More Cabin Motivation

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I’ve written a bunch about how we are building this cabin, but not much lately on why we are building this thing. Since we are at a point between the first and second floors, and I’m back to peeling logs (more on that later), now seemed like a good time to review. Not only do people use widely varying methods of building a log cabin, but they have widely varying reasons for building a log cabin. Talking to other LHBA members and other builders on facebook, I’ve discovered that not everyone is going to live there full time. The reasons for building also vary.  You could slice the reasons and the types of people who build into a crazy number of categories, but I’ll try to keep it simple.

I did an informal poll on one of the cabin groups I’m on to see why people build log cabins.

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It breaks down this way:

  • Total responders: 40
  • don’t have one but will: 50%
  • live there full time: 18%
  • get away: 15%
  • live there eventually: 13%
  • building one now: 2%

The allure of a log cabin

Half of the people on the survey don’t have a log cabin, but say they will someday. I believe that is probably true of the general population of the United States, as well. I found this article from the National Park Service stating that originally, log cabins in America were meant to be temporary dwellings, and they may have lost popularity completely, except that in the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (part of a “make work” project during the Great Depression) built many cabins in the National Parks. The most famous example of log architecture is, of course, the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. I’ve been there many times, enjoyed sitting in one of the mission style chairs in the lobby, and climbing the log staircases. It is truly an inspiring structure. A photo that captures all of the essence of this world-famous structure is hard to find, but I found a few:

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But what is the allure of a log cabin? The National Park Service article states:

Had it not been for these [the log cabins built by the CCC in the 1930’s] the log cabin might have disappeared, but because people saw the log structures and liked what they saw, many began to build modern log cabins and log houses. These homes seemed to represent all that a family could want: a sturdy shelter from the elements and a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle. The log cabin remains a popular building style.

Popular, but yet rare. There are no statistics on how many log cabins are out there, but they remain a very popular (at least in the imagination) and an iconic building style. I think the answer to “why are they so alluring” is simply because they call us back to simpler times when quality mattered.

For most folks, the cost of building one is the limiting factor. Whereas a normal frame home costs about $120 per square foot, a log home can cost $150-$175 per square foot. But that’s really not that much difference for a dream. Hard to get a loan? Maybe a little. Cabins are considered unconventional building styles by many lenders- meaning they are hard to find “comparables” (other property in the area used to determine if the asking price is valid). Maybe permits and city inspections are more complicated? Yeah. But not by much, depending on where you live. Of course, this doesn’t cover our build. Our “per square foot” cost is much, much cheaper- about $20 per square foot. In our case, a log cabin was cheaper than a framed or a brick home.  One reason is that the building materials can be cheaper than 2×4’s. As in free. Or, the cabin can be extremely expensive if you hire out the actual construction and contracting. But I guess you could also argue it’s only cheap because I’m pouring 30 years worth of work into building it in about 2 years. Maybe 3….

It’s always seemed strange to me that everyone loves the idea of a cabin in the woods, but not many people have them, even though price, hassle, etc. isn’t much different from a regular home, not to mention how much more environmentally friendly they can be than other styles of homes. I just haven’t been able to square why there aren’t more of them.

Why have a log cabin?

According to my poll, people have different uses for their cabin. Some live in them full time, others use them as a get away. Why have one?

The get-away

The first cabin I had was definitely a get away- we drew a circle on a map with our full-time residence as the center. The edge of the circle was how far we were wiling to drive to “get away”: which was a two hour drive. Then, every weekend, we would take a different route until we were 2 hours away from home, looking for property or a cabin for sale along the way. The one we bought was built by an old farrier in his 70’s- as a get away on 20 acres. No power, no running water, too far away from cell coverage, and an outhouse. It was a simple one room cabin with a loft. And it was awesome- I could sit out on the porch some days and actually hear the nothing. At night, we were at least 60 miles from the nearest city, so the stars were extremely bright. But at 6,000 ft+ elevation, it wasn’t a place you could stay in the winter, as the county would close the road when the snow got too deep. We had a few family parties there, but eventually found that keeping up with two houses was some work. After the divorce, I had to sell it. That was painful, and I realized that I really liked cabin living better than city living. I wanted to get another one, and this time, live in it full-time.

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20 acres, a cabin, and a 1973 Ford HighBoy- what’s not to like?

The homestead

This is where I’m headed. But when I remarried and moved to the South, it didn’t look like it was going to happen. My wife wasn’t that interested at first. A brick home was what she wanted. I was ok with that, I thought, so when I finally got through school and started making a little more money, we started looking at homes. We needed a big one- 6 kids between the two of us, and we both have lots of hobbies- sewing, knitting, art, music, woodworking- we needed plenty of space. Of course, I wanted as much property as we could afford. Which meant very few homes made it on the list, and the ones that did were usually in need of major renovations, and many of them had plenty of smells to go along with them. You can read more about the beginning of our log home journey here.

Now they do have cabins here in the South- but not like the ones out West. Here we have dove tailed square oak beam cabins. Out West, it’s more solid log coped cabins. They are ALL pretty in my book.

The eventual plan is to have a small hobby farm, and of course I want my garage for woodworking and building rustic furniture. The idea is to become more self-sufficient. We are building this cabin without a loan, paying as we go. There’s no mortgage on the house- when we’re done, we’ll own it. We’ll try gardening, and raising chickens and bees. Maybe some of that will provide some income. When you’re peeling logs, it’s easier and more fun to think about this kind of stuff than how sore and tired you are from all the work.

Back to Basics (like peeling logs)

Which brings me back to peeling logs, which I did almost all of last week. See, when we started stacking, we decided that we were going to stack logs in this manner: the biggest logs would go on the bottom, and decrease in size as we worked our way to the top. That way, even though our logs have more taper than anyone else’s home on LHBA, at least we would have control over the size of the logs. We also decided to stack so that the butts of the logs faced the front of the home- this gives the home a “massive” feel to it, and also provides extra support for the roof – which hangs about 6 feet out from the corners.

 

There were still some trees on our property that needed to come down, and as we got higher with the stacking, I noticed that  few were too close for comfort to the house (in case of a tornado). So I cut a few down. Julie measured them, and what do you know- they were the same size (about 5 feet around) as the ones we were using on layer #6- which meant we needed to use them now, or risk stacking big logs on top of little logs. I cut down about 8 more of that size.

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sweet gum tree. 55 feet long. Log arch to lift it onto the trailer (on right, almost out of frame).

I also cut down a sweet gum tree that is about 55 feet long, has a 29″ diameter base, and a 15″ tip, and is almost perfectly straight with no large branches. In other words, the perfect size for a ridge pole – the longest, straightest, biggest, “most righteous” log. But I’ve heard from folks that they twist as they dry. I can’t even budge it with my tractor. If I don’t use it for a ridge pole, it would make an awesome dining table, along with some end tables, and maybe a door.

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The other choice for my ridge pole is a giant oak further back in the forest- it’s about 26″ at the base, with minimal taper. I don’t know the tip diameter, but it is even longer- almost 65 feet by my estimation. And according to woodweb (they have a weight calculator), it probably weighs about 7,000 lbs.  I’ll need help moving it. Did I mention it’s an oak tree? How awesome would that be for a ridgepole?

That’s it for now, back to work. Leave a comment if it suits you.

 

 

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2016 May 05: A “certified log home builder”

That means I took a class from the Log Home Builders Association (LHBA), and in so doing joined a worldwide network of thousands of other like-minded folks in various stages of building their log homes. We follow state and local building codes, volunteer labor to help each other out, share deals and sometimes tools to get the job done. But mostly, we get together on our private discussion boards and talk about….private log home builder stuff. Ok, we tell jokes, swap stories about the time Ed fell off the roof, or “remember when”.

We also believe in each other. I’ve never been involved with a more positive or tenacious group of people. I would have to go back to my LDS mission days to find a comparably positive atmosphere.

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Julie on one of her favorite logs
The summer when I was sixteen, my grandpa picked me up every day during the summer in his “puddle jumper”, otherwise known as a 1985 Chevy truck, and we went and fixed up one of his rental properties (what kind of person turns the heat up in their house to ninety-five degrees in the winter so they can walk around naked inside, and then climbs on the roof to cut the ice that forms with an axe, thereby causing leaks that destroy the ceiling, drywall and floors?). I learned to use a chainsaw, a table saw, a miter saw, scroll saw, skill saw, and hand saw; a chalk line, a level, sander, etc. I learned to roof, hang cabinets, hang doors, hang drywall, hang lights, do plumbing, electrical, insulation, lay tile, put in stairs, do concrete work. 

I have just never done all of them from the ground up.

It is hard, hard work, although my blisters have toughened up in the past few weeks. I could hire a boy scout troop, or ask for volunteers from my church, or even the LHBA, even though it’s just peeling logs for now. Besides, my wife and I are fiercely independent. We value our privacy. This is something we want to do by ourselves, if possible…..No, I don’t know why, except we’ve been surrounded throughout our lives by people who tell us we can’t do this, you’re not smart enough, strong enough, experienced enough, and on and on. You really find out who people are when they give you advice, if you just listen. There are a lot of “cants” out there in the world. We don’t want or need their influence while we embark on one of the biggest adventures of our life.

We have also experienced the backlash of closed-minded thinking.  It’s very strange to me how many closed-minded people there are out there.

The ability to consider an idea, evaluate it, and then either accept it or reject it is truly the sign of an open mind.

On a side note, I recently went looking for an internet test to determine the level of open-mindedness I have. I ended up on psychology today’s website for the “how open minded are you?” test, which consisted of a series of questions to determine how you feel about gay marriage, socialism, global warming (or is it cooling? I get confused), evolution, and whether God exists. I went through the test, incredulous at their belief that how open minded you are is directly related to how well you accept Progressive ideals, instead of the ability to consider new ideas. Seriously, they should try using some psychology on us….

But back to the matter at hand: the amount of influence the belief in your ability to accomplish a task has on your ability to accomplish a task. In other words, whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. It’s hard enough to do something you’ve never done before- without adding in all the “cants” telling you that you can’t do it. Thus the secrecy of the project up until this point. The power of positive thinking is a real influence.

If I think about the end result, and sitting on my porch, surrounded by logs out in the country, it’s overwhelming. I worry about squaring the foundation, making sure the walls are level and the right height, that the roof will fit, that the floors won’t squeak, the plumbing won’t leak, the lights will stay on, the windows will open (and shut), the thing won’t rot, leak, fall down (okay, I don’t worry about it falling down). But this is a huge project. I’m using hand tools to lift logs that are forty-five feet long and weigh seven thousand pounds twenty feet in the air. I’ll be working, at times, thirty feet in the air. I am using heavy machinery that can roll over and kill me if I don’t pay attention. The possibility of disaster is very real. Breathe. Do just one thing.

Today, it was too windy to cut anything (trying to play it safe), so I was cleaning up branches from the latest tree I cut, and getting the log up on the stacking logs. Tomorrow, I will probably find another tree to cut, if the wind dies down. Just do one thing at a time. Don’t try to eat the whole elephant in one bite.

I leave with a few photos of the property I used to own in Idaho. It was a cabin, just not a log cabin. But the scenery, ruggedness, and remoteness still inspires me:

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2016 February 20: Transformative

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Class is over. Boy, that was rough- waiting in line in Vegas to get off the plane, then another line to get on the shuttle, another one to get on the bus that takes you to the rental car place, where you get to wait in a line to get your rental car, and finally, a line to leave the parking lot in your car. How I love to travel….:) (my wife says if you put a smiley face on your stuff, then people know you’re friendly).

The class was amazing, fast paced, and chock full of advice from Ellsworth and Steve, who have both built many homes using Skip’s method. Topics were how to save money on the build, where to get logs, how to get tools, what to say to the permit office, to the logger, to the cement truck driver, the forest ranger supervisor. There was a workbook that I filled with notes in the margin.

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But, in the end, I didn’t learn much about construction that I didn’t know. The Skip method is stupid simple. What I did learn is that it’s possible to build a home in less than two years, and do it without a mortgage, and without specialized construction knowledge. I learned a pioneering philosophy of can-do that our ancestors likely had. This isn’t a class on how to build a log home as much as it is a class on becoming self reliant and independent.

Which is kind of funny. I mean, they have a class about being independent from the government, the bank, and just about everything else on the planet.  And they hold it in Sin City- the best example on earth of where dependence and slavery rules- being a slave to money, passion, power, vices- it’s all there. Pretty ironic, huh?

I can’t figure out one thing, though: why aren’t more people interested in this lifestyle? Why are people willing to slave away for 30 years to pay off a mortgage, when they could be free of that bondage for a little extra effort up front?

The reaction from my family was polite and supportive: “Oh, that’s nice”.
“But- look at this piece of debt-free log-home-building-gold I found!”
“That’s nice.  Good for you guys.”
“No, it’s a ‘get-out-of-mortgage-jail-free card’, and it’s good for the next 30 years.”

I do have to add that my sister’s husband did ask a ton of questions. And he has a telehandler – the most talked about piece of equipment in the entire class…

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I guess it’s just that I’ve been researching various log home building methods for the last 10-15 years. I settled on the Skip method about 10 years ago, and have been learning about it since then. The beauty is getting a crazy awesome log home, and doing it mortgage-free.

The bottom line: it’s not how much you make that makes you rich: it’s how much you spend. That is the beauty of doing it debt free. I dunno- I’m just really excited about it, I guess.

Now, about that land with the fruit trees and a creek…. Where is it?