Buffing logs

 

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I know you guys are all excited for me to finish the house, but we are low on funds at this point, so we are working on projects that don’t take a lot of money, but do take a lot of time. Hang with me, I’ll get there……

Now that we are under roof, the logs will stay nearly dry forever (we hardly ever get sideways rain here in the South), which means we need to borate them one last time. We’ve only done two things to the logs since we cut them down- peel them and borate them. I’ve written about the peeling and borating in the past. According to Skip, the man behind the LHBA Butt & Pass method, that’s all that needs to be done. Gray weathered logs are not a problem with the LHBA style, due to the large roof overhangs and the borate. But gray logs are ugly in my opinion, and my wife and neighbors agree. So, in anticipation of borating and staining the logs one last time, I pressure washed them. Some still had bark that I missed while peeling, and all of them had chunks of dirt from being dragged over to the building site. They really needed a good cleaning.

There are actually two ways to clean the logs- wet (pressure washing), or dry (corn cob blasting or with sand or glass media). The dry method involves renting a machine, buying a bunch of crushed corncobs, and spraying the thing. That costs lots of money. The pressure washing just requires a pressure washer, and about “4,000 gallons of water”, according to a frantic call from our utility company, ha ha…!

The problem with pressure washing, I found out, is the fuzz that is left over afterwards. It’s a gloppy paper-like residue that sticks to the logs- really, it’s just the sun-burnt or bleached  outermost layer of logs I sprayed off. You need to get it off the logs before borating or staining – otherwise, it will soak up the stain and borate and waste your money. And it looks ugly anyway.

Sigh.

Fuzzy logs = More work.

It’s surprising (not surprising) that there aren’t better methods to get the fuzz off (I know- corncob blasting is the method)….But seriously- you’d think there would be a cheap attachment that you can stick on a drill and brush the logs with. (Sorry, I’m not doing this by hand). But no – there are expensive attachments, but I couldn’t find cheap ones. And a drill is not made for cleaning the fuzz off of 6400 sq ft+ of logs. In defense of the expensive attachments, Slamasha reports it working very well, and he’s happy with the results from his $99 nylon cup brush that attaches to a power buffer, like the kind of buffer you use to wax your car.

I kept researching and found a nylon bristle brush for $20. That sounded much better.

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Why nylon? Why not sandpaper or wire brushes? Well, I tried sandpaper on an inconspicuous part of a log – and it scratched up the logs. The wire brush was worse.

I also tried green scrubber scotchbrite pads – the kind you use on that 9×13 lasagna baking dish. mmmm….Lasagna….Sorry- the scotchbrite pads hold up well- except when you get close to a knot or a sliver- then they get destroyed.

Plus the idea is to buff the logs, not sand them- they are already pretty smooth.

After buffing, I can then borate, and then stain the logs. I’m so glad the staining part only has to be done once in a while, and the buffing and borating only has to be done once.

Bee holes

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Unfortunately, our logs sitting out on racks for a year attracted carpenter bees. The borate doesn’t help in that situation because the bees don’t actually ingest the wood, therefore, the poison doesn’t hurt them. However, I found a few helpful websites that claim to know how to get rid of the bees. Here are some of the suggestions:

  1. Fill in the holes with caulk (or dust and then caulk), then cover with wood filler, and sand smooth. The bees are attracted to previously used nests, so this covers the holes.
  2. Get plenty of bee traps- a 4×4 with a mason jar screwed to the bottom. Bees go in, but they don’t come out. Some folks are complaining about killing the bees, but I’m a fan of the Bible, where man was designated as lord over the whole Earth. Dominion means being in charge. I don’t mind carpenter bees- but they do not belong in my house. And I’d like to meet a naysayer who has a more ‘environmentally friendly house’ than mine, that is of a similar value. Trust me- I like nature, but I also value order. The two can co-exist.
  3. Stain the logs. Carpenter bees are apparently very attracted to a log in the early stages of decay- I mean, they aren’t attacking standing trees. Staining the logs preserves the wood, and is less attractive to bees.
  4. Not mentioned on any articles I found, but bees don’t seem to like to burrow into wood that is shaded. It’s curious, but I found when working out there in the spring that the bees would be busy on the sunny side of the house, but not in the shadows. As the sun moved throughout the day, so did the bees. They would even leave if I waved my arm and caused a shadow over a place where they were trying to land. I think our wrap around porch will help in this area.

It is a very time consuming, but necessary step. And with the sudden cold weather blast we just had, this is putting a lot of our progress on hold, as we can’t apply stain if the temperature is less than 50.

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On the left: done. On the right: in progress.

Staining

Lots of debate here. But what I found was stain is made for specific things- you shouldn’t use deck stain on a log house, according to most manufacturers – something about stretching and peeling. Some folks think that is bunk, but I think I’ll go with the specialized product on this one.  There is also oil based and water based stains. We like the idea of an odor-free home that isn’t off-gassing dangerous smells, so we looked at water based stains, which have come a long way in the last 20 years.

We settled on a company called Sashco. I checked their website for dealers in my area, and found one nearby. I called them for samples, and received them the very next day. We read the literature, which was mostly advice for kit log home owners, and went outside and stained a log to see if we liked the colors.

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I can’t tell the difference between the two colors, but it does look nicer stained.

On the inside, Sashco doesn’t recommend staining the logs, but instead recommends just putting a nice clear coat on them. From what I’ve heard from other LHBA members, the natural look on the inside makes the build go faster, but dust tends to settle on the logs and is really hard to remove- you can’t just wipe them down. The clear coat helps with dusting.

That’s all for now!

 

How to use Ropes & Knots to build a log cabin by hand

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Up close cradle on triple blocks (bottom block is homemade).

I’ve always been intrigued with rope and string, and the many uses for it. A few years ago, I even took up knitting, and I’ve come up with my own designs for socks, sweaters, hats and scarfs. The idea that clothing can be made simply by looping string together is quite astounding when you think about it. And building a cabin with ropes and pulleys is a fascinating step back in time. Some of the pulleys I used were 100 year old antiques I found on Ebay. But I made others myself.  Now that I’m all but done using ropes, I feel I should document the various knots and holds I utilized to help build the house. As a former Boy Scout and as an outdoor enthusiast, I already knew most of the knots I would use. And yes, I can tie a sheep-shank. But there are some new ones I had never used.

Out there in internet land, there are many “how to” articles. Most are written as puff pieces by folks who have never actually used the ideas they are promoting, mainly just writing for clicks for advertising. Rest assured that I have used every knot and method below, and everything works just as I describe. These are all the knots you will need to build a cabin using block and tackle.

The rope

I’m using 5/8″ triple ply dock rope (poly rope) available on Ebay for about $130 for a 600 foot roll.  I’ve used about 1500 feet of rope so far (3 rolls). It has a working load of about 700 pounds, and a breaking strength of about 4,000 pounds.

NOTE: LHBA now recommends using double-braided rope if building with lifting poles and block and tackle, due to its increased strength, compared to the same diameter of triple-ply rope. But I decided against double-braided rope for two reasons:

1. Cost: double braided rope is much more expensive.

2. Ease of repair: Triple ply poly rope is easy to splice. Double-braided rope cannot be easily spliced. This means you must buy it in the length you need for use- for me, it would have been 220 feet each. If it breaks, you must buy another 220′ length. This seemed impractical for my build, and I decided to take my chances with the somewhat weaker triple-ply poly rope.

Why so long on the rope? If using triple blocks, the rope will pass through the blocks seven times. 7 * 30′ (lifting poles) = 210′, plus enough to tie onto your tractor.

Various manufacturers will give different load calculations, so check when you’re buying. The 5/8″ rope I used said it was rated for 700 lbs of load, and had a 4,000 lb breaking strength. The lower number is the one you don’t want to exceed. The upper number applies to the force (mass x acceleration): as in when a log begins to fall and the rope suddenly stops it. Finally, I found a helpful method to loosen a knot I can’t untie: I hit it with a hammer while turning it over and over.

Now that I am finished with the part of the build that requires a lot of rope, I can say the triple-ply rope held up almost perfectly. I never had a triple ply rope break when it was used properly. Note that I built the largest cabin designed by LHBA: the 40×40, using logs that average 17″ diameter, and weigh up to 6,000 lbs.

Safety

I did have several close calls where the rope broke, but these breaks were always due to the rope being bound up in one of my antique pulleys, and then getting sliced by one of the pulley faces. And these close calls luckily always happened when the log was only a few feet off the ground. I always keep children and dogs away from whatever I’m lifting. Also, never allow anyone in the line of sight of a stretched out rope- if that thing were to snap, it’ll act like a whip and could take out an eye or worse.

My rules are pretty simple- don’t ever put a part of your body you’d like to keep under a log you are holding with rope- this means don’t walk under a log, don’t stick your hand in between two logs to get a tool, be aware of the location of everyone on site while you’re working. Warn everyone you’re about to lift, make sure they acknowledge you, stay clear, etc., and on and on. Check and double check what you are about to do. Know what it will look like when it is finished before you start lifting.

And now, onto the….

Knots

Note: The links for each knot take you to a video I made on how to tie that knot.

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sheet bend

Sheet Bend: Don’t use a square knot that can jiggle loose or become impossible to undo when you can use a sheet bend. This is a great way to tie two ropes together, and comes apart when you’re done. I’ve used this one recently when removing a motor and transmission from a car using a length of seatbelt scrap. And if you loop the last end instead of pulling it tight, you can untie it even more easily. Not that it’s difficult to untie in the first place, but….

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figure 8 knot

Figure 8 knot: don’t use an overhand knot when a figure 8 knot is better. I use this one when I need to take up some space in the rope (like to make sure the rope doesn’t get pulled through a hole), or when I need to shorten the strap around the log. They tend to be easier to untie than an overhand knot when you’re finished using them.

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bowline

Bowline: This knot creates a loop that will never get too tight, and also can hold people and tools. It can also be tied using one hand.

 

Holds

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prusik knot

Prusik Knot: This was a game changer- it suspends the log so you can move the tractor to a better position. Doesn’t look like it will hold because of the thin rope, but it does- along with the triple blocks, I’ve dangled 6,000 lb logs in the air with this knot.

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tent hitch or tautline hitch

Taut line or tent hitch: I use this on my safety line to keep it tight. Sometimes the lifting poles shift when a heavy log is attached, so this knot is nice and easy to re-tighten, or loosen so the rope can be re-positioned.

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double half hitch

Double Half Hitch: I use this knot to tie the rope to the tractor. Easy to tie, easy to untie- never gets too tight.

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telephone lineman hitch

Telephone lineman cable hitch: Ok, I don’t know what the real name of this hitch is. But this is what I call it. I used to use it at the phone company for pulling cable through a conduit. As long as you keep tension on it, it will hold. As soon as the tension is released, it will fall apart. The secret is making sure you throw the loops on the piece correctly. It works for pulling 20 foot- 2×10’s up onto a 25′ roof, too.

Loops

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You can turn this log to the right or the left, depending on how you loop it. When the rope is pulled on this log, it will turn towards the left.

Sometimes you need to turn the log up in the air. Depending on how you hook up the strap, you can force the log to turn whichever way you need. The trick is to pass the free end of the strap through the loop in the end of the strap such that when the strap is tight, friction forces some rotation at the connecting point. I used lots of 6,000 lb 6′ loop straps available from Harbor Freight. Four on the top of the lifting poles, and four at the bottom  of the pulley.

Also, don’t forget the quick release pins I used when installing the rafters. See this video. This makes it possible to release the lifting straps from the safety of the ground when using a crane to install rafters. Sure beats shimmying out onto a rafter 25 feet off the ground to loosen a strap.

Splicing Rope

Unfortunately, rope wears out or frays and becomes dangerous. You can splice two ropes together using a “long splice” and almost maintain the original integrity and strength of the rope. I’ve never had a long splice fail, even with logs that weigh thousands of pounds. Here’s how to splice rope in a way that keeps the integrity of the rope, and yet will still pass through a pulley. For use with 3-ply rope.  This method connects two pieces of rope using 3 splices, and each splice contains 2 “sub-splices” using 1/3 of each strand. The best video for it is also the most boring one:

Long splice

 

That’s it for knots. If you have one you like, let me know!

 

Pressure washing

I’d love to say I’m installing the 1st floor, which will mean installing ledger boards around the inside perimeter of the house. But I’m not. They rest on the piers, and are lag screwed to the 1st layer of logs. Two 2×12’s are bolted together and run the length of the inner piers. Floor joists are hung from the ledger boards, and butt into the two 2×12’s – like this:

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Thin vertical lines are joists, thick horizontal lines are the 2×12 sandwich. 90 joists needed.

I need about 90 joists. I’d like to use the “I-Joist” engineered beams because they are stronger than 2×12’s, and they don’t bow. I called around- looks like Discount Builders almost has the best price- $2340. The craigslist “recycled materials” guys say $1500. And $800 shipping, so $2300. I’ll pay $40 extra because Discount has treated me right every step of the way. And they are local.

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Nordic engineered I-Joists

I also asked about just regular 2×12’s, and Discount said that would be $1700. Much cheaper. But again- they bow. And I would really, really like the floor to be perfectly flat, so $2300 seems worth it.

Preparation for the task

Installing the subfloor gives us something for the scaffolding to roll around on so I can (more) easily work on things like electrical, chinking, windows, and frame in the gables- the open triangle on both ends of the house near the roof.

While thinking about it, I realized there are other tasks I should do before this- such as pressure washing the house. I figure it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pressure wash the house after I install the subfloor, since the pressure washing will get the subfloor all wet, so I decided to pressure wash the house before I put the subfloor in. And then since it will be clean, I should borate it. And then probably stain it.

Which means I needed water at the house to connect the pressure washer.

Installing a water line

Which means I needed to dig a trench to install the water line. Luckily, Alabama has no real “frost line”. Code says the water line should be minimum twelve inches below grade. I borrowed my late neighbor’s trencher attachment, and easily got the job done, after sweating and working hard doing about 30 feet with a pick and a trenching shovel. On a side note, the sewer line will have to wait- it has to go down five feet, and the trencher might go two feet, if I work at it. But that can happen later. I got the water trench dug:

Trenching a Water line

I talked to the city, and they recommended 3/4″ PVC pipe for the main. Their connection is 3/4″. Seemed to make sense, so I installed 200 feet of 3/4″ PVC for about $60 and got the water line up to the house. Then I talked to my fellow LHBA friends, who informed me I’d never be happy with 3/4″- and I should go with 1″ or larger. You wouldn’t believe the amount of math that goes into determining what size of water line to install. I went to Lowe’s and bumped into a plumber who worked there and told him my dilemma.

He said, “no, 3/4″ will be fine, it’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.  How many bathrooms did you say you had?”

“Three.”

“Three, huh…..Ok….well…….maybe you should put in one inch pipe….”

I guess the theory is that even though the flow is constricted to 3/4″ at the road, the fact that I’m 200 feet from that connection means the line has time to build up pressure over a long enough run, so a larger size pipe can be used. I ended up ripping it out and replacing it with a larger pipe. I can still use the 200 feet of 3/4″ to reach the back of the property, I guess. The goal is, after all, to turn the whole thing into a small farm, so….

I stuck a faucet on the house. And one by the blueberries, just because. I’m not sure why I think it’s amazing to drink out of a faucet next to the house, but I’m tickled that I can now do this.

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Started pressure washing the house

And then I decided instead of borrowing a pressure washer, I should buy one- it’s going to get a lot of use. Craigslist to the rescue….

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I broke the “new” pressure washer after using it for 3 days- I didn’t notice when I bought it that it was missing one of three bolts on the pump head intake manifold. Bolt #2 broke while using it the other day, and water game gushing out of the thing. When I looked closer, the 3rd bolt had sheared off years ago. I bought an “easy out” bit and drilled the sheared bolt out of the hole. Then I replaced with new bolts, refilled the water pump with the recommended gear oil, and tested it at home. Seems to work pretty well.

I think we’re going to need to stain the house – we like this straw-yellow color we discovered under the sun-bleached gray logs, but it will eventually fade if we don’t protect it.

Water based or oil based stain? I was guessing oil was probably better, but it stinks forever, and smells are something we just don’t want. But then I talked to several suppliers of both types, and all of them agree- water based stains have come a long way, they don’t stink; they are better for the environment, clean up easier and are similar in cost.  I’m sure we could have a lively debate between which is really better, but it comes down to the smell for us, and ease of clean up.

We looked into it- looks like a 5 gallon bucket will run us about $260, and will cover just the outside of one wall. Protecting the outside of the house is going to run us around $1000. Wow!

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Next steps

The weather has been hot and dry- perfect for pressure washing. I can’t imagine pressure washing while soaking wet in January. Shiver! The cool thing is that the other day, it was 95+ degrees, but I was actually cold working inside spraying. I came out of the cabin to take a break- and noticed the temperature went up about 10 degrees. Even with all the air gaps, the inside of this thing is much cooler than outside.

Hopefully, this heat wave will hold out long enough for me to get done pressure washing and then sanding, and then cool off some so we can start staining, but not freeze. And then we’ll either do some chinking or get the 1st floor installed. Haven’t decided if rain is blowing in from the outside through the cracks yet.

Adventures with Cars

After I got the roof done, I promised I was going to take a break and fix some of the car issues I’ve been putting off….Just didn’t think it would be a whole month….

July 23, 2019:

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my “work truck”, loaded with 10 @ 20′ PVC pipe.

I’ve been driving this Honda for about 4 years now. It’s a 1990’s civic that I got for $400 from my wife’s ex. I found a motor for it for $400 and put it in. But it burned oil I guess and the indicator light was broken, so I killed that motor. Put another motor in it. This time, very careful with checking the oil. And then last year it wouldn’t start. I traced the problem down to the ignition switch in the key lock, so I replaced that, and nope- still won’t start. so I ran a wire to the starter relay, and another one to the positive on the battery – touch the two wires together, and the thing starts every time. Got lazy, didn’t want to find the real problem, and been driving it like that for a year.

In between dealing with it starting, it starts making this grinding noise. As a catastrophist, I naturally suspect the crank shaft is going out, and I’ll soon need a whole new engine. But I decide to open the hood and take a look anyway. A couple of belts look worn out, so I headed down to Autozone to get new ones.

While I’m there, the employees are having a conversation with a guy about how the mechanic up the road won’t replace his alternator for less than $150, not including parts. He’s trying to convince Autozone to replace it for him- it’s on a Ford Ranger with a v6. They tell him they can only do headlights and wipers. He looks at me with my dirty hands… So, I said, “I’ll take a look at it, but I’m not promising anything.”

The Autozone guy says, “it’s only held on with 3 bolts, and it’s right on top of the motor.” And then to “sweeten the deal” he says, “And you can borrow any of our tools you want.”

The owner says, “I’ll pay you $50 if you can do it.” I could really use the money.

“Fine,” I say, “I’m still just taking a look- not promising anything.”

I go look at it in the parking lot. It really is only held on by 3 bolts. I look at it over and over, trying to figure out why the mechanic up the road wants $150 for a 10 minute job. Can’t think of a reason, so I say, “Ok, I’ll do it.” The guy is very happy.

I do it in 10 minutes. I felt bad for taking his money, but he said, “No. Don’t feel bad. You saved me $100. I’m happy to pay you.”

I get home, and replace all the belts on the Honda, but the grinding noise doesn’t go away. I start disconnecting things and then turning on the motor to see if the grinding stops. It finally stops when I disconnect the power steering pump. Bingo. I drive it down to Autozone with no power steering pump and buy a new one. It’s just a Honda. Not like you can’t drive a tiny car like this without power steering. Get home and put it in, just before it starts pouring rain.

A few days later, my wires won’t start it. I decided it’s finally time to fix the problem so I can start it with the key. Found there’s an idiot switch on the clutch called a clutch interlock switch (New cars – sheesh). Its purpose is to prevent idiots who are used to driving an automatic from crashing this stick-shift car into other cars while parked while trying to start the thing without pushing in the clutch.

Naturally, Honda thought the best place to put the idiot switch is at the very tippy top of the clutch pedal. What’s neat is that when laying on the floor of the car and looking up to the switch, it’s about 4′ away, but when sitting in the driver’s seat, from the floor to the top of the dash is only 2.5′. How Honda managed to bend the space-time continuum and change those lengths is the great mystery of our time. The best way to reach it is to, of course, rip off the dashboard, remove the fuse panel, and then 3 weeks ago, buy some special tool, etc., and replace the switch. I just stuck a paper clip in the idiot switch and turned it into a continuous circuit.  I heard a satisfying click when I turned the key, except the thing doesn’t start…..and I’m off on another adventure:

The manager down at Autozone was sure it was my clutch idiot switch, even after I told him how I bypassed it. I felt like it was the cable from the battery to the starter itself. He was so sure of his position that he didn’t want to sell me the cable. Luckily, he was “on vacation” and was only in the store to settle some paycheck stuff for the other employees. His wife was waiting in the truck. I waited for him to leave, then came back in the store and convinced the guys to sell me the cable anyway. So they hesitated, but ended up selling me the cable. Stuck it in, and started it up right away. I came back in to tell them the good news, and told them when the boss gets back, “tell him he was wrong, and to try to not be so cocky next time.”

I walked out of there, head held high, only to be confronted by a guy in a polo shirt and khakis. He says, “you’re hands look dirty- does that mean you know something about cars?”

“Maybe,” I said, guardedly.

“Do you mind taking a look at mine?” he asks.

“What’s wrong with it?” I ask.

“Well, I’m not sure what type of antifreeze to buy.”

He pops the hood, and I start looking and asking him about maintenance on the vehicle. He has the oil changed regularly, had the timing belt replaced on schedule, the radiator replaced. Says he’s had no issues with it. I tell him a few things to look for – oil in his antifreeze, or antifreeze in his oil, or water coming out of his tailpipe when it’s hot outside. I look at his hoses and belts, and tell him what he should probably do next. We talk for about 10 minutes, then he hands me $10, and says, “you’ve answered more questions in 10 minutes than my mechanic ever has – you deserve this.”

“Thank you!” I respond. Is this turning into a gig?

August 3, 2019

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These guys are fun.

My facebook buddy Daniel has been working on the last of my 2nd floor beams. He’s not sure he can get them all here in one trip. We decide that Saturday works for both of us. Thirty-three 4×12’s that are 20.5′ long and weigh about 400 lbs each is quite a load for a guy who’s employee list contains one person. That many beams is enough to build an entire cabin by itself – if it were much smaller, and if I was using some other method.  He decides he can do it in one trip, and goes about 50 mph all the way to my house. Takes him 7 hours total, but he pulls up safely. He brought his brother to help unload. I use the tractor to do most of the heavy lifting, but it still takes 2 hours for the three of us to unload everything. We talk about rural life, swap funny stories, and I show off the cabin. He seemed impressed. He asked if he could make a video for his YouTube channel, and I said, “sure.” He encourages me to start using YouTube again. So I’ve started uploading there again. If I can get 1,000 subscribers, YouTube will start advertising there, and I’ll make a little money from this adventure. Tell your friends. 🙂

August 14, 2019

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You can’t see the motor, but trust me: it’s brand new. 

My 1994 Toyota pickup with the V6: finally got the new motor I bought on Ebay last year installed and bolted to the transmission. Then I had to remember where all the wires and hoses connect, also went ahead and replaced almost all worn out wires, components, and hoses as I went, of course…..and did it all in between downpours leftover from Hurricane Barry in my mosquito-infested shade-tree garage. I called the muffler shop down the road and asked them about redesigning the exhaust so that it doesn’t cross over behind the motor- I really think that’s what killed the last motor. I’ve check the forums, and most folks with these motors are saying the same thing. I replaced the head gasket on that side once, and then 50,000 miles later, a valve burnt up, and killed the whole thing. The muffler shop said to bring it in, and they’d take a look at it. I took it in. They then informed me they don’t do any custom jobs – they only do stock jobs. I either have to take the motor out and put the crossover pipe back in, then let them connect it back up- which I could do at that point, or fix it myself.

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going to fix this once and for all. 

Darn. So I have to fix the exhaust myself, because I can’t stand the idea of putting it back the way it came, only to have the exact same problem years down the road. Which means welding and stuff. I’m going to just do the dual tail pipes and mufflers.

Also-  the Landcruiser that needs a $3k motor (so it’s not worth it) has become a nice home for some angry wasps. Yes, I figured that out the hard way. But I found my 12mm ratcheting box wrench.

And the Explorer – still running smooth. There was a small hiccup when the brake light came on and stayed on while driving. Again, as a catastrophist, I naturally did the hard check first and took off the rear wheel to see how worn the brake shoes were – worn, but not worn out. Then I did the easy check and looked at the brake fluid reservoir- and solved the brake light issue by adding more brake fluid. It sat in the guy’s driveway for 9 months after he died before we bought it, so I’m not going to concern myself too much with it at this point.

In the end, the Landcruiser will be sold, along with the Honda. Proceeds to help build the house.

Roof – Part 4 of 4: Shingles

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yes, I know- it’s not 100% perfect. But it’s pretty good.

Whew. That was hard. I’m now officially “under roof”. I knew the roof would be a multi-part series, but it was more long and drawn out than I thought.

I am now far behind my goal for finishing the home in 2-3 years. In fact, I thought back in October that I might be able to finish the roof by the end of 2018. We are now halfway through 2019.

On the bright side, I’m still within budget, and now that the roof is done, I can take a breather and finish projects I left hanging like installing a motor in my pickup. Also, much of the remaining work can be done on the ground – no more dragging construction materials up to the roof. How much did I drag up there? I won’t bore you with the details, but I estimate about 35,000 lbs, not including tar paper, nails, screws and insulation. Along with the ~22,000 pounds of rafters, and the 10,000 pound ridge pole, this puts the weight of the roof around 67,000 pounds.

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The shingle elevator saved my back and knees. I put 109 bundles of shingles on the roof. Each bundle weighs about 60 pounds. With the shingle elevator, I was able to load three or four bundles at a time, hook the rope to the car and back up, and then climb the ladder and off-load them onto the roof.

Here’s the shingle elevator in action.

Also, since my roof is not exactly square, I had some issues keeping my shingle lines straight when I got to the ridge. But I noticed when watching some how-to videos that the professionals have issues with non-square roofs as well, so I feel pretty good about my not-perfect roof.

We still need to clean up the inside of the house- I’ve got scraps of foam in there, extra lumber, plywood and a lot of junk leftover from installing the roof. I noticed during a rain storm that the ground on the West side of the house is a bit higher right along the drip line than the ground is inside the house. The rain was running down to the inside of the house. I think I’ll ask the neighbor to bring his disc-harrow over and plow up that side, and then I’ll shovel the dirt to the inside of the house. That way, the inside will be just a bit higher than the outside, forcing the water to run the other direction.

I think the very next step is to trench the sewer, water, and maybe electrical. It’ll certainly be no fun to trench if I wait until after I get the subfloor in. And then I need the floor joists and the hangers, the insulation, etc., etc.

A guy I met in a sawmill group on facebook offered to make my second floor beams for really cheap. He’s in Georgia and said he’ll deliver them. I’m not ready for them, but the price is so good I can’t pass it up. I’d make them myself, but I’m currently out of trees.

Other things that need to be done in no particular order:

  • frame in the gables
  • install 1st floor
  • install 2nd floor
  • stairs
  • interior walls
  • plumbing
  • electrical
  • doors / windows
  • chinking
  • porch
  • pass inspection

Sigh. The really cool part – cutting down trees, making pulleys, stacking the walls, installing the ridge pole, decking the roof- is over. From here on out, it’s almost all just normal 2×4 construction- framing, cabinets, hardwood floors, tile, plumbing, etc.

And sorry, but roof pictures are kind of boring:

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That smile is telling you I’m done shingling.

Roof – Part 3: Installing almost everything on the roof

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roof box frame. Eventually, I’ll remove that errant little scrap of 2×10 nailed to the rafters.
box frame for insulation almost complete

The shingle elevator was made out of wood, and it broke after the week of rain weakened it. So I welded a new one. It works better, but I’m worried about the rails it rides, which are 22 foot long 2×10’s.

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New lift can be bolted onto the rails.
I’ve made a lot of progress on the roof- the frame is complete, the insulation is completely installed on both sides. I had to stop and measure how much insulation I had left- and use the hot wire foam cutter to cut the 9″ thick pieces down to size – they were too thick to fit in the boxes. Also, I had plenty of 5″ thick pieces, but not enough 7.5″ pieces. I found that 7.5″ is the sweet spot- the foam has a stated R-value of 4.6 per inch, so a 7.5 inch thick layer gets me R34.5, where only R30 is required. This doesn’t count the value of the 2″ thick decking, or the plywood, or the underlayment, which doesn’t add much, but does add some. To make the 7.5″ thick foam, I set the wire at 7.5″ above the cutting deck, then stacked two 5.5″ pieces on top of each other and fed them through the foam cutter to make a 7.5″ stack. I have enough foam left over for a very well insulated chicken coop.

Some folks have spent thousands on their insulation- even when buying used. I was able to get away with $400 for all the foam I could stuff into a huge U-haul van and my trailer pulled behind. Extremely cheap!

Problems

2x lumber isn’t what it says it is….

I wish I had thought more about the fact that a 2×10 and  2×8 were really 1 1/2×9 1/4 and 1 1/2×7 1/4, because that threw off some of my measurements. See, the ribs are 2×10’s, spaced 48″ OC apart. But the plywood is only rated to span 24″, so I needed a support between the 2×10’s. I didn’t want to just space  the 2×10 ribs at 24″ because that messes up my 48″ foam, and a 2×4 is a lot cheaper than a 2×10 no matter how you slice it. Besides, a solid piece of foam is a better insulator than a skinny 24″ strip of foam- that’s just simple physics.

Anyway, I planned to just put an 8′ long 2×4 between the 2×10 ribs, on top of the 2×8’s as a support, because the height of a 2×8 cross member + a 2×4 = height of a 2×10, right? wrong. There’s a 2″ vertical gap between the 2×8 & the 2×10, but the 8′ 2×4 laying on top of the 2×8 cross member is only 1 1/2″ thick, so there was a 1/2″ gap I had to fill between the top of the crossmember and the top of the 2×10 rib. I admit I actually couldn’t figure out at first why my plywood was sagging in the middle between the ribs. Oops.

Getting everything on the roof

Yes, this continues to be a problem. There are multiple solutions, but the main thing to remember is to keep the main thing (building the roof) the main thing. It’s easy to dream about a jib crane or some contraption with a winch motor that lifts everything up on the roof at the push of a button, but at the end of the day, the question isn’t “how did you do it?” as much as it’s “Did you do it?”. Sigh…..Up and down the ladder.

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I would have used the shingle elevator, but it is on the opposite side of the house. Besides, I only needed 5 sheets for this part.
I figured out that I can lift four sheets of foam at a time with just a rope. So that helps. But the plywood is dangerously unwieldy, so I could only manage 5 sheets at a time using the elevator, or in the photo above, one at a time. In this case, it saved me carrying it from the elevator, up over the peak, and then down to be installed. You do what you have to do to get it done.

And the 2x lumber- well, I can lift about 30 of those at a time with the elevator, so that’s nice.

Nevertheless, I do have backup plans for a jib crane to lift shingles in case the shingle elevator goes kaput.

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The ribs, foam, OSB, and you can just barely see the 2×4 spacers sticking out under the OSB.

Solutions

I added a 1/2″ x 1″ spacer to the 2×8 to lift the 2×4 up to the correct height. And on the boxes I hadn’t finished, I went ahead and lifted the 2×8 so that when I added the 2×4, it would be level with the 2×10. If I ever do this again…..

Using my Magnesium oil almost daily to stop the aches and pains of going up and down the ladder. It’s amazing stuff- helps the muscles heal, and protects joints.

I’ve used the car to run the elevator- just tie a rope to the front of the car, the other end goes to the pulley attached to the lift. Then back up, and everything goes up. Once it’s at the top of the lift, I climb the ladder and unload the supplies onto the roof. I carried almost every 4×8 sheet from the West side of the roof, up over the peak of the roof, and then down onto the East side of the roof. That was no fun, especially when it was a bit breezy.

I’m not sure how lifting shingles will end up- they are pretty heavy – about 60 lbs for each bundle. There are 99 of them…

Vent holes

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I cut these in the roof to enable cool air from the ground to flow up the side of the house, into the roof, and out the peak. I made a template out of a scrap of T&G decking, then cut rectangular holes and covered them with heavy duty screen door mesh plus 1/4″ wire mesh. Here’s a video describing the theory of ventilation.

…And a change in roof design

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When looking at the roof from the ground, you don’t see the built-up part of the roof, at least from the front of the home. This makes the roof look thin and wimpy.

As an aside, I’ve several folks pull up and ask about the house, and if they ask about the roof and the T&G decking, they always assume I used 1×6 planks. They are always surprised when I show them a scrap and they find it’s actually 2×6 planks. I get about one visitor a week that actually pulls up and wants to ask questions, while I get a half dozen gawkers who stop in the road to take a look or a photo. I’m always happy to answer questions- to me, the LHBA method is the best method for getting a really cheap house that has tons of value.

The last one that pulled up really made me think about this- yes it’s vain to build up the whole roof just for looks. On the other hand, the whole thing is probably vain, if you want to take a minimalist view- I mean, I could have just plopped a mobile home on the property and said, “done”, right? But let’s stay focused here- I started looking at the roof, and decided they were right. I asked my wife about it, and she immediately said, “I’ve always wanted the whole roof to be thick.” She knew the whole time, but just didn’t want to make an issue out of it. Yes, I can usually finish the maze a few seconds behind the rats….

“It’ll be a lot more work,” I said.

“I know.”

“And a bit more expensive – like $500 more.”

“I know.”

She doesn’t want to pull up and look at the wimpy roof and hate it every time she comes home. I agree.

It also simplifies the drip edge and other issues I was having with making nice clean looking roof lines.

So….I ordered more lumber, plywood, tar paper, etc. Don’t need any more shingles, luckily.

More problems

When I added the extra 2×10’s to the roof, I found that the roof decking isn’t exactly flat. Big surprise? No, not surprised. I’m actually surprised that the gap was 2″ or less. Probably due to my 5×12 rafters not being perfect or something.  Anyway, to stop the critters from getting in there and make it look purdy, my wife gave me an idea – “why not put a piece of angled metal up there and screw the 2×10 to it, and then screw it to the deck?” It was a great idea, in fact:

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That’s all for now…Next up: I’ll finish shingling the roof.

 

Roof – Part 2: Insulation and other materials

What is a Built Up Roof?

 

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This style of roof is also known as a cathedral roof or ceiling. But the simplest answer is a built up roof is a roof where the insulation is on top of what you see from the inside – different from a roof where the insulation is inside and below the roof. A log home can be built with a conventional roof, but nobody wants to walk into a log home and look up to a white dry wall ceiling. Besides, according to a lot of folks who’ve done both styles- the built up roof is only a little more expensive, and it can be argued that it’s even less expensive if you are doing your own labor, if you consider the amount of work to install bats on the inside of the home rather than the top of the roof.

Materials for this roof

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Similar to this roof…

The roof of my butt & pass log home starts with three RPSL’s (Ridge Pole Support Logs), which sit on three 18″x36″ piers that have a six foot square base, buried three feet in the ground. I estimate these piers to be able to support 50,000 lbs each, although the roof will probably only weigh about 70,000 lbs total.

The RPSL’s support a 56′ x 30″ sweet gum Ridge Pole, 30′ in the air.

5″x12″x27.5′ rafters spaced 4 feet apart rest on the walls and the Ridge Pole, spiked with rebar at their attachment points.

2″x6″ tongue and groove (T&G) decking are nailed to the rafters, with 8′ of overhang past the walls of the home at the gable ends, and 4′ of overhang on the eaves.

A synthetic underlayment goes over the top of the decking.

2″x10″ sleepers form a box frame around the solid foam insulation, but only on the insulated portion of the home.  They are spaced every 4′.  Outside of the home, on the overhang areas, shingles are applied to the underlayment, along with a drip edge and soffits.

On top of the insulation is plywood decking, tar paper, and then shingles.

Eventually, we’ll do a metal roof, but I really like the idea that for now my roof will be protected by plywood and shingles, where, if we just did metal, we could forget the plywood, and just screw the metal directly through the foam and into the rafters and decking. That extra umph from the plywood and shingles gives me some peace of mind.

When you buy used….

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I’ve scoured craigslist for insulation for almost a year, and finally got a hit from a guy removing insulation from a senior retirement complex and selling it for $6 for a full sheet. I rented a U-Haul, attached my trailer, and stuffed that thing to the gills with as much foam as I could get in there – which was only $400 worth of foam. I hired my step-son Arthur to help on his day off, and it was a smart move- he worked hard and we had no problems on the road.

With all that, I think I have enough. Alabama requires roof insulation to be R30 or better. The manufacturer of the foam I bought claims R-value of 4.6 / inch. So, an 8″ thick sheet would have an R-value of 8 x 4.6 = R36.8. I wanted to get to R50, but would need bigger sleepers, a ton more foam, and it just wasn’t worth it. Besides, my wife doesn’t like the roof any thicker than it has to be, so 8″ thick it is.

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At first, I was worried about the foam because it slopes by about 0.75″ – 1″, due to the way the previous roofer installed it on the retirement home, so I set up my foam cutter to slice the foam flat. Here’s a video of that.

Later, I decided that since I only need to meet or beat R-30, having all the pieces perfectly flat isn’t all that important, as long as I get to 8″, I’ll be fine. More important is that the foam is four feet wide, and the sleepers are spaced four feet apart on center. This means I had to cut 1.5″ off the foam to make it fit in between the sleepers. Some folks used a saw, but that is messy. I wanted something better, so I turned the foam cutter on its side and used it to slice off 1.5″. I used a borrowed Rheostat transformer from my buddy, Ellery. Here it is in action again.

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Careful…that wire is red-hot
I also got the lumber, used, from a local guy….who said he was going to use it to build a cabin, but had too many other projects on his plate. We talked for a good hour at his house- he informed me that I could get a residential builders license just by taking a test and paying a fee. I’ve always thought to become a General Contractor, you had to work for a General Contractor for two years, but they are not the same thing. So now, I’m thinking about this idea……

Trimming the edge

I put the decking on the roof, knowing that I was going to come back later and trim up the ends of it. Turned out to be very scary and took a lot of motivation to get up there and cut it. I originally thought that I would have to “square the roof” to make it look right, but my buddy Ronnie said, “any thought of making the roof square should’ve gone out the window when you started building with logs.”  I think he’s right- my logs are crooked, the Ridge Pole has a slight bow in it, the RPSL’s are no better, the cap logs are off, the rafters are homemade- nothing lines up, so….If I go off and have this perfectly square roof sitting up there, it’ll look cock-eyed from the ground when compared to the rest of the house. What I ended up doing was following Ronnie’s advice: just snap a chalk line about 2.5′ from the last rafter (the one that sticks out the farthest), and run a skilsaw up the edge.

As a one man show with no man-lift, I made a tool out of rebar that I could slip over the end of the decking to “feel” where the rafter was, and then use that as a reference to snap the chalk line.

Here’s a video of me with the tool I made to help line up my cuts.

Cutting with the skill saw on the edge of the roof, and knowing that the saw could jump out of my hand at any moment, thirty feet in the air- it was all quite unnerving. I tied on, and also used one hand to hold the rope while I ran the saw with the other hand. I think it turned out great, and I’m the only one who can see the little wobbles here and there (they are not that bad, I’m just saying I know there are some ;).

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Next up…

I build a shingle elevator to get everything up on the roof. I need to get the 2×10’s up there, set them at 4′ apart, then screw them to the roof. I need to frame all around them and inside so I have a place to screw the plywood to that will sit atop the foam insulation. But I need quite a few days of dry weather to make sure the foam doesn’t get wet.