Tapered and Crooked Logs

A depressing reality…

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The more logs I cut, the more I realize how crooked, twisted, bowed, knotted, and generally undesirable they are. It came to a head the other day while peeling them with Julie. We went and looked at each log, trying to figure out how to use it. I remember from class that we were told you can use the crooked ones in doorways and windows- you cut them at the worst part of the bend, and extend them past the door. Or you can winch the bows out of some of them. Our logs are sort of an “all-of-the-above”. Many of them bow in two different directions. Some in three. But I’ve never done this before, so my wife wasn’t feeling any confidence from me that it would actually look decent.

They all taper pretty badly: class workbook recommends taper of no more than one inch per ten feet of log, or 1% taper. Ours are 2.5% and up. The best ones have a taper of 1.9%. As the number of “unusable” logs began to mount, we both began to get very depressed.

Not to mention they are Southern Yellow Pine (SYP), which has a low decay resistance. And the growth rings are too far apart. And there are plenty of knots.

Assessing the situation

Skip says “build with what you have”. Well, we have free logs, so we thought we should start there. But the other day, we were thinking about calling a logger for some logs. That could increase the price from between $12,000 to $25,000. We don’t have that kind of money. We started thinking about just staying put in our current house. That we hate.

Julie is the realist. I’m the dreamer. But the reality was eating me, too. We were both really depressed.

Not to mention that my tractor forks are all beat up and bent, along with my trailer about to fall apart:

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LHBA to the rescue!

LHBA has been a great resource. I started looking through the forums for pictures of crooked logs. I found some, and began to make a pinterest page for “crooked logs” to prove to Julie that it could be done. But there aren’t any pictures of logs that look as crooked as ours. I noticed a thread from loghousenut where he talked about crooked logs- kind of a “before” and “after” showing that you can build with crooked logs.  But one of the log pictures was missing, so I sent out a “help” message- “could you re-post that missing photo?” and told him my troubles. More members responded. Pretty soon, Ivanshayka was telling me to call him- he built his cabin with hand tools on a pier foundation out of some crooked logs he got from neighbors mostly.I took notes- got about 25 tips from him on how to straighten a log. And a lot of encouragement. Confidence level went back up a little. My wife was really liking the LHBA members after that.

Then loghousenut gave me his number, and some free advice. And then said this: untitled

“you have become the one to watch.” Kind words from a member of our organization. How many organizations do you know of where people say stuff like this? Huge confidence boost from that. Of course, that’s what I’ve always said- I didn’t need to go to the LHBA class to learn how to build log homes. I needed to go for the confidence. The method – “Butt & Pass” – is stupid simple. Almost anyone can do it- but it’s not about know-how, it’s about confidence.

More people weighed in. I can’t help but succeed at this- just have to work hard and be precise. And cut more trees. Lots of them. I have almost 50 up on racks. I figure probably 20 more logs ought to completely flatten the trailer. do it.

If you are on the fence about which log home company or organization to go with – may I recommend LHBA? Awesome organization with awesome people.

Reality check- with a model

So, with the confidence boost, we took another look at our logs. I have a spreadsheet going tracking my logs. Now I need to add comments on which log is crooked, and what to use it for. Each log will be artistically placed into position for maximum use and effect. This is the kind of stuff that triples the price of other log homes.

My wife began creating a model using paper from paper bags and a hot glue gun, and a copy of our plans:

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The model logs match the taper of our real logs. We started stacking logs on our plan- and we are really impressed- the taper really doesn’t matter as much as we thought. In the photo, our logs are  ten feet high- halfway to our goal. They aren’t bent or crooked like the real ones, but we get an idea of how it will look with our super tapered logs- and it’s not too bad. It looks kind of cool, actually.

Conclusion

Good neighbors and friends beat heavy, crooked tapered logs, broken tractors, and flattened trailers. Work will win where wishy washy wishing won’t. Confidence is more important than tools. A good woman is to be valued above that of rubies. We are still worried about how crooked the logs are, and whether they can be used effectively, so we are not completely confident that it will all work out, but we are moving forward anyway.

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More of the same…

Basically, the past month has been like this: buy gas and oil for chainsaw, sharpen chainsaw, cut trees, move branches, drag logs, use trailer to drag heavy logs, put logs on racks, peel logs, borate logs, repeat.

 

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On the LHBA forum, others are using their Suburbans and other vehicles to move logs. I thought, our Landcruiser can probably do the same thing, so I gave it a try. Didn’t work at all.

 

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notice the strap snapping away from the log…

I’ve been making room on racks one and two to make room for new logs. But I ran out of room, so I had to sacrifice more logs to make racks 3 & 4. I hate sacrificing logs that I soaked clothes and bent forks to get up on racks. It’s a lot of work to just put a log on the ground. And the sacrificial logs have to be huge to be “rack logs”, which means I need usually two smaller logs to replace each rack log. Oh well. It’s all work, and it all needs to be done.

Over fall break, my wife came up with an idea to get the teenagers out to help: she invited them to come out and peel, and afterwards, promised to take them out to dinner. Yeah, we know who’s working, and who’s just bothering the dog….

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Borating logs A.K.A. Killing the little…critters… that are eating our house

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I cooked up another batch of Borate solution last night.

In the West, where I’m originally from, bugs exist, but they take a while to do their damage. I remember years ago, I got some western red cedar logs from a relative. I was going to make a bed out of them (still am- just don’t have the shop space to do it – but that’s a long story). I brought them home and set them on the patio. A few weeks later, I noticed the strangest bug on the side of the house- it was a beetle that I’d never seen before. This was in the infant days of the internet, so I took a picture and went to the library to figure Alder Bark Beetle (9)

out what it was. Even after identifying it, I didn’t immediately make the connection to the cedar logs I had outside. When it finally dawned on me that this guy was eating my wood, I freaked out. No one really knew how to treat them where I lived- but someone said you have to raise the temperature inside the wood to over 130 degrees for a few days or something like that. I got a bunch of garbage bags and put the logs in them. I left them out in the sun for a week just to make sure I killed every one of them.

Fast forward to now. After the accident with my finger, I had about ten logs laying on the ground that I couldn’t move for a few weeks. Using a tractor and tow chain to lift logs actually does require the use of both hands, I found out. I also thought I was fine because  the logs that were peeled were off the ground.

Here in the South, things tend to decay within a few weeks, I’m finding out. While cleaning up branches, I noticed one that I had cut was under a log. As I moved the log, I picked up the branch that had been half-buried in the dirt- and the part that was in the dirt was already in process of decaying. If I lived out West, I would have said the branch had been there for about six months. But I knew it had only been there for about three weeks. And my wife found a lot of bugs just under the bark of the logs I had already cut. I don’t know if you are aware, but it takes a lot of work for me to move a log…I didn’t want to have to replace any of them.  I did my little freak-out session, and cooked up some borate solution right away.

boracare1The cool thing about the borate solution is that you can make it yourself. Or, you can buy it for – I guess- about $75 a gallon. I use the super secret formula from the LHBA members area that is basically the same as the Boracare stuff found here, but for about $16.50 per gallon.

The main ingredient, Boric Acid, can be purchased online. It’s also available in it’s natural state near volcanoes (like in Italy and Nevada). It’s pretty benign stuff, actually; not like some of the harsh stuff they spray on your lawn (if you’re into that kind of thing). Funny thing about Boric Acid is that it is excellent at killing bugs, and it is also excellent at preserving wood from fungus. Exactly what I need for a log home. The cool thing is that along with glycol, the borate solution actually sucks into the center of the wood, displacing water in the wood. I believe this is how it also kills bugs. And people, I imagine…

The glycol is available in a poisonous form otherwise known as antifreeze. But there’s a non-toxic version available as well- known as glycerol. It’s a common sweetener used in the food industry. I went with the antifreeze stuff because I don’t like the idea of deer licking my house. Just kidding.  No deer should be harmed by it. It soaks into the wood, it doesn’t stay on the outside, remember?

Using the method taught in class, I understand that it’s a “one and done” treatment; meaning you treat the logs once, and you’re done for the next hundred years or so. I have to treat my logs at least twice though. And one of the reasons is that my logs will be sitting out in the sun and rain for a long time while I collect enough of them to stack. That’ll be the first treatment. The second (and final treatment, I hope), will be once I get the logs under roof. Once they are under roof, they will stay dry, which means my borate treatment won’t be leeched out with rain. As long as the logs remain dry, I understand they will be bug/mold proof.

Bought a backpack sprayer from Harbor Freight for $20. Thanks to my photographer wife for providing photos and for peeling the second rack of logs:

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Right now, it looks like one gallon of my solution treats about six logs. I’m calculating it’ll cost me about $350 to treat the whole thing twice. And if I went with the commercial stuff? $1600.

8/5/16: Odds & Ends

  • Moved the first log since the accident


It was a moving experience. Ok, bad pun. I decided My wife decided (and I was able to test her theory and prove her correct)- with the finger out of sorts, I couldn’t move logs with a chain, so I focused the last twelve days on moving branches and making brush piles. Twelve trees, twelve days for brush piles- it takes me an entire day to clear branches. With the branches out of the way, I was finally ready to move some trees. It had been a month since the accident. I broke (on purpose) the arch off the trailer with the neighbor’s help last week, and welded some feet on it to keep it stable while lifting logs. On Thursday, my wife came out to watch. The operation went slow- because I forgot where to place the arch- I put it at the end of the log, thinking I could slip the trailer under the middle- nope- can’t get it high enough with the arch in that location, so I had to lower the log, and move the arch (which weighs about 200 lbs), and lift again. The arch is eight feet tall, the chain hoist takes up a foot and a half underneath that, and the strap hangs another foot below that. Then the logs, which are usually at least 20 inches drop the height almost another two feet. So, added together, 8 – 1.5 – 1.5 – 2 = 3 feet of clearance. The trailer is about 3 feet high, so any small variation won’t clear the trailer. Yes, I need a shorter trailer, but options were limited at the time.

My wife took a lot of photos, but we got it moved.


Then we noticed the bark beetles and powder post beetles had started in on the wood.

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Oh no! Yup, they sat for so long on the ground, that the bugs invited themselves for dinner. Bark beetles made it easy to peel- my wife was having a lot of fun with it, actually:

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But now it’s a race against the bugs: I have to borate the logs quickly to stop any progress by the bugs. That was Thursday. She came out on Friday to peel another. On Saturday, I moved one with the trailer, then said, “forget it, I’m going back to skidding the smaller ones”. I hooked one up and was able to skid it without the trailer. I did four more that morning (a record for me!), then went home to mix up some more borate solution. Did some shopping with my wife, then went back out to the property Saturday night to apply the borate. I still have one log next to the racks, and two more monsters on the ground needing to be moved off the neighbor’s property onto racks. And I need more ingredients for my borate solution. But it’s progress, nonetheless.

  • Neighborly neighbors

I have some great neighbors. He’s a retired telephone guy from the arsenal. He rubbed shoulders with Wernher Von Braun back in the first days of the space program. He has all kinds of welding equipment, and let me borrow his forks, gives us corn from his garden, and kept me sane when I nearly lost my finger. They are in their 80’s, and are some really good folks- probably the best neighbors I’ve ever had. Now they aren’t perfect, but they are pretty good.

  • Besides work & building a log cabin, what else is going on

    • cell phones

      I’m paying about $70/month for two phones and a data plan. I didn’t add the data plan until I was running my own business, and I just kept it because it was convenient. Now I’ve found a plan for $35/mo for 2 phones, no data, and 800 minutes and free texting. Seems like a good deal, so I’m going back to a basic candy bar non-smart phone. Boring, but saves money.

    • Church choir pianist (and now orchestra)

      I usually play the piano for the choir. My church’s Sunday music is pretty boring- think: traditional Methodist/Catholic/Presbyterian hymns from the late 1800’s. No rock and roll or guitars. The organ is preferred, but there is a piano on the stage just in case.  I played my sax in church back in the 1990’s, but it was outlawed soon after that (probably my fault. People really hate Bach for some reason). Anyway, with my finger out of sorts, I can’t play piano, or ukulele. I’ll probably start back at it next week, but still have areas on the tip of my finger that I have no feeling, so it’s not perfect. My church also does a Christmas Festival every year. It’s a free concert with a choir and a quilt display. They invited me to play sax (!) this year in the church. All traditional  Christmas songs. It’s in it’s 12th year, I think, so pretty neat to be invited to play in it. I originally went to school as a music major, but my professor said don’t do it professionally- do it for fun. I originally started on piano at age 4 (all my siblings and I play). We all play at least two instruments. I play woodwinds (except oboe and bassoon) , piano, accordion, ukulele, a little guitar, etc.

    • truck headgasket

      Ahh, yes- I need to fix this hunka……Ellery diagnosed it as “two dead cylinders- you need a new head gasket”. Fine. What a pain. It’s a 95 Toyota Pickup with a V6. This is a common problem on these vehicles. I’ve got everything apart, but I can’t remember if I need to clamp the cam gear to get the head bolts off without messing up the timing or if I can just take it off. I should probably do the timing belt this time; last time, I was kinda lazy. Just a big pain. But I do need a truck to haul big stuff out to the property- Civic ain’t quite cutting it.

I’m back to work and we’re moving logs like crazy: I moved four on Saturday and four on Tuesday. I just have 2 more monster logs that I need to move with my arch and then I’ll be done with all the ones I cut in the past two months, which means I’ll have about 30 total.  Next up I need about 20-30 more logs to start stacking walls. It’s still early August; I believe the plan was be done with logs by end of September, so that goal is very do-able.

 

2016 July 18: Slowly getting back to work

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yes- 54 feet of usable tree (has to be at least 8 inches diameter at 44 feet for me to consider using it. This one is 8 inches at 54 feet).
I got the stitches out on Monday. Went in to my doctor- vertically- and had them take the stitches out. My knitting scissors were too big to do it myself. Had to endure my doctor trying to strong-arm me into getting a tetanus shot. Originally, I wrote a big, long post on why I don’t think it’s necessary, and then decided not to post it.  Instead, let me just summarize: If you believe in tetanus shots and vaccines, good for you. If you don’t: also, good for you. Here are a bunch of studies on Tetanus that may open your eyes a little.

Meanwhile, that afternoon, I’m back at the property, and I’m able to (barely) use my chainsaw to buck the trees (cut off the branches of the ones that are on the ground). It hurts my finger after a while, and I don’t have a good grip. But I’m thinking of using the branches for rail supports for the wrap around porch. With Southern Yellow Pine, there are a lot of branches if the trees don’t grow close together. Saving the branches solves two problems:

  • I get free wood for ballusters and rail caps.
  • Once I get done pulling out the big ones, the brush pile is just scraps and is much easier to clean up.

I worked on it for about an hour and a half, until I tore the wound on the finger a little and it started to bleed again, so I had to quit.

Tuesday, I had to fix the bathtub faucet- replaced the handles. We are trying to do as little as possible to this house until we move out. Then, Wednesday, I was driving up over the mountain, and the temperature gauge on my car started rising. I quickly pulled over because on Saturday, it did the same thing, and I couldn’t find any leaks, so I thought it was just an air bubble. I ripped the hood open so I could find the leak quickly- and saw a hairline fracture on the radiator. Darn. Well, at least it wasn’t the motor. I hypermiled it home so I didn’t burn up the motor and fixed it.

This car is a little Honda I bought from my wife’s ex for $400, who said it couldn’t be fixed. He was partially right- the engine had been burned out of oil, and threw a rod through the bottom of the block. It was fixable- for $300 for a crankshaft, $300 to weld the block, $300 for a rebuild kit…so I found a replacement motor (from a 2001) in Chattanooga for $400 and dropped it in. A 1999 Honda Civic with VTEC for $800 isn’t bad, I’d say. I picked up a radiator at the parts store for $75 and dropped it in back at my house. It went in quick- about an hour. Then I went back over the mountain to work some more on clearing the branches. I’m working slow, but I’m working.

2016 July 07: Military Trailer Log Arch: Part II

Note: I meant to post this around 7/1/2016, along with a video showing how it worked. But then I had “the accident” (read about it here). I’ll post this anyway, so you can see the intent of the arch. I’m going to re-do the arch, and I’ll make a post about it when I get it done.

Photos of the build last weekend (6/25/2016):

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One of the better welds I made….

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Pretty proud of this- first time welding, had a great instructor (Ellery), who just let me go for it.

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It will fit on the trailer like this. From the last welded joint to the bottom of the legs is six feet. I measured repeatedly to make sure the legs were parallel. When all was done, I re-measured and found that the legs were 1/4″ wider at the bottom than they were at the top- pretty good for my first time. I had to adjust the top beam- I made it a little wider than the plan called for: In all my figuring, I forgot to figure the amount of material lost during the cutting- the cutting blade is 1/8″ thick, so two cuts equals 1/4″, and that threw off the angles a bit in the angled beams, which made it necessary to change the length of the top beam. It all worked out in the end.

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You can see in the chalkboard drawings one of my dilemmas. Friday night, I drew the 3-D drawing, with the first cut going perpendicular across the tube, and the second cut making a chicken mouth. But that night I had a dream that my calculations weren’t correct, and woke up with an uncomfortable feeling. The second drawing shows my corrected calculations- I found if I made cuts using the first method, my joint would not meet up – you have to bisect the cut so the two edges will touch when folded over.

2016 July 05: (Almost) a disaster

I haven’t felt like writing much since last Wednesday. Besides, I haven’t been able to. All work stopped on the build Wednesday (6/29) about 5:50 pm. I almost lost a finger. And I typed this entire message with 9 fingers: #10 is in a brace.

I was trying out the arch- and it wasn’t going well. After I built it, I re-calculated the vector forces while lifting- and found out they were almost double what I was expecting. I thought that by having the weight of the log carried by the arch, it would reduce the force needed to lift it. But friction is also a force, and in this case, it was working against me- adding to the weight of lifting the log. Not only was I lifting the log, I was having to drag it at the same time, so the 2,000-ish lbs of friction was being added to the 6,000 lbs of lifting- and not just regular addition- vector addition: the weight was really much greater- probably around 12,000 lbs.

I was using a 4-ton hand winch to pull the log arch upright with the log attached. The arch was awesome. The winch was too short, so I had attached it to the tractor and used a tow chain to attach it to the arch. Lots of moving parts in a heavy duty operation is a bad idea.

 

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It wasn’t a very smart set up. Because of this, I was really straining the winch- the cable began to fray, which was very frustrating, along with the log not getting off the ground at all. But before giving up completely, I decided to get the log arch in a more vertical position. I looped the tow chain through the hook on the winch and started winching, but the loop was not evenly tensioned on both sides of the hook, so I stopped to adjust it. The links were getting caught in the hook, so I tried to adjust it and give it some relief- and the weight of the arch started the chain moving through the hook. It started moving so suddenly that I wasn’t able to jerk my hand out of the way, and the chain caught the finger of my glove and pulled it through the hook- and my left index finger with it- before pulling the glove completely off my hand. I screamed in pain as I looked and saw the back of my fingernail pulled out of my finger, and blood running everywhere. Afraid I might pass out, I called my wife, and said I had an accident, and that I was probably going to the hospital. I made it to the neighbor’s house, and almost passed out on their patio.

After getting some ice and a few towels to wrap it in, I felt like I could drive myself to the hospital. It was 30 minutes away, and I had to lean on the steering wheel the entire trip. I told my wife I was on my way, and she met me there.

Of course, there’s always a waiting line at the E.R. and people with so many problems.

My wife was there with me. We discussed the accident. I got some x-rays, and they confirmed the finger was broken- halfway between the tip and the first knuckle.

Maybe this is too hard? My wife was justifiably upset and scared- I use my hands for a lot of things- I fix my own cars, play piano, ukulele, sax, and right now, building this log home. I’m down for the count- can’t peel logs, can’t cut them, can’t move them. It’s a three day weekend- July 4 on Monday- and I’m sitting around on the couch, not working. I’m ambidextrous (use both hands equally), so although I write with my right hand, I eat with my left. And brush my teeth, shave, cinch up my belt on my pants- all with my left hand. It’s really caused a lot of thought. What if I had lost a finger? What if it had been worse? We discussed my recent injuries- head smack, possible broken rib, and now this broken finger- none are life threatening, but they could have been. So the risk is very high.

They finally call me back for stitches. I hate shots. I’ve nearly passed out from just the sight of a needle.

The nurse is saying “don’t watch”.

I’m saying, “that’s going to be hard. Don’t you have some sleeping masks or some way to block my view?”

She gets some safety glasses and puts gauze over the lenses and says, “how’s this?”

“Great,” I say and put them on, “now I won’t faint on you. These work pretty well. How many times have you done this for patients?”

“The goggles? You’re the first.”

Pause. Yup. I’m the only wimp out there who can’t watch someone sew up their finger. “Well they work pretty well,” I repeat, quieter.

My wife and I have talked a lot the past few days. What I’m doing is dangerous- even with safety precautions (I’ve done some risk assessment, and I need to reduce the number of moving parts in all of my work). I need a term life insurance policy. But we both really want this cabin. I can’t rest- I get depressed when I’ve got nothing to do.

I’ve got to be more aware- and careful, but I’m not quitting- I’m reloading.

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Here’s the gory finger after the accident:

 

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The ridge on the back of the fingernail? that’s the part that should be under the skin.