Your Cabin in the Woods: A Compilation of Cabin Plans and Philosophy for Discovering Life in the Great Out Doors

Your Cabin in the Woods: A Compilation of Cabin Plans and Philosophy for Discovering Life in the Great Out Doors  (1943) 
by Conrad E. Meinecke

This book was originally published on a home printing press in 1943 under the imprint "Darnock Cabin Craft Guild" of Buffalo, New York. It was reprinted several times during the 20th century. This text corresponds most closely to the 1945 edition printed by Foster & Stewart Publishing Corporation of Buffalo.

A work hallowed in the regard of the American recreational woodsman and others around the world, Your Cabin in the Woods advises the reader in the construction of that quintessentially North American frontier dwelling, the log cabin, while conveying the author's sanguine philosophy of life.

Author Conrad E. Meinecke (born 1883 in Wisconsin, died 1971, Springville, New York) was an individual who by modern standards would be called a social worker by profession or a community organizer, a calling reflected in the tone of the book as it gently urges the reader to examine and plan for his future. He was the director of the Boys' Home of the Buffalo Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (later the Queen City Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and then the Children's Aid and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children of Erie County, New York) and previously the director of men and boys' work at Westminster House social settlement, a project of the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Buffalo. For several decades he was a leading figure in the Boy Scouts of America.

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Your Cabin in the Woods

A Compilation

of Cabin Plans and Philosophy for

Discovering Life in the

Great Out Doors


Conrad Meinecke


Forward Edit

First of all, Conrad Meinecke's Cabin in the Woods is a cabin not made with hands; it is eternal in the heaven of his mind. He has roamed the Rockies, tramped the Balkans, lived in adobe, bedded down in the desert of restless sands, but always he comes back to his true love, a cabin in the woods. He as built thirty-five cabins and fireplaces in the Rockies and in Canada and now has six cabins scattered about in the Western Hemisphere.

From his artist, linguistic father who at ninety-three could still do a hand-stand, and from his Scotch-Swiss mother who combined a practical, pioneering type of thinking with a high degree of spirituality, he inherited a something in his genes that defies imprisoning in words. He is a. lean, tough specimen illuminated by a quenchless inner fire of spirituality. His tireless energy, his buoyancy, and strange to say, his quietness of spirit, spring from his communion with forms, visible and invisible, of the great out-of- doors. At sometime, like his grand old father, he has had a draught from the fabled fountain of Immortal Youth. He is fortunate in his ancestry—the genes somehow "blended" just right. Then in his boyhood his Indian mentor, "Neck-tie Jim," taught him how to listen when on the other side of the world the "red gods" were calling him to help them make their "medecin."

Curiously enough, with this idealism, this high spirituality, this understanding love of the inner meaning of life, he combines a Yankee, practical ingenuity. He is the best cook that ever concocted a meal for me in the wilderness. He "swings a mean skillet." If he says, "build your fireplace so and so," do it. And when you have done it, you can stretch your moccasined feet to the fire and have no smoke in your eyes. Build your cabin the way he tells you and you will have a joy forever, partly because you built it and partly because it "belongs" to the particular spot of its own earth, partly because it's as handy as a pocket in a shirt, and then, too, because it's easy on your income.

This man tramps all over the earth and when he settles down, builds himself a "nest" on the end of a twig as practical and as intriguing as that of the Baltimore oriole. Somehow he has so much—maybe it is because he is always giving it away.

From being a successful young man in business affairs, he turned to working with and for men and boys. Somehow he has in his spiritual heritage and in his ripening wisdom, the blessedness of sharing. From his "Cabin in the Woods," you can learn how to fashion your cabin, but more, you may become more fit to live in a "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."

Elbert R. Fretwell
Chief Scout Executive
Boy Scouts of America

Lifting the Latch Edit

There is nothing unusual in these pages. There is little that I may claim as original. Some of the material here treated is as old as time. Many friends and books have contributed to its contents. My thirty years of outdoor experience and cabin building may, however, save the reader much of the "trial and error" method when he builds his "Cabin-in-the-Woods."

I have attempted most of all to help build an attitude of mind toward the Great Outdoor—an appreciation of simple living. I want to indigence both men and women toward the belief and confidence that they are "master of their destiny" if they can stay within the realm of their own potentialities; if they can find a normal "out" for their abilities in this creative field of the outdoors. Indeed they can be "master builders" in the best sense. Resourcefulness, initiative and a love for things natural—these are the values which may give us a new concept of simple living in a very complicated and mechanical civilization.

You, too, can build a "Cabin-in-the-Woods." Cabin-building is fun; is satisfying, and here you can learn to be a master builder instead of just a helper. Detailed and minute description of every step in building cabin can prove confusing and discouraging to the novice. If you wish to study beyond the information here given, you will find ample help in the reference reading or in your public library. You will naturally go through that period of experimentation which is the "trial and error" method. Your trials, however, need not be crowded with too many errors.

I am counting on that great American quality, "horse sense." So go to it, Mr. Cabin Builder. Keep in mind you are going to build a better and bigger cabin some day. In your first experiment, fortified by all the descriptive material you can understand and assimilate, wade in and go to work. Do it courageously and don't you dare apologize for mistakes made. You won't make the same mistake twice. Besides building your first cabin, you will absorb techniques so essential—a combination of theory and practice.

In fireplace building the feel of a trowel in your hand; the skill of "slinging the mud," to recognize cement, sand and water mixes to the right consistency and what it means to "sweeten" or "temper" the mixture—all these will find their rightful places and give you skills. They to not come from books alone.

Again, the art of pulling a cross-cut saw; the swinging of the axe and the making of the chips to fly; the choice of axe handle that fits your grip and your height these skills we develop through the doing.

This book is written for those who would "revert back to the land"—and near your city home five, ten or thirty miles in place that can be used week-ends and on vacations; indeed, throughout the year. It is written, too, for the "poor" man, that is, the man not rich in worldly goods but rich in dreams, imagination, resourcefulness and a willingness to make it happen.

Bless those folks who can wrest from the earth its richness, its wealth, its natural resources and find its peace. That is our God-given right.

Acknowledgements Edit

How can I adequately pay tribute to all who have contributed to this book? I would be at a loss to mention all the men, women, and books that have influenced my life and my thinking on this subject, "The Great Outdoors."

Lest I should slight any one, lest I should over or under estimate any one's particular contribution, I have decided to here acknowledge "Necktie Jim," the Indian who represents in a more or less degree all contributors to this book.

I am sure you will like Necktie Jim. I met him when I was a boy. My parents trusted him. He was not a great Indian Chief—just a plain Winnebago Indian—tall, stalwart, proud. He wore a loin cloth and a modern necktie; sometimes slacks or overalls. It might seem ludicrous to us, but he was serious and wore his necktie consistently and with dignity.

I camped with Necktie Jim when I was twelve years old. Our equipment was two blankets, a knife and a small hatchet. I carried my own duffel. Our food was a small sack of flour or cornmeal, salt and a bit of bear grease.

We went on one, two or three-day treks through the deep forests of northern Wisconsin—through swamp and highlands.

One day as we sat beside our campfire cooking our meal, he stood up, listened, came back and sat down. Suddenly he stood up again and listened. Finally he said, "White man coming." Sure enough, soon a man came stalking by our camp. I asked Necktie Jim, "How did you know some one was coming," To which he replied, "Crow call. Squirrel scold. White man make noise."

In the marshes we gathered roots which contributed to our balanced diet. We snared bullfrogs and had broiled froglegs for dinner. We caught trout with a pronged stick. We caught porcupine the last resort for the starving Indian when the snow is deep.

When the night grew cold and one blanket was not enough, we moved nearer the embers of our campfire and slept with our backs to the warm coals . . . and slept well.

Most of all Necktie Jim shared with me the joy of living happily out-of-doors. I have found throughout these years a "re-charging" when I return to the woods and an ever present urge to be a part of the outdoors whenever the occasion permits. I learned, too, that nature is rich in abundance and will supply our daily needs. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" has its roots deep down in the soil of this great American Outdoors.

Conrad E. Meinecke

Your Cabin-in-the-Woods Edit

So you are another lover of the out-of-doors who desires a cabin or shelter in the woods! I salute you. I understand you. I know your kind. You carry the spirit of our ancestors. The spirit of the "Great Out Doors." The first letters of these three words spell "G O D." There is an irresistible force in the great outdoors—the very soul of America. This is as it should be.

And so from the start let me chat with you in a very personal way. Let's take each other at face value. I picture you as sitting on a log, dressed in colorful outdoor togs while I am nestled against the notch in a big tree, hugging my knees—eager to talk it over. I feel somehow we both want this cabin to represent our own handicraft. It must be cozy, equipped with comforts beds, cots or bunks according to our own fancy. It must be made bright and warm with a glowing fireplace. It must have rustic furniture and at least a five-foot bookshelf of our own choice books. Old-fashioned kerosene lamps again become a luxury as they throw their soft flickering shadows.

The howling wind, the sleet driving with an impact against our tightly-built cabin will only add to the security and snugness inside. Add another log to the fire. Readjust the cushions and let the world go by. This is life with a friend who understands. Snugness and security in our Cabin-in-the-Woods, be it sunshine or tempest. This is life.

Because we are used to city houses with a multiplicity of household duties, our Cabin-in-the-Woods should be built where there is quiet; where housework can be reduced to a minimum; where our time may be given over to the perusal of a few chosen books; where reflection may have its full sway; where one may be carefree in the great outdoors. Here, for a brief spell, we may find in its very fullness, "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

So now, "Partner-on-the-log" opposite, let us plan our Cabin-in-the-Woods. Which shall it be—a log cabin or a frame building. There really is not much difference in the planning.

First of all, let us not be too concerned about the whole venture. The cost of land need not be prohibitive. The problem of the distance from town can be solved. Building costs, how to get logs, transportation, reforestation, trails and trail markers, gateways and fences, sanitation, lighting, lamps, and many other questions will be discussed in the following pages. If the desire is there and the will to see it through, the building of your Cabin-in-the-Woods will be fun. Resourcefulness and initiative will meet the challenge. Most important of all, let us take our time. Let us plan carefully. Let us get as much enjoyment in the building as in the finished cabin.

A cabin and campsite in the woods, after all, should never be finished, for when there is nothing new to develop or nothing to be added, there will be little fun.

Start Making Notes Edit

In the original privately printed edition of this book, ample margins and blank pages afforded room for personal notes, plans, sketches, photos and clippings; also for signatures of friends who helped plan or build the cabin in the woods.

In this edition most of the blank pages had to be omitted, but you will find other open spots for making notes. Use them, from the start, to collect material for your cabin building program. They will not only prove invaluable later, but you will make this book truly yours, expressing your own individuality, and honoring the author by permitting him to collaborate with you in producing your own exclusive volume—"YOUR Cabin-in-the-Woods."

Plan Wisely and You Plan for the Future Edit

Above all things, let us not plan too quickly, build hurriedly or lay out our grounds haphazardly. Let us not be concerned if we do not accomplish this in a week or a month, or even in a year. I knew a man who built a shack in the woods. It was little better than a woodshed. The next year be needed another room so he tacked a lean-to on one side. Then he added another and another. The roof looked like an ocean of waves. When he got through his place looked like a big sprawling shack. No general floor level—no plan; low ceilings, poor ventilation. What a mess. He did not plan wisely. Like Topsy, "It just growed." He is the kind of fellow who says, "If I were to do it again, I'd do so and so."

So, Mr. Cabin builder, I say plan wisely. Spend a summer on your site in a tent before you build. Study the air currents that flow down the hills; the prevailing winds; the landscape and vista you want to develop. Do you prefer sunrise to sunset? If you do not enjoy sunrise, then set your cabin so the morning sun will not disturb your sleep. You may enjoy the sunset from your porch or big window. Where are the noises from highways and how can you plant trees to blot out ugly views or even some of the noise?

Lastly, blueprint your newly acquired playground. Pace it off at two-hundred feet intervals, both ways. Do this if you have an acre or one hundred acres. Record on your field notes what you find—springs, gullies, kinds of trees, bushes, rocks, ground erosion and if you find the latter, seek advice on what to plant to overcome this hazard.

You will discover more natural resources and materials which you can use later and you will know where to find them when you need them. On your master blueprint locate your yearly tree plantings, roadways, trails, springs, dates of events, et cetera. It will prove a storybook of your Cabin-in-the-Woods.

Who Knows? This may be Your Future Home Edit

May I now invite you to deeper thought in your planning? Who knows what ten years from now will hold for you. You may consider retirement and make your future home in this spot of your dreams.

Then again, you may turn farmer on a small scale—chickens, perhaps a pig, a cow and a garden spot. Start a beehive or two—honey is stored in the flowers about your place. Don't close your mind to the thought. You may discover your greatest contentment and happiness, also skills and aptitudes which you did not know you had. That's what our pioneer fathers did. It was about their only choice in chose days.

This idea may provide a means of escape from the reality and tension of city life. It may prove a step forward and upward in the fulfillment of your life's ambitions.

Life, after all, need not necessarily be measured in accomplishment of wealth, great achievement, nor by standards of public opinion. If you have a partner who thinks likewise and is not regimented by conventional thinking, then I say, Mr. Cabin-Builder, lay your plans boldly—whether you go to the wilds of Africa, to the South Sea Islands, or to your cabin in the woods so long as you go you may find life, liberty and ultimate happiness.

A Cure For Restlessness Edit

Your Cabin-in-the-Woods can be a perfect cure for restlessness. If you are restless today, you man be even more restless ten years from now, unless you do something about it now. Life brings increasing cares. So going to your dream-spot month after month, year in and year out, you will experience a re-charging, a rehabilitation, a re-creating.

Your Cabin-in-the-Woods should always present enough challenge to keep you constantly adding to its loveliness. In this way after each visit you will return to your city life rested, stronger, revived.

It is obvious then that we should take our time months, years, predicating our building on long-term planning.

Take full enjoyment in the building. Take time out to rest. Most city folks seem always to rosin things through. Why? Lay off until tomorrow. Take an afternoon nap. Stop the clock for the weekend. Get off to an early start in the cool of tomorrow morning. You may be crowded in your work in town, but this should be your rest-cure, your recreating. Don't spoil it by city-driving standards. Set your own pattern. You will be rewarded with increasing peace of mint from year to year.

Again, I say, here is a perfect cure for restlessness.

One Room or Seven? Edit

And now for a word about the size of the cabin itself. Have you in the back of your heat some notion of a three, five or seven-room building? You have a big family? You need guest rooms?

The Family Camp—Summer and Winter Edit

I have in my own cabin-site accommodations for fourteen people. But they are not all in one building. I, too, had many to provide for, but I started simply some twenty years ago with a plan. First we built a large living room, eighteen by twenty-four feet—with a good foundation, large windows; in fact one window with forty nine pane in it measured eight feet wide by six and one-half feet high and afforded a five mile view across the valley.

We included a big fireplace. Later we added a spacious porch on two sides. On a third side we added a kitchen and a combination wash and dressing room. No bath. The shower was placed under the porch. The north end of the porch supplied what we called the "master bedroom"—twin beds The porch today is richly enclosed with woodbine.

As our needs grew we added nine by twelve foot tents two beds in each, a locker, chairs, et cetera. Finally there were four tents added and we were set for the summers. With this arrangement there was freedom for every one more independence and plenty of privacy. One member of the party could retire or take an afternoon nap while the rest of the group would be free to play without concern about those who wanted quiet.

This, of course, did not take care of our winter needs. But as one of the tents had served its time, we replaced it with a lovely one room bedroom cabin with a large porch. It was finished with pine board, included clothes closet, washstand and a large fireplace. This bedroom cabin which is our latest addition, not more than two hundred feet away from our main living room cabin, is nestled on the hillside and is the envy of every one who sees it. In summer we sleep on the screened-in porch.

Thus we have built a seven-room house—each room with an outlook on four sides, plenty of ventilation, privacy—all with real comfort.

The Guest Tent for Two Edit

A tent, fly, tent-frame and platform can be had for about sixty dollars. With care your bedroom tent will last about eight to ten years. Standard nine by twelve tents cost about twenty-five dollars—fly extra. The fly will give you a guarantee against leaking. Also, when anchored to side posts it will keep your tent fixed against storms. The platform will give you a level floor and add dryness and cleanliness.

Eight-ounce duck canvas, double-filled, is heavy enough for this size tent. Hang tent over wood frame and fasten all around bottom. Guy ropes not needed. Tent wall is two feet, six inches high. Therefor to have standing room a frame wall is built to four feet, six inches with two-foot board siding below.

Nine by twelve tent is large enough for twin beds, dresser, washstand, rug.

Tent fly, if ten feet by sixteen feet with air space between fly and tent, will help to keep your tent cool in hot weather; also will provide a four-foot porch. On warm sunny days roll up the canvas walls, let the breezes through and make the hillside part of your living quarters.

Our Window Picture Frame Edit

The big window in our cabin resembles a picture frame in which miles of landscape across the valley bring nature's choicest pictures to life. Each hour of the day brings intriguing new vistas, changing lights and shadows.

The early morning sun lights up the sparkling lily pond below us, which in turn throws playful, mischievous lights about us. As the day wears on pastoral scenes replace the picture of the misty morning and through our "picture frame" we see else hillside dotted with lowing cattle, green fields boxed in with rail fences and lined with small trees and bushes telling the story of the toil and accomplishment of our neighboring farmers. An occasional tall elm or maple stand as sentinels in the march of time. Far beyond "stately ships of fleecy white clouds sail majestically across the dark blue ocean of the sky" leaving one in awe, for such scenery is only painted with bold strokes by the hand of the Master Painter.

Even the sun-dial on a cloudy day seems to reflect our mood of response to nature- and so time passes on. Finally lengthening shadows; dissolving glory of eventide—night— twinkling stars and a full moon.

Whenever you look out of a window, whatever the view, try to remember that you are looking at one of God's great pictures.

There never were paintings comparable to those in the big window of our Cabin-in-the-Woods.

Cabin Composition Edit

One Room Cabin Edit

Here is the perfect, yet very simplest two-man log cabin you can wish for. Low in cost and easy to built. It can be constructed as small as nine by twelve feet (inside measurement), or twelve by fourteen, fourteen by eighteen, or even larger. The larger cabin needs added structural material.

Let's discuss the nine by twelve two-man log cabin—just one room with two commodious couches, each with a view of the fireplace. A kitchenette quite complete to the right of the fireplace, two comfortable chairs and a table. It's the very essence of snugness. It can be easily ventilated at upper gables without creating a draft. Floor of flagstones.

If you have natural material on your cabin site such as logs and stones, you will only have to purchase such material as cement, boards to cover your roof, shingles, windows, nails, a bit of lumber for the inside.

This cabin has the added storm-porch and toilet room. The cabin proper is the same. The added storm porch offers a bit more of comfort and refinement without adding much to the cost. The toilet—a slop bucket with seat and cover, also pipe vent running to outside makes this type free from odors. The bucket is emptied from time to time in the backyard toilet. It serves its best purpose for winter use, when one does not gather much enthusiasm, especially on a stormy night, to visit the backyard "Johnnie." An oil heater will keep this room comfortable. Then there is the washstand. Improvise your own supply water tank; also drain the stationary with pipe to the outside. Note, also, the neatly piled wood within the storm porch. Nothing like having dry wood to start your fire, especially if you arrive on a stormy night. A nine by twelve cabin can be comfortably heated by the fireplace.

I know of a nine by twelve log cabin that was built for less than seventy dollars. You, too, can have an inexpensive cabin if you supply your own labor—that is, do it yourself, and if much of the natural material is on the land for the taking. A nine by twelve log cabin will require fourteen logs (seven inches average thickness) twenty-one feet long; also sixteen poles (four and a half inch average thickness) eight feet long for the roof rafters.

Four Room Cabin Edit

Now we come to the spreading idea. Obviously it would not be satisfactory if you have more than two to provide for, to build on the front and back the added rooms here suggested on a nine for twelve cabin. You may now want to built your prize cabin with living room, say fourteen by eighteen or larger. However, the nine by twelve can still enjoy a lean-to on the back by cutting a door as indicated in this door plan. The kitchen would be small—about six by six feet, but if carefully planned with small stove shelves, etc., it will enrich even a small cabin.

You will never have greater enjoyment out of any cabin in the woods than the nine by twelve log cabin for two. It's snug. It suggests team work. It invites consideration. It is rudely complete. It provides the perfect setting for ideal companionship. In modern slang, "It's a natural."

Let's Go To Work Edit

When you really get serious about building a Cabin-in-the-Woods you will very quickly envision rather definite ideas of your own. By all means hold on to them. The ideas are usually larger and surrounded with more grandeur, more spacious quarters, added acres often beyond your finances to carry them through. Then comes the paring down process to fit the pocketbook At this point you may welcome suggestions, but you do not want to be told, "This is the only way," or "This is the only kind of a cabin." After all this is your project. It will mean little when finished unless it has your personality, your own innovations, your own architecture built into the sum total. Perhaps these offerings may stimulate your thinking and planning. They may save you some of the errors commonly made. Lengthy descriptions have purposely been avoided. There is no one way. Your own aptitude, your own peculiar kind of initiative and the ability to use your hands, together with native intelligence (horse sense) precludes any one from trespassing with the final answer. So if I can be your helper, let's go to work.

Your "treasure chest" is really your tool chest full of sharp tools. You can save yourself endless trouble and add to your enjoyment by building a tool box for your tools. It is your "treasure chest;" for these, plus your own "wildest" ideas and your own will to express yourself, will lift you into the realm of the genius—the creator making dreams come true.

It will speed up your work if the chest is arranged with a place for each tool. They will keep sharp longer. But most of all, you will not have to buy new ones to replace those lost. The chest, too, will serve as a table for those campfire meals while your cabin is in the making. An added cushion will make it a part of your cabin furniture.

Only simple tools are needed. Keep them sharp. Respect them.

  • Cross-cut hand saw
  • Rip saw
  • Key-hole saw
  • Plumb level
  • Plumb line
  • Three-quarter length axe
  • Hand axe
  • One-quarter-inch chisel
  • One-inch chisel
  • Wrecking bar
  • Square shovel
  • Crow-bar
  • Pick
  • File
  • Mason's trowel
  • Mason's narrow trowel
  • Putty knife
  • Tin snips
  • Cross-cut saw for logs
  • Jack plane
  • Draw shave
  • Chalk line
  • Carborundum stone
  • Two three-inch paint brushes
  • Carpenter's twine
  • Six-foot rule
  • A cant hook will help in handling large logs



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