More Cabin Motivation


I’ve written a bunch about how we are building this cabin, but not much lately on why we are building this thing. Since we are at a point between the first and second floors, and I’m back to peeling logs (more on that later), now seemed like a good time to review. Not only do people use widely varying methods of building a log cabin, but they have widely varying reasons for building a log cabin. Talking to other LHBA members and other builders on facebook, I’ve discovered that not everyone is going to live there full time. The reasons for building also vary.  You could slice the reasons and the types of people who build into a crazy number of categories, but I’ll try to keep it simple.

I did an informal poll on one of the cabin groups I’m on to see why people build log cabins.


It breaks down this way:

  • Total responders: 40
  • don’t have one but will: 50%
  • live there full time: 18%
  • get away: 15%
  • live there eventually: 13%
  • building one now: 2%

The allure of a log cabin

Half of the people on the survey don’t have a log cabin, but say they will someday. I believe that is probably true of the general population of the United States, as well. I found this article from the National Park Service stating that originally, log cabins in America were meant to be temporary dwellings, and they may have lost popularity completely, except that in the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (part of a “make work” project during the Great Depression) built many cabins in the National Parks. The most famous example of log architecture is, of course, the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. I’ve been there many times, enjoyed sitting in one of the mission style chairs in the lobby, and climbing the log staircases. It is truly an inspiring structure. A photo that captures all of the essence of this world-famous structure is hard to find, but I found a few:

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But what is the allure of a log cabin? The National Park Service article states:

Had it not been for these [the log cabins built by the CCC in the 1930’s] the log cabin might have disappeared, but because people saw the log structures and liked what they saw, many began to build modern log cabins and log houses. These homes seemed to represent all that a family could want: a sturdy shelter from the elements and a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle. The log cabin remains a popular building style.

Popular, but yet rare. There are no statistics on how many log cabins are out there, but they remain a very popular (at least in the imagination) and an iconic building style. I think the answer to “why are they so alluring” is simply because they call us back to simpler times when quality mattered.

For most folks, the cost of building one is the limiting factor. Whereas a normal frame home costs about $120 per square foot, a log home can cost $150-$175 per square foot. But that’s really not that much difference for a dream. Hard to get a loan? Maybe a little. Cabins are considered unconventional building styles by many lenders- meaning they are hard to find “comparables” (other property in the area used to determine if the asking price is valid). Maybe permits and city inspections are more complicated? Yeah. But not by much, depending on where you live. Of course, this doesn’t cover our build. Our “per square foot” cost is much, much cheaper- about $20 per square foot. In our case, a log cabin was cheaper than a framed or a brick home.  One reason is that the building materials can be cheaper than 2×4’s. As in free. Or, the cabin can be extremely expensive if you hire out the actual construction and contracting. But I guess you could also argue it’s only cheap because I’m pouring 30 years worth of work into building it in about 2 years. Maybe 3….

It’s always seemed strange to me that everyone loves the idea of a cabin in the woods, but not many people have them, even though price, hassle, etc. isn’t much different from a regular home, not to mention how much more environmentally friendly they can be than other styles of homes. I just haven’t been able to square why there aren’t more of them.

Why have a log cabin?

According to my poll, people have different uses for their cabin. Some live in them full time, others use them as a get away. Why have one?

The get-away

The first cabin I had was definitely a get away- we drew a circle on a map with our full-time residence as the center. The edge of the circle was how far we were wiling to drive to “get away”: which was a two hour drive. Then, every weekend, we would take a different route until we were 2 hours away from home, looking for property or a cabin for sale along the way. The one we bought was built by an old farrier in his 70’s- as a get away on 20 acres. No power, no running water, too far away from cell coverage, and an outhouse. It was a simple one room cabin with a loft. And it was awesome- I could sit out on the porch some days and actually hear the nothing. At night, we were at least 60 miles from the nearest city, so the stars were extremely bright. But at 6,000 ft+ elevation, it wasn’t a place you could stay in the winter, as the county would close the road when the snow got too deep. We had a few family parties there, but eventually found that keeping up with two houses was some work. After the divorce, I had to sell it. That was painful, and I realized that I really liked cabin living better than city living. I wanted to get another one, and this time, live in it full-time.

20 acres, a cabin, and a 1973 Ford HighBoy- what’s not to like?

The homestead

This is where I’m headed. But when I remarried and moved to the South, it didn’t look like it was going to happen. My wife wasn’t that interested at first. A brick home was what she wanted. I was ok with that, I thought, so when I finally got through school and started making a little more money, we started looking at homes. We needed a big one- 6 kids between the two of us, and we both have lots of hobbies- sewing, knitting, art, music, woodworking- we needed plenty of space. Of course, I wanted as much property as we could afford. Which meant very few homes made it on the list, and the ones that did were usually in need of major renovations, and many of them had plenty of smells to go along with them. You can read more about the beginning of our log home journey here.

Now they do have cabins here in the South- but not like the ones out West. Here we have dove tailed square oak beam cabins. Out West, it’s more solid log coped cabins. They are ALL pretty in my book.

The eventual plan is to have a small hobby farm, and of course I want my garage for woodworking and building rustic furniture. The idea is to become more self-sufficient. We are building this cabin without a loan, paying as we go. There’s no mortgage on the house- when we’re done, we’ll own it. We’ll try gardening, and raising chickens and bees. Maybe some of that will provide some income. When you’re peeling logs, it’s easier and more fun to think about this kind of stuff than how sore and tired you are from all the work.

Back to Basics (like peeling logs)

Which brings me back to peeling logs, which I did almost all of last week. See, when we started stacking, we decided that we were going to stack logs in this manner: the biggest logs would go on the bottom, and decrease in size as we worked our way to the top. That way, even though our logs have more taper than anyone else’s home on LHBA, at least we would have control over the size of the logs. We also decided to stack so that the butts of the logs faced the front of the home- this gives the home a “massive” feel to it, and also provides extra support for the roof – which hangs about 6 feet out from the corners.


There were still some trees on our property that needed to come down, and as we got higher with the stacking, I noticed that  few were too close for comfort to the house (in case of a tornado). So I cut a few down. Julie measured them, and what do you know- they were the same size (about 5 feet around) as the ones we were using on layer #6- which meant we needed to use them now, or risk stacking big logs on top of little logs. I cut down about 8 more of that size.

sweet gum tree. 55 feet long. Log arch to lift it onto the trailer (on right, almost out of frame).

I also cut down a sweet gum tree that is about 55 feet long, has a 29″ diameter base, and a 15″ tip, and is almost perfectly straight with no large branches. In other words, the perfect size for a ridge pole – the longest, straightest, biggest, “most righteous” log. But I’ve heard from folks that they twist as they dry. I can’t even budge it with my tractor. If I don’t use it for a ridge pole, it would make an awesome dining table, along with some end tables, and maybe a door.


The other choice for my ridge pole is a giant oak further back in the forest- it’s about 26″ at the base, with minimal taper. I don’t know the tip diameter, but it is even longer- almost 65 feet by my estimation. And according to woodweb (they have a weight calculator), it probably weighs about 7,000 lbs.  I’ll need help moving it. Did I mention it’s an oak tree? How awesome would that be for a ridgepole?

That’s it for now, back to work. Leave a comment if it suits you.



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:


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.


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.

More of the same…

Basically, the past month has been like this: buy gas and oil for chainsaw, sharpen chainsaw, cut trees, move branches, drag logs, use trailer to drag heavy logs, put logs on racks, peel logs, borate logs, repeat.


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On the LHBA forum, others are using their Suburbans and other vehicles to move logs. I thought, our Landcruiser can probably do the same thing, so I gave it a try. Didn’t work at all.


notice the strap snapping away from the log…

I’ve been making room on racks one and two to make room for new logs. But I ran out of room, so I had to sacrifice more logs to make racks 3 & 4. I hate sacrificing logs that I soaked clothes and bent forks to get up on racks. It’s a lot of work to just put a log on the ground. And the sacrificial logs have to be huge to be “rack logs”, which means I need usually two smaller logs to replace each rack log. Oh well. It’s all work, and it all needs to be done.

Over fall break, my wife came up with an idea to get the teenagers out to help: she invited them to come out and peel, and afterwards, promised to take them out to dinner. Yeah, we know who’s working, and who’s just bothering the dog….

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Stuff Breaks

fingernail is making a comeback!

Since the beginning of this project, stuff has been breaking: Logs are too heavy, I do dumb things, money is tight, I have another job, etc.

My whole life, I’ve been working in jobs where I see areas that need improvement- more efficient methods, outdated standards, etc, and every new job I get, I try to implement changes that are more efficient. I guess my whole life has been one of “process improvement”:

I had this old Nissan Sentra my grandma sold me for $1.00. It had been through several cousins as a starter car. Finally came to me. One time, I was driving it home late at night from work while I was struggling through college and the lights went dim. When I looked under the hood, I found the belt to the alternator was loose- the tensioner bolt had fallen out. I looked in the trunk for something to brace it with or an extra bolt- and found an old screwdriver. I jammed the screwdriver in there, and I meant to fix it, but a few weeks later, the clutch went out on it.  I got it to a mechanic, and when I came to pick it up, he said, “Oh, by the way, while we were in there fixing your clutch, we found this:” <holds up screwdriver>.

“Oh yeah.”

They start laughing. “Yeah, we fixed it for ya.”

Hopefully, I’ve come a long way since those days (baby steps). Building this log home, I’m improving my methods as I go, but there are some set-backs.

Logs are too heavy (Process improvement)

Your log home dealer offers “oversize” 12 inch logs? That’s so cute…

This is a given. The logs are always too heavy. I can’t stress how dangerous this is. They are very heavy. Tractor can’t lift them, so I have gone through several improvements:

  1. 2 tractor jacks- one on each side of the log. very unstable. Tend to “max out” at just under the height needed to get the log on the trailer.
  2. lifting tripod made out of large branches: works pretty good- very heavy, hard to set up.
  3. a trailer- works pretty good. very heavy, hard to maneuver to get it under the log- usually has to be maneuvered by hand- can’t always get tractor involved with tight turns that might bump the log while it’s hanging in mid-air and knock everything down.
  4. a log arch attached to the trailer….and a broken finger, so…
  5. ….log arch NOT attached to trailer…so far so good…
anti-tank house logs

“Why don’t you use smaller logs?”

It’s a thought…That I don’t have. Go big or go home. Because Manly.

OK, seriously- a log home made out of 12″ logs has been proven to be at least twice as efficient as a home made from 2×4’s in a standard fashion. Most log home folks report paying 1/3 the cost in AC/heating costs as they did in their “stick-built” homes. The logs I’m using range from 14 inches to 27 inches. I’m expecting a cheap utility bill when this is all said and done.

There’s also the artistic factor: Big logs are inspiring. Look at the two homes below:

Which one has the “Oh…wow” factor? Yeah. I thought so.

“Mommy, mommy! That man is not wearing a seat belt!”

The tractor is kinda light

I think the tractor must weigh in at about 3,500 pounds. The logs are probably about 5,000 + lbs. In a tug-o-war, the logs sometimes win. I’ve broken the tractor a few times:

  1. broken steering column
  2. broken pins on three point hitch (several times).
  3. bent the 3 point hitch mounting points.
  4. broken front grill, smashed front cowl
  5. flat tire on rear (I’m suspicious that it came that way as a slow leak that got faster with use).
  6. broken/stripped out lift arm screw – right side
  7. broken/stripped out lift arm screw – left side

For #6 & #7: I welded the right side with the neighbor’s supervision- well, he has a pacemaker and can’t get near high voltage devices, so he sat on his porch and listened to the welder. When I was done welding the first time, I drove by on the tractor and gave him the thumbs up. I got across the street, backed up to the log that broke it in the first place, and immediately broke the weld. Limping the tractor back across the street, and I see the neighbor in the chair grinning at me.

“What?” I said.

“I knew that was gonna happen- you were welding it too hot.”

“Too hot?” (I don’t know anything about welding….I guess you can ‘hear’ when someone is welding too hot?)

“Yeah- when you’re welding hardened steel to cast iron, you gotta turn the heat down on that thing – otherwise, you’re not really welding it,” says the former certified welding instructor.


Turn down the heat. Weld it cooler very carefully. Grind off the slag. Weld again. Grind off some more slag, adjust the heat. Weld again. The neighbor comes over to eyeball it. Gives me a nod. Off I go.

Back at the log in question. Start to lift it- “clunk!” <a few choice curse words>. Turn around and look- my weld is holding ok. Look at other lift arm: now it’s broke. <smile>. Drive back across the street. Neighbor is a little concerned as he sees me coming up the driveway. Then I show him what happened. Now he’s grinning, too.

“I’ve done that same thing before, believe it or not,” he says, laughing. Luckily, I bought a universal screw pin from Tractor Supply, and what do you know? It fits. And the weld has held up since then, too. Third time’s a charm?

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I do dumb things:

Did you know that you can’t interchange a 80-link bar on a chainsaw with a 72-link bar? Yeah, I got bad advice: “just change out the bar”. They forgot to mention the drive sprocket aligns with the links on the chains. For a few days, I couldn’t figure out how the teeth on that sprocket got all chewed up. Now I know, and I now have a new drive sprocket on order from Ebay for my saw….


Money is tight:

This was part of the plan- do the build super cheap. With unlimited funds, I could build this thing in about 3 weeks. With no funds, I can’t build it at all. With some funds, I can afford some equipment, but not the expensive kind, so the build timeline is in between 3 weeks and forever. I’m going for 2 years…

Without a lot of money, I’ve got to stick to being innovative – do more with less. Lesson from class:

  1. cheap
  2. fast
  3. good

You can only pick two. I guess I have to pick #1 & #3. Which means any cool trick I want to try has to be cheap and good, or forget it.

I have another job:

Believe it or not, I work full time as a support engineer (no, I’m not usually the white collar guy with pink hands, so this is a huge career improvement for me- usually, I’m crawling under raised floor panels dragging some CAT-V cable). Yes, this affects the build: I’m trying to hurry as much as I can because of my limited time to build. There are those in our organization who only work on their cabins for 4 weeks out of the summer. Then there are those who do it for a living. I’m in the “do it every night after work” group. This creates problems of being too hasty:

  • Like the time I came within five feet of smashing my tractor while felling a tree- I was in too much of a hurry before it got dark to go grab my 60′ cable. So I used my 20′ chain to hook it and pull instead. I had to dive off the tractor as the tree came down. Luckily, the tree missed. You can’t really get away from a falling tree while chained to it with a tractor. Whew.
  • Borating the logs before the bugs get to them: I have to make my brew on the weekends. I was using a “rocket stove” design on my cinder blocks for the fire. I changed it this weekend to a new design with more airflow. Process improvement? yes: the first way of cooking, the brew took 3 hours. This time, it took me 1 hour.


The conclusion is: Stuff breaks. Lessons?

  1. Learn how to fix it.
  2. Process improvement.
  3. Focus on the task at hand.
  4. Figure out what isn’t working, what is working, and the difference between the two.

#1 and #2 are my bright spots. #3 can be hard, but if I get ahead of myself, really heavy logs bring me back to what really matters at the moment. #4 is where I get stuck, believe it or not- it’s good to be married to a level-headed woman: whenever I get harebrained ideas like: “I know- let’s buy a 1 ton truck to drag logs around,” she straightens me out with “what you’re doing is working- you just need to stick with it.”

2016 July 18: Slowly getting back to work

yes- 54 feet of usable tree (has to be at least 8 inches diameter at 44 feet for me to consider using it. This one is 8 inches at 54 feet).
I got the stitches out on Monday. Went in to my doctor- vertically- and had them take the stitches out. My knitting scissors were too big to do it myself. Had to endure my doctor trying to strong-arm me into getting a tetanus shot. Originally, I wrote a big, long post on why I don’t think it’s necessary, and then decided not to post it.  Instead, let me just summarize: If you believe in tetanus shots and vaccines, good for you. If you don’t: also, good for you. Here are a bunch of studies on Tetanus that may open your eyes a little.

Meanwhile, that afternoon, I’m back at the property, and I’m able to (barely) use my chainsaw to buck the trees (cut off the branches of the ones that are on the ground). It hurts my finger after a while, and I don’t have a good grip. But I’m thinking of using the branches for rail supports for the wrap around porch. With Southern Yellow Pine, there are a lot of branches if the trees don’t grow close together. Saving the branches solves two problems:

  • I get free wood for ballusters and rail caps.
  • Once I get done pulling out the big ones, the brush pile is just scraps and is much easier to clean up.

I worked on it for about an hour and a half, until I tore the wound on the finger a little and it started to bleed again, so I had to quit.

Tuesday, I had to fix the bathtub faucet- replaced the handles. We are trying to do as little as possible to this house until we move out. Then, Wednesday, I was driving up over the mountain, and the temperature gauge on my car started rising. I quickly pulled over because on Saturday, it did the same thing, and I couldn’t find any leaks, so I thought it was just an air bubble. I ripped the hood open so I could find the leak quickly- and saw a hairline fracture on the radiator. Darn. Well, at least it wasn’t the motor. I hypermiled it home so I didn’t burn up the motor and fixed it.

This car is a little Honda I bought from my wife’s ex for $400, who said it couldn’t be fixed. He was partially right- the engine had been burned out of oil, and threw a rod through the bottom of the block. It was fixable- for $300 for a crankshaft, $300 to weld the block, $300 for a rebuild kit…so I found a replacement motor (from a 2001) in Chattanooga for $400 and dropped it in. A 1999 Honda Civic with VTEC for $800 isn’t bad, I’d say. I picked up a radiator at the parts store for $75 and dropped it in back at my house. It went in quick- about an hour. Then I went back over the mountain to work some more on clearing the branches. I’m working slow, but I’m working.

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):


One of the better welds I made….


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 July 05: (Almost) a disaster

I haven’t felt like writing much since last Wednesday. Besides, I haven’t been able to. All work stopped on the build Wednesday (6/29) about 5:50 pm. I almost lost a finger. And I typed this entire message with 9 fingers: #10 is in a brace.

I was trying out the arch- and it wasn’t going well. After I built it, I re-calculated the vector forces while lifting- and found out they were almost double what I was expecting. I thought that by having the weight of the log carried by the arch, it would reduce the force needed to lift it. But friction is also a force, and in this case, it was working against me- adding to the weight of lifting the log. Not only was I lifting the log, I was having to drag it at the same time, so the 2,000-ish lbs of friction was being added to the 6,000 lbs of lifting- and not just regular addition- vector addition: the weight was really much greater- probably around 12,000 lbs.

I was using a 4-ton hand winch to pull the log arch upright with the log attached. The arch was awesome. The winch was too short, so I had attached it to the tractor and used a tow chain to attach it to the arch. Lots of moving parts in a heavy duty operation is a bad idea.


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It wasn’t a very smart set up. Because of this, I was really straining the winch- the cable began to fray, which was very frustrating, along with the log not getting off the ground at all. But before giving up completely, I decided to get the log arch in a more vertical position. I looped the tow chain through the hook on the winch and started winching, but the loop was not evenly tensioned on both sides of the hook, so I stopped to adjust it. The links were getting caught in the hook, so I tried to adjust it and give it some relief- and the weight of the arch started the chain moving through the hook. It started moving so suddenly that I wasn’t able to jerk my hand out of the way, and the chain caught the finger of my glove and pulled it through the hook- and my left index finger with it- before pulling the glove completely off my hand. I screamed in pain as I looked and saw the back of my fingernail pulled out of my finger, and blood running everywhere. Afraid I might pass out, I called my wife, and said I had an accident, and that I was probably going to the hospital. I made it to the neighbor’s house, and almost passed out on their patio.

After getting some ice and a few towels to wrap it in, I felt like I could drive myself to the hospital. It was 30 minutes away, and I had to lean on the steering wheel the entire trip. I told my wife I was on my way, and she met me there.

Of course, there’s always a waiting line at the E.R. and people with so many problems.

My wife was there with me. We discussed the accident. I got some x-rays, and they confirmed the finger was broken- halfway between the tip and the first knuckle.

Maybe this is too hard? My wife was justifiably upset and scared- I use my hands for a lot of things- I fix my own cars, play piano, ukulele, sax, and right now, building this log home. I’m down for the count- can’t peel logs, can’t cut them, can’t move them. It’s a three day weekend- July 4 on Monday- and I’m sitting around on the couch, not working. I’m ambidextrous (use both hands equally), so although I write with my right hand, I eat with my left. And brush my teeth, shave, cinch up my belt on my pants- all with my left hand. It’s really caused a lot of thought. What if I had lost a finger? What if it had been worse? We discussed my recent injuries- head smack, possible broken rib, and now this broken finger- none are life threatening, but they could have been. So the risk is very high.

They finally call me back for stitches. I hate shots. I’ve nearly passed out from just the sight of a needle.

The nurse is saying “don’t watch”.

I’m saying, “that’s going to be hard. Don’t you have some sleeping masks or some way to block my view?”

She gets some safety glasses and puts gauze over the lenses and says, “how’s this?”

“Great,” I say and put them on, “now I won’t faint on you. These work pretty well. How many times have you done this for patients?”

“The goggles? You’re the first.”

Pause. Yup. I’m the only wimp out there who can’t watch someone sew up their finger. “Well they work pretty well,” I repeat, quieter.

My wife and I have talked a lot the past few days. What I’m doing is dangerous- even with safety precautions (I’ve done some risk assessment, and I need to reduce the number of moving parts in all of my work). I need a term life insurance policy. But we both really want this cabin. I can’t rest- I get depressed when I’ve got nothing to do.

I’ve got to be more aware- and careful, but I’m not quitting- I’m reloading.

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Here’s the gory finger after the accident:


The ridge on the back of the fingernail? that’s the part that should be under the skin.


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.

2016 May 11: It’s the little things…

Last night, my wife decided to come help. The neighbors really want to meet her. Arthur had a dentist appointment, so I had to wait for him, and then took him out to the property. I had a tree that I cut down at the neighbor’s house the day before ready to skid back to the property, so I loaded up the tractor to go down the street and get it. I showed him how to drive the tractor- and pointed out that it had manual steering. I’m not sure he understood what “manual steering” meant. He went along fine while we were going straight, but then we had to turn out onto the road- he turned ok, but then let go of the steering wheel- not realizing that with a tractor and manual steering, it will pretty much just keep turning until you stop it. We had two tires almost in the ditch before I could strong arm it back on the road. Manual steering is just one of the little things…

I also didn’t think I would be going, so I forgot to pack my new three ton chain hoist, but I had two tractor jacks, so I should be able to lift the log almost 48 inches off the ground- high enough to clear the lip of the trailer, right?

The tractor jacks, however, have no good attachment point- the chain or strap can slip off the front if the weight is pulling more to the side (such as towards the side of the log). After trying several ways to attach the strap, it finally held long enough to get the log up in the air, but since the log was in a ditch, the jacks maxed out with about an inch to spare on the lip of the trailer, which wasn’t enough to clear the lip. Just a little thing, right?

20160510_181840[1]I said, “forget it, let’s just drive”, and hooked up the tractor and started dragging. The trailer is only 10 feet too long at this point, right? Just a little thing…It went well for a while, even though one tire on the trailer was a little low on air.


I tried to swing it wide for the right turn, but I swung a little too wide, and the trailer went into a little ditch – about twelve inches deep. ‘No big deal’, I thought, ‘I’ll just turn and it will come out of the ditch.’ Except it didn’t, and the angle of the trailer caused the strap to slip, which caused the log to shift, which caused the trailer to shift some more, and now it was locking itself up around the “No Outlet” street sign on the side of the road. And the other tire was now flat. Just a little thing…

I thought maybe I could pull the log back away from the sign and the ditch, so I hooked up to the trailer…




…and the trailer came along, but the log was too tired to move.

I stopped, unhooked, backed up to the log, set the jack on one side, tractor on the other, and chain in the middle. This time, the depth of the ditch wasn’t as deep where I hooked up the tractor, so when I lifted, the big end easily cleared the lip of the trailer.I strapped it down again, and looked up to see one of the neighbors come out of his log cabin (that he built in the 1980’s- more on this later) with a four ton come-along. He asked if I thought it would help- sure, let’s use it. Just a little thing…

But now with two flat tires, the trailer decided to pull at an angle- which meant that while I’m driving down the right edge of the road, the trailer and log are driving down the left side of the road- missing several mailboxes by inches. I pulled into the driveway, knowing the trailer wouldn’t make the turn and end up in a ditch (so I let it), stopped, unhooked the trailer (that was now in the ditch), and tried to pull on the log. The heavy end decided, with ten feet hanging into the ditch, that it wasn’t going anywhere. Unhook the tractor, hook up heavy end, pull out of ditch, hook back up light end, lift, and pull.

The log was barely moving, but it was moving, so I found out that gunning it in 4th gear was the git-r-dun I needed.

Just a bunch of little things- little annoyances that end up being big problems, but it seems like there are just barely enough little helps – like the neighbor’s come-along- to overcome them. Log #13 is in the bag.

2016 April 24: More Work


I see it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, so here are some updates:

Weekly schedule

Lately, my weekly schedule goes something like this:

Monday – Friday:

Take Chris to school, then go to work from 6:30 to 3:30. Check with Julie- see if going out to the property fits in with our schedule – and it usually does, so – drive out to the property. peel whatever logs are out there, or clean up branches and debris from last cut.


Fell new trees.

I’ve cut a total of 8 trees, which is really behind where I wanted to be. I thought I would have all my trees cut by now, but there’s been some issues…

Hauling logs

Hauling logs has been darn near impossible with just the tractor alone.  I fixed the ditch, so it was easier to cross:


Before and after:

It took me almost a week to haul one I call “the monster”. It’s the biggest tree I’ve ever cut: 55 feet long, 26″ base, 10″ top, and branches all the way up. It broke my tractor jack (capacity: 7,000 lbs). Progress came to a standstill over this one log. I had to think of a solution- what if I got more like it? Barely being able to move a normal log is not a solution. Not being able to move a large log is complete failure, so I needed a log trailer or something.

trying to haul this monster with the tractor alone: fail. The tractor lifted up in front, and dug down in the rear. Log: 1, tractor: 0.

I began to scour craigslist for trailers. I needed one that was a maximum of 5 feet wide, as short as possible, and with a capacity of two tons at least. I finally found a military trailer in Hartselle for $175. I called the guy, but he had sold it. Then I found another one in Shelbyville, TN. The guy was nice, asked me what I was using it for. When I told him, he said he either had a trailer that would work, or we could make one. He said he was a house mover by trade. Perfect, because even I know that a house weighs more than a log, so this guy probably had the right solution.

I arrived at his house on a Thursday evening- he had pretty much a junkyard for a yard. He showed me a house moving trailer about two feet wide and one foot long- basically an I-beam with wheels welded underneath.  Capacity: I have no idea- a lot. But he was trying to talk me out of it for some reason by showing me all the other trailers that he thought would work. He finally admitted that he needed the house moving trailer because it was part of a set. He showed me a military trailer- the frame was metal, the bed was metal- every thing on it was metal. It was extremely heavy for its size. The only problem was it was so high off the ground, I wasn’t sure how I would get the log loaded into it. Almost perfect. I loaded it up, paid him, and got on my way.

I took it out to the property the next day, but couldn’t get the log up into it. Saturday, I got out there early. I spent a long time trying to load it, broke my farm jack, got a new farm jack, and finally succeeded in getting the bottom end of the log onto the trailer.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. back the tractor up to the side of the log; about 10 feet from the bottom.
  2. Place tractor jack on opposite side of log, and run a chain underneath the log.
  3. Using the chain as a cradle between the tractor and the jack, slowly jack the log up to about 3 feet off the ground.
  4. Slip (I use that word loosely- it’s more like “shove”) the trailer under the log, and strap the log down.
  5. Now remove the jack and tractor, and hook up the tractor on the front end.
  6. Pull up alongside the peeling area, unhook from the front of the log, and almost reverse the process.
Not as easy as it looks. This is tractor jack #2.

That monster log is about 95% peeled right now. I’m not sure where it will go on the house- maybe the first layer. But that means I have to find three more, and I’m not sure how I feel about moving more like that one.

6 acres next door sold (almost)

Meanwhile, I’m working there one night about a month ago, and Jerry (the guy we bought the land from) comes over and says I need to stop cutting trees on the property next door because he sold it. Wha???? I was planning on using that entire area for my house logs, and using the trees on my property for the garage. So without the trees next door, we don’t have a house. It was very depressing. The dream of a house made from logs began to look impossible.  I still had the two logs I had cut on the property, and Jerry said to go ahead and take them, but not to cut any more. He said he would talk to the new owner. I asked who it was- he said a guy down the street named Bobby. I decided to talk to the new owner myself.

I drove down to his house- he’s got a large cattle operation and about 80 acres. I guess he’s trying to add to it. Anyway, nice fella, but really wants to leave it up in the air with those trees. He’s afraid there’ll be a mess with the branches and stumps (I promised to clean them up- I want to be a good neighbor), so then he’s not sure where the property lines are, excuse after excuse. He did say he wants to mark the ones he wants cut, but the closing date on the property keeps getting pushed out- Jerry’s wife was in the hospital, Jerry’s knee surgery isn’t recovering as fast as he wants. I guess we shouldn’t hold our breath. On the bright side, I talked to him yesterday, and he has trees on another piece of property on Hobbs Island road that he wants to get rid of. He had a professional logger come get the cedar, but there are some 60 foot pines that he said I could have- but work out with the logger how to get them down in one piece. I went and looked- there are some power lines but it does look possible to get them down. There is a monster tree that’s even bigger than the one I cut, so I don’t think that one is a possibility, but the others maybe- probably about 6 trees. Anyway, I have about a month to decide- the logger only works weekends, so it’ll be a while.

When one door closes…

I got a flat tire on my tractor yesterday- so flat, I didn’t dare move it for fear the tire will come off the rim. None of the neighbors were home, and none of the repair shops had air tanks big enough to fill it. I was afraid I’d have to bring the trailer and take the wheel off- it’s too big to fit in the car. Did I mention my truck engine finally blew up? Got to fix the head gasket or something.

Anyway, I drove through the neighborhood, looking for houses that had shops next to them- and found gold: Shane is married to one of the Maples- the lady’s parents live across the street from our property. They are in their 80’s, so they don’t get out much. Anyway, they took me over to her parent’s and used the compressor in their shed to partially fill my tire. Then I drove it over to their house and finished it off.

But it gets better: Shane’s wife’s family all live around the area. The relative next door told Shane on Friday that he wished he could get rid of some of the trees on his property- there’s about 15 of them he wants gone. And when I told him what I was doing with them- he is really interested in it- asked me all kinds of questions, got excited about the plans. He said he’ll ask around and help me find some trees. The guy rebuilds classic cars for a living- they are super sweet looking rides.

Bottom line: looks like I’ll probably get enough trees right from the neighborhood.


The garage is on hold for now. I’ll build that once we’re moved in to the house.

Total trees needed: probably 120 or more. Total committed: 58 (40 mine, 18 other neighbors), Potential trees: 45 (10 lady from GA, 35 Bobby). If I get the ones I know about, that’s 108, but that’s thinking very positively.

  • number of trees needed: about 100 (for rafters, posts, who knows)
  • number needed for flooring, tongue & groove roof, joists: who knows- 20?
  • House logs:
    • number needed for walls: about 70
    • number of trees peeled: 6
    • trees on my property: about 40
    • number needed: from somewhere else: 30
      • number from Bobby (maybe 30):
        • from land next door: who knows? It’s possible he’ll say take them all- I mean, it makes sense if you have cows, you need pasture- and pasture doesn’t grow well in the forest, so he needs some of them gone, at least.
        • from Hobbs Island road: 4 (but getting them will be hard)
        • from somewhere else on his main property- who knows? He says he has some.
      • number from other neighbors (18 committed, 10 potential):
        • Jim has 3 I may be able to use
        • Shane says there’s about 15 from his neighbor
        • The owner next to me lives in GA, and has a 30′ strip between our land and Jerry/Bobby’s land. There’s about 10 trees big enough I could use – but I’d have to write her a letter and see.

Just keep cutting, peeling, and moving forward.