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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

Our model

all you need is some grocery store bags, hot glue, and one of my knitting needles to make paper logs…

How we made our model

We made a model of our future log home out of strips of brown paper bag rolled into “tapered logs”. We had talked about it since I took the class. They actually recommend it during the class, and I had been pushing my wife to let me create one, but dowels are $2.50 for a four foot length, and we’d need about 15-20 of them for just the walls, plus some for the rafters, so $60 for a model didn’t seem practical. Loghousenut even mentioned it in a comment to me- people are willing to spend big $$$$$ for a model, then complain that they don’t have the money to get started on the real one.

The other problem with dowels is they don’t have any taper, so it wouldn’t really represent our build- other than the dowels are round.

I thought we could just save some branches from cutting trees and use those, and Julie spent some time one Saturday trying to round up some that were the correct size, but it’s very time consuming to find branches that are to scale, and they still don’t have as much taper as our logs.

Our very tapered logs and the fact that we haven’t seen any actual log homes built with logs with as much taper as our logs seem to have spurred us to build a model to see how things would look. We ended up spending $4 on the thick foam-poster board. $2 for “stirring sticks” that are our 2×12 beams. The “logs” were free (made out of long strips cut from paper grocery bags)…. Construction paper- $2 for a pack of it. The glue- I don’t know- got it at the thrift store. Had to buy a new glue gun- I think Julie said that was $2.50. Also, some cardboard for the roof cut from cereal boxes, and toothpicks for the handrails.

Benefits of a model

We learned a BUNCH working on the model – in fact, I couldn’t believe how much we learned:

  • The clockwise/counter-clockwise “pinwheel” arrangement of the log layers (LHBA people know what I’m talking about) was pretty confusing at first, but the model helped sort it out. Just gotta remember the pattern when building with real logs.
  • Everything is pretty much to scale. Each square on the graph paper represents 1 foot. the walls are a little off scale- they come out at 9 inches thick instead of the usual 6 inches, but it’s still pretty close. Even the logs are to scale (as much as possible). It really gives us a realistic view of what 24 inch logs that taper down to 8 inches will look like. Adding how crooked the logs were wasn’t feasible in the model, so we have yet to decide how that will look.
  • For me, I think that a 40×40 log home looks a lot better with bigger logs- the massive logs offset the massive home, making it look not so big. Julie thinks straight, uniform logs would look better.
  • We can now play with where the stairs are, and how steep they are. I forgot that the floor joists for the second level adds at least a foot to the stair height, so when we build for real, I’ll have to be careful.
  • Ceiling height- 10 feet? 9 feet? 8 feet? I like nice tall ceilings (helps with dissipating heat), but that means more logs. I think we’ve settled on 9 feet on the first floor, and maybe 8 feet on the second level. We might even have enough space for a little third floor storage area.
  • The woodburning stove is going to be an awesome appliance- and Julie’s idea for the location is perfect- it’s sort-of central in the living area, so it will efficiently warm the house. It’s close enough to the center of the roof that we won’t have to extend the smokestack 10 feet in the air- which would look stupid, I think.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • The girder support log might be hidden from view by the framed walls- I don’t know yet, but it’s something we have to think about when we build.
  • You can’t see the back doors or bedroom doors from the front door (which we like). It also gives us a great idea of what the place will look like – how the kitchen looks from the living room and how the living room looks from the bedrooms or the balcony. It’s just neat seeing what we are heading towards when we finish.
  • I can’t emphasize how much insight we are gaining by building a model- how high should the walls be on each floor? How steep should the stairs be? How much overhang do we want on the balcony? Does this angle work? How much headroom will we have in this part? Can we move this wall slightly?  It is very, very revealing when you have a model to work from.

Problems / Solutions

We ended up redesigning the second floor several times. We also moved some walls on the first floor a little to make room for HVAC and plumbing. We noticed the massive model logs are actually encroaching on the interior floor space. I got out the plans and looked- and the 40×40 stock plan is measuring 40 feet from the center of the wall log to the center of the opposite wall log. I was thinking outside to outside was 40 feet, so this actually adds a foot to our interior floor plan that we desperately need.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We also haven’t completely settled on how to finish the second floor.  At first, we thought, just extend the walls of the bedrooms all the way to the roof, but that would make the ceiling in the center room almost 20 feet tall, and possibly hard to heat or cool. So there’s enough room above the bedrooms for a third floor loft / storage in the center area under the roof. We could just “cap” the bedrooms with a ceiling, and then use the space as a loft / storage. But to access it, we would need some stairs- we’re not sure where to put them- maybe next to the bathroom. But this is something we can decide later.

If we do have a third floor, there are all kinds of options- maybe we hang the third floor joists out over the second floor hallway.

T&G roof- the insulation is above the wood. Pretty!

Maybe we have the walls go up to the roof, or maybe it’s open with just a rail. Tons of possibilities. With this style of building, the insulation that is normally in the attic in a “stick built”home (what log home builders like to call a home built with 2×4 framing), is actually in the roof. So all you see from inside the house looking up is tongue and groove woodwork (T&G).

Here are some early photos of our model:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some interior views after we added the rails (we can almost imagine ourselves inside…):

For more photos of the model, see this post: stuck in the mud

Update (again) on Schedule for rest of 2016

Well, looks like I won’t be able to stick to the schedule I made back in August: I’m a little behind; so here’s the issues:

  • Surprise! The city still charges $5,000 to hook up water, power, and sewer, so no change there.
  • The annual “burn ban” for our county is still in effect. It was supposed to expire on October 1, but there is a very bad drought going on right now (don’t laugh, Utah friends, it is shockingly dusty out at my place (I circled our county in blue on the map below: “Extreme Drought”. captureThis means I can’t burn any of my brush piles- and they are getting big. I don’t know when we’ll get rain. We are having record setting heat- in the upper 80’s

It is the end of October. Records that stood since 1926 are being broken. It is hot, hot, hot, and dry, dry, dry. It’s throwing a few things off, but helping others, I guess- without rain, there’s no mud. It’s great for hauling logs. It’s also great for inhibiting mold and fungus growth.

I’ll revisit the schedule with some updates:

  • On my original schedule, I’ve completed the July goals.
  • August, I had planned on having enough trees (53) to start the build. But as I noted in my last post “crooked logs”, I realized a lot of my logs are too crooked, so I upped the number I need to 65. I have 51 on racks right now. So I need about 15 more. Plus, I’ll need some for RPSL’s, and everything else.
    • Luckily, I just cut a tree on my property this weekend. I measured it, and it looks like 48 feet of it are usable. All the trees on that part of the property are the same age (and height), so this is great news- we can use them for our build.
  • September– I was going to peel all trees- that month came and went. I spent a week welding the forks on my tractor, while my wife did the tedious job of scraping bug “dirt” from the bark beetles off of my logs (if you just peel them, the bug poop stays on there and gets hard- making it so the borate doesn’t penetrate as well), so I’m behind there.
  • October, I was going to submit plans, get my water hooked up, etc- that will probably be November (which starts this week!) Still working on modifying the stock plans- it is now a bottleneck to progress- I have no time to work on it:
    • I’ve committed every night after work during the week to working on the property. When I get home, I play with my 4 year old because I’ve been gone for 12 hours. I don’t believe just being near her while working on the computer is good for our relationship.
    • Saturday morning, I give my wife the day off- I stay home in the morning and work on my truck (broken head gasket) early before anyone gets up. If we both feel up to it, we spend Saturday afternoons working on the property till dark, then do any shopping we need.
    • Sunday would be ideal – church doesn’t start until 11, so I have at least 2-3 hours in the morning to myself. I’ve been modifying the stock plans during this time. It’s slow, but I’m making some progress.
  • November– I was going to lay the first logs- That might now be December or January.
  • Get the roof on: was supposed to be January or whenever I have funds- probably tax return season is when I’ll get that done. So, I’m still sort of on track. Hanging onto the schedule by the skin of my teeth.

An interesting side note: my neighbor used to work for the city, and knows a thing or two about the sewer system on our street (he surveyed and designed it). He says the limit on where I can put my house (how far back on the property it can go) is governed by the grade- 5%. This means for every 100 feet of horizontal, I can go 5′ vertical. So, we took his little golf cart for a spin over to my property to measure the sewer depth- it’s 6.5 feet down. So, according to him, I can only go back about 160 feet. But I just talked to a guy who built a house himself (brick!), and he says that figure has been updated- the pitch of the grade is now preferred to be 1 inch vertical for every 8 or 10 feet of horizontal (graphic explanation: if the water flows too fast, it doesn’t take the poop with it, so now they want the flow to slow down and carry the poop). Bottom line: it looks like I can set my house as far back as I want- which is preferred, but more expensive.


As far as materials,

  • I got all the plywood for my piers. Need to build them, now.
  • Still need the rebar (not sure where to get this from, still looking).
  • 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)

And I still stick by this statement from my last post about my schedule:

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.

2016 May 29: Update on Floor Plan & Cost Analysis

Floor Plan update:

Before I took the class, I made a post about our Floor Plan. We created the floor plan before the class to help us get an idea of the possibilities of our layout. I went to class and learned a lot of reasons why our floor plan should be changed.

One thing that impressed me is the use of square floor plans. Because I have a degree in Math, this is something I’m interested in. Here’s the argument:

Take your typical rectangular floor plan: 30 x 50. For simplicity, we’ll just consider the first floor. The square footage works out to be 1500 square feet. No problems right?

Now take those same dimensions (30 x 50), and subtract 10 feet from the long side (50 – 10 = 40), and add those same 10 feet to the short side (30 + 10 = 40). We haven’t increased or decreased the amount of materials, have we? No. They were just subtracted from the long side and added to the short side. Ok, so now, using the same amount of linear measurements, our dimensions are now 40 x 40, right? A square. Now, when we do our square footage calculations, we have 40 x 40 = 1600 square feet. So we just added 100 square feet to our house without increasing the amount of material we need for the walls. Pretty neat, huh? Yes, that 100 square feet will cost us on the floor and the roof, but it costs us $0.00 to add it to the walls.


My wife hates math. She doesn’t know it, but she’s actually very good at math. She makes quilts with patterns she creates. When I showed her the calculations above, she wasn’t impressed. To her, it was all about the layout. And rectangles work very well for layouts- ever heard of a “golden rectangle”? No? Very interesting. Square layouts…not so much. But what did make sense was when we go to submit our building plans, how would the City Building Inspector react to our hand-drawn (or even computer drawn, but by amateur) plans? Would he require “engineered plans”? How much of a stickler were we going to be dealing with here? Finding an engineer that is qualified on log home construction is hard enough, but then having him get you plans with a wet stamp on them adds to the cost. For the un-initiated, a “wet stamp”, as far as I can tell, means that an engineer licensed in your area, has signed off on the plan requirements- bolts, nuts, steel thickness, beam thickness, roof truss design, etc. The plans I found online all needed to be modified to meet our needs- large family, specific bedroom assignments, large pantry, super special other stuff, etc. I found plans for as cheap as $400.

I stated in my previous post that the plans from the class were $1700. When I got to class, they offered them at a steep discount- almost half price. And the plans they were selling included engineered drawings for three different sizes- 30×30, 35×35, and 40×40. And the plans included three different foundation layouts- crawlspace, full basement, and pier. And the plans included plans for a two-car garage. And they included plans for a 200 square foot shed. And they included lifetime building rights. Meaning, you can build as many of these homes as you like. I researched this last one (from an  article titled “The 10 things you must know about architectural copyrights“):


In many construction projects, the owner, construction manager or contractor will contract with an architect or designer to design the project. Regardless of payment, if the contract does not state otherwise, the original architect or designer retains ownership of the copyrights and the purchaser merely obtains a non-exclusive license to use the plans for that particular construction project. This means that the owner and/or contractor do not necessarily have the right to use the purchased plans for any other projects…

LHBA also provides free access to an engineer for members. If your Building Inspector requires a wet stamp, and architects in your area are unfamiliar with log home construction, you just give your architect this guy’s phone number, and he answers any questions for free. That alone is worth the price of the plans.

But let’s go back to the “build as many homes as you like”. Most people in this organization will build one home, and then they are done. I’m hoping to be in that category, so why is this important? Why should I care if LHBA grants me the rights to build as many homes as I like using their plans? For me, it means this isn’t a rip-off organization. They don’t exist to take my money for some over-priced (ha!) class that just shows you a few tips, and then says, “ok, go get ’em!” No. This is an organization that, at its very core, is dedicated to increasing a person’s ability to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That makes me happy.


We ended up really liking the 40×40 plan, even though in class, they are saying not to start with that one. Folks are saying it’s too big, hard to clean, more expensive, etc. We are planning so that all of our living can be done on the first level- kitchen, laundry, living, bedrooms, bathrooms. The second level is just for the older kids. A floor plan smaller than 40×40 just doesn’t give us the feeling of enough space on the first floor. We have lots of hobbies- she sews, and needs space for fabric. I like to knit and do woodwork. I’m also a musician- I play piano, accordion, sax- well, all the woodwinds except oboe and bassoon, and a little guitar. These things take up space…

Could have picked a smaller instrument to play, I guess….

My wife modified the interior somewhat- and we can make it work just as well as our rectangular plan. I don’t think I should share the actual floor plan here, but I can describe it: walk in the front door, living room on the left, kitchen on the right. Living area is open to all the way to the roof. A 3/4 2nd floor encloses the rest of the home. At the back of the living room are stairs that go up from left to right. Behind the stairs is a hallway, with one bedroom and a master bedroom with master bath. Behind the kitchen is a large pantry with room and next to that is laundry. There is also a backdoor. Across the hall from the pantry and laundry is the main floor bathroom.  Upstairs, there are two bedrooms above the 1st floor bedrooms. There are also some closets. There is also a bathroom and a study that could also be a bedroom. The entire house is enclosed by a large wrap around porch, with a special screened in area at the back porch, and a walkway leading to the detached garage.

Cost Analysis

original cost analysis- 3 months before I took the class.

Read the original post here. Not much has changed. I might not need to buy a sawmill ($3,000), but I ended up buying a tractor ($3,000), so that’s a wash. Chainsaw was $350, but I’m transporting my own logs, so that saves me $300 from my estimate. Chain hoists are going to run me $240, not $100, so that increases by $140. Rope was $70, so I saved there. OSB for forms are going to be more- I might be able to save some by going in with another member in Lacey Springs (30 min away), but it will be a couple hundred for the wood forms- you have to have them ready all at the same time. And on and on. The roof will probably go up by $1,000, now that I know how the class recommends doing it. I think, bottom line, the shell will cost me about $15,000. I’m still sticking with my interior estimate of $25,000 at this point. So, total cost to build: I’m still estimating $40,000.

The good news is, I’m adding $300 a month to a “build savings account”. I estimated this amount to offset the amount of money I started with to come up with the $40,000 total I would need. The other good/bad news is my time frame to complete is now nearing three years instead of two. Peeling logs is pretty slow. The reason this is good news is because at $300 month, an extra year will add $3,600 to my “build savings account”, not to mention the extra tax return for that year (that hopefully) will also add up, which is more comfortable for our bottom line.

That’s the latest update. I think we are still doing pretty well on costs.