More of the same / Drawing our own plans

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More of the We’ve been through this already

We’ve already sat down and drawn up plans. Several times. Before I attended the first LHBA class in February 2016, my wife and I were so excited, we decided to draw up some plans. They were rectangular houses. Everyone from the organization said to wait until class, but we couldn’t. Then I took the class. Not much changed- except we now are working from a set of square plans. We had to completely re-draw our plans.  It wasn’t too bad- my wife had to give up a really good layout. The mathematician in me had to give up on having the satisfying “golden rectangle” design. But, here we are again, looking at stock plans and thinking (because we are rebellious like that), “this won’t work for our situation.”  We have lots of kids, and it looks like they will be living with us for a while. We have elderly parents who could potentially live with us for a while. I have two kids out of state that could come live with me at some point- and that could be out of the blue.

But, as the heading says, we’ve been through this already. Our issues mainly rest on how tall I can make this thing. If we get what we want, then the stairs can go where they are supposed to without getting squished by the lack of headroom from a shorter roof. But there are other things we haven’t figured out- like the actual floor plan for the second level. We know we want two bedrooms upstairs and a bathroom, but there is extra room, so do we want closets and a loft? or another bedroom? A den? A place for house plants?

Then there’s the utilities: where do we put the HVAC in a log home? You can’t just hide them in the walls- the walls are log, so you have to be a little more creative. We decided to put some of the chases in the closets. We changed some of the layout so that closets were above each other- making it easier to put a chase through them. But then that changes where the plumbing can go. And then the electrical. And on. And on.

And this doesn’t even include getting the window placement. Or the doors. These are special considerations when working with logs. And did I mention getting the permit?

The nervous permit process- two possible outcomes

The problem in a big city is big regulations. They don’t give a hoot about your dreams- only whether it will look nice for whatever zone you fall under. Start talking about a custom log home? That’ll be the beginning of your troubles.

The problem in a small city is small minded people who don’t like change. I’ll bet $100 that any private citizen builder goes down to the permit office with plans for a stick house that looks like all the other stick houses in the neighborhood will get his permit, no problem. Go in with plans for a log home and, “you wanna build a what?” And yes, everyone in the South has asked, “you gotta sawmill to mill them logs? How you gonna build a square house outta round logs?” Er, no, that’s not the type of log home I’m talking about. Suspicion level = 4. I’m going to do it myself. Suspicion level = 6. With these plans I drew myself. Suspicion level = 10. Ok, they were drawn and approved by an engineer. These plans have been used in all 50 states, with no problems. I just modified the inside walls a little. Suspicion level = 8. So there’s that.

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Re-drawing the stock plans

With all the above stated, I’m pretty nervous about modifying my stock plans:

  • What if the city wants an engineer’s wet stamp, and I can’t get an engineer to approve them?
  • What if I can get a wet stamp, but it costs a thousand dollars?
  • What if the city wants to nitpick and inspect everything according to the plans I submitted?
  • What if I can’t follow the plans I drew?

I’m using LibreCAD, because it’s free, open source, and works on Linux (I despise companies like Microsoft and Apple that give their source keys to the NSA). There’s like 35 layers on this drawing- electrical, floor joists, roof layout, plumbing- everything, so it’s a big project. I made a copy of the originals and used some weird online conversion program to change them into a format LiberCAD could understand (.dxf), and I’m modifying them slowly, one block at a time.

The roof overhangs are only 3′ 6″, but this is the South, so with all the rain, I may need bigger overhangs. But not too big because I’m doing a wrap around porch. One of our members, Paul Kahle, getting the ridge pole installed on a pier foundation (ours will be similar):

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I don’t like the main floor layout on the stock plans, so my wife and I hashed out one that we do like. Everything hinges on the stairs for some reason- we want to avoid knee walls upstairs (where the roof meets the wall: sometimes, in a log home, the second floor is more of a loft than a second floor, and the roof often meets up with the wall at about four feet tall). But if we want to avoid knee walls, then we need the walls to be full height on the second floor. Nobody wants to bump their head at the top of the stairs because the roof wasn’t tall enough. But we don’t want the stair anywhere else in the house (ruins our layout), so we have to push the roof up. We want ten foot ceilings downstairs. We hope for a similar height upstairs, but shorter – like eight feet- would still be acceptable.

The outcome and plan

My genius wife scared me the other night after we had finalized the second floor plan and I had started modifying the plans with: “I want to re-draw the second floor again.” Inside, I’m like, “Noooooooo!!!!!!!!” But I said, “Ok”. She went to work. A few hours later, I came home from practicing for the Christmas concert, and she met me with, “come look!”. It was great! It addressed the issues of where do we put extra people, gives me a study area/den, and gives her a loft/hang out area/ plant area. Everyone is happy. I guess the drawings will take me a month to finish updating. I’m doing it in between working on the property, working on my truck, working at my job, getting the kids to school, playing with my daughter, my church assignments, oh, and sleeping.

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And, sorry, but for privacy reasons, I don’t think I’ll post the floor plan here (we’ll welcome most folks that seem nice enough for a tour when it’s finished). But I can describe the layout:

The house will be built on a pier foundation with a wrap around porch. From the front door, you enter the home and look left- and see the living room with piano area and stairs. Look right, and see the kitchen. Straight ahead is the master bedroom and a second bedroom and bathroom, along with a laundry area and pantry. Upstairs, there are a couple of bedrooms, another bathroom, and a loft/study area. All living can be done on the main floor. The wrap around porch is divided in the back by a screened in porch looking out at the backyard.

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2016 July 07: Military Trailer Log Arch: Part II

Note: I meant to post this around 7/1/2016, along with a video showing how it worked. But then I had “the accident” (read about it here). I’ll post this anyway, so you can see the intent of the arch. I’m going to re-do the arch, and I’ll make a post about it when I get it done.

Photos of the build last weekend (6/25/2016):

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One of the better welds I made….

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Pretty proud of this- first time welding, had a great instructor (Ellery), who just let me go for it.

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It will fit on the trailer like this. From the last welded joint to the bottom of the legs is six feet. I measured repeatedly to make sure the legs were parallel. When all was done, I re-measured and found that the legs were 1/4″ wider at the bottom than they were at the top- pretty good for my first time. I had to adjust the top beam- I made it a little wider than the plan called for: In all my figuring, I forgot to figure the amount of material lost during the cutting- the cutting blade is 1/8″ thick, so two cuts equals 1/4″, and that threw off the angles a bit in the angled beams, which made it necessary to change the length of the top beam. It all worked out in the end.

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You can see in the chalkboard drawings one of my dilemmas. Friday night, I drew the 3-D drawing, with the first cut going perpendicular across the tube, and the second cut making a chicken mouth. But that night I had a dream that my calculations weren’t correct, and woke up with an uncomfortable feeling. The second drawing shows my corrected calculations- I found if I made cuts using the first method, my joint would not meet up – you have to bisect the cut so the two edges will touch when folded over.

2016 June 24: Military trailer Log arch

I’m finally ready to tackle this log loading problem. Here’s the issue:

I’m getting trees from the property next door. I’m cutting them myself, bucking them (I figured out that bucking a tree means taking off the limbs), then skidding them (dragging them) with a tractor over a small ditch and onto my property where I stack them on some sacrificial logs to keep them off the ground until I peel them. With a smaller log, the tractor can pick it up with tongs, lift it high enough to skid, and I can easily skid it and get it to where I want, and this process takes about 1 1/2 hours:

  • 30 minutes to fell and buck
  • 30 minutes to load and skid
  • 30 minutes to unload

Unfortunately (or maybe I can be positive and say ‘fortunately’, two years from now when I look at the finished house and see massive log eye-candy saving me tons of money on A/C and heat), my logs are usually more than 18″ diameter- some of the bigger logs (A.K.A. “monster logs”) are 26″+ and 50’+ long. It takes anywhere from 4 hours on a good day, to a couple of days to move one log. It’s extremely exhausting – I’ve lost 10 lbs in a month of working. I’m estimating these logs weigh about 6,000 lbs. My tractor is a Ford 3000 diesel. I think it’s rated at 47 hp. It’s not 4wd, but it has a lift on the back rated at 2,000 lbs. It gives up on monster logs. Me too.

Problems multiply when the log gets bigger. The log outweighs the tractor by 2,000 lbs, so lifting it makes it nearly impossible to steer, so ‘just plain skidding it’ is out. I have a military trailer, which is rated at 2.5 tons, but it is about 30″ off the ground, and the tractor can only lift to about 29″ (or some amount extremely close to whatever the trailer height is). But seriously- does it matter what the height is? It can’t lift it high enough to clear the bed of the trailer, and I’m sure it’s that way by design. Yes really. Some guy at the Ford tractor factory colluded with another guy at the military trailer factory 50 years ago, and they are still laughing about their “little joke”. I’m sure of this. It’s a conspiracy.

Cheap, fast, or good: you can only pick two.

‘Why not just get a bigger tractor,’ you may ask? I might reply, ‘Why not just buy a house that’s already built?’ But actually the answer is: I’m doing this debt-free. Pay as you go. You understand when I’m done with this, I’ll have a $400k home that cost $40k to build. Some folks love a telehandler- and I do too- but the cheapest I can get one that I’ve seen is about $18k. My brother-in-law has one, but getting it from Utah to here would cost about $2,000. And he uses it all the time, so he doesn’t want to part with it for even a month. I understand. So the solution has to be cheap. And good. The kicker with my solution, is that it actually ends up being ‘fast’. -er. Instead of 4 hours minimum on a monster log, I’m hoping it is 4 hours maximum. Maybe even 1 hour. Ok, let’s not get greedy.

I came up with a few work-arounds before settling on my current solution:

  • tie two tractor jacks together with a beam bolting them together. But 29″ (the height of the tractor jacks’ lifting height before they begin to buckle and get very unstable (also on my list of conspiracies….) is also not high enough to get it on the trailer.
  • hope that the tree falls near a still-standing tree that I can use with a chain hoist for lifting. This is rare.
  • build a tripod and use the chain hoist in that for lifting. But the trailer usually can’t fit under the tripod. And I have to move the tripod when I unload it, too.

All of these methods take time. Lots of time. And lots of muscle.

I’ve been thinking about a solution for a long time. First, I’ll get a helicopter…..No. It’s something called a “log arch”. You can buy one for like $800 that claims to handle logs “up to 15 inches in diameter”, but I know I can make one cheaper. I searched for “log arch” on google and found a ton of videos and methods. My favorite one, and the most elegant and simplest solution in my opinion is this one:

I already have the trailer. Just need to mount some kind of pivot system.

I got out my copy of LibreCAD, and drew up some plans. After tweaking them a bit, I had my logarch.  I’ll make them available for free.  I checked my math a few times -mostly the shear calculations for a bolt: I figured a force equal to a 6,000 log at standard acceleration of 9.8 m/s^2 gave me about 132,000 psi to work with. I ran it by Ellery (my super-practical better-than-an-engineer mechanical genius friend), and his immediate response was “3/4 inch grade 8 bolts”. I felt proud that it took me an hour of calculations from an engineering standpoint to come up with what he said in 1 second. He plays guitar, violin, banjo, etc., and I play piano, accordian, and now, ukulele.

I bought some 3″ x 3″ 1/4″ sidewall steel tube, and a 1/4″ flat plate. The guys down at C&J welding were super impressed with the youtube video. They all gathered around to give me advice on what kind of steel, welding techniques, issues I might encounter. The owner wants pictures of the completed log cabin. It’s the business that my buddy Ken H. recommended when he was still alive. I can see why. Super nice down to earth hardworking guys.

I need to make all my cuts and learn how to weld (yes, from Ellery), but hopefully, I’ll start welding it on Saturday.