I’ll be sure to share all the links from the expertise I happen to stumble upon which I have no doubt will be crucial to figuring out how to do just about everything on this project.
Since I’ll be spending a lot of time in a beautiful wilderness with limited technological distractions, I’m sure I’ll also include various posts about other things I happen to be thinking about. I have a background in ecology so probably a lot on phenological observations in the area or perhaps a perfect photogenic wildlife moment will occur. Also, I expect that I may post about other topics of local interest to provide additional context for the cabins and how their design is relevant to the climate, intended use, local businesses, etc. I’ll try to keep everything neatly categorized in case you’re here simply to get ideas for your own project. Hope you enjoy it!