Normally this column is full of stunning photos of architecturally fascinating homes, retreats, cabins, or huts. Shelters in the wilderness that hopefully inspire and celebrate an urge to get out there in style, just for a few days even. To refresh and recharge.

But this time, we’re presenting something a little different, and a whole lot more DIY. A book, actually.

Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties was written and illustrated by Daniel Carter Beard in 1914. Beard was an outdoorsman, educator, and youth leader who founded the Society of Daniel Boone in 1905, an early club for boys to learn wilderness skills. In 1910, that group merged with the newly founded Boy Scouts of America, an organization Beard served for the next 30 years until his death in 1941.


Beard wrote many books that offered tips and training for young people (and adults, for that matter) interested in a life outdoors. Shelter, Shacks, and Shanties was possibly the most ambitious. It’s hundreds of pages full of instructions for how to build, well, shelters, shacks, and shanties.

Everything from temporary shelters, to thatch-roofed huts to log cabin dens within a modern house, to actual log cabins, sod houses, and a ton of shelters inspired by Native American techniques and styles.

The detail and coverage are breathtaking.

It’s also totally and completely free, by the way. Sure, you can buy print copies (the book is still in print, over a century after first being published), but Project Gutenberg has made a digital version free to the public.

Anyway, back to that breathtaking coverage. Beard outlines how to build fireplaces. He will teach the reader to assemble wooden door latches. Beaver pelt shelters are described. Beard even has plans for making beds from pine boughs. He was also a charming writer. Even if you’ve no interest in building your own fishing cabin or a Pawnee Hogan, you’ll probably enjoy reading Beard’s how-tos, like the following tips for sleeping on branches.

“To make your bed, spread a layer of the larger boughs on the ground; commence at the head and shingle them down to the foot so that the tips point toward the head of the bed, overlapping the butts (Fig. 7). Continue this until your mattress is thick enough to make a soft couch upon which you can sleep as comfortably as you do at home. Cover the couch with one blanket and use the bag containing your coat, extra clothes, and sweater for a pillow. Then if you do not sleep well, you must blame the cook.”

You wanna build a cabin like this? ‘Cause you could totally build a cabin like this. With Beard’s help of course.

Want to become an expert ax user? There’s an entire chapter devoted to that. Plumbing a forest cabin? Beard has you covered. One gets the idea that Beard was a Daniel Boone-like figure himself, albeit educated and erudite, sitting next to a fire, sipping a bourbon, and handwriting construction tips simply from memory.

Beard would have sniffed at the idea of Airbnb’ing your way to a weekend getaway. Roll up those sleeves, he’d implore. And get to work.

Top photo: The Outlaw Partners

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