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.

2016 July 24: Schedule for the rest of 2016

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I got a little raise at work. Yay! Now, hopefully, our account will still be hundreds in the black instead of just tens a week before payday. It’s sort of self imposed: we committed to saving a small house payment-like amount when we started the build. We are counting on this amount to supplement our savings that we used to initially start things off. But I also have some student loan payments and we have the land loan every month, along with our utilities, groceries, gas, and the normal bills everyone has.

I’ve been worried about finances on the build for a few months now- the city charges $5,000 to hook up water, power, and sewer, and this amount will just about clean out our savings for the next few months, and make it difficult to get concrete poured (I’m thinking thousands for the concrete). But we can’t get a building permit until we have utilities, so it was becoming a roadblock to progress. With my little raise at work, we now have some breathing room on our build, although we won’t be able to do the concrete right away.

I’m still cleaning up tree debris from cutting twelve trees a few weeks ago- not ready to move logs, but hope to do so later this week. And the debris piles are getting huge. Even with saving the bigger branches, things are still piling up. I’m probably going to end up with ten or more debris piles. There is currently an annual “burn ban” for the summer in the county we live in, so no burning until October. And I think I’ll be required to have running water on hand while burning brush.

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I also need to borate the trees I have. Borating the trees stops mold and bugs (mostly termites) from setting up shop in your house. Borating only really needs to be done once if your logs are already stacked and dried in (protected from rain). My logs are laying around exposed to the elements, so I’m going to have to treat them twice- once now, and once again when they are under roof. Once they are under roof, further borating is not necessary. The boric acid discourages insects, while the glycol causes the tree to suck up the solution much farther than just water would do. For LHBA members (password and membership required), I like the thread “NOTICE – Borate Mixture- Notice” under the “log home construction” folder. Three ingredients- borax, boric acid, and some kind of glycol. There are some surface mold spots on the logs I’ve peeled (thank you,  ‘The South’, and your overly humid weather). I bought a metal bushel, but I still have to buy the borax and the glycol (both available at Walmart). I also have a sprayer (thank you, Harbor Freight, for having extremely cheap tools). Just need a few hours to boil up some brew…

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All of the above has caused me to think about a (very aggressive) build schedule for the rest of the year:

  • July
    • continue to cut trees, clean up brush.
    • Hope to end the month with 18 existing + 15 new = 33 trees on racks, and half of them peeled.
    • borate the trees I’ve peeled.
  • August
    • cut and haul more trees- hopefully, by end of August, get 20 more trees for a total of 53 trees- enough to start the build. I think I only need 48 for the walls, but I want some breathing room. I also still need a bunch for the roof purlins, lifting logs, cap logs, ridge poles, etc, but I can at least get the build going once I have the minimum.
  • September
    • Peel all trees, and borate the remainder once peeled.
  • October
    • pay for water hook up
    • submit plans and get building permit
    • dig and pour foundation
  • November
    • lay first logs for walls. This also means I’ll make this blog public- that is the goal- make it public after the first few courses of logs are laid.
    • burn brush piles and maybe stumps
  • December
    • Lay last log for walls
  • January 2017 (or whenever I have funds)
    • Get the freakin’ roof on!

At some point, I need to get more tools and materials. Items I’m still missing:

  • plywood for foundation forms ($200)
  • concrete ($2400)
  • rebar (about $1200)
  • 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)

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.

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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?

2016 February 12: Flying towards the future, or….?

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Las Vegas is about an hour away at this point. I left home at 3:30 this morning to catch a flight in Nashville on Southwest.

Spent a lot of time talking to Julie, and discussing this class tomorrow. We haven’t been apart like this for a long time, and she is really stressed out about me being gone. Seems like we haven’t had the life we thought we would- we’ve both been divorced, got kids that don’t always give us joy, I haven’t been able to make enough money to get us very far ahead, and when I do get more money, somehow Uncle Sam seems to get a hold of the extra. And we’ve tried. So after a very heartfelt prayer from Julie for my safe return, I went to bed last night.

The info from the class and all the members I’ve talked to indicate that, indeed, 2 days is all they need to teach us everything we need to know to build a log home. The closer I get to the class, the more doubts I’m having. But, I’ve also seen testimonials from class members who didn’t know anything about construction, who now have photos and stories of very nice homes. And I’ve spent years researching other methods, and this is the best method I’ve seen. The class is also the cheapest, and it’s coupled with info on doing it debt free.

It’s quite a claim. Build a home with cash on hand by yourself with mostly hand tools- and out of trees that you harvest yourself, and without a license, do site preparation, plumbing, foundation, electrical, HVAC, finishing, etc. And probably make all your own lumber, your own flooring, maybe even doors and cabinets with your own sawmill, your own forms for the footings, etc. And do all of this to code. Yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. We imagine ourselves saying to people that see the finished product, “yeah, we built this,” and they’ll say, “oh, who was your builder?”, and we’ll say, “we were.”

So we’re going to hang our hopes for a change in our situation on the outcome of this class. I’m hoping that the info and materials are going to be so inspiring that it will carry us through to a finished product.