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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Tapered and Crooked Logs

A depressing reality…

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The more logs I cut, the more I realize how crooked, twisted, bowed, knotted, and generally undesirable they are. It came to a head the other day while peeling them with Julie. We went and looked at each log, trying to figure out how to use it. I remember from class that we were told you can use the crooked ones in doorways and windows- you cut them at the worst part of the bend, and extend them past the door. Or you can winch the bows out of some of them. Our logs are sort of an “all-of-the-above”. Many of them bow in two different directions. Some in three. But I’ve never done this before, so my wife wasn’t feeling any confidence from me that it would actually look decent.

They all taper pretty badly: class workbook recommends taper of no more than one inch per ten feet of log, or 1% taper. Ours are 2.5% and up. The best ones have a taper of 1.9%. As the number of “unusable” logs began to mount, we both began to get very depressed.

Not to mention they are Southern Yellow Pine (SYP), which has a low decay resistance. And the growth rings are too far apart. And there are plenty of knots.

Assessing the situation

Skip says “build with what you have”. Well, we have free logs, so we thought we should start there. But the other day, we were thinking about calling a logger for some logs. That could increase the price from between $12,000 to $25,000. We don’t have that kind of money. We started thinking about just staying put in our current house. That we hate.

Julie is the realist. I’m the dreamer. But the reality was eating me, too. We were both really depressed.

Not to mention that my tractor forks are all beat up and bent, along with my trailer about to fall apart:

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LHBA to the rescue!

LHBA has been a great resource. I started looking through the forums for pictures of crooked logs. I found some, and began to make a pinterest page for “crooked logs” to prove to Julie that it could be done. But there aren’t any pictures of logs that look as crooked as ours. I noticed a thread from loghousenut where he talked about crooked logs- kind of a “before” and “after” showing that you can build with crooked logs.  But one of the log pictures was missing, so I sent out a “help” message- “could you re-post that missing photo?” and told him my troubles. More members responded. Pretty soon, Ivanshayka was telling me to call him- he built his cabin with hand tools on a pier foundation out of some crooked logs he got from neighbors mostly.I took notes- got about 25 tips from him on how to straighten a log. And a lot of encouragement. Confidence level went back up a little. My wife was really liking the LHBA members after that.

Then loghousenut gave me his number, and some free advice. And then said this: untitled

“you have become the one to watch.” Kind words from a member of our organization. How many organizations do you know of where people say stuff like this? Huge confidence boost from that. Of course, that’s what I’ve always said- I didn’t need to go to the LHBA class to learn how to build log homes. I needed to go for the confidence. The method – “Butt & Pass” – is stupid simple. Almost anyone can do it- but it’s not about know-how, it’s about confidence.

More people weighed in. I can’t help but succeed at this- just have to work hard and be precise. And cut more trees. Lots of them. I have almost 50 up on racks. I figure probably 20 more logs ought to completely flatten the trailer. do it.

If you are on the fence about which log home company or organization to go with – may I recommend LHBA? Awesome organization with awesome people.

Reality check- with a model

So, with the confidence boost, we took another look at our logs. I have a spreadsheet going tracking my logs. Now I need to add comments on which log is crooked, and what to use it for. Each log will be artistically placed into position for maximum use and effect. This is the kind of stuff that triples the price of other log homes.

My wife began creating a model using paper from paper bags and a hot glue gun, and a copy of our plans:

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The model logs match the taper of our real logs. We started stacking logs on our plan- and we are really impressed- the taper really doesn’t matter as much as we thought. In the photo, our logs are  ten feet high- halfway to our goal. They aren’t bent or crooked like the real ones, but we get an idea of how it will look with our super tapered logs- and it’s not too bad. It looks kind of cool, actually.

Conclusion

Good neighbors and friends beat heavy, crooked tapered logs, broken tractors, and flattened trailers. Work will win where wishy washy wishing won’t. Confidence is more important than tools. A good woman is to be valued above that of rubies. We are still worried about how crooked the logs are, and whether they can be used effectively, so we are not completely confident that it will all work out, but we are moving forward anyway.

Cabin Inspiration

Many are probably wondering- “yeah, but what’ll it look like when it’s done?” I don’t know, and that’s actually complicated to answer because a cabin like ours doesn’t really exist yet- for a couple of reasons:

  • This is kind of a “duh”, but every handmade log home is different- just the logs alone have so many differences from build to build- let’s look at a few differences:
    • Our logs don’t look like other logs- species differences: Southern Yellow Pine (afterwards “SYP”) vs Fir, spruce, Ponderosa, Douglas, Cedar, Oak, Poplar, etc.
    • SYP grown in open field, or close together: close together means they don’t put on as many branches (and they don’t get as thick). Out in the open, they spread out which means they have more knots, but the trunks are thicker. This might seem minor, but consider two log homes- one built with 20″ average logs, and the other with 10″ average logs:
      • taper: taper is the how fast the log gets smaller as you measure it from bottom to top (to find the taper, you take the difference between the top and bottom diameter and divide by the total length).  We wanted to shoot for a taper of less than 1% (didn’t happen- most of ours are 2%). Doesn’t seem like much, but most of ours got dangerously close to smaller than 8″ at 42 feet. My rule was minimum of 8″ at 42 feet.
  • Construction method:
    • methods for joining logs- cope, dovetail, milled, D-logs- I went through and researched all of these methods before I settled on the Skip Ellsworth Butt & Pass method. Skip’s is the most durable, has the lowest maintenance level, the easiest. The only thing it’s not is the prettiest: Swedish cope takes the cake on that one. But I think B&P takes the cake on durability.
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  • Maybe those differences are minor to you, so let’s look at plans:
    • Roof- we have settled for the moment on charcoal metal or gun metal gray. This is just a personal preference.
      • Roof material: metal. We had a brief moment of insanity where we thought about cedar…
    • Roof overhang: I was going to go for ten foot overhangs, but now with a wrap around porch, we’ll only need a bit of overhang- maybe 5-7 feet. This is significant- in the South (where we are), you need a lot of overhang to cover the logs- they cannot get wet. Add to that the fact that SYP isn’t that rot resistant, and a wrap around porch becomes a necessity more than a perk. “Oh, you should have used cedar or ponderosa….” Ok, that adds about $15k – $30k to the price because you have to buy them and truck them in. Or you can follow Skip’s advice and “build with what you’ve got”, which is what we are doing.
    • chainsaw-for-building-a-log-home
    • Two story home
      • We could go for a full size second floor- which means our walls would have to be twenty feet tall.
      • Or we could go for a knee wall and only have log walls that are, say, fifteen feet tall. Then the roof angles down in the bedrooms. We aren’t sure where we’ll end up, but this will affect whether the stairs curve or not.
    • And let’s not forget the foundation: Pier, crawlspace, or full foundation:
      • This is dependent on the water table. We decided not to chance flooding, and just go with piers. Then we found out that in the South, piers are recommended because the increased airflow keeps the house cool in the summer. Keeping cool is the name of the game in the South, whereas in the North, freezing your keister off is the name of the game. Hey, nobody said you had to live up North….
    • Other considerations:
      • Our home will be square, as outlined here
      • Size and placement of windows (we just bought 4 windows for $80 at a thrift store, but we will need more. Many LHBA members mix and match windows from various sources to save on costs).
      • Ceiling height on both floors- we want high (9+ feet) ceilings.
      • stove pipe or rock fireplace? And inside or outside? I like the ease of a stovepipe, and I like it inside
      • Ridge Pole Support log (RPSL): inside or outside? Outside, for us, and completely protected by the porch and roof overhang, of course.
      • Rafters made from logs or beams? Logs.
      • The inside floor plan: this is the best part of a log home. Since the outer walls hold the roof up, you can do anything you like with the inside walls and rooms. Our plan is to have the ability to completely live on the first floor, and then have a 3/4 floor upstairs- 3/4’s for living, 1/4 open to living area.

End result for what it will look like? Something of a mix between everything below. I’ll continue to update this post with photos as I find new inspiration. Now, on to the inspiration:

A lot of these photos are from builds by Ronnie Wiley of wileyloghomes.

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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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