How to Build a DIY A-Frame Cabin for Around $8,000

Lessons learned and a step by step video prove anyone can build the cabin of their dreams with hard work and good friends

How to Build a DIY A-Frame Cabin for Around $8,000

Author

Graham Hiemstra

Photographer

Andrew Szeto

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A while back a friend DM’ed me the Instagram profile of Andrew Szeto, an Ottawa, Ontario-based skater, outdoorsman, and wood worker. His videos of making knives, canoe paddles, and furniture out of recycled skateboards caught my eye. Then he started building an A-Frame cabin, and I felt like found my soul mate.

As the project progressed, I got in touch with Andrew, and now, nearly a year since the build began, we’re psyched to share a Q&A with the man himself, along with some exclusive photos and valuable insight for all you DIY dreamers out there. Read on for the good stuff.

Please introduce yourself and your project.

My name is Andrew, I skateboard, work for the Coast Guard and do a bit of woodworking in the evenings. Looking on the internet, there wasn't a ton on actually building an A-Frame (without buying a prefab from Matti or something), so as a natural continuation of the woodworking I've been doing the past few years I set out to build a cabin in Low, Quebec, about an hour from where I live.

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How did you gain experience woodworking prior to starting the cabin?

I first dove into woodworking at the Ottawa City Woodshop, a community woodshop in the heart of the nation's capital where I live. I've always tinkered with the idea of making things but I really went heavy after knowing that there was a resource like the Ottawa City Woodshop.

Fortunately for me—and the cabin—there's a guru at the woodshop, by the name of Richard Scott! Rich has basically quarterbacked most of my projects. He's got a lifetime of experience and I am incredibly fortunate to have him impart some of his wisdom onto my projects.

How did you find the land?

To acquire the land in Quebec I put out the vibes and feelers for about a year or two, and constantly looked at realtor.ca. Fortunately, my friends caught wind of a neighbor selling off an acre of land and I was fortunate enough to pick it up for about $6,000 CAD. It's honestly unheard of, even for the area.  

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How long did the build take?

Thus far, it's been about 35-40 full days of work.

And what did the cabin cost?

The total cost for the build alone ended up being $10,632 CAD / $8,012 USD, not including land. Which is about $106 per square foot, as the cabin is basically a 10x10' box.

Cost Breakdown:
Land: $6,000 CAD / $4565 USD
Transportation Costs: $320 CAD / $244 USD
Materials & Supplies: $10,142* CAD / $7,717 USD
Food: $286 CAD / $217 USD

*Includes a $600 generator, $955 for GSTOVE Canada stove, $1310 for Nature’s Head Composting Toilet, $400 for MEC climbing holds

Looking back, what is your biggest lesson learned?

Well first it’s important to note labor was essentially free. I honestly couldn’t have done it without my pal Richard. And a lot of my really close friends came through and did me a huge solid too. Can’t thank those folks enough.

The most major lesson learned is I should have gone bigger. Don't get me wrong, the cabin is awesome, but heck, an extra 5-10 feet in both directions would have been a game changer and made it a little more habitable. But to see a thing you built come to life is the greatest gift you can give yourself in my opinion.

10 Do’s & Don’ts for Building an A-Frame Cabin Yourself

  • DO build bigger! Would have been amazing if it were double the size.
  • DO research land and where you want to buy ASAP! Things only seem to be getting more expensive the longer you wait.
  • DO save up! Building materials and land aren't cheap.
  • DO find a mentor! There's a wealth of experience out there, whether it's in person or on YouTube. Leverage what you can!
  • DO document your process! People love seeing this kinda stuff and I personally can't wait to look back on these videos 10-20 years down the road! 
"To see a thing you built come to life is the greatest gift you can give yourself"

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  • DON'T use thin plywood as your interior. I started with this and I thought it would save time and we'd slam up 4x8 pieces without any problems, but I was wrong. It's a mess to put up and if things don't line up, it's a pain. I'm much happier with my tongue and groove pine!
  • DON'T rush things. Certain sealants and spray cans only work in warmer temperatures, so it's worth planning ahead and taking your time. There's a lot of frustration in making unneccsary trips and lugging materials, only to not be able to use them.
  • DON'T not dress appropriately for your climate. I know you're stoked to build and working against a bit of a schedule, but there were a few days where I initially went up without thicker winter boots and felt like I was getting frostbite. Fortunately my neighbor (shout out Ross) came over with an extra set and saved my feet!
  • DON'T just build on-top of the land as is. I am kicking myself a bit now, but we really should have at least leveled the land and tamped it down prior to starting. As many folks have mentioned, with the freeze thaw cycles, things are subject to some movement. I really should have put some more time into this.
  • DON'T use Polycarbonate roofing. This one is subjective, but unfortunately the polycarbonate roofing that I had on my outhouse barrel did not last a season. We suspect hail was the cause of several holes and cracks in the relatively new roof, but it ended up being a wasted expense for us, unfotunately.

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Published 10-17-2019

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