The best books to inspire and build your own cabin or nature home

Who are we?

We have written 27 “how-to” books on building outdoor projects, including cabins, sheds, and treehouses. David does the illustrations and I do the descriptive writing. Our goal is to make the instructions clear to both right and left brain readers – and to make the two elements complement each other. Our readers often tell us that a computer drawing does not have the same appeal and clarity as hand drawing. We are able to ‘talk’ a reader through the process of building something with our drawings. People often send us photographs of their completed projects – it’s a big part of the satisfaction we get from writing our books.


I wrote...

Cabins: A Guide to Building Your Own Nature Retreat

By Jeanie Stiles, David Stiles,

Book cover of Cabins: A Guide to Building Your Own Nature Retreat

What is our book about?

We wrote this as a cabin-building manual to include everything you need to know about building your own getaway. Color photographs help you choose from a variety of cabins to suit your lifestyle, circumstances, and preference. Over 400 detailed illustrations including designs, floor plans, and architectural details complement the text to take you through the entire building process from construction basics to completion. Learn how to select the right site, build your foundation, install a water supply system, heating, and electricity. A chapter on outfitting includes rustic furniture, cooking gear, wood-burning stoves, and lanterns, and a list of sources makes it easy to find suppliers.

Whether you are building a cabin in the wilderness or in your backyard, this book has something for you.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books we picked & why

Book cover of Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties: The Classic Guide to Building Wilderness Shelters

Jeanie and David Stiles Why did I love this book?

An oldie but goodie - many of the techniques described are still applicable in modern times. Beard includes lengthy descriptions and illustrations of building all kinds of small shelters, including cabins, treehouses & towers. He helped start the Boy Scouts of America and was an avid woodsman, illustrator, and conservationist. His tips on outdoor living are invaluable – including two chapters on how to use an ax. 

By D.C. Beard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This excellent hands-on guide by one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America contains a wealth of practical instruction and advice on how to build everything from a bark teepee and a tree-top house to a log cabin and a sod house. No professional architects are needed here; and knowing how to use an axe is more important than possessing carpentry skills.
More than 300 of the author's own illustrations and a clear, easy-to-follow text enable campers to create such lodgings as half-cave shelters, beaver mat huts, birch bark shacks, over-water camps, a Navajo hogan, and a pole…


Book cover of Microshelters: 59 Creative Cabins, Tiny Houses, Tree Houses, and Other Small Structures

Jeanie and David Stiles Why did I love this book?

Lots of color photos and enthusiastic commentary by the author, as well as six sets of affordable building plans. Deek specializes in using recycled and salvaged materials. He also uses a clear plastic Tuftex polycarbonate as a material, which is inexpensive, easy to install, and allows light in. A good book for beginner and intermediate builders.   

By Diedricksen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Microshelters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Created by an assembly of leading designers, architects, and bloggers, these 57 unique and innovative designs will show you the limits of what is possible. All of the designs include beautiful full-colour photos along with floor plans and building tips; 15 of them include flushed-out concept sketches; and five include step-by-step building plans. You'll also find guidelines on building with recycled and salvaged materials, plus techniques for making your small space comfortable and easy to inhabit.


Book cover of Building Construction Illustrated

Jeanie and David Stiles Why did I love this book?

Building Construction Illustrated is a comprehensive visual guide to the principles of building construction. Francis D.K. Ching’s clear illustrations and hand lettering have set the standard for 50 years. The book explains concepts in residential and commercial construction, architecture, and structural engineering. The sixth edition features new illustrations and updated information on sustainability, green building, and insulation materials.

By Francis D. K. Ching,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Building Construction Illustrated as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 visual guide to building construction principles, updated with the latest materials, methods, and systems

For over four decades, Building Construction Illustrated has been the leading visual guide to the principles of building construction. Filled with rich illustrations and in-depth content by renowned author Francis D.K. Ching, it offers students and practicing professionals the information needed to understand concepts in residential and commercial construction, architecture, and structural engineering.

This Sixth Edition of Building Construction Illustrated has been revised throughout to reflect the latest advancements in building design, materials, and systems, including resilient design, diagrids, modular foundation systems, smart facade…


Book cover of Original Whole Earth Catalog

Jeanie and David Stiles Why did I love this book?

The Whole Earth Catalog has been inspiring people (including us) to build their own small dwellings since the 60s. Among other things, it’s a how-to manual of construction techniques and a life guide with readers’ recommendations and opinions. Brand coined the term ‘personal computer’ and signed off the final edition of The Whole Earth Catalog in 1974 with “Stay hungry, stay foolish” (famously quoted by Steve Jobs in a commencement speech at Stanford over 30 years later).

Book cover of Shelter

Jeanie and David Stiles Why did I love this book?

Lloyd Kahn has long been a leading light in DIY home building, and wrote for The Whole Earth Catalog in its counter-culture heyday. Shelter still inspires the reader with photographs and descriptions of home-built cabins and alternative dwellings from around the world; the range of techniques and materials covered is impressively wide.

By Lloyd Kahn (editor), Bob Easton (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shelter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shelter is many things — a visually dynamic, oversized compendium of organic architecture past and present; a how-to book that includes over 1,250 illustrations; and a Whole Earth Catalog-type sourcebook for living in harmony with the earth by using every conceivable material. First published in 1973, Shelter remains a source of inspiration and invention. Including the nuts-and-bolts aspects of building, the book covers such topics as dwellings from Iron Age huts to Bedouin tents to Togo's tin-and-thatch houses; nomadic shelters from tipis to "housecars"; and domes, dome cities, sod iglus, and even treehouses.
The authors recount personal stories about alternative…


You might also like...

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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