We took a little break from stacking…

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RPSL’s, GSL’s, Girder Logs

For the un-initiated, RPSL’s are Ridge Pole Support Logs. They are the vertical logs that hold up the ridge pole; while the ridge pole is the log that holds up the roof- it’s the highest log in the whole house, and according to Skip (founder of LHBA), it should be the longest, straightest, most righteous log you have.

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This is Paul Kahle’s log home- one of our members- built just like we are doing with lifting poles. The ridge pole is the log he is sitting on, while the RPSL’s are holding it up.

A GSL is the Girder Support Log- it holds up the Girder Log that holds up the joists for the second floor. The GSL goes through the middle of your house, perpendicular to the ridge pole.

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You can see one of the RPSL logs bolted to the wall, a center RPSL, and the GSL bolted to it. The GSL is the one holding up the girder in this photo. This is the home of Tracy Nichols, also one of our members.

You can install the RPSL’s as soon as you have enough wall logs to support them- most LHBA members install them when they have six courses of logs installed- but that is if you are using a telehandler. The book recommends installing them when you have your walls up. Julie and I have discussed when to put them up with a lot of positives and negatives. If we put them up now, we could use them as temporary lifting poles for crooked logs we need to cut in half. I’m actually at the point where temporary lifting poles aren’t tall enough to be of any use. And if I get taller temporary lifting poles, well, they are just too heavy to get in position.

The girder log could go in now or later. If we do it now, we can use crooked wall logs that we cut and leave a space for the girder log. If we do it later, we can use the wall logs to attach our block and tackle, and lift the girder log wherever we want. Along with the girder log would be the GSL support log- the vertical log that supports the GSL.

For now, we’ve decided to keep going with the wall logs. We are on course seven now, and it is only for logs that will not be cut in the middle somewhere- there are no doors or windows at this point in the build like there were up until now.

Getting new logs, protecting the existing logs

Julie has been managing which logs go where- she measures the circumference of the existing logs, and finds the next biggest log for the next layer. We started with logs that were nearly six feet around, but now we are down to logs that are just over five feet around. We have a few on our property that needed to be cut down anyway because the eventual plan is to have a large garden and we need the sunlight.

There were also  few that are too close to the house. So I cut them down, only to find out that they are over five feet around- meaning, if we were going to use them, it had to be now. Otherwise, we would mess up the plan for the house of building starting with the biggest logs and going to the smallest. I’ve cut down eight trees in the past week- which also included cleaning up the branches, and getting the logs racked. It takes almost a day to clean up all the branches-I have to wrap a chain around the limbs after I cut them off and then drag them with the tractor- it’s a lot of pulling with the tractor, and pushing the limbs into a burn pile. Very messy.

Also, they need to be peeled, which is a lot of work.

Finally, they need to be borated, so I brewed up three more batches of borate, and sprayed the whole house. I’ll spray the rest this week:

 

 

 

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All of which brings up an incident this week that stopped everything: we broke a log.

Breaking a log

Julie picked out a log from rack #1.  I went and hooked up to it and started pulling it out of the pile when it broke- I broke off about ten feet of it. It just snapped. I was shocked- this has never happened before. It’s a log that I think is at least six months old that hadn’t been borated. I’ve been thinking for a while that it is time to borate my logs again, and this was the perfect time to do it. I brewed up a new batch- three batches, actually. I have 7 gallons of the stuff, which is enough to treat 42 logs. I probably need more, but this is a good start. I sprayed every log on the house first, and next week I’ll move on to the racked logs. Need to finish peeling the new ones before I treat them.

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Fixing the truck

My new truck is a 1979 Ford F150 4×4 with a manual transmission and a 351M motor. I love how it feels. My wife isn’t so sure. I wanted something more “EMP proof”, and this is what feels right. I knew the clutch needed replacement when I bought it- it slipped when in gear and under a load. It either had to be the clutch disk was worn out, or it was fouled with oil from a leaky rear main seal. Either way, I had to open it up to find out. I put it up on ramps (probably didn’t need to since it is already a “high-boy”) on a Saturday and started disconnecting things. The next Monday, a city inspector showed up and told Julie “you can’t work on a vehicle in your driveway.” REALLY? They actually made a law about that. While I understand trying to keep the neighborhood looking nice, city folks have some really dumb ways of controlling everyone. Somebody called us in. We have a sneaking suspicion who it was- we asked our neighbor about it and he said he suspects the same person got him, too- he got called in last year for leaving his trash can out on the curb for more than two days. Someone with nothing better to do with their time. It’s a little ridiculous. Can’t wait to get out of the city.

Anyway, had some real issues with the truck- couldn’t get the transmission to go back in. After a week of trying different things, I finally called my buddy over- he came on a Saturday.

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He took one look at the set up, and said everything I was doing looked right, and then he asked, “Is the tranny in gear?”

“In gear? No, the book said take it out of gear to remove it.”

He laughed and said, “yeah, but with these old trucks- any old vehicle, really- you need it IN gear to re-install it. See, they used to use really big splines on the tranny- you’ve got everything lined up right, you just need to turn the drive shaft while you’re pushing the transmission into place. If you don’t do that, the splines will never line up.”

“….And I’ll be sitting here for a week trying to figure out why it won’t go in,” I finished.

“yup.” He got the stick for the transmission and plugged it in and found second gear, then he said, “you crawl underneath and turn the drive shaft, and I’ll sit up here and push.”

I turned the drive shaft, and the whole thing jumped forward into place within 30 seconds. I spent the rest of the day installing u-joints, brackets, shafts, the seat, and all the covers and electrical, got it down off the ramps, and started her up- perfect!

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Stuff Breaks

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fingernail is making a comeback!

Since the beginning of this project, stuff has been breaking: Logs are too heavy, I do dumb things, money is tight, I have another job, etc.

My whole life, I’ve been working in jobs where I see areas that need improvement- more efficient methods, outdated standards, etc, and every new job I get, I try to implement changes that are more efficient. I guess my whole life has been one of “process improvement”:

I had this old Nissan Sentra my grandma sold me for $1.00. It had been through several cousins as a starter car. Finally came to me. One time, I was driving it home late at night from work while I was struggling through college and the lights went dim. When I looked under the hood, I found the belt to the alternator was loose- the tensioner bolt had fallen out. I looked in the trunk for something to brace it with or an extra bolt- and found an old screwdriver. I jammed the screwdriver in there, and I meant to fix it, but a few weeks later, the clutch went out on it.  I got it to a mechanic, and when I came to pick it up, he said, “Oh, by the way, while we were in there fixing your clutch, we found this:” <holds up screwdriver>.

“Oh yeah.”

They start laughing. “Yeah, we fixed it for ya.”

Hopefully, I’ve come a long way since those days (baby steps). Building this log home, I’m improving my methods as I go, but there are some set-backs.

Logs are too heavy (Process improvement)

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Your log home dealer offers “oversize” 12 inch logs? That’s so cute…

This is a given. The logs are always too heavy. I can’t stress how dangerous this is. They are very heavy. Tractor can’t lift them, so I have gone through several improvements:

  1. 2 tractor jacks- one on each side of the log. very unstable. Tend to “max out” at just under the height needed to get the log on the trailer.
  2. lifting tripod made out of large branches: works pretty good- very heavy, hard to set up.
  3. a trailer- works pretty good. very heavy, hard to maneuver to get it under the log- usually has to be maneuvered by hand- can’t always get tractor involved with tight turns that might bump the log while it’s hanging in mid-air and knock everything down.
  4. a log arch attached to the trailer….and a broken finger, so…
  5. ….log arch NOT attached to trailer…so far so good…
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anti-tank house logs

“Why don’t you use smaller logs?”

It’s a thought…That I don’t have. Go big or go home. Because Manly.

OK, seriously- a log home made out of 12″ logs has been proven to be at least twice as efficient as a home made from 2×4’s in a standard fashion. Most log home folks report paying 1/3 the cost in AC/heating costs as they did in their “stick-built” homes. The logs I’m using range from 14 inches to 27 inches. I’m expecting a cheap utility bill when this is all said and done.

There’s also the artistic factor: Big logs are inspiring. Look at the two homes below:

Which one has the “Oh…wow” factor? Yeah. I thought so.

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“Mommy, mommy! That man is not wearing a seat belt!”

The tractor is kinda light

I think the tractor must weigh in at about 3,500 pounds. The logs are probably about 5,000 + lbs. In a tug-o-war, the logs sometimes win. I’ve broken the tractor a few times:

  1. broken steering column
  2. broken pins on three point hitch (several times).
  3. bent the 3 point hitch mounting points.
  4. broken front grill, smashed front cowl
  5. flat tire on rear (I’m suspicious that it came that way as a slow leak that got faster with use).
  6. broken/stripped out lift arm screw – right side
  7. broken/stripped out lift arm screw – left side

For #6 & #7: 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?

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I do dumb things:

Did you know that you can’t interchange a 80-link bar on a chainsaw with a 72-link bar? Yeah, I got bad advice: “just change out the bar”. They forgot to mention the drive sprocket aligns with the links on the chains. For a few days, I couldn’t figure out how the teeth on that sprocket got all chewed up. Now I know, and I now have a new drive sprocket on order from Ebay for my saw….

 

Money is tight:

This was part of the plan- do the build super cheap. With unlimited funds, I could build this thing in about 3 weeks. With no funds, I can’t build it at all. With some funds, I can afford some equipment, but not the expensive kind, so the build timeline is in between 3 weeks and forever. I’m going for 2 years…

Without a lot of money, I’ve got to stick to being innovative – do more with less. Lesson from class:

  1. cheap
  2. fast
  3. good

You can only pick two. I guess I have to pick #1 & #3. Which means any cool trick I want to try has to be cheap and good, or forget it.

I have another job:

Believe it or not, I work full time as a support engineer (no, I’m not usually the white collar guy with pink hands, so this is a huge career improvement for me- usually, I’m crawling under raised floor panels dragging some CAT-V cable). Yes, this affects the build: I’m trying to hurry as much as I can because of my limited time to build. There are those in our organization who only work on their cabins for 4 weeks out of the summer. Then there are those who do it for a living. I’m in the “do it every night after work” group. This creates problems of being too hasty:

  • Like the time I came within five feet of smashing my tractor while felling a tree- I was in too much of a hurry before it got dark to go grab my 60′ cable. So I used my 20′ chain to hook it and pull instead. I had to dive off the tractor as the tree came down. Luckily, the tree missed. You can’t really get away from a falling tree while chained to it with a tractor. Whew.
  • Borating the logs before the bugs get to them: I have to make my brew on the weekends. I was using a “rocket stove” design on my cinder blocks for the fire. I changed it this weekend to a new design with more airflow. Process improvement? yes: the first way of cooking, the brew took 3 hours. This time, it took me 1 hour.

Conclusion:

The conclusion is: Stuff breaks. Lessons?

  1. Learn how to fix it.
  2. Process improvement.
  3. Focus on the task at hand.
  4. Figure out what isn’t working, what is working, and the difference between the two.

#1 and #2 are my bright spots. #3 can be hard, but if I get ahead of myself, really heavy logs bring me back to what really matters at the moment. #4 is where I get stuck, believe it or not- it’s good to be married to a level-headed woman: whenever I get harebrained ideas like: “I know- let’s buy a 1 ton truck to drag logs around,” she straightens me out with “what you’re doing is working- you just need to stick with it.”

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 24: Schedule for the rest of 2016

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I got a little raise at work. Yay! Now, hopefully, our account will still be hundreds in the black instead of just tens a week before payday. It’s sort of self imposed: we committed to saving a small house payment-like amount when we started the build. We are counting on this amount to supplement our savings that we used to initially start things off. But I also have some student loan payments and we have the land loan every month, along with our utilities, groceries, gas, and the normal bills everyone has.

I’ve been worried about finances on the build for a few months now- the city charges $5,000 to hook up water, power, and sewer, and this amount will just about clean out our savings for the next few months, and make it difficult to get concrete poured (I’m thinking thousands for the concrete). But we can’t get a building permit until we have utilities, so it was becoming a roadblock to progress. With my little raise at work, we now have some breathing room on our build, although we won’t be able to do the concrete right away.

I’m still cleaning up tree debris from cutting twelve trees a few weeks ago- not ready to move logs, but hope to do so later this week. And the debris piles are getting huge. Even with saving the bigger branches, things are still piling up. I’m probably going to end up with ten or more debris piles. There is currently an annual “burn ban” for the summer in the county we live in, so no burning until October. And I think I’ll be required to have running water on hand while burning brush.

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I also need to borate the trees I have. Borating the trees stops mold and bugs (mostly termites) from setting up shop in your house. Borating only really needs to be done once if your logs are already stacked and dried in (protected from rain). My logs are laying around exposed to the elements, so I’m going to have to treat them twice- once now, and once again when they are under roof. Once they are under roof, further borating is not necessary. The boric acid discourages insects, while the glycol causes the tree to suck up the solution much farther than just water would do. For LHBA members (password and membership required), I like the thread “NOTICE – Borate Mixture- Notice” under the “log home construction” folder. Three ingredients- borax, boric acid, and some kind of glycol. There are some surface mold spots on the logs I’ve peeled (thank you,  ‘The South’, and your overly humid weather). I bought a metal bushel, but I still have to buy the borax and the glycol (both available at Walmart). I also have a sprayer (thank you, Harbor Freight, for having extremely cheap tools). Just need a few hours to boil up some brew…

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All of the above has caused me to think about a (very aggressive) build schedule for the rest of the year:

  • July
    • continue to cut trees, clean up brush.
    • Hope to end the month with 18 existing + 15 new = 33 trees on racks, and half of them peeled.
    • borate the trees I’ve peeled.
  • August
    • cut and haul more trees- hopefully, by end of August, get 20 more trees for a total of 53 trees- enough to start the build. I think I only need 48 for the walls, but I want some breathing room. I also still need a bunch for the roof purlins, lifting logs, cap logs, ridge poles, etc, but I can at least get the build going once I have the minimum.
  • September
    • Peel all trees, and borate the remainder once peeled.
  • October
    • pay for water hook up
    • submit plans and get building permit
    • dig and pour foundation
  • November
    • lay first logs for walls. This also means I’ll make this blog public- that is the goal- make it public after the first few courses of logs are laid.
    • burn brush piles and maybe stumps
  • December
    • Lay last log for walls
  • January 2017 (or whenever I have funds)
    • Get the freakin’ roof on!

At some point, I need to get more tools and materials. Items I’m still missing:

  • plywood for foundation forms ($200)
  • concrete ($2400)
  • rebar (about $1200)
  • 2 3-ton chain hoists ($160)
  • rebar cutter ($150) or chop saw blades ($50?)
  • styrofoam for roof (I don’t know- probably $200-500)
  • roof panels (probably metal roof – $3000)
  • T&G roof decking ($2000)
  • plywood roof underlayment (I don’t know)

It’s obviously very ambitious for one person, not to mention one person that has never done this before. I’m sure there will be delays due to finances or hassles with the city, equipment breakdowns, etc. But if the schedule needs to be adjusted by two or three months, that’s ok- I need to wait for a tax return for a boost to my finances anyway.  It still appears that I can “git-r-dun” within my goal of 2-3 years.

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