I’m looking at my posts, and I haven’t made one for quite a while. Chinking is extremely boring, so that’s why the silence. But, as usual, at the end of doing something new, I’ve improved at doing it, so maybe I can share some helpful tips on applying real traditional mortar chinking. But first: what have I been doing all summer?
Past few months roundup:
The last time I posted was in May, when I finished installing all the windows. I spent the first part of June filling in gaps with insulation, then nailing to prep for the chinking (you know you need something besides logs to hold the chinking in place because mortar won’t stick to wood, right? I was surprised when I found out people don’t know this…). I also finished installing the board and batten on the back gable, and then sanded and stained it.
I was finished insulating and nailing and my truck started acting funny – blowing greyish-white smoke out the exhaust one night while going up “car killer mountain”. Yeah. White smoke only would be a good indicator you’re blowing antifreeze through the exhaust, which would mean head gasket. Greyish white smoke is a little trickier, but I did a compression check anyway – sure enough, one cylinder was not holding much pressure at all. “Head gasket,” I thought. But the other cylinders were fine – usually, you’ll have two not holding pressure next to each other. And it would be weird to have the head gasket go in such a way that oil was leaking through it. Something else was wrong. And as you may remember, this was a “remanufactured motor”, supposedly brought back to “factory standards” that I bought and installed after I finished the roof. I’ve had so many issues with this motor, grrr…
I pulled the head off and had a look – and the issue was not the head gasket. It was a stuck exhaust valve. Wha???? I had to make a decision – the other side of this V6 already had blown a head gasket because the dummies who sold me the motor didn’t even torque the bolts. But a new motor meant at least a month of lost time at the cabin. My wife suggested we just junk the whole thing and buy a new (used) truck – I went online to check – and my hair nearly fell out! I found a truck the same year as mine, but with 300,000 miles on it – and they were asking $8,000 for it! Wow! I looked at all kinds of used cars – same thing for all of them! The chip shortage from China during Covid meant that new cars weren’t being finished, and the demand for used cars was soaring. I showed my wife, and she said, “Ok, fine, plan B: buy another new engine for $2k, and install it.” Darn. That meant 4 weeks of work, at least – 2 for shipping, and probably 2 more to install it, since I don’t have a fancy lift.
I found one with a 1 year guarantee and bought it. It was delivered within two weeks. I spent the time waiting by ripping out the old one and prepping for the new one. When the new one got here, I put it on the stand and started adding parts to it – valve covers, oil pan, gaskets, etc. I got it all ready to go, and took the day off on a Thursday to spend the day getting it in the truck, and then the night before the big day – I got a splitting headache and a 103 degree fever. Yep: Covid.
The sickness went on for about two weeks – fever all day, barely able to work from home. I even lost 10 pounds. All of us got it. Since we didn’t want to go out and shop (more like “couldn’t”), people from church were bringing us food. I think it was the worst sickness I’ve ever had. My oxygen levels got down to 85% at one point. But I feel like hospitals are where you go to die, so I avoided that like the plague. My wife was probably worse than me. Bringing food upstairs was literally a one step at a time ordeal – I had to crawl up the stairs most of the time. And even after my fever broke, I had literally no energy. I went out and looked at the motor waiting to be installed, knowing that there was no point in working on the cabin if I didn’t have my truck back on the road. We were down to one car, which isn’t a good place to be. The worst thing in the world to me is when I can’t work. But I was too exhausted to work on the truck for more than 10 minutes at a time. Once you start installing a motor, it’s not like you can just stop with the engine dangling in the air. So I waited another 10 days, maybe two weeks before I felt like I had enough energy to do it.
That was my June, July, and first part of August. I finally got it running and trusted it enough to make the journey out to the cabin to start working again. I had finished the front chinking of the house in April – just in time to avoid the hottest part of the year. The front of the cabin faces South, and I couldn’t see myself up on a ladder with a bucket of chink sweating like crazy in full sun trying to get that done. I figured I could do the West side on Saturday mornings, out of the sun, the East side in the afternoons (in the shade), and the North side whenever. I figured out it takes about a month, working at my pace, to install the nails and lath and get an entire wall chinked. So that meant I could probably finish all four exterior walls by mid-October with the exterior chinking – just in time for the weather to cool off.
By September, I had finished the West wall, and did some on the North wall. In early October, I finished the North wall. On the East wall – I only have a window and part of a door frame to chink (today!), so now you are up to speed.
Exterior chinking tips
- Mortar consistency
Most of my gaps are bigger than what you would want to chink. This is due to knotty, twisty logs that don’t sit down tight on each other. If you’re new to the LHBA “Skip’s Butt & Pass” method for building a log home, realize that this is the organization that teaches you how to use almost any kind of logs to build a fine looking home. The “fine looking home” part does come with a price- it is tedious to work with logs that other builders would just as soon bulldoze and burn. So, you just work with the logs you have…and their lovely gaps.
That being said, the first time I tried chinking my logs, I made the mortar too soupy – and found it won’t go in the big gaps I have- just kept folding over on itself and slumping down. I was going for what someone suggested: “Peanut Butter” consistency. I discussed it some more with folks from LHBA who said to make it drier. I found the sweet spot for me and my 4″+ gaps is more like “crumbly cookie dough” consistency. I have to work the mortar a bit more to get it smooth, but it stands up better and isn’t so sloppy.
So, large gaps = drier mortar. With small gaps – wetter mortar is probably fine.
- The upside downs
These areas are very difficult to chink – it doesn’t want to stay in. I finally found a few secrets:
- Stuff the insulation in tightly. You don’t want it shifting right when you’re trying to apply the chink.
- Use plenty of lath. Make sure the lath is extremely secure. Use a T-50 stapler and the longest staples that you can buy. Also use nails and bend them to hold the lath secure. Don’t go cheap or fast on the lath.
- Wear latex or nitrile gloves and apply the chink roughly by hand – make it pretty thin up against the lath. Begin smoothing it with fingers, and then go back over it – from top to bottom – with a spoon. If you apply it too thick, it will just fall off the lath. That’s a mess.
I figured out too late that the best way to chink around windows is to chink all the nearby log rows first, and then chink all the way around the window (vertical and horizontal areas) last. That way, you get a consistent look around the window. The window chink should go over the top of the log gap chink. I wish I had done this to the front windows and door.
- Large gaps
Use lath whenever the gaps are larger than about 1/2″ of your nails. With 3.5″ nails, that would be anything larger than 3.5″. The process is: install the insulation pretty tight. Install nails at an angle, as instructed (don’t bend them straight at this point). Install them everywhere, even if you know they are too short for the gap. Come back with the lath in the areas that have large gaps. Cut the lath into strips just a bit larger than the gaps. Then bend every other nail straight, then seat the lath strips down between the nails so the nails alternate from being in front of the lath to being behind it. The nails that are bent out can now be bent straight to hold the lath in place. I then use my angle grinder to finish trimming the top of the lath where it is too big for the gap. Make sure the lath is straight – don’t put concave bends in it – the chinking will be harder to apply in that case.
- Gaps that push through the insulation
Sometimes the upper log in a gap hangs out over the lower log, and the insulation doesn’t have a tight area to fit in, and falls out too easily. I go inside and cut a big piece of insulation, and push it in place from behind the gap. It looks ugly on the inside, but it’s just temporary to hold the line until you chink the outside. Once the outside is chinked, you can pretty up the insulation on the inside.
With cold nights starting to set in (40’s at night, low 70’s during the day), we will now focus on framing in a wall on the inside in the kitchen. We’ll use that wall to set the kitchen layout – especially the location of the island. The wood burning stove goes on the end of the island on a brick base (we have yet to acquire the bricks, lol). We want the pipe for the stove to go straight up through the 2nd floor and all the way to the roof with no bends. Not having bends will help reduce the risk of fire from creosote build up. We have to place the stove so the pipe can go in between the 2nd floor joists, in between the rafters, and in between the sleepers that hold up the roof insulation. I want to get the fire marshall to approve everything before I go spend lots of money on expensive stove pipe. From what I’ve seen, the pipe is the most expensive part of a wood stove. Go figure.
With the wood stove installed, we’ll have heat so we can continue framing and working on the inside this winter. Chinking does much better when it isn’t frozen.