Almost done with 1st floor logs

 

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.

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Improving techniques

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.

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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.

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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.

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see the short temporary lifting pole on that almost center pier?

Plans change…

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.

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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.

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While we weren’t watching, she was having fun with the camera…..

That’s where we’re at for now. Feel free to comment below.

Up to the 4th Course

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The method

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:

Capture

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…..

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….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).

Lessons learned

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!

See:

You made it this far? Here’s a treat:

This is a video of us lifting log #16 into place: Lifting Log #16 into place.

 

How to make your own triple blocks for less than $45

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Why a triple block? Why not a double? or a single?

Because two triple blocks working together gives you a 7:1 mechanical advantage- 5,000 lb log requires only ~720 lbs of force to lift. And you can use just 5/8″ thick rope to lift 720 lbs. A double block would only reduce the force down to 1,250 lb. But you have to double that- for each end of the log. And a single……ummmmm…..there’s no mechanical advantage to a single. Stop talking about single pulleys. On the other end, a “quadruple” block doesn’t really exist beyond huge construction cranes with wire rope- from what I’ve seen and read, anything more than three pulleys and the friction increases beyond the efficiency gained. So, a triple block it is.

First, I looked online. And found…..not quite nothing, but almost. It’s unbelievable in this age of Amazon and Ebay that you can’t find a triple block with more than 3,000 pound capacity. I suppose not many people are lifting heavy objects by hand. Ok, you can find them, but they are insanely expensive, and you need two to make a set. Not to mention you need four sets to work efficiently. Look at that price:2017-07-03-22-48-53_scrot

I mean, I guess you could climb a 30-foot lifting pole and change the block and tackle out every time you want to lift a log, but you would still need four pulleys- two on each pole- to lift each log. So, it would cost you $1,300, plus rope (about $300).

This calls for a cheaper solution:

Enter Harbor Freight:

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Of course, I’d need six of them to make a set, but that’s only $72, not $327. And some grade 8 bolts, which are easy to obtain from Fastenall.

Here’s what I came up with:20170705_204824_zpsm7auqpcv

 

 

Some more notes: I needed somewhere to tie the end of the rope- on the antique pulleys, there’s a place called a becket 70d1a3c340f41214567fd48f2725ccd9--block-and-tackle-pulley-light. I didn’t have one, so I took two extra plates from a single pulley, and put a bolt through them.

The results

I just finished lifting the biggest log yet- over 6 feet around at the base, and 50+ feet long- I figure it weighs around 6,000 lbs. The pulley held just fine- in fact, it held better than the #6 triples that I had on the opposite end. The singles (on the box) were originally rated for 3,000 lbs, so I figure the modified triple is worth at least that much, but with that huge log, probably more like 4,000 lbs.

I spent $12 per pulley x 3 pulleys = $36. The two grade 8 bolts were about $4 each. So for ~$45, I got what normally costs over $300.

 

1st layer done

This is a great feeling- The lifting poles worked, the pulleys and chain hoists worked, we figured out the kinks and got all four logs on the piers. It looks less like a grave yard with tombstones sticking up, and more like a….well, at least a perimeter with big posts sticking out of it:

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There was a little preparation required before setting the logs down on the piers:

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That’s pressure treated #2 pine – 2×12 from the local hardware store, laying on top of a shingle (90lb builder’s felt) that I sourced from the county dump (they were new in the plastic, so I scooped up a bunch).

We set the first log, then I had this nagging feeling that I was supposed to call the inspector before stacking logs. I was pretty sure he would find something wrong with the concrete. I checked the inspection schedule and it said a post-pour inspection was due, so I worked up the motivation and finally called him. He said- “No, go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing- call me when you get to the rough in.” Ok! We’re on a roll now. The rough in is when you have your electrical outlets and wires run, along with the plumbing, but you haven’t put any drywall in (yes, we will have framed walls inside the cabin, just like a normal home).

Piqued their interest

With four 30-foot lifting poles sticking up in the air, our property has become something of an attraction. Everyone from the water utility guys, to the motorcycle guy down the road slows down and takes a gander every time they drive by. The utility guys actually drove onto the property and looked over the mechanics of everything- according to one neighbor they were there for over an hour checking out the ropes, pulleys, rebar, and logs. The neighbors say this build is the “talk of the town”. Everyone is so nice and excited. Now when I’m out there working, I’ve seen several cars every day slow down to look. I’ve seen some stop, then back up, stare, then wave, and drive on slowly. A few have even pulled up, just to say hi (and get a closer look). The older guys who stop by tell me if they were 10-20 years younger, they’d be doing this too. It’s nice- the positive support is great motivation.  I usually wave and continue on with my business. The permit office lady saw me at the store last night. She said the utility guys had their doubts, but she set them straight- “Don’t worry- he’s an engineer- he’s got it all figured out.” Wellllllllllll……yeah. I’d like to think I’m more of a mathematician, you know, because that’s what my degree is in, but ok…….

A few notes about the method

If we were laying 2×4’s, it would be pretty easy- draw a center line on the 2×4, measure the distance between each piece of rebar, drill holes, place 2×4 on the pier, done. Logs are a little more hairy….

Curvy logs

They are not straight- and they may curve in more than one direction. Also there are a lot of knots on this wood. Finally, the logs have a lot of taper, which is a comparison of bottom diameter to the top diameter. The taper is a measure how much the diameter decreases from the bottom to the top.  LHBA recommends logs have a taper of less than 1 inch for every 10 feet. Our logs are about 20″ on the bottom, and 12″ at the top, and 40+ feet long. Our taper works out to be 20-12 = 8″ over 40 feet, or 2″ every 10′- double what LHBA recommends. But LHBA also recommends building with what you have. It can be done, but adds a level of complication when you try to level the structure. Probably more on that will come as we stack logs- each layer, you alternate butts and tops: where the butts are on one layer, is where the tops will be on next layer. If you “mind your levels”, i.e., measure the height at each corner as you stack, you can pick logs that match each other. The goal is less than 1/2″ height difference between all corners at the top of the walls.

Block and tackle

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I’m using antique triple blocks that weigh about 20 lbs each. I need two for each pole- one on top and one on the bottom. They are rated at I-don’t-know-but-I’m-sure-it’s-a-lot pounds. They are not made anymore because no one does it like this. The physics behind them is pretty cool. My rope is rated at about 800 lbs, but the logs weigh between 3,000 – 6,000 lbs. Using the triple blocks, I’m gaining a 7:1 advantage- 850 lbs per log, but since I’m using 2 sets of blocks- one on each pole, it’s really 850/2 = 425 lbs per log…..Well, I thought it was cool.

Other equipment

I’m also using 6,400 lb straps from Harbor Freight, a Cant Hook (or “can” hook, 🙂 ), my wife’s Landcruiser (helps center the logs over the rebar), a chain saw, sledge hammer, some trucker chains (5,400 lb) and my trusty tractor.

The process for the first course

The first course is different from all the other layers- you are putting the log down on the rebar (cemented into the piers), instead of pounding the rebar into the log (like on the rest of the courses).

I stair-stepped the rebar before putting the logs on: I cut the longest rebar to 30″, then made the one next to it 28″, then 26″, etc. This helps when lowering the log so you only have to mind getting one piece of rebar in the log at at time.

I also tried the recommended template approach- lay a strip of 1×4 on the piers and mark where the rebar is, turn the log upside down and mark the holes on the log- but they were so bumpy and long that it didn’t work. I asked around- and found a method using string- attach a string to the piers, and measure the offset of the rebar from the string, (remembering that if the rebar is 1″ to the right of the string, the hole will be drilled 1″ to the left of the center mark on the log (because the log is upside down)).  Transfer this info to the log, then drill straight down. Flip the log over (flip is a generous word), then attach to lifting straps, pull until it’s over the rebar. Then slowly lower the log until the rebar can be fed into the hole in the log (done by my wife).

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This is very exciting. All the work for the past year+ designing our plans, getting utilities installed, cutting down trees, borating them, removing branches, burning brush piles, digging holes, building forms, fixing the tractor, and on and on- got us to this point. I guess you could say we are done with phase I. Phase II will be getting the rough in complete- the goal is to get the roof on this year (by New Years Eve). Phase III will be finishing the inside. So I’ll just say thanks for coming on this journey with us. Feel free to leave comments.

Next up is the rest of the courses- these are placed on top of the log below, pilot holes drilled, then rebar is pounded through log and halfway into the log below- every two feet, and offset by one foot on alternating rows.