Porch needed

This might be another post where we are getting ahead of ourselves, but I wanted to capture this discussion as well.

The logs are still getting wet. You can see it in this video. This was part of the plan, even after the roof was finished. I was hoping to just finish the roof, move in, and then add the porch. But while filling bee holes, and with the heavy rains we’ve received lately along with wind, I see the bottom layers of logs still getting wet. This is somewhat expected. But they are also getting wet even when there’s no wind. If the rain is heavy enough, it is hitting the ground and splashing up on the logs. Even with 3′ of height from the ground. This is unexpected. There are a few factors I know, and some I recently was informed of:

  1. The roof has such a large surface area (56’x30′ x 2) , that it drains a lot of water. 3′ of height to the first log apparently isn’t enough to stop the splashing.
  2. This is “The South” where we get a lot of water.
  3. It’s a 2 story house. If I was not installing a porch, I would have planned on having 7′ overhangs (3.5′ overhang for every story).
  4. As it is, I have almost 8′ overhangs on the gable, and 4′ overhangs on the eaves. The plan was always to install a porch, so I didn’t see the point of overkilling the roof overhangs (longer rafters = longer sawmill track = bigger trees = more decking, more roofing, more osb, more shingles, etc.), because I knew a wrap-around porch was in our plans. Just not now.
  5. This was new to me, thanks Mosseyme: Without chinking, there is nothing to stop the wind from blowing right throw the house (gaps in logs). Over that 23′ drop (see #3) or so, rain has space for the wind to blow it off course and into the house. Normally,  (Ok, scratch that) I’m learning in the South that nothing is normal, and the weather can do whatever it wants.

So, I’m rethinking the “wait another year + before adding the porch” because the logs are getting wet now, and will be until I get that porch built. But all is not lost. My wife reminded me that we could just build the roof over the porch, and leave decking it until later, which would

  • get the lower logs protected right away
  • save me time on installing the porch decking

I like this idea. With that in mind, I started drawing to answer the question “What should our deck look like?” Here it is:

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Notes on this drawing:

  1. I was originally envisioning the West side of the house in this view. But I realized all four sides would have similar views, just with stairs or the carport. Ahh- the carport- more on that below….
  2. My biggest question is still how do you wrap the porch around the pass logs that stick out at the corners? I don’t know. I assume I’ll have to shave them off. For now, I’m going to build a “West Porch” and an “East Porch”. I’ll build them as far as the corners of the house, and not wrap them around just yet because my gables aren’t framed in. After the E-W porches are built, I’ll frame in the gables. Don’t need the porch getting in the way of my scaffolding and hauling materials up to the gables. After the gables are done, I’ll frame in the North and South Porches and figure out how to wrap the whole porch around the house.
  3. Gutters. I’ll get this out of the way- gutters do help direct all those thousands of gallons of water away from the lower (porch) roof. I’ll route them down the side of the porch beams, and eventually into water barrels for use in the garden or whatever. Yes, it still gets dry in August sometimes.
  4. Roof slope. The main roof is 6:12 pitch. But that doesn’t look right on the porch roof. And there is no hard and fast rule on matching the slopes of two roofs. Normally, the porch roof slopes slightly less than the house roof. I’m going with 3:12, which is pretty flat, I know, but you’ll see why below with the carport…I know 3:12 is below the recommended pitch for shingles, so I’ll have to add “special underlayment” to compensate for the lowered drainage rate.
  5. Carport. We’re tired of getting wet on the way to the house. However, I don’t want the garage attached to the house because fumes. Yes: “because fumes”. So, we need a carport and a detached garage. From my figuring, I need about 10′ of width for each car. But if we keep the carport roof slope the same as the rest of the porch, it would get pretty low before reaching the width needed for 2 cars. Julie had a great solution- park the cars perpendicular to the house- let the headlights face the house instead of parking parallel to it. This means the carport can be 14-17′ long, and we can just make it 30′ wide – enough for 3 cars.
  6. Dimensions:
    1. Porch roof height: about 9 feet, I figure.
    2. depth: 10′
    3. roof overhang: 12′.
    4. deck height vs inside floor: it’ll compare to the inside finished floor height in this manner:
      1. inside floor: 12″ (11.75″) joists, 3/4″ subfloor, 1″ finished floor = 13.25″
      2. outside deck: 10″ (9.75″) joists, 1.5″ decking = 11.25″. Later, we may enclose part of the porch into a large laundry room by adding 3/4″ subfloor, and then 1″ finished floor to bring the height to 13″. Trying to plan ahead….
    5. deck height vs ground: hoping for a deck height below 30″, so I can avoid handrails. Wife might override me on this one….

Here’s a bird’s eye view:

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Notes on this one:

  1. it’s a lot of roof. A lot. But you only live once, right? And we do want to see this thing still standing in 400+ years, right? Ok then. Roof it is.

I’ll let y’all know how it turns out….

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.

Cutting Rafters

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They are not easy to maneuver.

Background

I’m neck deep into using my sawmill. Back in February when it was raining and muddy, I welded up another 18 feet of track for it in the neighbor’s shed. I made dogs to hold the logs in place and squared it up very well. I thought I would be putting the roof on in June of this year. But, I’ve had several delays- the weather being the number one delay, but then my job sent me to Florida for a week of training, and then our LandCruiser needed a new headgasket. Finding, cutting, peeling, and installing the RPSL’s was another task that slowed us down. I also made a new trailer for hauling logs- works great for small ones, but I bet it would’ve collapsed under the wall logs. And then finding, etc., etc. the logs for the rafters was a major slowdown, but I’ll explain below.

A note on the headgasket- I was just raring to go on the rafters, and desperately wanted to pay someone else to do it- it was going to eat up two weeks of progress – one week to troubleshoot (I needed some help from my buddy, and our schedules didn’t line up), and another week to get it fixed. He diagnosed it (perfectly, I found out) as a broken headgasket between cylinders 5 & 6.  Knowing that I’m neck deep in the cabin and wanted to pay someone to do it, he called his Toyota buddy, who said “September, and probably $2,000  – $3,000”. Wow! I was thinking $1,000. Not $3,000. I’m not THAT desperate, I guess. So, I ordered the parts. My buddy got me hooked up with a bay in his old partner’s garage that they weren’t using (working on cars in the rain is a pain). I was very busy at work, but managed to get a couple half days, and a full day to “git-r-dun”. So that was a little set back.

Which brings us up to speed.

 

 

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Current status

I’ve got 23 rafters out of 28. I need to find about 5 or 6 more. The awesome neighbors keep offering more, even though I’ve already gotten about 20 from them so far. I cut them down, then walked off 30 feet on each log, and cut it at that point. I saved the tips, since many are 10″+ diameter and 20′ long- they will be used for the wrap around porch roof post supports (need 16 of them). I’ve got the milling process almost figured out to where it takes me about 2 hours to make a rafter- from pulling the log off the rack, to stacking the finished beam on the rack. I hope by the end of August, I’ll have them done and ready to go.

Problems and solutions

As usual, as I go from a total newbie on everything to a “pro” (I use “pro” very loosely, ha, ha), I’ve learned some tricks.

My engineer calculated that a beam with a minimum 10″ tip, and a 12″ middle and bottom has the same strength as a 4″x12″ beam. You would think that to make a rafter, you just lay the log on the track and cut one side to be 12″ thick, and the other 4″ thick, and you’re done. I wish. My logs are crooked and tapered, so I have to massage a 4×12 out of them. I’ve been able to, on some big logs, coax two 4×12’s out of them. But mostly, I only get one rafter, and a lot of nice 2×10’s or 2×12’s.

 

 

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I found early on that the taper of the logs makes it necessary to jack up the log on the track before cutting it. The track has a very hard time keeping up. But back to the tapered log problem. I found that if I jack up the narrow end to be level with the fat end, I can then run a flat cut with the sawmill down the entire log, ending up with at least one flat side. My idea is that the flat side will face up- that the roof T&G needs only one flat side on the rafter- the bottom only touches the house in two places- at the Ridge Pole, and at the cap logs. So I’m not wasting my time making the bottom flat.  Once I have one flat side, I turn the log on the side and begin milling it down to 5″. This may take several passes because the log might be crooked, and won’t initially sit flat on the track.

A few logs have been large enough to get two rafters. I jack up the small end as above, but then I just cut the friggin’ thing exactly in half. Then I work on each half to get it to the right size.

Don’t forget we’re talking about a 27.5′ x 12+” diameter log that probably weighs 2,500 lbs. It is very difficult to turn the log for each cut. I’ve even turned some of them with the tractor because they are too heavy. They can also roll off the track. I keep having the scary thought of getting my leg crushed inside the track when a log decides to roll, so I never ever put my legs or arms anywhere a log could roll and crush something.

Eventually, the rafter behaves, and I get a pretty good 4×10 -> 4×12 by 27.5′ long rafter.

 

 

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Here’s a video my wife took of me cutting a rafter.

Next steps

After I have 28 rafters, I’ll treat them with borate solution, then put on my math hat. The math hat is going to be tricky: To get the roof perfectly flat, I have to consider a few things:

  • Ridge Pole (RP): This log is what holds everything up. It is 56′ long, 29″ at the base, and about 15″ at the tip, so it has some taper. To make it level, I have to shorten the RPSL at the back of the house by 29″ – 15″ = 14″. This will make it level when it’s installed on the house. But then it’s not perfectly flat on top- it has some bumps and waves. I have to work this in when I place rafters on top of it. I may have to notch it to get everything perfect.
  • Rafters: They are not all exactly 4″x12″ on both ends. Most have a 4×12 butt. But the tips vary from 10″ to 12″. All of them are 5″ wide. I may put a 10″ on a part of the RP that is “high”, just so the rafters are all level.
  • Cap logs: This is where the other end of the rafters connect- these are the top wall logs. They are not perfectly level either. I have to consider this when placing the rafters on them.

With all this fitting and figuring, it seems like I should do it as I place the rafters and RP on the house, but that would mean measuring and fitting and chiseling while up 30 feet in the air. So, the plan is to do everything on the ground in advance:

  • Run a string line down the RP and level it on the ground.
  • Mark exactly where the rafters will go on the Ridge Pole. Note and mark the diameter of the Ridge Pole at each point the rafters will attach. Use the string line to get the height exact at each rafter attachment point.
  • Do the same thing on the Cap logs.
  • Use some really bright colored chalk or something to label the rafters, “AE or AW” through “IE or IW”: ‘A’ – ‘I’ designates the position, from back of the house to front of the house, of the rafter, while ‘E’ or ‘W’ designates whether it is on the (E)ast or (W)est side of the house. Each rafter on the East is paired with a rafter on the West- there are 14 pairs, spaced 4′ apart, so ‘A’ – ‘I’ makes sense.
  • Match the short rafters (less than 12″) with the tall part of the RP (where a bump or a bow sticks up). Match tall rafters (at least 12″) with the low parts of the RP (where it bows down).

When complete, I’ll have all the rafters laid out on racks in order, bolted together in pairs, next to the ridge pole, and all ready to lift by the crane when he shows up. If all goes well, the whole lift operation shouldn’t take more than about 5 hours. We are so excited for this part!