Roof – Part 1: Decking

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Buying the Decking

I searched high and low for a good price on the decking. The plans call for 2×6 Tongue & Groove, preferably in 16 foot lengths. Yes, 2 inches by 6 inches. It sounded really thick, and when I started looking on Craigslist, I could only find advertisements for 1×6. I checked the plans- nope, 2×6. I called the orange box people – they don’t sell it, and can’t even order it. I checked local mills, but you need a large volume mill – the equipment to make it is expensive. I finally found a supplier in Guntersville- just a few miles down the road. They had it for about $0.95 per foot. I ended up paying about $8,000 for a bunch of it. They delivered and unloaded it for $25.

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Polyurethane

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I decided after talking to another LHBA member to polyurethane the boards before I put them up. Otherwise, you can crane your neck and do it after they are installed. That didn’t sound fun, so I laid out all the boards on the ground and bought 5 gallons of water based polyurethane. I actually bought every gallon of water based polyurethane in town. Went to 3 different orange box stores and bought them all out. The blue people didn’t have any. Then I spent 2 days painting them all. Then another day stacking them back up into piles.

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First layer is the hardest

If you set the first layer incorrectly, when you reach the roof, your decking will be all cockeyed and stuff. The only way I could figure to get it correct was to measure from the exact intersection of the rafters down to the ends of the rafters. I had to “scary climb” up to the Ridgepole, set the tape, throw the tape measure off the house, go down to the ground to get it, go back up the ladder and measure to the end of the rafter. I had to do this 4 times- twice for each end of the house.

Then I ran a string between these two points, and put a nail on the string at each point it touched the rafters. Then I nailed up the first boards, using these nails as stops. After about 6 rows, I had enough to stand on, and now had to think about getting the bulk of the 500 boards up on the roof.

 

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After all this, when I got up to the peak, it is still off by an inch or two. I figure this is due to not all the tongues and grooves fitting together perfectly. In my defense, there’s about 60 rows of boards on each side of the roof. Stuff is going to get out of wack over that distance. No matter, I’ll trim the last board a bit, maybe add some flashing just in case, and nobody will be able to tell.

Getting it up on the roof

 

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I tried sneaking it in through the gable ends, but as the rows got higher, I ran out of space. Then I tried with a pulley to pull them up using the ladder as a rail, and the tractor on the opposite side of the house. I finally just pulled them up with a rope and pulley and nailed a pressure-treated 2×8 nailed to the rafters to prevent the boards from gouging the already-installed decking. Video here.

Installation pattern & finishing up

The manufacturer recommends one nail per rafter, 4 foot spacing between rafters, and staggering the joints. The brochure shows a couple of options. I put 2 nails per rafter, and used ring shank nails and a nail gun and air compressor. I also used a skillsaw when necessary to cut the ends off. I still need to go back and trim the decking to a one foot overhang past the ridge pole and cap logs. That will be scary- out on the edge of the roof, sawing the ends off.

Since the rafters are 48″ on center (4′ apart), and the T&G decking is 16 feet long, things tend to match up nicely. Also doesn’t hurt that I made my rafters 5 inches wide instead of 4 inches wide- provides more surface to nail the decking.

 

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I left the rafters with overlap at the peak until now- it’s too dangerous to trim the overlaps before the decking is on. A friend recommended not trying to pin them until the decking was close enough to the top to provide a place to sit while installing them. It was good advice- even with the decking up close to where I could stand while I pinned the rafters, and even with being tied onto the roof- that 65 pound jackhammer could jump off the rebar at anytime and possibly throw me off the roof. It ended up not helping anyway- that ridge pole made out of sweet gum is very very hard- the jackhammer couldn’t pound the rebar into it. I had to resort to my sledge hammer. Even then, I bent a few pins trying to hammer them into that tough wood. Video here.

Underlayment

Underlayment is either tar paper or a synthetic sheet that allows the house to breathe, but keeps the moisture out. Water gets out of the house, but can’t come in. There’s a lot of debate over exactly where to place the underlayment on a built up roof. Talking with other LHBA members, I decided to place it directly on the decking. Tar paper is good stuff- it’s been in use for a hundred years and works great. But it only has a 30 day UV exposure rating. Knowing how slow I’m going, I needed something with a better rating- the synthetic I went with has a 90 day UV rating. I bought 4 rolls of it: 1,000 sq ft coverage per roll. It was about $60 a roll.

Installing the underlayment means we’ve reached an important point in the build: for the first time, my logs are out of the weather since I cut down that first tree so long ago. It is a huge, huge relief to reach this point. During the first rainstorm after installing the underlayment, I just stood inside the house, listening to the rain, but not feeling it. It is very humbling and satisfying to reach this point. We’ve got a ways to go yet to full “weather proof”, but I’ll take a little victory lap for now.

Next steps

Roof insulation and finishing the roof: I have to decide between solid foam and spray foam. Solid foam might be slightly cheaper, but I have to have a thicker roof- 12″ thick compared to possibly only 6″ thick if I go with spray foam. I also have to install “sleepers”, which are like ribs- they lay on the roof and provide a space for the insulation to lay in.  The sleepers can just be normal 2×6’s or 2×12’s. Or engineered wood I-beams. OSB goes on top of that (if using shingles), or furring strips (if using metal roof).

 

 

 

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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.

Almost done with 1st floor logs

 

We’re nearing another crossroads- the logs are about 12 feet off the ground, which means they are about 9 feet up from the piers, and about 8 feet up from the finished floor height. All of which means we have to start thinking about the second floor. But first, I’ll summarize what’s happened since my last post.

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Improving techniques

Jack hammer is pretty good

The jack hammer cost me about $130. I don’t know if it’s a monster jack hammer or just a regular one, having never owned a jack hammer before now. But it is definitely heavy- I think it weighs close to 50 pounds. I also ordered a “rod driver bit” to go with it. The rod driver bit is usually for driving electrical grounding rods into the ground. If your home was built in the last 20 years or so, you probably have one of these- it’s to prevent an electrical surge from frying the wiring in your house. The contractor will hammer a 6 foot piece of (usually) copper into the ground, and the easiest way to do it is with a jack hammer.

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Driving rebar into logs is pretty much the same idea. The bit is just a shaft with a cylindrical hole in the end that fits over the rebar. I drive the rebar as far as I can into the log which leaves about 3 inches for me to finish pounding in by hand, which is very do-able, and it sure beats pounding the whole 20 inch piece of rebar with a sledge hammer. Instead of taking about 8 minutes per rebar, it now takes about 10-20 seconds with the jack hammer, and then about 1 minute with the sledge hammer. So I can finish pinning an entire log in about 30 minutes, instead of about 2 hours. And not as tired, either.

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Chainsaw needs some adjusting

Last night, my neighbor was asking how it’s going- I told him slow.  When making any straight down cut with my chainsaw lately, the saw wants to veer off towards the left and do this weird curvy cut. The neighbor asked if the blade was straight- yeah, I just bought it about two weeks ago. Then he asked when the last time I sharpened it, was I sitting behind the saw or in front of it? Ummmmm- I was sitting behind it. He said try sharpening it with the blade facing me- sitting behind it makes one set of teeth uneven. Huh. I had no idea, so I tried it on Saturday: I cleaned the whole thing, sharpened it, and went that afternoon to make some cuts- nope. Still curvy. My other saw- the McCollough- gave up the ghost. The repair shop said the piston and rings are no good, and the saw is so old, they don’t make parts for them. I’m going to try another blade and chain on my Husky, since it looks like I’ll be using this saw for quite a while yet.

What are temporary lifting poles?

This is a necessity. What happens is this: all of our logs are crooked, and we are using the crookedest ones first because of all the doors and windows on the first floor- the doors and windows make it easy to cut the crookedest part of the log right at the door or window, and then roll the log this way and that way to make it sit better and get it straightened out for pinning.

The problem is that when you cut a log in the middle, you have to support it somehow. With the lifting poles in the corner, you need something temporary to hold the log at the cut so it doesn’t roll off the wall. So I use the last 10 – 15 feet of a log as a temporary lifting pole, and stand it up on the pier. I chain-bind it to the existing wall logs, and put a pulley or chain hoist on top and suspend the log I’m about to cut with it. I make the cut, do any adjusting to straighten out the bows or knots, and then pin the log. Then I take down the lifting pole and use it for the next location.

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

Plans change…

We wanted a back door, we didn’t want one….Now we want one. While stacking logs, it became apparent that if we added a door on the back of the house, we could use more logs that were crooked. We also redesigned the kitchen- now, instead of separating the laundry room from the kitchen with a wall, we took out the wall between the kitchen and laundry on the plans, and opened up the laundry area and kitchen to each other. Now, when you enter the house from the side-back door, the laundry is on the right, and the kitchen is on the left- opening up a lot more space. I still need to update the CAD drawings, but I’ll get to it eventually. So far, the inspector hasn’t come out and asked to see the plans, and the copy I emailed him- well, he said it was too small to read. If I update them before he asks for them….I guess he’ll never know the difference?

Next item, please

At this point in their builds, many LHBA members begin to put in the RPSL logs that hold up the roof. These logs are bolted to the wall logs at the front and back center of the house, and will be 30 feet tall in our case. The reasoning on why to put them in at this point is that if the walls are higher than the fifth or sixth course, it’s too hard to get them over the wall. In our case, with a pier foundation, we can just slide them under the house, then lift them up on the inside. Our “advantage” is that our house is forty feet long, which makes it easy to work with a thirty foot log inside it. Our other “advantage” is that we are using lifting poles and block and tackle instead of a telehandler.

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I put “advantage” in quotes because most folks using a telehandler would snicker about how these two items- a forty foot home and lifting poles – are an advantage.

But they would probably admit that I’m right in this case. Of course, they would say all the advantages of otherwise having a telehandler outweigh these two drawbacks, whereupon I am reminded that a cheap telehandler is about $8,000 (I’m guessing the one in the photo would be about $70K+), whereas my lifting poles were free, and my lifting equipment was about $400. Sure, they’re slow, but I’ve already had a guy who is using a crane on his build state that I’m stacking faster than he is. Weird.

I guess we’ll wait to do the RPSL’s. The book shows a diagram of how to lift the girder log and RPSL’s and the ridge pole into place using nothing but block and tackle. Sort of a step-by-step. It looks like if we finish the walls first, we can use the walls to attach rigging anywhere we want and get the RPSL’s “just so”. If I try to get them in now, the only thing I have that’s taller that the RPSL’s now is my corner lifting poles, and I don’t want to put that much lateral force on the poles- they could snap off if I lift something very heavy too far away from their centers.

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

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

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.”