Two years ago, I attended a class in Las Vegas, Nevada, taught by Ellsworth, son of Skip Ellsworth, founder of the Log Home Builders Association.
Soon after taking the 2 day class, my wife and I bought some land, and started cutting trees in preparation for building our log home. Yes, they really can teach you everything you need to know to build a log home in 2 days, and they’ve taught thousands of people over the past 50 years how to get out of debt, gain more financial independence, and pursue their own version of freedom. Most people know the method Ellsworth taught by its common name, the “Butt and Pass” method.
We spent about a year cutting trees, drawing up plans, burning brush piles, and breaking lots of equipment along the way. I learned how to use an AutoCad program to modify my plans. I took the stock plans, and, using the computer, deleted all the interior walls, but left the structure intact, and after 30 or so iterations of the plan on paper, I re-drew and submitted our plan to the city and utilities for approval. Once the plans were approved, I applied for utilities, and we began digging a foundation.
I learned how to survey a building site from my neighbor, a retired surveyor (and retired from a lot of other professions as well). I built plywood forms to hold the concrete. My wife and kids all came to help the day we poured concrete.
Using the traditional method as taught by Skip, and with a lot of help from the guys at church, we installed lifting poles and block and tackle, and laid our first log on June 15, 2017.
More logs followed, and we are now about 4 courses (16 logs) away from reaching the finished wall height of 20 feet. At that height, we’ll be ready to install the Ridge Pole Support Logs (RPSL’s), and Girder log (GSL), and finally, the Ridge Pole itself- the largest, heaviest log, and also the highest log- at the peak of the roof line, 30 feet high.
While I like the format of WordPress, I’ve noticed a lot of formatting and code restrictions that are somewhat frustrating. As my blog grows and we finish building our log home, we will move into other areas of interest- gardening, building the garage, bees, chickens, woodworking- and I want to get into discussing old fashioned methods and tools. My wife has also posted some beautiful instructional videos regarding her passion- sewing- on our Youtube channel. Once we move into the log home, I’m sure we’ll continue the journey of independence. I am also slowly moving the original posts on this blog over to the new one.
I thought the process of getting a shipping container would be straightforward, but like everything else, it was quite a stressful adventure.
How to store your stuff
From the beginning, we’ve worried about our stuff getting stolen. So far, I’ve lost a critter cam that was aimed at my tractor, some gas cans, some tow chains and two chain binders. I think it’s a theft of convenience. Our property backs up to some woods, and the woods back up to someone’s backyard, and beyond that is a trailer park. Our neighbor says that people have been walking from the trailer park through our property and on over to another neighborhood. I think some of them are thieves looking for easy pickings, but I can’t imagine the use of two chain binders, unless you’re a trucker or building a log home.
Many folks build a garage as their first project. Then they store their tools while they build their house. I wanted to build faster so we could move there ASAP. I considered building a shed, but that would require a permit and a foundation. A fence would only stop people who can’t climb. I needed something I can lock. We are at the point where we have some expensive stuff about to be left overnight- like a sawmill, and building materials.
I’ve seen ads for shipping containers for years, but they can be a little pricey in my estimation:
All the ones I’ve seen for under $2,000 are also 20′ long or less. My plans call for 26′ rafters, so I needed at least a 40′ shipping container if I was going to use it for storing rafters.
I need 32 rafters, 4″x12″, and 26′ long. The shipping container is 8.5′ tall and 8.5′ wide. I can get 12 in a row in a space only 3′ wide, and then stack them 3 levels high, and still only be in a space 3′ high. Plenty of room for spacers to help them dry a little.
I’m starting to find some deals on rigid foam roof insulation, but I need somewhere dry to store 3 trailers-full of the stuff. I need stacks of plywood and car decking for the roof. I expect to store hardware like joists, nails, screws, wiring, plumbing, and on and on in there as well. I can also put the sawmill in there, as well as the tractor, and all my tools. Currently, I store them in the neighbor’s garage. It would be nice to have everything on site.
I also like the idea that it can be locked tight, and that it weighs 8400 lbs empty, and takes specialized equipment to move.
Finding a shipping container
I’ve been watching craigslist for a while. Then this ad for a 40′ container popped up:
I went to look at it. It was a 2 hour drive south of here. It looked nice and solid. The day I looked at it we received 4″ of rain. Inside was nearly dry- just a tiny pinhole leak near the door. I believe I can seal it with some silicone patch. I offered him $800 for it, and he accepted.
Dealing with shady individuals
That’s when the fun started. He wanted to drive up to Huntsville to meet me late one night while my wife was at the movies with the kids. At night. I was thinking, “wait, I give him my money, but who’s to say I can pick up the shipping container?” Maybe he found it while he was out driving, and knowing that it had been there a while, he just snaps a few pics, and tries to sell it. Maybe he sells it to me today, sells it to another guy tomorrow, then another guy on Friday, and whoever picks it up first wins? I discussed with my wife. She felt very uncomfortable with the whole thing. I started having a bad feeling about it too. But the price was very good.
I called a dozen wreckers and moving companies- no one could move it for a reasonable price. The container dealers don’t like moving containers they don’t sell. No one else had anything big enough to pick it up. One guy said call another company, who said to call a container company in Decatur, who said to call a wrecker company in Hartselle. The Hartselle company said they could do it for about $650. I thought that sounded reasonable.
But how to coordinate with the seller? I didn’t want to give him my money without getting the container. He seemed ok with me getting the container first and paying for it later- but was too relaxed about it- more suspicious behavior.
He agreed that I could pay him when I came to pick up the container on Tuesday. Then he called on Friday, and he was saying someone else was interested who would pay full price, but if I wanted it, he would give it to me for the price I offered, but I had to buy it now. I had to decide if it was a scam or not. Julie was livid. She thought it was a total scam, and said to call his bluff. I was so wrapped up in the idea that “this is the one”, that I couldn’t think straight. If this worked out, we would be saving $1000 over the other containers I’d found. Julie said there were some conditions he had to meet if I was going to buy it- I had to see his drivers license, and also go inside his house or business and see that it was a real place. I agreed and drove an hour to meet him at his “office.”
Stress for the holidays
He said he had a business license, and if I wanted to see it, I could (so Julie would feel more comfortable with the deal).
He met me in a gas station parking lot in Albertville, then had me follow him on a winding road where I lost cell signal for a little while. I was on the phone with Julie giving her a physical description and his van’s tag. If you think I’m over-reacting, just google how many people get killed answering a craigslist ad. Suspicious behavior checklist: meeting at night? check. meeting out on the end of some winding lonely road? check. Giving money to someone but not receiving the item you paid for immediately? check. Seller has a sad story? check. Seller forgot to bring his drivers license with him like he agreed to do? check. Can’t see the business license because the business is closed unexpectedly? Check. Meeting in the parking lot of the supposed business instead of going into the business? Check.
I took a breath and paid him. Then stressed out for the holiday weekend. With Christmas on Monday, the tow company couldn’t get it until Tuesday, they said, so call them on Christmas Day to arrange delivery for the next business day. I did that, but the driver who picks up containers had Tuesday off, and it wouldn’t be until Wednesday.
I didn’t want to drive 2 hours to find out the container was gone, and then still have to pay the towing company, so Julie suggested I go out 3 hours ahead of the towing company and make sure it was there before I dispatched them to come get it.
There was a Days Inn next door to where the container was parked. I called them on my way and asked if they could look out the window and tell me if a big orange container was still there. The lady answered and said, “No, there is nothing next door.” I freaked out. I still had an hour to go before I could see for myself.
Things work out ok
I finally rounded the last corner- and there it was- still there. Whew. I knitted while I waited for the tow company. The guy showed up and we had no problems getting it loaded. He said he didn’t have to use log books because federal law doesn’t require them for trips less than 100 miles. He said he was 95 miles from home. He was doing this move, and going home afterwards.
He followed me to the property, and we got it unloaded. I had previously measured the driveway- 20′. The road was also 20′. He said he could make it. It worked out ok.
Now to get some heavy duty locks, and start storing stuff in anticipation of getting the roof on.
I measure trees by their diameter (straight across the butt of the log), while Julie measures the circumference (with a tape all the way around the butt of the log). Either way is fine, but since she’s picking the logs, we’re going with her measurement. The idea in the beginning was to stack logs from biggest circumference to smallest circumference. We got started on the second level, and were at a point where the circumference was about to drop below five feet. And then get skinny dramatically. There were still some big ones here and there that we could cut on our property and next door. Julie identified four that were at least five feet around and asked me to cut them. It was now or never. I cut a couple more that are also pretty big.
That was about a week or so before Thanksgiving. I cut them down, and then started moving them over to my racks for peeling. One happened to be back in a swampy area, so I ran into some problems moving it- couldn’t get close enough with the tractor- even with my 60′ cable. So I took down a pulley off one of my lifting poles and used that for mechanical advantage. It worked, but I broke my rope.
I also bent the forks on the tractor again, and re-welded them, and then bent them again. I have some new 5,000 lb forks from a forklift, but need the ok from my neighbor before I weld them onto his frame that I’m borrowing.
I got all of the logs racked, but it took about three weeks to peel just 4 of them- too cold for the bugs to help, and the sap is like glue. I have some huge calluses on my hands now, because manly. Yeah.
fixed the other truck
Meanwhile, my 1979 Ford F150 was having problems starting. I fought with it all of Thanksgiving weekend- I replaced the starter, the alternator, the ignition switch, and the spark plugs and wires. The only thing left is the cap, but I found out through a great shock (literally), that it is working fine. Only mechanics will laugh….
I needed it running reliably because I’m about to replace the motor in my Toyota pickup. But now it purrs like a kitten, and starts every time.
ordered a new motor
I bit the bullet and ordered a new motor (professionally rebuilt long block). Had to put it on the credit card, but don’t worry, selling the truck will pay off the credit card as well. I’ve been putting this off for almost a year. Last year, you’ll remember I had a valve crack in it, and replaced the head gasket. I guess it also messed up the crank. I’m motivated by the idea that it’s still worth a few thousand $$$, so fixing it will help us fund the roof of our home, which is probably the single most expensive part of this project.
why we hate “daylight savings” or “not daylight savings”
My boss lets me work 6:30 – 3:30. In the winter, this means I have about 1.5 hours of daylight after work. It might seem like a waste to go out there, only to be able to work for an hour, but every little bit of work I can do is progress. Other LHBA members have to stop work altogether because of snow, so I don’t really want to complain. In the summer, I have almost 6 hours of daylight. If we wouldn’t “fall back”, I’d still have 2.5 hours of daylight in the winter. I realize that in the winter we are actually on standard time, but I’d give up an hour of daylight in the summer for an extra hour in the winter; who’s with me?
Last weekend, we burned some brush, and put up a log on Saturday. It was bitter cold in the morning, and windy all day. My lips are still chapped from exposure. This was the first log of the 10th course. We are about 12 feet off the foundation, and about 15 feet off the ground. It was pretty straight but had a long bow in it. While I was lifting it, one of the ropes broke right up near where it was tied to the tractor. It just snapped right off the front of the tractor. I saw a poof of dust, and the log falling. Nobody got hurt, and the house and log are fine. I pinned half the log, then hooked up a chain to the tip and had Julie pull it with the car to get the bow out. But it was still up about a foot off the one below. I went to grab my chain binders to bind it down, and I guess they got stolen. Kinda upset at that, and that we couldn’t finish that log. Went over to Harbor Freight that night for two new chain binders and a chain. This week, I finished binding it and added some more pins.
where do we go from here?
I have a bunch of vacation I have to use at work before the end of the year. Had a big project over the summer/fall that I needed to help out with that prevented me from taking vacation days, but it is winding down. I only have to come to work for 3 days for the rest of the year. And I still have more time from this year, but they let us carry over 40 hours from year to year.
We keep going. The new motor comes in this week. I want to get that job done, and get on with stacking. I ordered new rope, since the existing rope is getting pretty frayed. However, we are getting closer. I may have to hire a trac hoe to come pull my ridge pole out of the woods. The RPSL’s and the ridge pole are the next big items we have to install when the walls are done. After that- I took some measurements on my sawmill- I’m about to turn my 12′ of track into 28′ of track, and will then cut some rafters out of some “still growing” logs.
That’s all for now, folks. Thanks for all the likes on my wife’s video! Comments here are appreciated as well.
I’ve written a bunch about how we are building this cabin, but not much lately on why we are building this thing. Since we are at a point between the first and second floors, and I’m back to peeling logs (more on that later), now seemed like a good time to review. Not only do people use widely varying methods of building a log cabin, but they have widely varying reasons for building a log cabin. Talking to other LHBA members and other builders on facebook, I’ve discovered that not everyone is going to live there full time. The reasons for building also vary. You could slice the reasons and the types of people who build into a crazy number of categories, but I’ll try to keep it simple.
I did an informal poll on one of the cabin groups I’m on to see why people build log cabins.
It breaks down this way:
Total responders: 40
don’t have one but will: 50%
live there full time: 18%
get away: 15%
live there eventually: 13%
building one now: 2%
The allure of a log cabin
Half of the people on the survey don’t have a log cabin, but say they will someday. I believe that is probably true of the general population of the United States, as well. I found this article from the National Park Service stating that originally, log cabins in America were meant to be temporary dwellings, and they may have lost popularity completely, except that in the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (part of a “make work” project during the Great Depression) built many cabins in the National Parks. The most famous example of log architecture is, of course, the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. I’ve been there many times, enjoyed sitting in one of the mission style chairs in the lobby, and climbing the log staircases. It is truly an inspiring structure. A photo that captures all of the essence of this world-famous structure is hard to find, but I found a few:
But what is the allure of a log cabin? The National Park Service article states:
Had it not been for these [the log cabins built by the CCC in the 1930’s] the log cabin might have disappeared, but because people saw the log structures and liked what they saw, many began to build modern log cabins and log houses. These homes seemed to represent all that a family could want: a sturdy shelter from the elements and a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle. The log cabin remains a popular building style.
Popular, but yet rare. There are no statistics on how many log cabins are out there, but they remain a very popular (at least in the imagination) and an iconic building style. I think the answer to “why are they so alluring” is simply because they call us back to simpler times when quality mattered.
For most folks, the cost of building one is the limiting factor. Whereas a normal frame home costs about $120 per square foot, a log home can cost $150-$175 per square foot. But that’s really not that much difference for a dream. Hard to get a loan? Maybe a little. Cabins are considered unconventional building styles by many lenders- meaning they are hard to find “comparables” (other property in the area used to determine if the asking price is valid). Maybe permits and city inspections are more complicated? Yeah. But not by much, depending on where you live. Of course, this doesn’t cover our build. Our “per square foot” cost is much, much cheaper- about $20 per square foot. In our case, a log cabin was cheaper than a framed or a brick home. One reason is that the building materials can be cheaper than 2×4’s. As in free. Or, the cabin can be extremely expensive if you hire out the actual construction and contracting. But I guess you could also argue it’s only cheap because I’m pouring 30 years worth of work into building it in about 2 years. Maybe 3….
It’s always seemed strange to me that everyone loves the idea of a cabin in the woods, but not many people have them, even though price, hassle, etc. isn’t much different from a regular home, not to mention how much more environmentally friendly they can be than other styles of homes. I just haven’t been able to square why there aren’t more of them.
Why have a log cabin?
According to my poll, people have different uses for their cabin. Some live in them full time, others use them as a get away. Why have one?
The first cabin I had was definitely a get away- we drew a circle on a map with our full-time residence as the center. The edge of the circle was how far we were wiling to drive to “get away”: which was a two hour drive. Then, every weekend, we would take a different route until we were 2 hours away from home, looking for property or a cabin for sale along the way. The one we bought was built by an old farrier in his 70’s- as a get away on 20 acres. No power, no running water, too far away from cell coverage, and an outhouse. It was a simple one room cabin with a loft. And it was awesome- I could sit out on the porch some days and actually hear the nothing. At night, we were at least 60 miles from the nearest city, so the stars were extremely bright. But at 6,000 ft+ elevation, it wasn’t a place you could stay in the winter, as the county would close the road when the snow got too deep. We had a few family parties there, but eventually found that keeping up with two houses was some work. After the divorce, I had to sell it. That was painful, and I realized that I really liked cabin living better than city living. I wanted to get another one, and this time, live in it full-time.
This is where I’m headed. But when I remarried and moved to the South, it didn’t look like it was going to happen. My wife wasn’t that interested at first. A brick home was what she wanted. I was ok with that, I thought, so when I finally got through school and started making a little more money, we started looking at homes. We needed a big one- 6 kids between the two of us, and we both have lots of hobbies- sewing, knitting, art, music, woodworking- we needed plenty of space. Of course, I wanted as much property as we could afford. Which meant very few homes made it on the list, and the ones that did were usually in need of major renovations, and many of them had plenty of smells to go along with them. You can read more about the beginning of our log home journey here.
Now they do have cabins here in the South- but not like the ones out West. Here we have dove tailed square oak beam cabins. Out West, it’s more solid log coped cabins. They are ALL pretty in my book.
The eventual plan is to have a small hobby farm, and of course I want my garage for woodworking and building rustic furniture. The idea is to become more self-sufficient. We are building this cabin without a loan, paying as we go. There’s no mortgage on the house- when we’re done, we’ll own it. We’ll try gardening, and raising chickens and bees. Maybe some of that will provide some income. When you’re peeling logs, it’s easier and more fun to think about this kind of stuff than how sore and tired you are from all the work.
Back to Basics (like peeling logs)
Which brings me back to peeling logs, which I did almost all of last week. See, when we started stacking, we decided that we were going to stack logs in this manner: the biggest logs would go on the bottom, and decrease in size as we worked our way to the top. That way, even though our logs have more taper than anyone else’s home on LHBA, at least we would have control over the size of the logs. We also decided to stack so that the butts of the logs faced the front of the home- this gives the home a “massive” feel to it, and also provides extra support for the roof – which hangs about 6 feet out from the corners.
There were still some trees on our property that needed to come down, and as we got higher with the stacking, I noticed that few were too close for comfort to the house (in case of a tornado). So I cut a few down. Julie measured them, and what do you know- they were the same size (about 5 feet around) as the ones we were using on layer #6- which meant we needed to use them now, or risk stacking big logs on top of little logs. I cut down about 8 more of that size.
I also cut down a sweet gum tree that is about 55 feet long, has a 29″ diameter base, and a 15″ tip, and is almost perfectly straight with no large branches. In other words, the perfect size for a ridge pole – the longest, straightest, biggest, “most righteous” log. But I’ve heard from folks that they twist as they dry. I can’t even budge it with my tractor. If I don’t use it for a ridge pole, it would make an awesome dining table, along with some end tables, and maybe a door.
The other choice for my ridge pole is a giant oak further back in the forest- it’s about 26″ at the base, with minimal taper. I don’t know the tip diameter, but it is even longer- almost 65 feet by my estimation. And according to woodweb (they have a weight calculator), it probably weighs about 7,000 lbs. I’ll need help moving it. Did I mention it’s an oak tree? How awesome would that be for a ridgepole?
That’s it for now, back to work. Leave a comment if it suits you.
For the un-initiated, RPSL’s are Ridge Pole Support Logs. They are the vertical logs that hold up the ridge pole; while the ridge pole is the log that holds up the roof- it’s the highest log in the whole house, and according to Skip (founder of LHBA), it should be the longest, straightest, most righteous log you have.
A GSL is the Girder Support Log- it holds up the Girder Log that holds up the joists for the second floor. The GSL goes through the middle of your house, perpendicular to the ridge pole.
You can install the RPSL’s as soon as you have enough wall logs to support them- most LHBA members install them when they have six courses of logs installed- but that is if you are using a telehandler. The book recommends installing them when you have your walls up. Julie and I have discussed when to put them up with a lot of positives and negatives. If we put them up now, we could use them as temporary lifting poles for crooked logs we need to cut in half. I’m actually at the point where temporary lifting poles aren’t tall enough to be of any use. And if I get taller temporary lifting poles, well, they are just too heavy to get in position.
The girder log could go in now or later. If we do it now, we can use crooked wall logs that we cut and leave a space for the girder log. If we do it later, we can use the wall logs to attach our block and tackle, and lift the girder log wherever we want. Along with the girder log would be the GSL support log- the vertical log that supports the GSL.
For now, we’ve decided to keep going with the wall logs. We are on course seven now, and it is only for logs that will not be cut in the middle somewhere- there are no doors or windows at this point in the build like there were up until now.
Getting new logs, protecting the existing logs
Julie has been managing which logs go where- she measures the circumference of the existing logs, and finds the next biggest log for the next layer. We started with logs that were nearly six feet around, but now we are down to logs that are just over five feet around. We have a few on our property that needed to be cut down anyway because the eventual plan is to have a large garden and we need the sunlight.
There were also few that are too close to the house. So I cut them down, only to find out that they are over five feet around- meaning, if we were going to use them, it had to be now. Otherwise, we would mess up the plan for the house of building starting with the biggest logs and going to the smallest. I’ve cut down eight trees in the past week- which also included cleaning up the branches, and getting the logs racked. It takes almost a day to clean up all the branches-I have to wrap a chain around the limbs after I cut them off and then drag them with the tractor- it’s a lot of pulling with the tractor, and pushing the limbs into a burn pile. Very messy.
Also, they need to be peeled, which is a lot of work.
Finally, they need to be borated, so I brewed up three more batches of borate, and sprayed the whole house. I’ll spray the rest this week:
All of which brings up an incident this week that stopped everything: we broke a log.
Breaking a log
Julie picked out a log from rack #1. I went and hooked up to it and started pulling it out of the pile when it broke- I broke off about ten feet of it. It just snapped. I was shocked- this has never happened before. It’s a log that I think is at least six months old that hadn’t been borated. I’ve been thinking for a while that it is time to borate my logs again, and this was the perfect time to do it. I brewed up a new batch- three batches, actually. I have 7 gallons of the stuff, which is enough to treat 42 logs. I probably need more, but this is a good start. I sprayed every log on the house first, and next week I’ll move on to the racked logs. Need to finish peeling the new ones before I treat them.
Fixing the truck
My new truck is a 1979 Ford F150 4×4 with a manual transmission and a 351M motor. I love how it feels. My wife isn’t so sure. I wanted something more “EMP proof”, and this is what feels right. I knew the clutch needed replacement when I bought it- it slipped when in gear and under a load. It either had to be the clutch disk was worn out, or it was fouled with oil from a leaky rear main seal. Either way, I had to open it up to find out. I put it up on ramps (probably didn’t need to since it is already a “high-boy”) on a Saturday and started disconnecting things. The next Monday, a city inspector showed up and told Julie “you can’t work on a vehicle in your driveway.” REALLY? They actually made a law about that. While I understand trying to keep the neighborhood looking nice, city folks have some really dumb ways of controlling everyone. Somebody called us in. We have a sneaking suspicion who it was- we asked our neighbor about it and he said he suspects the same person got him, too- he got called in last year for leaving his trash can out on the curb for more than two days. Someone with nothing better to do with their time. It’s a little ridiculous. Can’t wait to get out of the city.
Anyway, had some real issues with the truck- couldn’t get the transmission to go back in. After a week of trying different things, I finally called my buddy over- he came on a Saturday.
He took one look at the set up, and said everything I was doing looked right, and then he asked, “Is the tranny in gear?”
“In gear? No, the book said take it out of gear to remove it.”
He laughed and said, “yeah, but with these old trucks- any old vehicle, really- you need it IN gear to re-install it. See, they used to use really big splines on the tranny- you’ve got everything lined up right, you just need to turn the drive shaft while you’re pushing the transmission into place. If you don’t do that, the splines will never line up.”
“….And I’ll be sitting here for a week trying to figure out why it won’t go in,” I finished.
“yup.” He got the stick for the transmission and plugged it in and found second gear, then he said, “you crawl underneath and turn the drive shaft, and I’ll sit up here and push.”
I turned the drive shaft, and the whole thing jumped forward into place within 30 seconds. I spent the rest of the day installing u-joints, brackets, shafts, the seat, and all the covers and electrical, got it down off the ramps, and started her up- perfect!
We’re nearing another crossroads- the logs are about 12 feet off the ground, which means they are about 9 feet up from the piers, and about 8 feet up from the finished floor height. All of which means we have to start thinking about the second floor. But first, I’ll summarize what’s happened since my last post.
Jack hammer is pretty good
The jack hammer cost me about $130. I don’t know if it’s a monster jack hammer or just a regular one, having never owned a jack hammer before now. But it is definitely heavy- I think it weighs close to 50 pounds. I also ordered a “rod driver bit” to go with it. The rod driver bit is usually for driving electrical grounding rods into the ground. If your home was built in the last 20 years or so, you probably have one of these- it’s to prevent an electrical surge from frying the wiring in your house. The contractor will hammer a 6 foot piece of (usually) copper into the ground, and the easiest way to do it is with a jack hammer.
Driving rebar into logs is pretty much the same idea. The bit is just a shaft with a cylindrical hole in the end that fits over the rebar. I drive the rebar as far as I can into the log which leaves about 3 inches for me to finish pounding in by hand, which is very do-able, and it sure beats pounding the whole 20 inch piece of rebar with a sledge hammer. Instead of taking about 8 minutes per rebar, it now takes about 10-20 seconds with the jack hammer, and then about 1 minute with the sledge hammer. So I can finish pinning an entire log in about 30 minutes, instead of about 2 hours. And not as tired, either.
Chainsaw needs some adjusting
Last night, my neighbor was asking how it’s going- I told him slow. When making any straight down cut with my chainsaw lately, the saw wants to veer off towards the left and do this weird curvy cut. The neighbor asked if the blade was straight- yeah, I just bought it about two weeks ago. Then he asked when the last time I sharpened it, was I sitting behind the saw or in front of it? Ummmmm- I was sitting behind it. He said try sharpening it with the blade facing me- sitting behind it makes one set of teeth uneven. Huh. I had no idea, so I tried it on Saturday: I cleaned the whole thing, sharpened it, and went that afternoon to make some cuts- nope. Still curvy. My other saw- the McCollough- gave up the ghost. The repair shop said the piston and rings are no good, and the saw is so old, they don’t make parts for them. I’m going to try another blade and chain on my Husky, since it looks like I’ll be using this saw for quite a while yet.
What are temporary lifting poles?
This is a necessity. What happens is this: all of our logs are crooked, and we are using the crookedest ones first because of all the doors and windows on the first floor- the doors and windows make it easy to cut the crookedest part of the log right at the door or window, and then roll the log this way and that way to make it sit better and get it straightened out for pinning.
The problem is that when you cut a log in the middle, you have to support it somehow. With the lifting poles in the corner, you need something temporary to hold the log at the cut so it doesn’t roll off the wall. So I use the last 10 – 15 feet of a log as a temporary lifting pole, and stand it up on the pier. I chain-bind it to the existing wall logs, and put a pulley or chain hoist on top and suspend the log I’m about to cut with it. I make the cut, do any adjusting to straighten out the bows or knots, and then pin the log. Then I take down the lifting pole and use it for the next location.
We wanted a back door, we didn’t want one….Now we want one. While stacking logs, it became apparent that if we added a door on the back of the house, we could use more logs that were crooked. We also redesigned the kitchen- now, instead of separating the laundry room from the kitchen with a wall, we took out the wall between the kitchen and laundry on the plans, and opened up the laundry area and kitchen to each other. Now, when you enter the house from the side-back door, the laundry is on the right, and the kitchen is on the left- opening up a lot more space. I still need to update the CAD drawings, but I’ll get to it eventually. So far, the inspector hasn’t come out and asked to see the plans, and the copy I emailed him- well, he said it was too small to read. If I update them before he asks for them….I guess he’ll never know the difference?
Next item, please
At this point in their builds, many LHBA members begin to put in the RPSL logs that hold up the roof. These logs are bolted to the wall logs at the front and back center of the house, and will be 30 feet tall in our case. The reasoning on why to put them in at this point is that if the walls are higher than the fifth or sixth course, it’s too hard to get them over the wall. In our case, with a pier foundation, we can just slide them under the house, then lift them up on the inside. Our “advantage” is that our house is forty feet long, which makes it easy to work with a thirty foot log inside it. Our other “advantage” is that we are using lifting poles and block and tackle instead of a telehandler.
I put “advantage” in quotes because most folks using a telehandler would snicker about how these two items- a forty foot home and lifting poles – are an advantage.
But they would probably admit that I’m right in this case. Of course, they would say all the advantages of otherwise having a telehandler outweigh these two drawbacks, whereupon I am reminded that a cheap telehandler is about $8,000 (I’m guessing the one in the photo would be about $70K+), whereas my lifting poles were free, and my lifting equipment was about $400. Sure, they’re slow, but I’ve already had a guy who is using a crane on his build state that I’m stacking faster than he is. Weird.
I guess we’ll wait to do the RPSL’s. The book shows a diagram of how to lift the girder log and RPSL’s and the ridge pole into place using nothing but block and tackle. Sort of a step-by-step. It looks like if we finish the walls first, we can use the walls to attach rigging anywhere we want and get the RPSL’s “just so”. If I try to get them in now, the only thing I have that’s taller that the RPSL’s now is my corner lifting poles, and I don’t want to put that much lateral force on the poles- they could snap off if I lift something very heavy too far away from their centers.
That’s where we’re at for now. Feel free to comment below.
Each complete layer of logs (made up of all the logs that are on the same level) is called a “course”. The logs are oriented in alternating pin-wheel courses- and by pinwheel, I mean at each corner, one end of each log “passes” a log that is “butted” up against it. On the next course, you reverse the butts and passes at that same corner, and on and on.
Each log is pinned with rebar to the layer below- every 2 feet. I won’t bore you with too many of the details, but it is a lot of work: for 1/2″ rebar, you drill a 1/2″ hole through the top log. You beat the rebar into the hole, and then halfway through the log beneath it – and you don’t drill into the log beneath for strength purposes. You can do the math- a 40 foot log requires 20 pieces of rebar, so each course requires at least 80 pieces of rebar. I’m on course four, so that’s 320 pieces so far. By hand, with a sledge hammer. I go through at least a gallon of water every evening. The LHBA recommends everyone do the first two courses by hand, and then buy a jack hammer for the courses after that. So, I did my due diligence, and have now graduated:
It’ll be here this week, along with a rod driver bit.
The logs…..are fickle: I made a spreadsheet to catalog the logs by size, length, cut date, peel date, etc, but I haven’t used it yet for stacking logs. My wife has taken over that role, and is doing an awesome job. Usually, our evening goes something like this:
Me: pounding rebar in from last night. Her: wandering around the racks of logs, measuring tape in hand, finding the log that will fit over the top of whatever crooked log we put up the day before. She keeps in mind the height of each course, the type of logs we already have up on whatever course we’re on (monster or regular, knotty or clean, etc.). She’s also looking for which log will match the log next to it- ideally, for each course, you find four logs that have the same bottom and top diameter. She’s also thinking about where the windows are, the stairs, the bathrooms, the doors, the kitchen cabinets, etc., etc., and which log will look best in each location. Each log has it’s own quirks- they bow in different directions, have odd knots, may not match the one below, or may match the one below perfectly. I do a bit of surgery on each log- cutting off a knot here or there to make it fit better with the one below. It is a lot of thinking and measuring.
When I’m done pinning, I go find the log she marked with an oil pastel (doesn’t wash off as easily as chalk) and drag it over to the house. We proceed to lift the log using the tractor and the block and tackle into position. I like to get it up there, then fine tune it. She likes to make sure it will fit before lifting it. So we argue a little over the method- sometimes she’s right, sometimes I’m right. Eventually the log gets where it’s going. I cut off the obvious knots and lower it down. We end up having to position it with the tractor for the vertical placement, and the car for the horizontal placement.
With these huge twisty monster logs on the lower layers, this process has been taking more than a night, but when it’s exactly right, I place enough rebar in it to hold it until it’s too dark to work, then we go home. Our evenings begin around 4:00 pm, and we usually pack up and go home around 9:00 PM.
I’d like to speed things up, but with the crooked logs we are working with, there is a lot of turning the log this way and that until it fits as well as can be expected. But these are “monster logs” for the lower layers- some are more than six feet around at the base, or 24″+ in diameter. They take quite a bit of effort to place.
Progress is…..as expected
Of course, I always think things are going to go faster than they do. But we really are making good progress, considering the weather for this month. We’ve had so much rain, they declared the drought was over. In fact, there’s been so much rain that trees are falling over around the county.
Rain causes quite a few issues- the tractor gets stuck, the logs are slippery, they get a little heavier when they’re wet, power equipment has to be kept dry, etc, etc. But I did find out something interesting: did you know that there’s no echo when beating rebar into a log during a downpour? My theory is that the raindrops absorb the sound. Go ahead- ask me how I know that…..
….And then there’s the heat
Yeah- when it’s not raining, the humidity started climbing along with the temperature. The last three days of last week, the heat index was 105. We delayed working on the cabin until early evening on those days. I usually end up soaked from sweat from head to toe. I bring a change of clothes for the drive home, and I go through about a gallon of water every evening. I shouldn’t work in the heat, but we want this so bad that I just push through it all. My amazing wife does laundry for me and repairs my jeans (I now own one pair without any repairs- she’s not happy about that, and banned me from wearing that one pair to the property).
One thing we’ve learned is how much you can use the crookedest logs- if you know where your doors and windows are going to be. We’ve placed the orneriest logs- logs that curved in all different directions- and they look really good. Had to place temporary lifting poles in the middle to hold them while I cut out the crooks, but when it’s all done, they really look good.
Yes, you can remove a log after placing it. It’s not easy, but after pinning it once, then not liking it, I bought a sawzall from Harbor Freight, and cut all the rebar out of it while suspending it with the pulleys. I turned it and pinned it again, but ended up not liking that position either. So I cut it again, then carefully pulled it out. It just wasn’t working. I don’t recommend it- we lost a day’s worth of progress, but, in the words of my late friend Ken Hieronymi, “I guess I’ll just eventually go crazy from every time I come out here and see that [log] hanging there all cock-eyed.” Didn’t want that to happen, so I pulled the beast out of there.
The neat thing is, the logs look better up than they do down. Seems obvious, but until they are stacked, you can’t get an idea of how the whole thing is going to look. One thing we’re both really happy with is that we made the butts of the logs face the front and back of the house. That’s how I wanted it, but my wife thought it might look better with the tips of the logs facing the front- so that the huge logs wouldn’t distract from the look of the place. We put the discussion on the LHBA forum- and a lot of people said they wished they had gone with my idea. Then one guy said to think about how the roof overhang is going to be supported- with the tips of the logs or the butts? So, for strength, we went with the butts facing the front and back- and it looks so good! Because it’s a 40×40, we needed to offset the mass of the house with some massive looking logs- and boy do those butts look good! I just realized this is starting to sound like some other kind of discussion, but I assure you, I’m not going there!