How to use Ropes & Knots to build a log cabin by hand

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Up close cradle on triple blocks (bottom block is homemade).

I’ve always been intrigued with rope and string, and the many uses for it. A few years ago, I even took up knitting, and I’ve come up with my own designs for socks, sweaters, hats and scarfs. The idea that clothing can be made simply by looping string together is quite astounding when you think about it. And building a cabin with ropes and pulleys is a fascinating step back in time. Some of the pulleys I used were 100 year old antiques I found on Ebay. But I made others myself.  Now that I’m all but done using ropes, I feel I should document the various knots and holds I utilized to help build the house. As a former Boy Scout and as an outdoor enthusiast, I already knew most of the knots I would use. And yes, I can tie a sheep-shank. But there are some new ones I had never used.

Out there in internet land, there are many “how to” articles. Most are written as puff pieces by folks who have never actually used the ideas they are promoting, mainly just writing for clicks for advertising. Rest assured that I have used every knot and method below, and everything works just as I describe. These are all the knots you will need to build a cabin using block and tackle.

The rope

I’m using 5/8″ triple ply dock rope (poly rope) available on Ebay for about $130 for a 600 foot roll.  I’ve used about 1500 feet of rope so far (3 rolls). It has a working load of about 700 pounds, and a breaking strength of about 4,000 pounds.

NOTE: LHBA now recommends using double-braided rope if building with lifting poles and block and tackle, due to its increased strength, compared to the same diameter of triple-ply rope. But I decided against double-braided rope for two reasons:

1. Cost: double braided rope is much more expensive.

2. Ease of repair: Triple ply poly rope is easy to splice. Double-braided rope cannot be easily spliced. This means you must buy it in the length you need for use- for me, it would have been 220 feet each. If it breaks, you must buy another 220′ length. This seemed impractical for my build, and I decided to take my chances with the somewhat weaker triple-ply poly rope.

Why so long on the rope? If using triple blocks, the rope will pass through the blocks seven times. 7 * 30′ (lifting poles) = 210′, plus enough to tie onto your tractor.

Various manufacturers will give different load calculations, so check when you’re buying. The 5/8″ rope I used said it was rated for 700 lbs of load, and had a 4,000 lb breaking strength. The lower number is the one you don’t want to exceed. The upper number applies to the force (mass x acceleration): as in when a log begins to fall and the rope suddenly stops it. Finally, I found a helpful method to loosen a knot I can’t untie: I hit it with a hammer while turning it over and over.

Now that I am finished with the part of the build that requires a lot of rope, I can say the triple-ply rope held up almost perfectly. I never had a triple ply rope break when it was used properly. Note that I built the largest cabin designed by LHBA: the 40×40, using logs that average 17″ diameter, and weigh up to 6,000 lbs.

Safety

I did have several close calls where the rope broke, but these breaks were always due to the rope being bound up in one of my antique pulleys, and then getting sliced by one of the pulley faces. And these close calls luckily always happened when the log was only a few feet off the ground. I always keep children and dogs away from whatever I’m lifting. Also, never allow anyone in the line of sight of a stretched out rope- if that thing were to snap, it’ll act like a whip and could take out an eye or worse.

My rules are pretty simple- don’t ever put a part of your body you’d like to keep under a log you are holding with rope- this means don’t walk under a log, don’t stick your hand in between two logs to get a tool, be aware of the location of everyone on site while you’re working. Warn everyone you’re about to lift, make sure they acknowledge you, stay clear, etc., and on and on. Check and double check what you are about to do. Know what it will look like when it is finished before you start lifting.

And now, onto the….

Knots

Note: The links for each knot take you to a video I made on how to tie that knot.

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sheet bend

Sheet Bend: Don’t use a square knot that can jiggle loose or become impossible to undo when you can use a sheet bend. This is a great way to tie two ropes together, and comes apart when you’re done. I’ve used this one recently when removing a motor and transmission from a car using a length of seatbelt scrap. And if you loop the last end instead of pulling it tight, you can untie it even more easily. Not that it’s difficult to untie in the first place, but….

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figure 8 knot

Figure 8 knot: don’t use an overhand knot when a figure 8 knot is better. I use this one when I need to take up some space in the rope (like to make sure the rope doesn’t get pulled through a hole), or when I need to shorten the strap around the log. They tend to be easier to untie than an overhand knot when you’re finished using them.

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bowline

Bowline: This knot creates a loop that will never get too tight, and also can hold people and tools. It can also be tied using one hand.

 

Holds

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prusik knot

Prusik Knot: This was a game changer- it suspends the log so you can move the tractor to a better position. Doesn’t look like it will hold because of the thin rope, but it does- along with the triple blocks, I’ve dangled 6,000 lb logs in the air with this knot.

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tent hitch or tautline hitch

Taut line or tent hitch: I use this on my safety line to keep it tight. Sometimes the lifting poles shift when a heavy log is attached, so this knot is nice and easy to re-tighten, or loosen so the rope can be re-positioned.

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double half hitch

Double Half Hitch: I use this knot to tie the rope to the tractor. Easy to tie, easy to untie- never gets too tight.

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telephone lineman hitch

Telephone lineman cable hitch: Ok, I don’t know what the real name of this hitch is. But this is what I call it. I used to use it at the phone company for pulling cable through a conduit. As long as you keep tension on it, it will hold. As soon as the tension is released, it will fall apart. The secret is making sure you throw the loops on the piece correctly. It works for pulling 20 foot- 2×10’s up onto a 25′ roof, too.

Loops

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You can turn this log to the right or the left, depending on how you loop it. When the rope is pulled on this log, it will turn towards the left.

Sometimes you need to turn the log up in the air. Depending on how you hook up the strap, you can force the log to turn whichever way you need. The trick is to pass the free end of the strap through the loop in the end of the strap such that when the strap is tight, friction forces some rotation at the connecting point. I used lots of 6,000 lb 6′ loop straps available from Harbor Freight. Four on the top of the lifting poles, and four at the bottom  of the pulley.

Also, don’t forget the quick release pins I used when installing the rafters. See this video. This makes it possible to release the lifting straps from the safety of the ground when using a crane to install rafters. Sure beats shimmying out onto a rafter 25 feet off the ground to loosen a strap.

Splicing Rope

Unfortunately, rope wears out or frays and becomes dangerous. You can splice two ropes together using a “long splice” and almost maintain the original integrity and strength of the rope. I’ve never had a long splice fail, even with logs that weigh thousands of pounds. Here’s how to splice rope in a way that keeps the integrity of the rope, and yet will still pass through a pulley. For use with 3-ply rope.  This method connects two pieces of rope using 3 splices, and each splice contains 2 “sub-splices” using 1/3 of each strand. The best video for it is also the most boring one:

Long splice

 

That’s it for knots. If you have one you like, let me know!

 

Pressure washing

I’d love to say I’m installing the 1st floor, which will mean installing ledger boards around the inside perimeter of the house. But I’m not. They rest on the piers, and are lag screwed to the 1st layer of logs. Two 2×12’s are bolted together and run the length of the inner piers. Floor joists are hung from the ledger boards, and butt into the two 2×12’s – like this:

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Thin vertical lines are joists, thick horizontal lines are the 2×12 sandwich. 90 joists needed.

I need about 90 joists. I’d like to use the “I-Joist” engineered beams because they are stronger than 2×12’s, and they don’t bow. I called around- looks like Discount Builders almost has the best price- $2340. The craigslist “recycled materials” guys say $1500. And $800 shipping, so $2300. I’ll pay $40 extra because Discount has treated me right every step of the way. And they are local.

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Nordic engineered I-Joists

I also asked about just regular 2×12’s, and Discount said that would be $1700. Much cheaper. But again- they bow. And I would really, really like the floor to be perfectly flat, so $2300 seems worth it.

Preparation for the task

Installing the subfloor gives us something for the scaffolding to roll around on so I can (more) easily work on things like electrical, chinking, windows, and frame in the gables- the open triangle on both ends of the house near the roof.

While thinking about it, I realized there are other tasks I should do before this- such as pressure washing the house. I figure it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pressure wash the house after I install the subfloor, since the pressure washing will get the subfloor all wet, so I decided to pressure wash the house before I put the subfloor in. And then since it will be clean, I should borate it. And then probably stain it.

Which means I needed water at the house to connect the pressure washer.

Installing a water line

Which means I needed to dig a trench to install the water line. Luckily, Alabama has no real “frost line”. Code says the water line should be minimum twelve inches below grade. I borrowed my late neighbor’s trencher attachment, and easily got the job done, after sweating and working hard doing about 30 feet with a pick and a trenching shovel. On a side note, the sewer line will have to wait- it has to go down five feet, and the trencher might go two feet, if I work at it. But that can happen later. I got the water trench dug:

Trenching a Water line

I talked to the city, and they recommended 3/4″ PVC pipe for the main. Their connection is 3/4″. Seemed to make sense, so I installed 200 feet of 3/4″ PVC for about $60 and got the water line up to the house. Then I talked to my fellow LHBA friends, who informed me I’d never be happy with 3/4″- and I should go with 1″ or larger. You wouldn’t believe the amount of math that goes into determining what size of water line to install. I went to Lowe’s and bumped into a plumber who worked there and told him my dilemma.

He said, “no, 3/4″ will be fine, it’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.  How many bathrooms did you say you had?”

“Three.”

“Three, huh…..Ok….well…….maybe you should put in one inch pipe….”

I guess the theory is that even though the flow is constricted to 3/4″ at the road, the fact that I’m 200 feet from that connection means the line has time to build up pressure over a long enough run, so a larger size pipe can be used. I ended up ripping it out and replacing it with a larger pipe. I can still use the 200 feet of 3/4″ to reach the back of the property, I guess. The goal is, after all, to turn the whole thing into a small farm, so….

I stuck a faucet on the house. And one by the blueberries, just because. I’m not sure why I think it’s amazing to drink out of a faucet next to the house, but I’m tickled that I can now do this.

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Started pressure washing the house

And then I decided instead of borrowing a pressure washer, I should buy one- it’s going to get a lot of use. Craigslist to the rescue….

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I broke the “new” pressure washer after using it for 3 days- I didn’t notice when I bought it that it was missing one of three bolts on the pump head intake manifold. Bolt #2 broke while using it the other day, and water game gushing out of the thing. When I looked closer, the 3rd bolt had sheared off years ago. I bought an “easy out” bit and drilled the sheared bolt out of the hole. Then I replaced with new bolts, refilled the water pump with the recommended gear oil, and tested it at home. Seems to work pretty well.

I think we’re going to need to stain the house – we like this straw-yellow color we discovered under the sun-bleached gray logs, but it will eventually fade if we don’t protect it.

Water based or oil based stain? I was guessing oil was probably better, but it stinks forever, and smells are something we just don’t want. But then I talked to several suppliers of both types, and all of them agree- water based stains have come a long way, they don’t stink; they are better for the environment, clean up easier and are similar in cost.  I’m sure we could have a lively debate between which is really better, but it comes down to the smell for us, and ease of clean up.

We looked into it- looks like a 5 gallon bucket will run us about $260, and will cover just the outside of one wall. Protecting the outside of the house is going to run us around $1000. Wow!

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Next steps

The weather has been hot and dry- perfect for pressure washing. I can’t imagine pressure washing while soaking wet in January. Shiver! The cool thing is that the other day, it was 95+ degrees, but I was actually cold working inside spraying. I came out of the cabin to take a break- and noticed the temperature went up about 10 degrees. Even with all the air gaps, the inside of this thing is much cooler than outside.

Hopefully, this heat wave will hold out long enough for me to get done pressure washing and then sanding, and then cool off some so we can start staining, but not freeze. And then we’ll either do some chinking or get the 1st floor installed. Haven’t decided if rain is blowing in from the outside through the cracks yet.

Roof – Part 3: Installing almost everything on the roof

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roof box frame. Eventually, I’ll remove that errant little scrap of 2×10 nailed to the rafters.
box frame for insulation almost complete

The shingle elevator was made out of wood, and it broke after the week of rain weakened it. So I welded a new one. It works better, but I’m worried about the rails it rides, which are 22 foot long 2×10’s.

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New lift can be bolted onto the rails.
I’ve made a lot of progress on the roof- the frame is complete, the insulation is completely installed on both sides. I had to stop and measure how much insulation I had left- and use the hot wire foam cutter to cut the 9″ thick pieces down to size – they were too thick to fit in the boxes. Also, I had plenty of 5″ thick pieces, but not enough 7.5″ pieces. I found that 7.5″ is the sweet spot- the foam has a stated R-value of 4.6 per inch, so a 7.5 inch thick layer gets me R34.5, where only R30 is required. This doesn’t count the value of the 2″ thick decking, or the plywood, or the underlayment, which doesn’t add much, but does add some. To make the 7.5″ thick foam, I set the wire at 7.5″ above the cutting deck, then stacked two 5.5″ pieces on top of each other and fed them through the foam cutter to make a 7.5″ stack. I have enough foam left over for a very well insulated chicken coop.

Some folks have spent thousands on their insulation- even when buying used. I was able to get away with $400 for all the foam I could stuff into a huge U-haul van and my trailer pulled behind. Extremely cheap!

Problems

2x lumber isn’t what it says it is….

I wish I had thought more about the fact that a 2×10 and  2×8 were really 1 1/2×9 1/4 and 1 1/2×7 1/4, because that threw off some of my measurements. See, the ribs are 2×10’s, spaced 48″ OC apart. But the plywood is only rated to span 24″, so I needed a support between the 2×10’s. I didn’t want to just space  the 2×10 ribs at 24″ because that messes up my 48″ foam, and a 2×4 is a lot cheaper than a 2×10 no matter how you slice it. Besides, a solid piece of foam is a better insulator than a skinny 24″ strip of foam- that’s just simple physics.

Anyway, I planned to just put an 8′ long 2×4 between the 2×10 ribs, on top of the 2×8’s as a support, because the height of a 2×8 cross member + a 2×4 = height of a 2×10, right? wrong. There’s a 2″ vertical gap between the 2×8 & the 2×10, but the 8′ 2×4 laying on top of the 2×8 cross member is only 1 1/2″ thick, so there was a 1/2″ gap I had to fill between the top of the crossmember and the top of the 2×10 rib. I admit I actually couldn’t figure out at first why my plywood was sagging in the middle between the ribs. Oops.

Getting everything on the roof

Yes, this continues to be a problem. There are multiple solutions, but the main thing to remember is to keep the main thing (building the roof) the main thing. It’s easy to dream about a jib crane or some contraption with a winch motor that lifts everything up on the roof at the push of a button, but at the end of the day, the question isn’t “how did you do it?” as much as it’s “Did you do it?”. Sigh…..Up and down the ladder.

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I would have used the shingle elevator, but it is on the opposite side of the house. Besides, I only needed 5 sheets for this part.
I figured out that I can lift four sheets of foam at a time with just a rope. So that helps. But the plywood is dangerously unwieldy, so I could only manage 5 sheets at a time using the elevator, or in the photo above, one at a time. In this case, it saved me carrying it from the elevator, up over the peak, and then down to be installed. You do what you have to do to get it done.

And the 2x lumber- well, I can lift about 30 of those at a time with the elevator, so that’s nice.

Nevertheless, I do have backup plans for a jib crane to lift shingles in case the shingle elevator goes kaput.

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The ribs, foam, OSB, and you can just barely see the 2×4 spacers sticking out under the OSB.

Solutions

I added a 1/2″ x 1″ spacer to the 2×8 to lift the 2×4 up to the correct height. And on the boxes I hadn’t finished, I went ahead and lifted the 2×8 so that when I added the 2×4, it would be level with the 2×10. If I ever do this again…..

Using my Magnesium oil almost daily to stop the aches and pains of going up and down the ladder. It’s amazing stuff- helps the muscles heal, and protects joints.

I’ve used the car to run the elevator- just tie a rope to the front of the car, the other end goes to the pulley attached to the lift. Then back up, and everything goes up. Once it’s at the top of the lift, I climb the ladder and unload the supplies onto the roof. I carried almost every 4×8 sheet from the West side of the roof, up over the peak of the roof, and then down onto the East side of the roof. That was no fun, especially when it was a bit breezy.

I’m not sure how lifting shingles will end up- they are pretty heavy – about 60 lbs for each bundle. There are 99 of them…

Vent holes

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I cut these in the roof to enable cool air from the ground to flow up the side of the house, into the roof, and out the peak. I made a template out of a scrap of T&G decking, then cut rectangular holes and covered them with heavy duty screen door mesh plus 1/4″ wire mesh. Here’s a video describing the theory of ventilation.

…And a change in roof design

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When looking at the roof from the ground, you don’t see the built-up part of the roof, at least from the front of the home. This makes the roof look thin and wimpy.

As an aside, I’ve several folks pull up and ask about the house, and if they ask about the roof and the T&G decking, they always assume I used 1×6 planks. They are always surprised when I show them a scrap and they find it’s actually 2×6 planks. I get about one visitor a week that actually pulls up and wants to ask questions, while I get a half dozen gawkers who stop in the road to take a look or a photo. I’m always happy to answer questions- to me, the LHBA method is the best method for getting a really cheap house that has tons of value.

The last one that pulled up really made me think about this- yes it’s vain to build up the whole roof just for looks. On the other hand, the whole thing is probably vain, if you want to take a minimalist view- I mean, I could have just plopped a mobile home on the property and said, “done”, right? But let’s stay focused here- I started looking at the roof, and decided they were right. I asked my wife about it, and she immediately said, “I’ve always wanted the whole roof to be thick.” She knew the whole time, but just didn’t want to make an issue out of it. Yes, I can usually finish the maze a few seconds behind the rats….

“It’ll be a lot more work,” I said.

“I know.”

“And a bit more expensive – like $500 more.”

“I know.”

She doesn’t want to pull up and look at the wimpy roof and hate it every time she comes home. I agree.

It also simplifies the drip edge and other issues I was having with making nice clean looking roof lines.

So….I ordered more lumber, plywood, tar paper, etc. Don’t need any more shingles, luckily.

More problems

When I added the extra 2×10’s to the roof, I found that the roof decking isn’t exactly flat. Big surprise? No, not surprised. I’m actually surprised that the gap was 2″ or less. Probably due to my 5×12 rafters not being perfect or something.  Anyway, to stop the critters from getting in there and make it look purdy, my wife gave me an idea – “why not put a piece of angled metal up there and screw the 2×10 to it, and then screw it to the deck?” It was a great idea, in fact:

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That’s all for now…Next up: I’ll finish shingling the roof.

 

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 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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2015 December 22: The owner-built Log Home Philosophy

images.duckduckgo.comThis post should have been first, but the anvil was hot on the other topics. Reading through them, though, I realize I haven’t even discussed my philosophy. Why am I so interested in a log home? Why not a brick home or a traditional frame home? Why not a stone house? How about straw-bale, cinder-block, timber frame, trailer (hey- they are cheap, if nothing else)? And why not just buy a traditional home that someone else built and save myself the trouble?

I think it boils down to a few things:

1. Finances

Most Americans’ financial path looks something like the following:

live off parents (0-20+) ->  get a minimum wage job (16-20+) -> go into debt for a cell phone and a car ($10k-$20k) -> Go into debt for college ($20k-$60k) -> Get married (go into debt for ring – $2k, honeymoon- $6k) -> go into debt for a house – $180k, credit card debt – $40k -> go into debt for a minivan – $20k -> get a blue or white collar job and hopefully break even by the time they retire.

From the point they go to college until the point of retirement, they live in debt- something like 45 years of debt, and anywhere from $300k to $350k of debt. Student loan debt, car payments, credit cards, home loans- by the time we’re done paying off our homes, we could have bought two of them. Why do we (as a country) follow this path? Why doesn’t the path look like this:

live off parents, learn how money works -> get a minimum wage job, save for college or tech school -> go to school debt-free, while working and save for a home and drive a crappy car -> get a job, save even more for a home -> hefty down payment on home, go into debt only $100k – $150k -> able to use leftover from small house payment to maintain a modest car, or save for a nice car -> pay off house early, set up investment accounts -> retire early -> enjoy retirement.

The answer is really and simply: easy credit. It is getting easier and easier to borrow money.

A few years back, I was living the dream like I described- all except for the car payments, credit card debt, and student loans. But while my job paid well, I was in debt for a house, and was going to pay for it for the next 30 years. My then-wife (now ex-wife) was also working, so we had a bunch of extra cash. We decided to buy a vacation home near a lake (Bear Lake, Utah). It was great- 20 acres and a cabin. Then we got divorced, and had to sell. In the middle of selling it, I got remarried and moved to Alabama. When the cabin finally sold, it sold for more than double what we paid for it. After paying off the loan, and giving my ex her share, I had just enough to buy a fixer-upper hud-home. So we were still debt free. But I was having a hard time getting ahead financially- the economy wasn’t my friend.  After going back to school for a second degree – this time in Mathematics, and a scary sidetrack as a teacher, I ended up finding a better job as a systems support engineer.

My credit is awesome. I should get a loan….Which brings me to my principles.

2. Principles

“Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation. … Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you.”~J. Reuben Clark, famous attorney, and prominent leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church).

Being a slave to debt: I would like to avoid debt as much as possible. If I should suddenly kick the bucket, I do not want my wife to have to go get a job to support the family, or pay off the house or debts. After my LDS mission, I had a goal of “be debt free by 35”. I actually reached that goal….and then went back to school (and into debt)- that was a mistake. I could have probably saved in between each semester and paid cash for my classes, but my income from contracting fluctuated wildly, and it was hard to determine ahead of time where our next meal was coming from. But the house was paid off, and so were the cars, and we had no credit card debt.

Of course, the idea is to earn interest, not pay it. Still working on this one. The stock market- over the last 8 years at least- has been funded by funny money from the U.S. Treasury, so land or gold seems to be where it’s at if you want any security.

3. Practicality

This is where it gets interesting: just look at the layers on a brick home: you have bricks, some kind of moisture barrier, maybe some OSB, some 2×4 framing, insulation, drywall, and then paint. A stick home is worse- instead of bricks, you have vinyl siding or something, moisture barrier, OSB, then the 2×4’s, etc. All of those layers require a specialist- a brick mason, siding person, a framing person, someone to insulate it, a drywall specialist, and a painter.  How about a log home? Well, you’ve got logs….and that’s it. I actually think you use less wood for a log home over a stick home by the time you cut all your 2×4’s and OSB, but that’s probably debatable. At the very least, logs require far less processing than 2×4’s. Why isn’t this more popular? Well, it takes longer….

How about special skills for building a log home: the ability to follow directions, the ability to sweat a lot, the ability to finish what you started. Little 90 lb women are building these things with a block and tackle.  As far as I can figure, you lay out your logs so that a big end will alternate with a small end. With the butt & pass method, you don’t have to “cope” or carve the logs to fit- just butt them up against the corner of the other one. Then spike the whole thing with rebar every 2 feet. Add a ridge pole and purlins or support beams for the roof, add decking and shingles or tin, then chink as necessary. Put in floor, stairs, interior walls wherever you want (the interior walls are never main supports- the outer walls hold everything up). Plumb, do electrical, HVAC, counters, appliances, finish and enjoy. Lots and lots of work, but when it’s done, it costs literally 10-15% of what a home of similar size (but not quality) would cost you.

4. Philosophy of life

So, how do you avoid going into debt and still buy a house? Building your own home does not seem possible to most people. But why? My two favorite reasons:

  1. It seems complicated- Permits, engineering, materials, tools, heavy equipment, labor, inspections, and general know-how seem to be just out of reach for most people.  I’m lucky enough to know which end of a hammer to hold, so half of those issues are not an issue. What’s weird is that when you go to college- it’s just as complicated- maybe more so: you have no idea how to pay for it, you don’t know what to expect from each class, everything changes every semester, you have to learn what each professor expects, you have to juggle your schedule to get everything done, not to mention if you change your major (which everyone does). So what is the big put-off? I believe it’s reason #2:
  2. Media/commercialism: the media tells us that you get a loan to buy a house. “It’s my money, and I want it now.” It seems easy- just get a loan, and then pay for it for 30 years. I was thinking that way, too- until my cabin tripled in value (yes, I only sold it for double what it was worth- that was in 2007- looking back, I’m lucky I sold it when I did). I could sell it after 5 years and make a profit because the market had changed, and it was suddenly worth 3 times what I paid for it. I didn’t have to remain in debt.

Doesn’t it make sense to – if you could – spend 3 years building a house, and then the next 50+ enjoying the fruits of your labor? What if you could get it all done debt free, but the price was 3 years of your life? Well, the alternative is: it costing you 30 years of your life, which is the Master Mahan principle- turning life into property: the bank turns 30 years of your life into their property (interest). Enter the Skip Ellsworth log home method.

I’ve looked at log homes ever since I bought my cabin. The guy who built it was in his 70’s when he started building it. It had a rock-pile-and-cement foundation, gas lighting, a loft, a living area, and a kitchen. But it wasn’t a log cabin-it was framed in. I started looking into how to build a log cabin- there were classes, methods, builders, dealers, kits. And everyone was saying it takes years to learn how to do it, and you can’t do it yourself. Hmmmmm. Then I found the Skip Ellsworth method. You do it yourself. In a nutshell, you find property, get logs for free or very cheap ($0.05-$0.10 per log – yes, really!), peel them, build a foundation, stack the logs, put a roof on it, chink it, finish the interior. A few have done it for $9,000. Most do it for under $60,000. A few end up at $100,000.  The quickest people get it done in 9 months. Most people take about 2-3 years. A few masochists really enjoy not finishing things they start, and end up taking 25 years (no. just no.).  Then, if you decide to sell it, log homes always sell for more than regular homes- most of the owner built log homes sell for more than $300,000. Yes. Spend $40,000 to build, sell for $300,000, profit = $260,000. And you don’t have to pay off the bank. Skip goes on to say that at that point, you can use the profit to build 4 more log homes, sell them, and now you retire. You’ve made your millions.

5. Summary

I think we’ve been duped as a country to believe that “that’s just the way it’s done” on waaaayyyy too many issues. They (whoever they are) have got us right where they want us: believing there’s only one way to do anything. I’m not buying what they are selling. I guess I’ve never done things the traditional way; maybe that’s been a mistake- maybe, if I put my nose to the grindstone long enough, I’ll get rich….but I think I’d rather build a cabin.

Cost analysis

I got bored while looking for land, so I priced out all the materials I could think of that I will need to build this log home. I went to HomeDepot online, and just looked there for everything. I’m sure that I can get stuff cheaper if I keep my eyes open- for example, I saw an ad recently on Craigslist for 3/4″ OSB for $7.00/sheet.

The cost is very surprising. Assuming I can get the logs for free (I found a Craigslist ad for a guy that wants someone to come take 50 mature trees out of his yard), everything else prices out as below. I’d have to hire a logging truck to come pick up the logs, but I already found out it’s about $300 or less. So, here’s my price list: log-home-cost-analysis

For less than $10,000, I get the shell. That includes a sawmill, a chainsaw, other tools, concrete for the foundation, the logs, the spikes, and the roof. I forgot to add one thing: a tractor. Found out I’m going to need a way to load the logs onto the sawmill, dig holes, drag chains attached to pulleys, level the ground, build driveways, move dirt, and basically lift heavy stuff. I’ve been looking, and it appears I can get one for about $3500, so the shell will cost about $13,000.

The whole thing (not including the land) will cost about $40,000. I’m using the sawmill to make the beams, and also the flooring. We may even do concrete counter-tops like this: concrete-countertop

Our plan right now is 36’x48′ two levels, with 5 bedrooms, 3 baths, an atrium for plants, and a balcony. $40,000 for a 3,000 sq ft log home is pretty darn cheap!