More Cabin Motivation

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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We took a little break from stacking…

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RPSL’s, GSL’s, Girder Logs

For the un-initiated, RPSL’s are Ridge Pole Support Logs. They are the vertical logs that hold up the ridge pole; while the ridge pole is the log that holds up the roof- it’s the highest log in the whole house, and according to Skip (founder of LHBA), it should be the longest, straightest, most righteous log you have.

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This is Paul Kahle’s log home- one of our members- built just like we are doing with lifting poles. The ridge pole is the log he is sitting on, while the RPSL’s are holding it up.

A GSL is the Girder Support Log- it holds up the Girder Log that holds up the joists for the second floor. The GSL goes through the middle of your house, perpendicular to the ridge pole.

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You can see one of the RPSL logs bolted to the wall, a center RPSL, and the GSL bolted to it. The GSL is the one holding up the girder in this photo. This is the home of Tracy Nichols, also one of our members.

You can install the RPSL’s as soon as you have enough wall logs to support them- most LHBA members install them when they have six courses of logs installed- but that is if you are using a telehandler. The book recommends installing them when you have your walls up. Julie and I have discussed when to put them up with a lot of positives and negatives. If we put them up now, we could use them as temporary lifting poles for crooked logs we need to cut in half. I’m actually at the point where temporary lifting poles aren’t tall enough to be of any use. And if I get taller temporary lifting poles, well, they are just too heavy to get in position.

The girder log could go in now or later. If we do it now, we can use crooked wall logs that we cut and leave a space for the girder log. If we do it later, we can use the wall logs to attach our block and tackle, and lift the girder log wherever we want. Along with the girder log would be the GSL support log- the vertical log that supports the GSL.

For now, we’ve decided to keep going with the wall logs. We are on course seven now, and it is only for logs that will not be cut in the middle somewhere- there are no doors or windows at this point in the build like there were up until now.

Getting new logs, protecting the existing logs

Julie has been managing which logs go where- she measures the circumference of the existing logs, and finds the next biggest log for the next layer. We started with logs that were nearly six feet around, but now we are down to logs that are just over five feet around. We have a few on our property that needed to be cut down anyway because the eventual plan is to have a large garden and we need the sunlight.

There were also  few that are too close to the house. So I cut them down, only to find out that they are over five feet around- meaning, if we were going to use them, it had to be now. Otherwise, we would mess up the plan for the house of building starting with the biggest logs and going to the smallest. I’ve cut down eight trees in the past week- which also included cleaning up the branches, and getting the logs racked. It takes almost a day to clean up all the branches-I have to wrap a chain around the limbs after I cut them off and then drag them with the tractor- it’s a lot of pulling with the tractor, and pushing the limbs into a burn pile. Very messy.

Also, they need to be peeled, which is a lot of work.

Finally, they need to be borated, so I brewed up three more batches of borate, and sprayed the whole house. I’ll spray the rest this week:

 

 

 

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All of which brings up an incident this week that stopped everything: we broke a log.

Breaking a log

Julie picked out a log from rack #1.  I went and hooked up to it and started pulling it out of the pile when it broke- I broke off about ten feet of it. It just snapped. I was shocked- this has never happened before. It’s a log that I think is at least six months old that hadn’t been borated. I’ve been thinking for a while that it is time to borate my logs again, and this was the perfect time to do it. I brewed up a new batch- three batches, actually. I have 7 gallons of the stuff, which is enough to treat 42 logs. I probably need more, but this is a good start. I sprayed every log on the house first, and next week I’ll move on to the racked logs. Need to finish peeling the new ones before I treat them.

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Fixing the truck

My new truck is a 1979 Ford F150 4×4 with a manual transmission and a 351M motor. I love how it feels. My wife isn’t so sure. I wanted something more “EMP proof”, and this is what feels right. I knew the clutch needed replacement when I bought it- it slipped when in gear and under a load. It either had to be the clutch disk was worn out, or it was fouled with oil from a leaky rear main seal. Either way, I had to open it up to find out. I put it up on ramps (probably didn’t need to since it is already a “high-boy”) on a Saturday and started disconnecting things. The next Monday, a city inspector showed up and told Julie “you can’t work on a vehicle in your driveway.” REALLY? They actually made a law about that. While I understand trying to keep the neighborhood looking nice, city folks have some really dumb ways of controlling everyone. Somebody called us in. We have a sneaking suspicion who it was- we asked our neighbor about it and he said he suspects the same person got him, too- he got called in last year for leaving his trash can out on the curb for more than two days. Someone with nothing better to do with their time. It’s a little ridiculous. Can’t wait to get out of the city.

Anyway, had some real issues with the truck- couldn’t get the transmission to go back in. After a week of trying different things, I finally called my buddy over- he came on a Saturday.

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He took one look at the set up, and said everything I was doing looked right, and then he asked, “Is the tranny in gear?”

“In gear? No, the book said take it out of gear to remove it.”

He laughed and said, “yeah, but with these old trucks- any old vehicle, really- you need it IN gear to re-install it. See, they used to use really big splines on the tranny- you’ve got everything lined up right, you just need to turn the drive shaft while you’re pushing the transmission into place. If you don’t do that, the splines will never line up.”

“….And I’ll be sitting here for a week trying to figure out why it won’t go in,” I finished.

“yup.” He got the stick for the transmission and plugged it in and found second gear, then he said, “you crawl underneath and turn the drive shaft, and I’ll sit up here and push.”

I turned the drive shaft, and the whole thing jumped forward into place within 30 seconds. I spent the rest of the day installing u-joints, brackets, shafts, the seat, and all the covers and electrical, got it down off the ramps, and started her up- perfect!

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.

 

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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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2016 April 24: More Work

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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.

Saturday:

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.

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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.
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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.

Summary

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.

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