Posts Tagged ‘Shelters’

In traveling through the history of this nation I have come upon a wondrous array of home styles, each to its own and perfect for the environment they were built in. This piece, by Daniel Beard of scouting fame in Shelters, Shacks and Shanties (©1914) describes a rather ornate shelter for survival purposes, but if you have a mind to create your survival homestead for permanent living out of logs, it will be quite the conversation piece.

One of the things we need to bear in mind when developing our preparedness plans is the aspect of shelter. When we build a permanent structure we have to look at how economy of materials as well as quality of structure relate to our needs and capabilities. Building a log home can be the answer to many shelter problems, provided you proceed with care. A temporary cabin can be built quickly with the bark on the logs, but decay and rot will set in. For permanence you need to peel the logs and dry them, as well as taking other steps to make sure you build a quality and safe survival homestead.

To conserve space I haven’t included allof the illustrations here that Beard refers to, but you can easily find the book for reference at many of the free  e-book sites such as Google Books. I suggest you download this book and save it for your survival homesteading library, even if you don’t have plans to build your home as a log cabin. And by the way, I especiallylike the idea Beard gives to build a little scale model out of sticks of your cabin. It will help you to decide how and what to build before expending a great deal of effort in building a real shelter, and then finding out it wasn’t exactly what you wanted.



American Totem Log House

But if you really want something unique, build a log house on the general plan shown by Figs. 251 and 252; then carve the ends of all the extending logs to represent the heads of reptiles, beasts, or birds; also carve the posts which support the end logs on the front gallery, porch, or veranda in the form of totem-poles. You may add further to the quaint effect by placing small totem-posts where your steps begin on the walk (Fig. 253) and adding a tall totem-pole for your family totem or the totem of your clan. Fig. 252 shows how to arrange and cut your logs for the pens. The dining-room is supposed to be behind the half partition next to the kitchen; the other half of this room being open, with the front room, it makes a large living-room. The stairs lead up to the sleeping rooms overhead; the latter are made by dividing the space with partitions to suit your convenience.

Before Building

Take your jack-knife and a number of little sticks to represent the logs of your cabin; call an inch a foot or a half inch a foot as will suit your convenience and measure all the sticks on this scale, using inches or parts of inches for feet. Then sit down on the ground or on the floor and experiment in building a toy house or miniature model until you make one which is satisfactory. Next glue the little logs of the pen together; but make the roof so that it may be taken off and put on like the lid to a box; keep your model to use in place of an architect’s drawing; the backwoods workmen will understand it better than they will a set of plans and sections on paper. Fig. 251 is a very simple plan and only put here as a suggestion. You can put the kitchen at the back of the house instead of on one side of it or make any changes which suit your fancy; the pen of the house may be ten by twelve or twenty by thirty feet, a camp or a dwelling; the main point is to finish your house up with totems as shown by Fig. 253, and then tell the other fellows where you got the idea.

Peeled Logs

For any structure which is intended to be permanent never use the logs with bark on them; use peeled logs. When your house is finished it may look very fresh and new without bark, but one season of exposure to the weather will tone it down so that it will be sufficiently rustic to please your fancy, but if you leave the bark on the logs, a few seasons will rot your house down, making it too rustic to suit any one’s fancy.

Lay up the pen of this house as already described and illustrated by Figs. 229, 233, etc., and when the sides and front walls have reached the desired height, frame your roof after the manner shown by Fig. 49 or any of the other methods described which may suit your fancy or convenience, but in this case we use the Susitna form for the end plates, which are made by first severing the root of a tree and leaving an elbow or bend at the end of the trunk (Fig. 264). This is flattened by scoring and hewing as is described and illustrated under the heading of the Susitna house. The elbows at the terminals of the end plate are carved to represent grotesque heads (Fig. 253). The house when built is something like the Wyoming olebo (Fig. 236), but with the difference which will appear after careful inspection of the diagram. The Wyoming olebo is a one-story house; this is a two-story house. The Wyoming olebo has a roof built upon a modified plan of a Kanuck; this roof is built on the American log-cabin plan, with the logs continued up to the top of the gable, as are those in the Olympic (Fig. 240). But the present house is supposed to be very carefully built; to be sure, it is made of rude material but handled in a very neat and workmanlike manner. Great care must be used in notching and joining the logs, and only the straightest logs which can be had should be used for the walls of the house. The piazza may need some additional supports if there is a wide front to the house, but with a narrow front half, log puncheons will be sufficiently stiff to support themselves.


I excerpted this piece from the July, 1911 issue of Hunter-Trapper-Trader magazine. In light of the potential need to build a protective structure or home when forced to relocate, building from local materials seems to be the most expedient option. What better material is there than sod? Sod houses and dugout homes needn’t limited to the prairies, they can be built anywhere that sod can be found. And they can be built quickly and cheaply, as well. be It’s an interesting piece, and the knowledge you learn may come in handy, so enjoy this piece from a century ago and use it to survive the coming times…

Few people know or realize the comfort of a good dugout, or a sod house, if you are on the prairies where there is no timber. They are warm in the coldest weather, dry, if made right, in the wettest weather, and cool in the hottest weather. Why they are not used more, I do not understand. The books all tell how to make a log house that is more or less draughty, the chinking always coming out, but none tell how to build a good dugout or sod shack.

I got wise with them in the old days on the prairies of Iowa and Minnesota, by seeing the first settlers of land make them. The first one I ever saw was made by a trapper on the upper Sioux River when I was freighting in that country in the late seventies.

In the first place you must select the place which should be a dry sandy knoll and the south side of it. The tools required will be just a common old pick and shovel, also ax. You can make it larger or smaller according to the number of people, but for two men one 12×13 feet will do, If you do not have too much duffle and stuff. Having selected your place, drift into the bank 12 feet by IS feet wide and cut the bank or sides a little sloping instead of straight up and down, and throw the dirt out in front on the downhill side. Now build up in front log house fashion, or with sod and leaves, two openings for windows and one for a door. In the sod or logs, you can line the walls with rosin paper If you can get it, if not, with poles and grass, or they will do very well if not lined at all.

Now for the roof; and this is very Important. Cut long straight poles and lay them across lengthways, having a piece four inches in diameter lying across the center of the roof to strengthen the roof in the center. You need not bother about pitch of the roof, although a little would not hurt. Now lay on your poles straight and close, then lay on your prairie or slough grass eight inches deep. Now a layer of sod and another layer of grass and last another layer of sod well fitted together, then a layer of dirt.

Some of the old timers used to lay an eight-inch log through the center on top of the first layer of poles and grass, and then lay poles and sod, leaving the center log serve as a pitch for the roof. If such a roof leaks I have never seen it, and I have seen them stand some very hard rains. Now dig a trench V-shaped on the uphill side to turn any water that would run down the hill onto your roof, and you have got a very good home.

Now for the fireplace: In the back part dig out a square hole back 24 inches deep and 30 inches wide by 24 high, more or less, to suit circumstances. Now dig out a hole in the back end, say one foot back, and dig one from the outside to meet it. This is the chimney and you can line It with clay and grass mixed, and build’ a chimney high enough for a draft outside of sticks and clay mixed with grass.

Now for the roof of your fireplace: For this you must have (or the dirt will keep falling down) a large flat stone, if you can get it, if not, you will have to arch it with clay and sand, and this is quite a job. You will have to make your arch of wood first, then plaster on your clay six Inches deep. Now fill the fireplace with dry wood good and full and touch her off and let the whole thing burn out, arch and all. You will find this will burn your clay arch hard enough to stand fire and hold the roof up, or you can pack In a piece of heavy sheet Iron for the roof of the fireplace. You do not need a large fireplace, for a dugout is easily warmed with a little wood. By sloping the sides and back of the fireplace and not making them straight they will usually stand; if not, line with clay and burn as above. You can find either the stone or clay on most any stream or lake; the stone in the woods stream and clay in the prairie river. Look along the banks and you will find where a seam of clay creeps out on most all of our rivers. The Red River of the North has splendid blue clay.

If you want a sod house on the prairie cut the sod with a sharp spade or ax. Lay the walls two feet thick at the bottom tapering to one foot at the top. Make them six feet six inches high and leave openings for windows on the southeast side, also for door and build the roof as for the dugout. If you want to be high toned and are building a permanent home, build a frame of drop siding, then build your sod house on the outside of it and paper the inside with newspapers. It is the best house ever, and will stand fire from the outside, and in olden times it would stand bullets as well. You can pound down the earth for a floor and make it as hard as you want so you can sweep it or you can lay a board floor.

I knew a family that settled on some land in Minnesota, who got well off and high toned with the natural rise of price of land. They built a frame dwelling, lathed and plastered, etc., with all the trimmings. The second year saw them back in the old sod house after it was repaired. They said the frame was unbearable, cold in the winter, hot in the summer—the sod house for them

I knew a stage station which in the time of the stage express across the plains stood an Indian siege of two days and nights and came out winner (it was a sod stable). The Indians could not set it on fire or get a bullet through it. When the soldiers got there they found the boys all O. K., three of them, only a little short of water. Nowadays they want all modern improvements, hot and cold baths, steam heat plumbing, etc. Bah! Do you see as healthy and hardy people now? Spindling, weak kids and sickly looking men and women. These kinds of people were not raised in the old sod shacks. We had no “white plague” in the old log or sod shacks. I have often wondered why the dugouts and sod houses were not used more by the H. B. Company trappers. From what I can learn it was always the log house for the whites and the bark tepee for the reds. It seems to me that they overlooked a bit in this matter, or perhaps the country was so barren that there was no sod on it. I would like to hear from Martin Hunter on this subject. There is only one secret in building a dugout. Select a dry spot . I lived in one that old “Happy Jack” built, the last part of the winter of 1893, and five years after I was in this locality again, I could not resist the temptation to take a look into my former home, and, believe me, two hours’ work and a few nails would have put her in first class shape for another winter. They are not quite so light as a log house, but they are many times warmer in winter, do not chill so quickly after the fire has died out, and very little fuel keeps them warm.

A. F. Wallace.

Last time we talked about the commonly available tarps, and parachute cord. The simplest and quickest shelter is the A frame style tied to a couple of trees and staked down with some stakes made from branches.

Another easy type of shelter is the Adirondack lean-to. This one is the best if you will be using a fire for warmth. This one takes a bit more effort, but it can still be done quickly, and it has more advantages than the A frame. You’ll need to cut four poles, a shorter pair for the back and a longer pair for the front. The poles should be of equal lengths in each pair, and the tips should be trimmed to fit into the grommets on your tarp.

Start by staking down the back edge of your shelter with the stakes described in part one. You’ll want to make sure that this is the shorter dimension of the tarp. Insert the two shorter poles into a grommet on each side, about 1 3rd of the tarps length up the side. Tie a length of cord around the post above the tarp, or through the grommet and tie the other end off to a tree near ground level, or via a stake at about a 90 degree angle from the tarp. This will give you a back wall that is straight up and down. You’ll be needing an assistant for this type of shelter in most cases.

Take the other two poles and insert them through grommets about a 3rd of the way from the other end and tie these off the same way, except that your cords should be tied off at about a 45 degree angle towards the front of the shelter. At the front two corners you’ll need to tie cords directly to the grommets and stretch them tightly towards the front. This will give you a pitched roof for optimum rain runoff. You’ll be able to build a fire in front of this shelter, and the back wall and roof will radiate heat back and down onto you.

Of course, if all you want is a shade cover for a picnic lunch, than a simple dining fly set up is all you need. Simply tie off the four corners and suspend the tarp over your dining area. Unfortunately, if there is any dampness, it will collect on the trap and concentrate into the middle, making the tarp sag down under the increasing weight. To circumvent this problem, cut a tall pole and stick it under the center of the tarp. This will result in abrasion and possible tearing, but that can be alleviated as well. Wrap a rag or other soft cloth around the end of the pole and tie it in place. this makes for a big ball and won’t tear through the tarp.

Windbreaks can be made with the traps as well. The best way is to wrap the tarp partially around a couple of trees, and then tie the two ends of the tarp to each other. This makes for a good strong wall, but you can always tie the tarps off to other trees as well if there are not two trees close enough where you need them. One of the points you should keep in the back of your mind here is to make sure you tie off your tarp so that it is neither too tight nor too slack. Experience will tell you how tight it should be for varied circumstances. If the wind is blowing strongly, and your tarp is too tight then you will have too much stress along the seams and grommets and end up with a torn tarp.

Tied too loosely in a strong wind and your tarp will flail like a banshee in the wind, becoming useless and possibly breaking loose and doing nothing to protect you from the rain, wind or sun. A lot of people make the mistake when the cover loads with tarps for protection from the elements of neglecting the potential for damage for these reasons. I’m sure you have seen trucks loaded with household goods tooling down the interstate with a big blue tarp flapping like an angels wings over the load. Tied too loose and not enough. Sometimes you have to use more than just the grommets as a securing point. there are many occasions where you will want to weave a long rope through the grommets and back and forth across the tarp spider web like.

By doing that you can secure the four corners, and then pull the tarp taut by pulling the two ends of the rope. This will keep the excess tarp close to your load. But experience is a great teacher, even though sometimes very costly, and I cannot give very detailed comments in a place such as this so, experiment and learn before or need disaster strikes, and when it does you’ll be prepared to survive the coming times.

Sounds like something you do after a Bachelors party, doesn’t it? What was that slimy crap I ate? Actually, what a Wikiup is happens to be an ages old style of Indian shelter. Simply, and easily made from materials at hand, this type of shelter can keep you pretty snug should you find yourself far away from civilization. Basically, the Wikiup is a dome shaped structure made from supple green plants such as Willow or other slender young trees. This type of structure was commonly used by many Southwestern Indians, and covered by thatch, bark, or branches, but it can be used anywhere in the world to provide a cozy little semi-permanent shelter. In fact, you could even use it as a permanent shelter with a good water tight covering. That is of course if you build it strong enough to keep heavy snow build up from crushing it.

Here’s how you make the structure;

Find yourself an appropriate spot with plenty of young trees and clear out a circular spot. Cut the growth inside the circle right down to the ground. If you are planning on making it big enough to have a fire inside, now is the time to remove all plant growth. Leave a ring of saplings standing at the outer edge so that you can utilize them for the structure. If you are someplace where natural growth doesn’t give you enough saplings in a grouping, you may have to cut some and import them to your site. Leave the foliage on these saplings for now. If you have a shovel, remove the top soil and place it around the outer edges of the circle.

Next, and this may take two people if the shelter is a big one, take a sapling from either side of the clearing and bend them towards each other. Tie or twist them together so that they form an archway. Then do two more saplings the same way at 90 degrees from the first two. If you are going to have a fire inside your Wikiup tie these four branches together so that a square hole is made as a smoke or chimney hole.

Continue on around the perimeter until you have your dome shaped frame. Trim off the branches sticking into the interior of the dome at this point, but leave the outer ones. These will help to secure your outer covering. If you are building this in the winter months, you may wish to have a more inverted V shape so that the snowfall will not accumulate on top of you. Pack the topsoil you’ve removed around the circle to act like a curb, and ditch it off to divert rainwater away.

Next, place your covering materials over the dome. If you are using Spruce, or other bough type material such as Cedar, bunch a row tightly around the bottom leaving a couple of feet free at your opening. Make sure that the boughs are supported firmly on the saplings. As you go up the wall the boughs will not stay in place if they are not supported by the saplings, but are supported by each other. One trick you could do here is to weave thinner saplings that you may have cleared from the circle at even heights around the Wikiup to hook your boughs into. Keep doing this until you reach the top, remembering to leave that top hole open if you have elected to have a fire inside your Wikiup.

If you are going to use bark as a covering, which I don’t recommend as it needlessly destroys trees, you’ll need to remove all of the foliage from your framework. Not only for that reason, but it also takes much longer to erect. Take your cut slabs of bark and place them around the base. Wedge them into a ring of saplings woven into the framework at a constant height around the Wikiup. Make another ring of woven saplings and bark above that one, overlapping by a few inches so the rain doesn’t get in. keep working your way up to the top.

Making thatch walls is preferable to the bark as it is just as permanent and can be made from easily accessible grasses if you are in a plains or meadow area. Cut your grasses close to the base and group into fist sized bundles. It’ll look like a handful of spaghetti. You’ll need to weave a fairly tight grid work of saplings into your dome. Insert the bundles of grass between the openings and pack them in tightly. Otherwise a good breeze may take your covering away.

Another, and probably the best choice for a semi-permanent structure is the wattle and daub approach. Remove all foliage if you take this approach. After your dome is completed, weave sticks into the framework so that you have a series of square openings about one to two inches square. Cut some grass into short lengths and mix into some clayey mud to make a plaster and spread this over the walls. You may need to make several layers to get it thick enough, but when dry should give you a nicely finished home. This is one of the ways the first homes in the new world were built, although the framework was of a post and beam style. This was imported from England when the first settlers and explorers came over. Log cabins didn’t become the norm until much later.

Of course, you can also place sod over the framework as well, but this makes the covering heavier, especially if it absorbs a lot of rain water. And then there is the old American standby, the blue tarp approach. However you decide to cover your Wikiup, make sure that you follow good sense practices. Don’t make it too large, and if snow is a factor, make steeper sides to prevent buildup. Also, while a fire inside may not be the smartest thing you can do, make sure you have ventilation and remove all flammable groundcover for safety.

Experiment with the design and come up with your own way of covering the framework, and have fun with it. The design has been around for centuries and has worked well for many peoples. It can even be lived in year round if made well. If you are stuck out in the wilds or just trying to escape the city, this structure may be what you need to help survive the coming times.