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Q&A: How a Self-Taught Woodworker Built a DIY Cabin in 55 Days

Filmmaker Graeme Jenvey discusses his $13k backyard cabin build, shares advice for fellow builders, and reflects on lessons learned

Q&A: How a Self-Taught Woodworker Built a DIY Cabin in 55 Days

Author

Field Mag

Courtesy of your highly caffeinated and ever thankful editorial team at FM HQ

Like many around the world, when the pandemic struck and full lockdown arrived, Charlottesville, Virginia-based filmmaker Graeme Jenvey found a bit of extra time on his hands. To stay active, Jenvey turned to his lifelong love of the outdoors for inspiration—and leaned on his self-taught knowledge of woodworking—and decided to build a DIY cabin on the three acre plot he already lives on.

Six or so months later, the build was completed. And in the 10 or so days since uploading the timelapse footage to Youtube, the 30 minute cutdown has already amassed over 800k views.

As an avid DIY daydreamer and aspiring cabin owner myself, I had to learn more. Luckily, mutual friend and fellow DIY cabin builder (and fellow Canadian) Andrew Szeto was able to connect us for a quick Q&A.

The following conversation covers everything from how much it costs to build a DIY cabin in six months to what Jenvey would do differently if given the opportunity again. Read on and enjoy. And keep an eye on Jenvey's Woodness Goodness Youtube Channel for more build updates.


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Give us the basic rundown of the build.

It is 240 square feet, with a 12' x 20' footpring, used for an extra hangout for reading, evening adult beverages, and a home office. Eventually I would love to have a bed in there so guests can have a beautiful escape when they visit.

The tall wall is 12 feet high and the lower wall is 8 foot with a shed style roof. At the moment there is no bathroom or kitchen, but I am planning on building an off grid composting toilet/shower next to it this spring.

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How much experience woodworking did you have prior to the cabin build?

I have always loved building stuff. I’ve been building things out of wood ever since my first treehouse in elementary school. It was three stories, probably not safe, but for a slingshot wielding child, it was paradise.

Growing up in Prince George, British Columbia is probably where I fell in love with the outdoors, and all things cabins. My parents purchased a small A-Frame on a little lake when I was a kid, and it was the big highlight of my childhood.

After graduating high school, I took a gap year to figure out what I wanted to do. While seeing what opportunities were out there, I stumbled into framing houses in the Toronto area. I learned quite a bit in a short amount of time and acquired the basics of working with wood for home building.

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About how many working days did it take to complete the cabin?

Summing up the terabytes of footage I’ve collected during this build, it looks as though I spent almost 55 days building my cabin. Lot’s of half days, weekends, and some summer evenings made up for most of the build. Along the way I had a few helping hands including my mom and dad, and my good buddy Max (aka the window guy). All in all I was able to do most of the work myself and learned what felt like a decades worth of knowledge during the one year build.

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What did the cabin build cost?

The total cost of the cabin is right around $12,745. The exterior portion of the build cost roughly $8,000 while the interior cost around $4,750. The flooring, and the heat pump made up half the interior cost. I wanted to make sure I had a safe form of heat and decided a wood stove was not something I wanted since I already heat my house with wood and didn’t want the extra back pain of splitting even more!

The only tools I purchased for the build that I didn’t own already was an auger for the piling foundation holes, a wide crown staple gun for the cedar siding, and I think that’s it. Woodwork and DIY projects have been a hobby as long as I can remember so I’ve slowly built an inventory of tools up over the years. Don’t tell my wife.

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Looking back, what is your biggest lesson learned?

Looking back, I feel like I could have saved myself a lot of headache if I had planned the build a little more. I often get comments on my videos asking me how I designed it, and if there’s any blueprints that I can share. Sadly, I have nothing but a little doodle in a notebook, and a popsicle stick prototype that sits in my office. I didn’t know much about anything coming into the build, other than some framing basics, and how to properly swing a hammer. I learned almost everything as I went which is where most of my mistakes and headaches manifested. Most of my mistakes were easy to remedy, with a handful of errors taking a longer chunk of time to fix. On the bright side, the mistakes I made were big learning points that will stay with me forever.

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10 Do’s & Don’ts for Aspiring DIY Cabin Builders:

  • Don’t be afraid of building something. I am far from a professional yet have been able to build this thing. Somehow.
  • Don't limit yourself by comparing yourself to those around you. It’s easy to take the wind our of your own sails if you think those who’ve built something before you had zero mistakes or struggles.
  • Don’t be too confident, and humble yourself by listening to others with a grain of salt. There is literally thousands of building techniques that work all over the world. Look and listen to understand why and how they work.
  • Don’t wait too long. I had no idea that this would take me a year. I just got after it and didn’t look back. The journey was actually more rewarding than having a completed cabin I can enjoy.
  • Don’t sell yourself short. If I told myself I couldn’t do it, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Compare any other skill you’ve acquired in your life with cabin building. Cabin building is the same, pursue it, and the learning will follow.

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  • Do you. Dream up what you want to build. Practical building techniques may limit you in certain areas of your idealistic cabin, but set a foundation for the impossible. The sky is the limit!
  • Do your homework. Study up on some framing techniques, understand your county or city laws and permit requirements.
  • Do make it a priority. If you want a cabin badly enough, the costs can easily be affordable if you prioritize it instead of new phones, TV’s, cable bills, vacations etc.
  • Do look for land. Land prices consistently increase and even if you aren’t ready to buy some property, begin to get excited about looking because the knowledge of land pricing will give you the upper hand when you’re ready.
  • Do it. Seriously. If I can, you can.

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Published 01-12-2021

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