Bird Blocks and replacing a wall log

Just finishing up some minor details before I start the roof…

Bird Blocks

Since the rafters sit on top of the wall, and the roof sits on top of the rafters, there is a gap between the top of the wall and the bottom of the roof- the space between the rafters. This space in between the rafters has to be filled in with “bird blocks” to make the home weatherproof. There is some discussion on when to place the bird blocking- before adding the roof or after? I thought it would be easier to add it before, since it would be hard to fit the bird blocking in the space when the space is completely surrounded by rafters, walls and a roof, so I spent some time custom fitting some boards in between the rafters.

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I used the sawmill to turn some scrap logs into 2×14’s, since the rafters are on an angle, and I wanted the bird blocking vertical. Then I toenailed each board into place. It didn’t take long- just a few days working at night.

The time changed while this was going on, so I bought some worklights and strapped them to the middle RPSL so I could keep working after dark. The cabin looks really cool all lit up at night.

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Replacing a wall log

When we placed the girder log in the wall, it ended up resting on a wall log that I’ve been worried about from the time we installed it. I knew this log was “not perfect” when I installed it, but we were in a hurry, and didn’t think we had enough logs to finish the walls at the time. If you notice a log that goes “thud, thud” instead of “thunk, thunk” when hit with a hammer, this is usually an indication of rot. I’m not sure how it happened to this particular log, but since the girder log was going to rest directly on it, I thought it was prudent to replace it before I let the girder settle on it. I checked all the other logs just to be sure and they all seem to be Ok.

It turned out to be a huge pain in the rear to replace. But this is the neat thing about a Butt & Pass log home: the rebar that ties each log to the log below it also ties each log to the log above it. This means you can (if you’re nuts), cut out a log you don’t like right in the middle of the house, and it won’t fall down. Try doing that with a kit log home. Actually, no, don’t try it.

I used the “saws-all” tool with a metal cutting blade and cut the rebar out in four foot sections, then used the chainsaw to cut the log where I had cut out the rebar- I didn’t want the whole log falling out at the same time. At four feet long, the cut sections still weigh a couple hundred pounds each, so it was a little scary.

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Logs look weird suspended like this

Anyway, although you can do this, it is really difficult to replace a log because you have to find one that fits exactly – same taper, same size, everything. Since that’s hard with the crooked logs we used, I had to do the best I could- I found one slightly larger- by about an inch, and dragged it over to the gap I created by removing the rotten log. I used the chain hoist and a pulley to lift it carefully into place, and then started cutting knots and bumps out of the neighboring logs as well as the new log to fit it into place.

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using chain hoist to install new log

It took me a week, working a couple hours at a time at night to get it into place. The rebar had to be installed at a slight angle since there was already logs in place around it. I think it will be fine- we’ll chink over those parts, and it will look fine. It was a sigh of relief to know that the rotten log is gone, and the new one is solid.

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See the new log? It’s the one that sticks out on the end…

Next up, I get the Tongue & Groove 2″ x 6″ “car decking” installed, which is part one of getting the roof on.

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Girder Log & Girder Support Log

 

I estimate the roof of my log home will weigh around 50,000 lbs. In class, they taught us that you need a girder log that is crosswise to the ridge pole to increase the strength of the structure. The girder log is also known as a collar tie. Its job is to keep the walls from spreading apart due to the weight of the roof, as well as to support the second floor.

Since we used pulleys, we knew we could install the girder log at any time after we reached second floor height. We decided to wait until now.

Height of girder log

I was stuck, though, at how high to set the girder log. Our walls are almost exactly 18 feet high. Minus one foot for the first floor and another foot for the second floor gives us eight feet for each floor. But were we supposed to put the bottom or the top of the girder log at eight feet?

I ended up calling my friend and fellow LHBA member Ivan to see what he thought. He said building code specified 6 feet 8 inches for head space: as in, don’t set the girder log any lower than 6′ 8″ from the finished floor height. That was the perfect starting point. So I added a foot to that for the finished floor height (7′ 8″), and then rounded up to 8′ and placed a mark on the wall at that height.  We decided the fat end of the girder log would go over the kitchen, since on that end of the house, the girder log holds up the bedroom areas as well as the bathroom and other rooms. The other end is open to the living area, so it only needs half the joists.

Installing the girder log

Installing the girder log with pulleys is fairly straightforward: get the girder log next to the house, cut a hole in the house, attach a pulley and lift until the log is in or near the hole in the wall. Attach a second pulley through the hole and pull the log into the house. Continue to adjust pulleys and lift / pull until log reaches other side of the house. Level the log, cut another hole, and pull it through. Then pin it with rebar.  Make sure it is raining – you don’t want to have too much fun. 🙂

As usual, my wife was a huge help. I pulled on one pulley with the tractor, while she let me tie the other pulley to her car. My daughter watched my hand signals from inside the car and relayed them to her mom. We are at level “pulley ninjas” at this point in the game.

 

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Installing the Girder support log (GSL)

On smaller log homes, an angle bracket can be made to support the girder log. The bracket is bolted to the middle RPSL, and the girder log rests on the bracket. On a 40×40 log home, the span is at least 20 feet between supports, so a girder support log (GSL) is required. The GSL is not hard to find- it only has to be about eight feet long. We pulled it from a scrap log we had, and picked it so it has no knots and very little bow. I dragged it with the tractor (yes, it still weighs about 500 pounds) over to the house, then used the pulleys to drag it inside.

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I knew the girder log sagged a bit in the middle by about two inches (because the string level told me so!), so I measured the space between the pier and the girder and added two inches. After doing a test fit, I cut the GSL to the right length, drilled a hole in the bottom for the rebar from the pier, and then lifted it as close as I could to the girder log, which was still sagging. I chained it in place and moved the chain hoist to the girder log and lifted the sag out of it. With the sag out of the girder, I was able to just push the GSL by hand into position. Using my favorite tool (can(t) hook), I rotated the GSL into position, then lowered the girder onto it and drove a pin through the girder to keep it from slipping. Later, I’ll install 1″ all thread and bolt the GSL to the girder. This puppy ain’t going nowhere.

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Next steps

We install the bird blocking, which fills in the space between the rafters and the walls.  I’m calling around to get the best deal I can find on 2″ x 6″ tongue and groove car decking (which is the “hardwood floor” you see when looking up at the roof from the inside), but not having much luck finding a good deal. It looks like it will cost me about $7,000 just for this part of the roof. Still need to get the underlayment, the 2×12 sleepers for the built up roof, the insulation, plywood, and shingles or metal roof (if we can afford it).  The roof really will be the single most expensive part of this build. On the other hand, I can’t wait to have the whole thing dried in.

 

Leveling Rafters

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Seems like there’s always more to do…

A few weeks ago, we took a major step forward- we are done with the walls, and we got the Ridge Pole and rafters installed. I’ve spent that past 2 weeks- in between weather events and life- getting the rafters level.

Again, if we were building with 2×4’s, it’d be easy. Building with crooked logs involves a lot of finesse and finagling to get things to look right. There is nowhere to ‘zero’ my measurements, so I have to do relative measurements. For example, the cap logs are actual logs, so they vary and wave as they go along the house, which means the rafters will do the same. The rafters, as I’ve mentioned, vary as well- but they at least have one flat side.

If I don’t ‘square things up’, I’ll end up with a crooked roof. That’s what is eating up my time. And leveling and squaring the rafters is done in 3 parts: setting them at 4′ on center, then leveling at the Ridge Pole, then leveling at the cap logs.

Setting at 48″ on center

When the crane guy was on site, we were paying him a bunch of money per hour, so we decided to just get the rafters close to where we wanted. Later, I went back with a tape and measured 48 inches from front to back, and placed the rafters on this mark. Then I did the same at the cap logs. When matching up the cap log placement of the rafters with the Ridge Pole placement, I found that eyeballing it was better than trying to drop a plumb line and squaring it up that way.

leveling at Ridge Pole

This was more complicated than I thought it would be. There are quite a few variables- roof pitch, Ridge Pole taper, ridge pole bow, rafter size, bolt hole placement, and not to mention working 30’+ up in the air. Dropping tools from that height is a pain. I ended up rigging up a pulley system and buckets and strings tied to the tools and then secured to the rafters. Yes, I wore my fall harness, which was a pain, but would have been more painful to fall.

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How far off level are the rafters from each other? Each letter represents a rafter pair. The top line represents how far from vertical they are. The center measurements (marked “E”ast or “W”est) show how off-center they are horizontally. The bottom line represents how deep to cut to overcome these issues.

The goal here was to get them level vertically as well as horizontally. Since the RP is so wide and has a slight bow towards the East, some grooves had to be made in the RP to drop the rafter pairs down to the correct height, and at the same time move it left or right to line up with the other rafter pairs. Cutting  a groove to move the rafter left or right also drops it at the same time. I measured several of them carefully, taking note of the exact placement and diameter of the RP at that point. I used graph paper to virtually drop a few of them a few inches to see what the effect would be before I cut. Once I was comfortable with my graph, I started in on the actual rafters. I used an electric chainsaw (much lighter and easier to maneuver at 30 feet up), and then smoothed the cut with an angle grinder and a rotoclip disc.

They are now all within 1/2″ of level and center.

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Leveling at Cap logs

I first took a string and a string level and nailed it to the rafters on each end. Then I measured the difference between the height of the string and where it touched the rafters and recorded it in a notebook. The rafter that is furthest away from the string is the lowest, so the next step is to make all the other ones match. Unless they vary by a lot. In my case, the East side of the house varied by 8 inches across the rafters- because it kind of sags in the middle. We knew the m when we put the cap log up, but we didn’t know it was 8 freaking inches. All four corners of the house are within an inch, but it’s the ends and the middle that matters, and that’s where the difference was. There was no way I could cut 8 inches out of a 13 inch cap log- that would weaken it beyond use.

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To overcome this gap, I jacked up the most offending rafters and installed two 4″x5″x14′ beams that I made on the sawmill and pinned them with rebar. This won’t be seen when the roof is on unless you know where to look because there are other boards called bird blocks that go exactly on top of the beams.

On the west side, I overcame the issue much easier with a 2×4. The rafters rest on these “jacks”, but they are still pinned with rebar through the jacks and into the cap logs.

They are now all level to within 1/2″ of each other.

 

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Next steps

Before we can install the decking on the roof, we need to install our girder log. This log acts as a ‘collar-tie’ for those in the industry. For non-industry types, the girder log keeps the walls from spreading when the 80,000 lb roof is installed. The girder also holds up the second floor. It can be installed at anytime, once the wall logs reach over the second floor. Those using telehandlers usually install it right when the wall logs reach second floor height. When using ropes and pulleys, it’s easier to wait until the wall logs are done so you have somewhere to hang the pulleys.

Part II: Rafters up- new crane guy

Click here to read Part I (where we get the Ridge Pole up)

They sent Chad out to help.  He asked me about the the guy who set the Ridge Pole (RP). I told him the guy’s name, and he laughed- “Oh, yeah, good ol’ Be***! That guy’s afraid of his own shadow.” I was immediately at ease with Chad. Here’s a guy who knows that stuff like this is dangerous, and harping on it doesn’t make anyone safer. We all know it’s dangerous, and we do it anyway, but we try to work smart.

I told him the plan. “First we’re going to set that middle Ridge Pole Support Log (RPSL) right on this pier. I want you to lift it over the wall, but make sure your cable is on the far side of the RP.”

“Why is that?” he asked.

“Ok, so I figure you can lift up and down, but you probably don’t have much control on the back and forth, so I set up this pulley to do that job, but I need the cable on the backside so we don’t pull it all the way through the bottom of the RP,” I explained.

“Makes sense, let’s do it.”

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I’m liking this guy. We get the RPSL hooked up, he reminds me to tie a string to the strap to release it once we’re done, and we’re off. We get it set on the pier in a few minutes.  Then he comes in to fine tune it with me, with my wife supervising. With him on the pulley, and me on the cant hook, we get it placed in a few minutes. I climb up to drill and pin, and that’s it.

I took a little break, thinking I had heat exhaustion: the forecast called for 95, and with the heat index, it was closer to 100 F.  I was dizzy up top, and had to stop several times while hammering the pin into the RPSL. While I took a break, Julie asked if her and my daughter could swing on the crane hook. Chad said, “sure, no problem.” Obviously, he’s a very cool crane operator.

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These cute girls are a ton of fun!

 

Now onto the rafters.

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This is the safest way to install rafters from the ground

I showed him my idea with the loops and the pins. Using this method, I can set the rafters from the ground, and when he releases the pressure on the strap, I can easily just pull on the string, and the pins mostly just fall out. Here’s a video of installing them. Again, he says he’s never seen it done that way, but wants to see what happens. 28 rafters later, he’s convinced to never do it any other way. But I’m getting ahead of myself….

The loop idea works like a charm- I used grade stakes and welded a washer to the end so the string wouldn’t slide off. The string was a 50′ piece of paracord that I could hold onto from the ground, along with the leader rope (which also had a quick release pin). We also ended up tying a wrench to the other quick release string as weight so it wouldn’t get caught on the wall- which happened a half dozen times- I had to climb up to get it, but at least I didn’t have to shimmy out on the rafter, 30 feet up. Releasing the rafter from the ground is much safer.

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The office sent him out with a 12′ spreader bar, even though I asked for a 20′ spreader bar- this bar keeps the legs of the rafters open so they fit over the walls. But 12 feet wasn’t enough, so we ended up putting the far side on first, and then on the count of “3”, he had me pull extra hard on my leader rope, and he dropped the hook at the same time, and we were able to “launch” two sets over the near wall. But it was taking a long time- it’d been 2 hours, and we’d only set four rafters. He called the office and demanded a 20′ spreader bar. I thought the crane would make things easier. It made it faster, but it was still hard. Here’s a video of installing with the wrong spreader bar. After installing a few rafters, we stopped for lunch.

After the guy brought the 20′ spreader bar, the rafters were going up in about 15-20 minutes per rafter. We had a few that we couldn’t set just exactly right, and we realized that I could just move them with a lever later, so we changed the plan to just get them close enough.

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After nine hours of work, we were on the last set. People were stopped in the road, watching. Chad’s two sons came over – he lives literally around the corner. He said sheepishly that he should have come over sooner, but he’s glad he was there that day. Nelton’s wife and daughter came over, too, taking pictures and chatting with my wife. When I pulled the last pin out of the last rafter, I couldn’t help but let out a loud, “whoop! Whoop!”, to which everyone cheered. It felt like an old fashioned barn raising.

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And I got a discount- Chad agreed that we wasted 2 hours with the wrong spreader bar, and that was the crane company’s fault. Also, we got a discount for paying with cash. It was expensive, but very, very worth it.

The next step involves leveling the rafters- the rafters are flat on at least one side, but the RP is tapered and crooked and bowed-  not much, but enough. It’s actually really straight- But it is off by a few inches in spots. That will involve me using string and cutting some of the RP. And then we go for the roof.

 

Part I: Ridge Pole up, but what a struggle

We decided to go with a crane. I’ve written about how dangerous I thought installing the Ridge Pole myself would be, how long it would take, and how expensive it would be.

I took a Thursday & Friday off work to prepare. Thursday- it took me nearly all day to pull the rafters off the rack, bolt them together, and then lay them out in preparation for the crane to lift them.

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By evening, I had just enough daylight to chain blocks to the RPSL’s as a cradle to hold the RP. But I almost fell when the scaffolding slipped a little, and had to have my wife jump on it to hold it down. Stupid me.

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Friday, the crane showed up a little early. I was up on the front RPSL chain binding a cradle to the top to ensure the Ridge Pole (RP) wouldn’t roll off after the crane released it. As I was binding it, I happened to look at the back RPSL and noticed the front pole that I was on was not in line with the back pole- it was off by about 8″. I guess I hadn’t noticed because when we set the poles, we were going for “mostly” perpendicular. Since this was the first time I had climbed to the top, I had never noticed the little hook about 4′ from the top that made it off-center from the rear.

Anyway, crane guy pulled up, and I asked him what he thought. He went and looked, and agreed it was off by about 8″. Leaving it would mean the whole roof wouldn’t be perpendicular to the house. Probably no one would really notice, but I made an executive decision to fix it right then. I told the crane guy to go ahead and get set up, while I loosened the bolts. I had him hook on to the top of the pole so it wouldn’t fall, then set it in the right spot. I eyeballed it, and had him and my wife check as well. When it was all good, I started drilling new holes and attaching the bolts. We used about an hour to do this part.

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Meanwhile, my wife was using roofing tacks (with big orange plastic heads) to mark every 4′ along the RP, so we could set the rafters from the ground. She also recommended wisely that we leave the 2×4’s we nailed to each end in position- at 12 o’clock (straight up), so we could tell if the RP rolled a bit.

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roofing tacks on the RP- you can see these from the ground.

Then we hooked up the RP to the crane. The crane guy thought it was best to choke the RP with the straps. I don’t know how else we could’ve done it, but I went with it. After a few attempts at lifting it and setting it down, we found the center of the RP, and up it went. I climbed up to help set it- got on top of the house and guided the RP into place. I measured about 7′ out from the RPSL, but noticed that there was a giant knot right where it would touch the RPSL, so I went with 8′. At this point, I should’ve marked it, and then had him set it down so I could saw a flat spot where it would sit on the RPSL. Part of this was my fault- I was worried about how much it was costing (about $120/hr), and the other part was the crane guy giving me disapproving looks every time I did something “dangerous” (hello- the whole project is dangerous). He got to me, for sure- I was feeling weak and nervous up that high, and I never get nervous at heights.

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It went downhill from there- I got the front pinned, then went to the back, and got it pinned. I called him from my cell and asked how much pressure he had holding the RP- “about 700 lbs”, he said. I told him to release it slowly- and as he did, the RP started to roll off the RPSL’s! I had him stop so I could get down. We talked about what to do- he was real nervous about releasing it, and so was I, but we had to move on. So I had him release it all the way. It rolled to almost 2 o’clock (10 o’clock from the front).

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Well, the crane guy flipped out- said it was all unsafe, said rebar wouldn’t hold that thing in place, said we needed an engineer because rebar isn’t that strong. Note: 3/4″ rebar is very strong. Even though I followed the plans – they said 5/8″ rebar was good enough, but I thought 3/4″ was better- either way, there’s a tip I missed that I’ll discuss later. I tried to talk him into setting a few rafters- thinking that would stabilize the RP. I wanted him to roll it back to 12 o’clock with the crane, but he didn’t want to touch it. He shot down all my ideas. In his defense, he promised us 4 hours, but was there for 5.5, and only charged us for 4, so that was nice. But his attitude was awful- he was no help.

He chastised me for climbing up to the RP on a ladder attached to scaffolding, saying, “you sure you want to climb up there?”

At that point, I had had enough, and I shot back, “you gotta better way to release your straps?”

“well, no.”

“I’m serious- if you have a better idea, let me know.” But he just turned around and walked away. I was getting upset- his only help was that he had a crane. He wasn’t helpful with ideas, or experience, or anything else.

He wouldn’t listen to any ideas we had. We were just dumbfounded and frustrated. We had to leave the rafters on the ground, and the RP cockeyed. We had no idea how to fix it. I was completely burned out- heat exhaustion or depression or both. We went home thinking of giving up- ‘if the crane guy can’t help fix the RP, who can?’ we thought. It was overwhelming to think we had come this far only to end up with a cockeyed RP.  On top of that, it rained that night, and there was a little wind with it. I had visions of coming back the next day to find the house smashed and the RP laying on the ground.

I got on the LHBA forum and told them what happened. Everyone pitched in with ideas. I came up with a plan based on the awesome folks on LHBA. After talking to them, it didn’t seem that bad- lots of work, but not the end of the world. Saturday, we went out in the afternoon to see what we could come up with on the RP.  I moved the scaffolding over to the back wall, and threw a 20,000 lb strap over the RP in a choke position. I hoisted up my 60 lb, 2 ton chain hoist to the top of the wall, and used another strap tied to the wall to hook the other end of the chain hoist. With the hoist in the middle, and the RP in a choke, I was able to slowly wind up the chain hoist and roll the RP back to 12 o’clock. Here’s a video of the process. It was very scary moving a 10,000 lb log like that- thinking that it might fall off the RPSL’s or break the rebar, or worse, so I only moved it just a little at a time. Once stable, I climbed back up and drilled another hole next to the first one on the RP- and drove in a 5/8″ x 24″ piece of rebar to the RPSL. The theory is that with two pieces of rebar- if the RP rolls, one rebar pin will compress, and the other will decompress- the two actions will cancel most of the movement from the RP. It was successful, but took a long time to do.

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With that part done, we felt a little more confident. I spent the next few days out in the rain, making my last set of rafters. We discussed ways we could do it ourselves by hand, and without the crane, but with winter coming on, we decided time was money.  So, when we noticed the weather was going to clear, I called the crane guy back. He said he was busy – the rain had pushed all his other jobs back, and he was playing catch up.  He said call him on a Thursday, and he might be able to come Friday. I started calling other crane companies, and even thought I would rent a telehandler and do it myself. All the other crane companies were busy too. In the end, learning to drive the telehandler and maneuver rafters seemed like too much.

All we could do was pray. We had nice weather, the rafters were ready, the RP was stable. But we had no crane available. I had faith that one of the crane companies would have an opening Friday, but they all claimed it would be another week. Thursday, I got a call from the original crane guy, and he said he couldn’t sleep at night thinking about how dangerous what I was doing was. He said for that reason, he had to say no. But I wasn’t dismayed. I called another crane company, and the office lady took all my info and said someone would call. A couple hours later, and a guy calls- says he’s out there at my property, sizing up the job. “You’re going to need a big crane.”

“Can you come tomorrow?” I asked.

“Yeah, we can make it.”

Part II: (link will be active in a few days!) we get the rafters up.

A tribute to one of my biggest fans

 

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My friend Nelton Maples

James Nelton Maples, 87, passed away on Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at Huntsville Hospital, here in Alabama, after a battle with pneumonia and intestinal cancer. He was a husband, father, veteran, and friend. This is the second really good friend I’ve lost to cancer. It is a devastating blow.

I met Nelton after my tractor had a slow leak in a tire back in April, 2016. I was still dragging logs out of the woods – hadn’t even started my foundation. I had met his children, and they kept saying, “you ought to talk to Dad- he’d love what you are doing.”

I found out why after I met him.  It’s rare to find a friend who is into “doing” as much as I am. Nelton’s nephew commented to me the other day, “boy, if you’d have met him about 10 years ago, you’d have trouble keeping up.” It’s too bad, but I’ll take the two years I was given with him.

The man knew a lot about everything, unlike me- I know a little about everything. Let’s see if I can list the things and occupations he was involved in:

  • Phone company lineman
  • city surveyor
  • Police chief
  • farmer
  • engine mechanic (diesel and gas)
  • engineer
    • built a road grader from an old grain harvester by turning it backwards and putting a plow on it
    • built a sawmill for sawing logs for his son’s cabin
  • certified welding instructor
  • carpenter
  • electrician
  • concrete expert
  • horse trainer
  • pig & chicken farmer
  • Truck driver
  • guitar player
  • Sunday school teacher

I was always impressed with his knowledge. He mostly blew it off and said, “You do what you have to do to survive.” He built his own house back in the 1950’s, when you hand-mixed the cement- they didn’t have cement trucks back then. His father used to own almost all the land on Maple road- over 100 acres. And his Grandfather owned even more before that. They are founding members of the city. They built a cabin up on the mountain (near Paint Rock) as a vacation home. He has tools galore- mostly old fashioned, many he made himself (log tongs, forks for his tractor, a plow, a grader, etc.). The garage is always in a state of 12 projects going at the same time.

He gave each of his kids 5 acre plots- all together on the same block. It is quite a legacy.

His son Danny built a cabin back in the 1980’s. They hauled the trees for it from down on Hobbs Island Road. He built a sawmill to process the trees- they milled two sides flat, and spiked them together. It has a gable roof, and was the talk of the town back then- there were articles written and a news crew came out to ask them about building your own home.  Nelton can now chalk up another cabin that is the talk of the town, 30 years later.

He started by offering to let me park my tractor at his place at night after my critter cam was stolen, and the friendship and my admiration for him and his wife grew. They are old-fashioned, tough, gritty, and funny, with hearts of gold. Surely God created people like the Maples to watch over foolish headstrong people like me. After watching me from across the road tip the tractor up in the air while skidding logs one day, he said, “you might want to chain that log lower on the bar- if you chain it higher than the axle, you’ll tip up.”

He had a pacemaker, so he taught me to weld from his porch- away from the EMF that could disrupt the pacemaker. He would listen to the torch and tell me, “too hot” or “too cold”, or even “are you hungry? you ain’t welding right today – sounds a little shakey.”

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the golf cart pulls up…

I’ll never forget the 5 mph golf cart pulling onto my property, with him and bunch of tools to give me some advice on surveying, or just to say hi, and offer us something from his garden.

He mowed his yard every week- right up until about 2 weeks ago. I saw him on his little John Deer riding mower, his straw hat, and boots, tooling around. He also has a 1950’s John Deer 3-wheel tractor in his barn that he keeps up. He had me weld a step on it so he could get up in the seat. I also put a new hitch mount on his firewood splitter.

I picked his brain on everything. He had had a stroke, so he couldn’t talk that well. But he was a master teacher. From my blog post “stuff breaks”, while working on my tractor lift arms:

I welded the right side with the neighbor’s supervision- well, he has a pacemaker and can’t get near high voltage devices, so he sat on his porch and listened to the welder. When I was done welding the first time, I drove by on the tractor and gave him the thumbs up. I got across the street, backed up to the log that broke it in the first place, and immediately broke the weld. Limping the tractor back across the street, and I see the neighbor in the chair grinning at me.

“What?” I said.

“I knew that was gonna happen- you were welding it too hot.”

“Too hot?” (I don’t know anything about welding….I guess you can ‘hear’ when someone is welding too hot?)

“Yeah- when you’re welding hardened steel to cast iron, you gotta turn the heat down on that thing – otherwise, you’re not really welding it,” says the former certified welding instructor.

Oh.

Turn down the heat. Weld it cooler very carefully. Grind off the slag. Weld again. Grind off some more slag, adjust the heat. Weld again. The neighbor comes over to eyeball it. Gives me a nod. Off I go.

Back at the log in question. Start to lift it- “clunk!” <a few choice curse words>. Turn around and look- my weld is holding ok. Look at other lift arm: now it’s broke. <smile>. Drive back across the street. Neighbor is a little concerned as he sees me coming up the driveway. Then I show him what happened. Now he’s grinning, too.

“I’ve done that same thing before, believe it or not,” he says, laughing. Luckily, I bought a universal screw pin from Tractor Supply, and what do you know? It fits. And the weld has held up since then, too. Third time’s a charm?

When we excavated, we also had the guy move the culvert for our driveway. Nelton watched from his driveway. He said, “you see that little built up area in your driveway? Many years ago, my uncle was riding through that field, and his horse had a heart attack and died right there. They couldn’t move it, so they dug a hole and buried it right there somewhere on your property.  I was just wondering if you noticed anything while you were digging.”  I guess we didn’t get down that far.

They asked me to go to church with them on New Years, but my daughter was sick, so we couldn’t go. They were Baptists, while I’m Mormon. With the historical animosity between our two religions, I was afraid to upset the apple cart. “I go to a church in Huntsvill,” I kept telling them. But Joyce kept asking, so I finally told them I was Mormon.

“And what do Mormons believe?” Joyce asked.

“We believe in God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”

“Do you believe Christ died for your sins?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Well, then, you’re alright by me.”

He knew everybody – “I know his daddy- do you want me to talk to him?” when I was having problems with the permit people.

He wasn’t well- heat, cold- all of it affected him. “But don’t worry about me- I’ll lay down for a while, but then I’ll crank up again.” The last time I talked to him, was out on his patio. We talked about the rafters I was making. I was getting close to having all 28 of them made. He nodded his approval. I always look to see if him and Joyce are sitting out there in the shade, enjoying the breeze when I pull up to my property. Two beeps from my horn, and I always get a friendly wave. Joyce told me a few weeks ago, “We’ve sure enjoyed watching your sunflowers grow.”  I said, “oh, you should take some tomatoes while you’re there.” “no- we’ve just been watching them from here- we can see your garden from this little corner in our yard. We can’t wait to see you get the roof on your cabin.”

That chair is empty now. But I think there’s one in Heaven that has now been claimed…. probably won’t get much use, though- I’m sure he has 12 projects going at the same time up there. A mighty tree has fallen in the forest.  I’ll miss you, Nelton. We only got this far with you and Joyce’s support.

Cutting Rafters

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They are not easy to maneuver.

Background

I’m neck deep into using my sawmill. Back in February when it was raining and muddy, I welded up another 18 feet of track for it in the neighbor’s shed. I made dogs to hold the logs in place and squared it up very well. I thought I would be putting the roof on in June of this year. But, I’ve had several delays- the weather being the number one delay, but then my job sent me to Florida for a week of training, and then our LandCruiser needed a new headgasket. Finding, cutting, peeling, and installing the RPSL’s was another task that slowed us down. I also made a new trailer for hauling logs- works great for small ones, but I bet it would’ve collapsed under the wall logs. And then finding, etc., etc. the logs for the rafters was a major slowdown, but I’ll explain below.

A note on the headgasket- I was just raring to go on the rafters, and desperately wanted to pay someone else to do it- it was going to eat up two weeks of progress – one week to troubleshoot (I needed some help from my buddy, and our schedules didn’t line up), and another week to get it fixed. He diagnosed it (perfectly, I found out) as a broken headgasket between cylinders 5 & 6.  Knowing that I’m neck deep in the cabin and wanted to pay someone to do it, he called his Toyota buddy, who said “September, and probably $2,000  – $3,000”. Wow! I was thinking $1,000. Not $3,000. I’m not THAT desperate, I guess. So, I ordered the parts. My buddy got me hooked up with a bay in his old partner’s garage that they weren’t using (working on cars in the rain is a pain). I was very busy at work, but managed to get a couple half days, and a full day to “git-r-dun”. So that was a little set back.

Which brings us up to speed.

 

 

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Current status

I’ve got 23 rafters out of 28. I need to find about 5 or 6 more. The awesome neighbors keep offering more, even though I’ve already gotten about 20 from them so far. I cut them down, then walked off 30 feet on each log, and cut it at that point. I saved the tips, since many are 10″+ diameter and 20′ long- they will be used for the wrap around porch roof post supports (need 16 of them). I’ve got the milling process almost figured out to where it takes me about 2 hours to make a rafter- from pulling the log off the rack, to stacking the finished beam on the rack. I hope by the end of August, I’ll have them done and ready to go.

Problems and solutions

As usual, as I go from a total newbie on everything to a “pro” (I use “pro” very loosely, ha, ha), I’ve learned some tricks.

My engineer calculated that a beam with a minimum 10″ tip, and a 12″ middle and bottom has the same strength as a 4″x12″ beam. You would think that to make a rafter, you just lay the log on the track and cut one side to be 12″ thick, and the other 4″ thick, and you’re done. I wish. My logs are crooked and tapered, so I have to massage a 4×12 out of them. I’ve been able to, on some big logs, coax two 4×12’s out of them. But mostly, I only get one rafter, and a lot of nice 2×10’s or 2×12’s.

 

 

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I found early on that the taper of the logs makes it necessary to jack up the log on the track before cutting it. The track has a very hard time keeping up. But back to the tapered log problem. I found that if I jack up the narrow end to be level with the fat end, I can then run a flat cut with the sawmill down the entire log, ending up with at least one flat side. My idea is that the flat side will face up- that the roof T&G needs only one flat side on the rafter- the bottom only touches the house in two places- at the Ridge Pole, and at the cap logs. So I’m not wasting my time making the bottom flat.  Once I have one flat side, I turn the log on the side and begin milling it down to 5″. This may take several passes because the log might be crooked, and won’t initially sit flat on the track.

A few logs have been large enough to get two rafters. I jack up the small end as above, but then I just cut the friggin’ thing exactly in half. Then I work on each half to get it to the right size.

Don’t forget we’re talking about a 27.5′ x 12+” diameter log that probably weighs 2,500 lbs. It is very difficult to turn the log for each cut. I’ve even turned some of them with the tractor because they are too heavy. They can also roll off the track. I keep having the scary thought of getting my leg crushed inside the track when a log decides to roll, so I never ever put my legs or arms anywhere a log could roll and crush something.

Eventually, the rafter behaves, and I get a pretty good 4×10 -> 4×12 by 27.5′ long rafter.

 

 

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Here’s a video my wife took of me cutting a rafter.

Next steps

After I have 28 rafters, I’ll treat them with borate solution, then put on my math hat. The math hat is going to be tricky: To get the roof perfectly flat, I have to consider a few things:

  • Ridge Pole (RP): This log is what holds everything up. It is 56′ long, 29″ at the base, and about 15″ at the tip, so it has some taper. To make it level, I have to shorten the RPSL at the back of the house by 29″ – 15″ = 14″. This will make it level when it’s installed on the house. But then it’s not perfectly flat on top- it has some bumps and waves. I have to work this in when I place rafters on top of it. I may have to notch it to get everything perfect.
  • Rafters: They are not all exactly 4″x12″ on both ends. Most have a 4×12 butt. But the tips vary from 10″ to 12″. All of them are 5″ wide. I may put a 10″ on a part of the RP that is “high”, just so the rafters are all level.
  • Cap logs: This is where the other end of the rafters connect- these are the top wall logs. They are not perfectly level either. I have to consider this when placing the rafters on them.

With all this fitting and figuring, it seems like I should do it as I place the rafters and RP on the house, but that would mean measuring and fitting and chiseling while up 30 feet in the air. So, the plan is to do everything on the ground in advance:

  • Run a string line down the RP and level it on the ground.
  • Mark exactly where the rafters will go on the Ridge Pole. Note and mark the diameter of the Ridge Pole at each point the rafters will attach. Use the string line to get the height exact at each rafter attachment point.
  • Do the same thing on the Cap logs.
  • Use some really bright colored chalk or something to label the rafters, “AE or AW” through “IE or IW”: ‘A’ – ‘I’ designates the position, from back of the house to front of the house, of the rafter, while ‘E’ or ‘W’ designates whether it is on the (E)ast or (W)est side of the house. Each rafter on the East is paired with a rafter on the West- there are 14 pairs, spaced 4′ apart, so ‘A’ – ‘I’ makes sense.
  • Match the short rafters (less than 12″) with the tall part of the RP (where a bump or a bow sticks up). Match tall rafters (at least 12″) with the low parts of the RP (where it bows down).

When complete, I’ll have all the rafters laid out on racks in order, bolted together in pairs, next to the ridge pole, and all ready to lift by the crane when he shows up. If all goes well, the whole lift operation shouldn’t take more than about 5 hours. We are so excited for this part!