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.

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.

 

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.

2016 May 11: It’s the little things…

Last night, my wife decided to come help. The neighbors really want to meet her. Arthur had a dentist appointment, so I had to wait for him, and then took him out to the property. I had a tree that I cut down at the neighbor’s house the day before ready to skid back to the property, so I loaded up the tractor to go down the street and get it. I showed him how to drive the tractor- and pointed out that it had manual steering. I’m not sure he understood what “manual steering” meant. He went along fine while we were going straight, but then we had to turn out onto the road- he turned ok, but then let go of the steering wheel- not realizing that with a tractor and manual steering, it will pretty much just keep turning until you stop it. We had two tires almost in the ditch before I could strong arm it back on the road. Manual steering is just one of the little things…

I also didn’t think I would be going, so I forgot to pack my new three ton chain hoist, but I had two tractor jacks, so I should be able to lift the log almost 48 inches off the ground- high enough to clear the lip of the trailer, right?

The tractor jacks, however, have no good attachment point- the chain or strap can slip off the front if the weight is pulling more to the side (such as towards the side of the log). After trying several ways to attach the strap, it finally held long enough to get the log up in the air, but since the log was in a ditch, the jacks maxed out with about an inch to spare on the lip of the trailer, which wasn’t enough to clear the lip. Just a little thing, right?

20160510_181840[1]I said, “forget it, let’s just drive”, and hooked up the tractor and started dragging. The trailer is only 10 feet too long at this point, right? Just a little thing…It went well for a while, even though one tire on the trailer was a little low on air.

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I tried to swing it wide for the right turn, but I swung a little too wide, and the trailer went into a little ditch – about twelve inches deep. ‘No big deal’, I thought, ‘I’ll just turn and it will come out of the ditch.’ Except it didn’t, and the angle of the trailer caused the strap to slip, which caused the log to shift, which caused the trailer to shift some more, and now it was locking itself up around the “No Outlet” street sign on the side of the road. And the other tire was now flat. Just a little thing…

I thought maybe I could pull the log back away from the sign and the ditch, so I hooked up to the trailer…

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pulled….

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…and the trailer came along, but the log was too tired to move.

I stopped, unhooked, backed up to the log, set the jack on one side, tractor on the other, and chain in the middle. This time, the depth of the ditch wasn’t as deep where I hooked up the tractor, so when I lifted, the big end easily cleared the lip of the trailer.I strapped it down again, and looked up to see one of the neighbors come out of his log cabin (that he built in the 1980’s- more on this later) with a four ton come-along. He asked if I thought it would help- sure, let’s use it. Just a little thing…

But now with two flat tires, the trailer decided to pull at an angle- which meant that while I’m driving down the right edge of the road, the trailer and log are driving down the left side of the road- missing several mailboxes by inches. I pulled into the driveway, knowing the trailer wouldn’t make the turn and end up in a ditch (so I let it), stopped, unhooked the trailer (that was now in the ditch), and tried to pull on the log. The heavy end decided, with ten feet hanging into the ditch, that it wasn’t going anywhere. Unhook the tractor, hook up heavy end, pull out of ditch, hook back up light end, lift, and pull.

The log was barely moving, but it was moving, so I found out that gunning it in 4th gear was the git-r-dun I needed.

Just a bunch of little things- little annoyances that end up being big problems, but it seems like there are just barely enough little helps – like the neighbor’s come-along- to overcome them. Log #13 is in the bag.