Whew. That was hard. I’m now officially “under roof”. I knew the roof would be a multi-part series, but it was more long and drawn out than I thought.
I am now far behind my goal for finishing the home in 2-3 years. In fact, I thought back in October that I might be able to finish the roof by the end of 2018. We are now halfway through 2019.
On the bright side, I’m still within budget, and now that the roof is done, I can take a breather and finish projects I left hanging like installing a motor in my pickup. Also, much of the remaining work can be done on the ground – no more dragging construction materials up to the roof. How much did I drag up there? I won’t bore you with the details, but I estimate about 35,000 lbs, not including tar paper, nails, screws and insulation. Along with the ~22,000 pounds of rafters, and the 10,000 pound ridge pole, this puts the weight of the roof around 67,000 pounds.
The shingle elevator saved my back and knees. I put 109 bundles of shingles on the roof. Each bundle weighs about 60 pounds. With the shingle elevator, I was able to load three or four bundles at a time, hook the rope to the car and back up, and then climb the ladder and off-load them onto the roof.
Also, since my roof is not exactly square, I had some issues keeping my shingle lines straight when I got to the ridge. But I noticed when watching some how-to videos that the professionals have issues with non-square roofs as well, so I feel pretty good about my not-perfect roof.
We still need to clean up the inside of the house- I’ve got scraps of foam in there, extra lumber, plywood and a lot of junk leftover from installing the roof. I noticed during a rain storm that the ground on the West side of the house is a bit higher right along the drip line than the ground is inside the house. The rain was running down to the inside of the house. I think I’ll ask the neighbor to bring his disc-harrow over and plow up that side, and then I’ll shovel the dirt to the inside of the house. That way, the inside will be just a bit higher than the outside, forcing the water to run the other direction.
I think the very next step is to trench the sewer, water, and maybe electrical. It’ll certainly be no fun to trench if I wait until after I get the subfloor in. And then I need the floor joists and the hangers, the insulation, etc., etc.
A guy I met in a sawmill group on facebook offered to make my second floor beams for really cheap. He’s in Georgia and said he’ll deliver them. I’m not ready for them, but the price is so good I can’t pass it up. I’d make them myself, but I’m currently out of trees.
Other things that need to be done in no particular order:
frame in the gables
install 1st floor
install 2nd floor
doors / windows
Sigh. The really cool part – cutting down trees, making pulleys, stacking the walls, installing the ridge pole, decking the roof- is over. From here on out, it’s almost all just normal 2×4 construction- framing, cabinets, hardwood floors, tile, plumbing, etc.
A few weeks ago, we took a major step forward- we are done with the walls, and we got the Ridge Pole and rafters installed. I’ve spent that past 2 weeks- in between weather events and life- getting the rafters level.
Again, if we were building with 2×4’s, it’d be easy. Building with crooked logs involves a lot of finesse and finagling to get things to look right. There is nowhere to ‘zero’ my measurements, so I have to do relative measurements. For example, the cap logs are actual logs, so they vary and wave as they go along the house, which means the rafters will do the same. The rafters, as I’ve mentioned, vary as well- but they at least have one flat side.
If I don’t ‘square things up’, I’ll end up with a crooked roof. That’s what is eating up my time. And leveling and squaring the rafters is done in 3 parts: setting them at 4′ on center, then leveling at the Ridge Pole, then leveling at the cap logs.
Setting at 48″ on center
When the crane guy was on site, we were paying him a bunch of money per hour, so we decided to just get the rafters close to where we wanted. Later, I went back with a tape and measured 48 inches from front to back, and placed the rafters on this mark. Then I did the same at the cap logs. When matching up the cap log placement of the rafters with the Ridge Pole placement, I found that eyeballing it was better than trying to drop a plumb line and squaring it up that way.
leveling at Ridge Pole
This was more complicated than I thought it would be. There are quite a few variables- roof pitch, Ridge Pole taper, ridge pole bow, rafter size, bolt hole placement, and not to mention working 30’+ up in the air. Dropping tools from that height is a pain. I ended up rigging up a pulley system and buckets and strings tied to the tools and then secured to the rafters. Yes, I wore my fall harness, which was a pain, but would have been more painful to fall.
The goal here was to get them level vertically as well as horizontally. Since the RP is so wide and has a slight bow towards the East, some grooves had to be made in the RP to drop the rafter pairs down to the correct height, and at the same time move it left or right to line up with the other rafter pairs. Cutting a groove to move the rafter left or right also drops it at the same time. I measured several of them carefully, taking note of the exact placement and diameter of the RP at that point. I used graph paper to virtually drop a few of them a few inches to see what the effect would be before I cut. Once I was comfortable with my graph, I started in on the actual rafters. I used an electric chainsaw (much lighter and easier to maneuver at 30 feet up), and then smoothed the cut with an angle grinder and a rotoclip disc.
They are now all within 1/2″ of level and center.
Leveling at Cap logs
I first took a string and a string level and nailed it to the rafters on each end. Then I measured the difference between the height of the string and where it touched the rafters and recorded it in a notebook. The rafter that is furthest away from the string is the lowest, so the next step is to make all the other ones match. Unless they vary by a lot. In my case, the East side of the house varied by 8 inches across the rafters- because it kind of sags in the middle. We knew the m when we put the cap log up, but we didn’t know it was 8 freaking inches. All four corners of the house are within an inch, but it’s the ends and the middle that matters, and that’s where the difference was. There was no way I could cut 8 inches out of a 13 inch cap log- that would weaken it beyond use.
To overcome this gap, I jacked up the most offending rafters and installed two 4″x5″x14′ beams that I made on the sawmill and pinned them with rebar. This won’t be seen when the roof is on unless you know where to look because there are other boards called bird blocks that go exactly on top of the beams.
On the west side, I overcame the issue much easier with a 2×4. The rafters rest on these “jacks”, but they are still pinned with rebar through the jacks and into the cap logs.
They are now all level to within 1/2″ of each other.
Before we can install the decking on the roof, we need to install our girder log. This log acts as a ‘collar-tie’ for those in the industry. For non-industry types, the girder log keeps the walls from spreading when the 80,000 lb roof is installed. The girder also holds up the second floor. It can be installed at anytime, once the wall logs reach over the second floor. Those using telehandlers usually install it right when the wall logs reach second floor height. When using ropes and pulleys, it’s easier to wait until the wall logs are done so you have somewhere to hang the pulleys.
Click here to read Part I (where we get the Ridge Pole up)
They sent Chad out to help. He asked me about the the guy who set the Ridge Pole (RP). I told him the guy’s name, and he laughed- “Oh, yeah, good ol’ Be***! That guy’s afraid of his own shadow.” I was immediately at ease with Chad. Here’s a guy who knows that stuff like this is dangerous, and harping on it doesn’t make anyone safer. We all know it’s dangerous, and we do it anyway, but we try to work smart.
I told him the plan. “First we’re going to set that middle Ridge Pole Support Log (RPSL) right on this pier. I want you to lift it over the wall, but make sure your cable is on the far side of the RP.”
“Why is that?” he asked.
“Ok, so I figure you can lift up and down, but you probably don’t have much control on the back and forth, so I set up this pulley to do that job, but I need the cable on the backside so we don’t pull it all the way through the bottom of the RP,” I explained.
“Makes sense, let’s do it.”
I’m liking this guy. We get the RPSL hooked up, he reminds me to tie a string to the strap to release it once we’re done, and we’re off. We get it set on the pier in a few minutes. Then he comes in to fine tune it with me, with my wife supervising. With him on the pulley, and me on the cant hook, we get it placed in a few minutes. I climb up to drill and pin, and that’s it.
I took a little break, thinking I had heat exhaustion: the forecast called for 95, and with the heat index, it was closer to 100 F. I was dizzy up top, and had to stop several times while hammering the pin into the RPSL. While I took a break, Julie asked if her and my daughter could swing on the crane hook. Chad said, “sure, no problem.” Obviously, he’s a very cool crane operator.
Now onto the rafters.
I showed him my idea with the loops and the pins. Using this method, I can set the rafters from the ground, and when he releases the pressure on the strap, I can easily just pull on the string, and the pins mostly just fall out. Here’s a video of installing them. Again, he says he’s never seen it done that way, but wants to see what happens. 28 rafters later, he’s convinced to never do it any other way. But I’m getting ahead of myself….
The loop idea works like a charm- I used grade stakes and welded a washer to the end so the string wouldn’t slide off. The string was a 50′ piece of paracord that I could hold onto from the ground, along with the leader rope (which also had a quick release pin). We also ended up tying a wrench to the other quick release string as weight so it wouldn’t get caught on the wall- which happened a half dozen times- I had to climb up to get it, but at least I didn’t have to shimmy out on the rafter, 30 feet up. Releasing the rafter from the ground is much safer.
The office sent him out with a 12′ spreader bar, even though I asked for a 20′ spreader bar- this bar keeps the legs of the rafters open so they fit over the walls. But 12 feet wasn’t enough, so we ended up putting the far side on first, and then on the count of “3”, he had me pull extra hard on my leader rope, and he dropped the hook at the same time, and we were able to “launch” two sets over the near wall. But it was taking a long time- it’d been 2 hours, and we’d only set four rafters. He called the office and demanded a 20′ spreader bar. I thought the crane would make things easier. It made it faster, but it was still hard. Here’s a video of installing with the wrong spreader bar. After installing a few rafters, we stopped for lunch.
After the guy brought the 20′ spreader bar, the rafters were going up in about 15-20 minutes per rafter. We had a few that we couldn’t set just exactly right, and we realized that I could just move them with a lever later, so we changed the plan to just get them close enough.
After nine hours of work, we were on the last set. People were stopped in the road, watching. Chad’s two sons came over – he lives literally around the corner. He said sheepishly that he should have come over sooner, but he’s glad he was there that day. Nelton’s wife and daughter came over, too, taking pictures and chatting with my wife. When I pulled the last pin out of the last rafter, I couldn’t help but let out a loud, “whoop! Whoop!”, to which everyone cheered. It felt like an old fashioned barn raising.
And I got a discount- Chad agreed that we wasted 2 hours with the wrong spreader bar, and that was the crane company’s fault. Also, we got a discount for paying with cash. It was expensive, but very, very worth it.
The next step involves leveling the rafters- the rafters are flat on at least one side, but the RP is tapered and crooked and bowed- not much, but enough. It’s actually really straight- But it is off by a few inches in spots. That will involve me using string and cutting some of the RP. And then we go for the roof.
We decided to go with a crane. I’ve written about how dangerous I thought installing the Ridge Pole myself would be, how long it would take, and how expensive it would be.
I took a Thursday & Friday off work to prepare. Thursday- it took me nearly all day to pull the rafters off the rack, bolt them together, and then lay them out in preparation for the crane to lift them.
By evening, I had just enough daylight to chain blocks to the RPSL’s as a cradle to hold the RP. But I almost fell when the scaffolding slipped a little, and had to have my wife jump on it to hold it down. Stupid me.
Friday, the crane showed up a little early. I was up on the front RPSL chain binding a cradle to the top to ensure the Ridge Pole (RP) wouldn’t roll off after the crane released it. As I was binding it, I happened to look at the back RPSL and noticed the front pole that I was on was not in line with the back pole- it was off by about 8″. I guess I hadn’t noticed because when we set the poles, we were going for “mostly” perpendicular. Since this was the first time I had climbed to the top, I had never noticed the little hook about 4′ from the top that made it off-center from the rear.
Anyway, crane guy pulled up, and I asked him what he thought. He went and looked, and agreed it was off by about 8″. Leaving it would mean the whole roof wouldn’t be perpendicular to the house. Probably no one would really notice, but I made an executive decision to fix it right then. I told the crane guy to go ahead and get set up, while I loosened the bolts. I had him hook on to the top of the pole so it wouldn’t fall, then set it in the right spot. I eyeballed it, and had him and my wife check as well. When it was all good, I started drilling new holes and attaching the bolts. We used about an hour to do this part.
Meanwhile, my wife was using roofing tacks (with big orange plastic heads) to mark every 4′ along the RP, so we could set the rafters from the ground. She also recommended wisely that we leave the 2×4’s we nailed to each end in position- at 12 o’clock (straight up), so we could tell if the RP rolled a bit.
Then we hooked up the RP to the crane. The crane guy thought it was best to choke the RP with the straps. I don’t know how else we could’ve done it, but I went with it. After a few attempts at lifting it and setting it down, we found the center of the RP, and up it went. I climbed up to help set it- got on top of the house and guided the RP into place. I measured about 7′ out from the RPSL, but noticed that there was a giant knot right where it would touch the RPSL, so I went with 8′. At this point, I should’ve marked it, and then had him set it down so I could saw a flat spot where it would sit on the RPSL. Part of this was my fault- I was worried about how much it was costing (about $120/hr), and the other part was the crane guy giving me disapproving looks every time I did something “dangerous” (hello- the whole project is dangerous). He got to me, for sure- I was feeling weak and nervous up that high, and I never get nervous at heights.
It went downhill from there- I got the front pinned, then went to the back, and got it pinned. I called him from my cell and asked how much pressure he had holding the RP- “about 700 lbs”, he said. I told him to release it slowly- and as he did, the RP started to roll off the RPSL’s! I had him stop so I could get down. We talked about what to do- he was real nervous about releasing it, and so was I, but we had to move on. So I had him release it all the way. It rolled to almost 2 o’clock (10 o’clock from the front).
Well, the crane guy flipped out- said it was all unsafe, said rebar wouldn’t hold that thing in place, said we needed an engineer because rebar isn’t that strong. Note: 3/4″ rebar is very strong. Even though I followed the plans – they said 5/8″ rebar was good enough, but I thought 3/4″ was better- either way, there’s a tip I missed that I’ll discuss later. I tried to talk him into setting a few rafters- thinking that would stabilize the RP. I wanted him to roll it back to 12 o’clock with the crane, but he didn’t want to touch it. He shot down all my ideas. In his defense, he promised us 4 hours, but was there for 5.5, and only charged us for 4, so that was nice. But his attitude was awful- he was no help.
He chastised me for climbing up to the RP on a ladder attached to scaffolding, saying, “you sure you want to climb up there?”
At that point, I had had enough, and I shot back, “you gotta better way to release your straps?”
“I’m serious- if you have a better idea, let me know.” But he just turned around and walked away. I was getting upset- his only help was that he had a crane. He wasn’t helpful with ideas, or experience, or anything else.
He wouldn’t listen to any ideas we had. We were just dumbfounded and frustrated. We had to leave the rafters on the ground, and the RP cockeyed. We had no idea how to fix it. I was completely burned out- heat exhaustion or depression or both. We went home thinking of giving up- ‘if the crane guy can’t help fix the RP, who can?’ we thought. It was overwhelming to think we had come this far only to end up with a cockeyed RP. On top of that, it rained that night, and there was a little wind with it. I had visions of coming back the next day to find the house smashed and the RP laying on the ground.
I got on the LHBA forum and told them what happened. Everyone pitched in with ideas. I came up with a plan based on the awesome folks on LHBA. After talking to them, it didn’t seem that bad- lots of work, but not the end of the world. Saturday, we went out in the afternoon to see what we could come up with on the RP. I moved the scaffolding over to the back wall, and threw a 20,000 lb strap over the RP in a choke position. I hoisted up my 60 lb, 2 ton chain hoist to the top of the wall, and used another strap tied to the wall to hook the other end of the chain hoist. With the hoist in the middle, and the RP in a choke, I was able to slowly wind up the chain hoist and roll the RP back to 12 o’clock. Here’s a video of the process. It was very scary moving a 10,000 lb log like that- thinking that it might fall off the RPSL’s or break the rebar, or worse, so I only moved it just a little at a time. Once stable, I climbed back up and drilled another hole next to the first one on the RP- and drove in a 5/8″ x 24″ piece of rebar to the RPSL. The theory is that with two pieces of rebar- if the RP rolls, one rebar pin will compress, and the other will decompress- the two actions will cancel most of the movement from the RP. It was successful, but took a long time to do.
With that part done, we felt a little more confident. I spent the next few days out in the rain, making my last set of rafters. We discussed ways we could do it ourselves by hand, and without the crane, but with winter coming on, we decided time was money. So, when we noticed the weather was going to clear, I called the crane guy back. He said he was busy – the rain had pushed all his other jobs back, and he was playing catch up. He said call him on a Thursday, and he might be able to come Friday. I started calling other crane companies, and even thought I would rent a telehandler and do it myself. All the other crane companies were busy too. In the end, learning to drive the telehandler and maneuver rafters seemed like too much.
All we could do was pray. We had nice weather, the rafters were ready, the RP was stable. But we had no crane available. I had faith that one of the crane companies would have an opening Friday, but they all claimed it would be another week. Thursday, I got a call from the original crane guy, and he said he couldn’t sleep at night thinking about how dangerous what I was doing was. He said for that reason, he had to say no. But I wasn’t dismayed. I called another crane company, and the office lady took all my info and said someone would call. A couple hours later, and a guy calls- says he’s out there at my property, sizing up the job. “You’re going to need a big crane.”
“Can you come tomorrow?” I asked.
“Yeah, we can make it.”
Part II: (link will be active in a few days!) we get the rafters up.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Another small milestone. Just two more logs so far, but wow, it was not easy.
RPSL’s are Ridge Pole Support Logs- their job is to hold up the Ridge Pole (RP)- the largest, longest, straightest, heaviest log in the entire build. They are very important logs, and must have no defects and be very straight. I estimate the Ridge Pole I’m going to use to be about 5 tons (for comparison, the heaviest wall log was around 3 tons). Vertical compression strength for a 12″ log averages around 650,000 lbs (about 325 tons), whereas the horizontal strength of a 12″ log averages around 20,000 lbs (about 10 tons) over a certain span. Sorry for all the math, but what this means is you can have very skinny looking RPSL’s, and they will still be strong enough for any RP.
For a 40×40, the three RPSL’s are installed on three specially sized piers- 2 RPSL’s at the walls, and one in the middle. Before I poured the concrete, the inspector came out and he didn’t like the pier size specified in the plans. He wanted them one foot deeper in the ground (meaning one foot taller). He also wanted the RPSL to stand completely on the pier with no overhang. I did one better- I made them 5.5′ square on the base, and 5.5′ tall, and almost 20″ of support for the RPSL. They are about 2 feet in the ground. I estimate the roof at about 80,000 lbs. The piers on the plans should hold about 50,000 lbs each. I estimate my beefy upgraded piers at about 70,000 lbs each.
We looked at all the logs we had left and didn’t like what we saw. Julie wanted me to cut some new logs for RPSL’s. She found a reasonably straight tree, but when I cut it down, it had an awful (awful for an RPSL, but really good for a wall log) bend in it. After looking at it over and over, we decided to use it anyway. I found another tree for the second RPSL and cut it down as well. We will put the third RPSL up after the RP is installed. I was able to cut each RPSL and peel it in one night.
It went well, except when I tried to turn one of them with my ‘can’ hook- stupid thing was so slippery from being freshly peeled that it slipped when I was turning it- it sprung back to its resting position, catching the arm of my can hook, and slammed it into my collar bone, instantly dropping me to the ground. I laid there in a daze for a few minutes before I was able to move. When I thought I could move, I felt my collarbone, thinking I broke it, but it didn’t appear to be broken. But the pain was so intense, I was light headed and thought I might lose my cookies. Luckily, I recovered enough to drive home, and was back to work the next day- but with an awful looking bruise.
Installing the RPSL’s on a 40×40 is interesting- since we are building a two-story home, the top of the wall is 20′, and our roof pitch makes the final height of the RPSL about 30′. You can easily slide a 30′ RPSL under the house, and then stand it up on the inside. I hung a pulley from the wall at 20′, and proceeded to lift the RPSL into place. But the darn thing was top-heavy somehow, and I found I needed two additional pulleys to stop it from spinning like a propeller.
Another thing was the rebar coming up out of the pier that attaches to the RPSL was in the wrong place. It was a guessing game from the beginning: The 3 oversized piers have double duty- the two on the perimeter hold up the wall logs and also hold the RPSL’s. The one in the middle holds an RPSL and a girder support log (for the second floor support). Unless you use logs that are uniform in size (like telephone poles I guess), there’s no way you can know ahead of time where the center of the RPSL will be, and so you can’t know where to place the rebar into the pier when you pour the concrete.
The solution was:
Cut the rebar off from the pier
set the RPSL in place temporarily onto the pier
measure where the RPSL will sit (you want it exactly perpendicular to the wall, plumb, and as close to the wall logs as you can get
lifting the RPSL back up off the pier
drilling a hole in the pier with a hammer drill
squeeze the structural epoxy into the hole
put a stick of rebar in the hole so that 12″ sticks out the top, wait 5 minutes for it to set up
drill a hole in the bottom center of the RPSL where you marked it in step 3
re-install RPSL onto the rebar
re-check that RPSL is centered and plumb and lines up with the other RPSL
check again just to be sure
bolt RPSL to wall on every other wall log
Since our wall logs are so tapered and crooked, the RPSL doesn’t butt up against the wall next to every log. So instead of settling for the ugly look of all-thread between the RPSL and the wall logs, another nice idea from the LHBA forum was to install black pipe in between the gaps, giving it a nice uniform look. It was not easy, but it was worth it. I may counter sink the nuts and washers and put nice plugs over the holes, but I can do that any time.
Drilling a 5/8″ hole through a 24″ log, and then onto another 20″ log presents another challenge- I needed a longer bit- like 48″ long at the minimum. I went to the orange box people – $75 for one of those! wow! I went down the regular drill bit aisle and found a short one for $12. Then I went over to the neighbor’s and welded a 4′ stick of rebar to the drill bit. I ground down the chuck end so it would fit in my 1/2″ drill. It worked very well- just had to back it out of the hole 20 times (flutes were too short to get the shavings all the way out). No matter, it wasn’t too bad, and went pretty quick- after I got my scaffolding in place.
Yeah- scaffolding. Even though I don’t have temporary flooring in place and moving the scaffolding right now is a pain, the ladder is just dangerous for trying to drill horizontal holes – it’s usually too far away, or too close because of the angle of the ladder. The 13 amp drill I use can break your wrist if you don’t hold it right. Scaffolding will be invaluable when we get to chinking and a thousand other tasks coming up. And I got the scaffolding from California for about $600, including shipping. I love Craigslist.
I was going to go right onto getting the RP installed, but from what I’ve discovered, I should get my rafters ready before I call the crane. Yes, I’m calling in the big boys. I wanted to do this all myself, but a couple of realities have surfaced in my mind:
#1: I don’t want to die installing a 5 ton log 30′ in the air, balancing it on 2 RPSL’s. This is seriously heavy stuff. Yes, the wall logs were heavy, but not this heavy. Lots of things could go wrong.
#2: I would have to spend $260 on 2 chain hoists (I need some 5 ton hoists for the RP), plus $160 on 2 new 13,000 lb chains. That’s over $400. The crane guys say $130/hr, 4 hour minimum. That’s just over $500. I think my life is worth at least $100.
#3: I can probably get the RP and all 28 rafters installed with a crane in about 4 hours. If I do it myself, I figure a couple weeks getting the RP supports in place, and about a month to get the rafters up. Saves me a month of work, for just a little extra $$$.
We are nearly out of trees that are straight enough for rafters, so I talked to one of my neighbors- she’s letting me have probably a dozen more trees from her 5 acres for my rafters, if I bring her a plate of stuffed lasagna shells my wife made. I think there are probably a dozen (trees, not stuffed lasagna shells- stay with me) on my property, and probably about half a dozen on the next door property. I just have to cut them, move them, rack them, and then mill them into 4×12’s (work= yes, but I don’t have to peel them – yay!).
Stay tuned. I’m sure there will be a video of a crane and a 5-ton log flying over my house in the near future….
Our cap logs are installed- this means we are almost ready to enter a new phase of construction. It has been a long hard road. Some folks at LHBA claim we are moving at “one gear below breakneck speed” using our lifting poles, but it often doesn’t feel that way…
What are cap logs?
Cap logs are the final logs on the walls. In the photo above, they are the ones that stick way out on the front of the house. Paired with ‘double-butt logs’, they hold up the roof rafters, and give the roof enough overhang to protect the wall logs from rain. In a kit log home, they usually don’t stick out much, but for a butt & pass log home – with an expected lifespan of 350 – 450 years – they are a major part of that lifespan.
Notes on installation
Our plans are for a 40’x40′ cabin. The overhangs on the roof protrude out 7 feet past the walls on the gable ends, and about 4 feet out on the eave side. This means the cap logs have to be 7’+7’+40′ = 54′ long. Also, they need to hold up the roof rafters, so my goal was to make sure they were 12 inches minimum on both ends. With our tapered logs – this meant that the butt end would have to be absolutely huge to ensure at least 12 inches at the tip. This would also throw off our level layers (all 4 corners should be the same height).
The solution I came up with was to take two normal sized logs, splice them together and put them up as one log together, and let the butts hang out over the ends.
Easier said than done. How do you lift half of a log when the lifting poles are in the corners? In other words, how do you hold up a log in the middle of the house where there are no lifting poles? Easy (not easy)- you chain both together and lift them at the same time.
Although I could have (maybe) installed a temporary center lifting pole- this would take a lot of energy and time- I would basically need a 30′ lifting pole (the size of an RPSL) installed. It would need to be chained to the wall, along with pulleys, etc. Lots of work for something I would use once. So I decided to try everything else before this idea.
Using a cradle (suggested by Plumb Level), we were able to “safely” hold the logs in place while we pinned them. I won’t go into the details (unless someone is dying to know), but there were a lot of scary moments- like once I got the chained logs in place, I had to remove the unused portion of each log- this involves cutting the excess of the log, and hoping the desired portion just falls into place, with no way to chain it or support it until it was in place. The cradle helped a lot, but there were no guarantees.
Some unlucky (and funny) events from Course 13
First there was the “pinned boot” incident:
There was a gap in the log I was working on. I was perched up on top pinning it into place, and my boot happened to be placed right where the pin was coming through. Once they go in, they don’t come out. It didn’t pinch my foot- just the edge of the boot- and tight enough that I couldn’t get my foot out. I was stuck. I called for Julie’s help. Now she is not normally one to climb ladders of any size, but she courageously started to climb. She was clinging to the ladder like she was a thousand feet off the ground. I kept encouraging her and she finally climbed up high enough to hand me my crowbar, and I was able to loosen the pin just enough to free my boot. LHBA folks suggested I just leave it there and chink around it, ha ha! ……No.
We had this log that was the right dimensions, but had a nasty hook in it at the tip. No matter how we rotated it, it wouldn’t lay flat. We decided to pin it anyway, and just deal with it later. It ended up being flat most of the way, until about 6′ from the end where it had this big bow in it. Since that corner (NE) has been historically low, we decided having the extra height in the corner would help get the height back up to where it needed to be. But since you can’t accurately measure the height on an odd row, we’d have to wait until layer 14 to find out if it was helping or not. And it is: before the cap logs, our heights worked out great- starting at the NE corner and going clockwise, we have 17’8″, 17’8″, 17’7″, 17’7″. For non-builder types- this means the East and West sides match each other exactly for height, while between the two sides, we are off by 1 inch. Remember- this is all using tapered crooked logs with knots and bends- a real testament to the Butt & Pass method.
And the burned out motor on the drill incident: It is a Black & Decker 1/2″ drill that didn’t really want to drill 300 holes, but it held up for the most part, and then just gave up with the drill bit lodged 12″ down in a log. So I left it stuck up there; “sword in the stone”-like, for the weekend. I figured more power to the idiot who decides to try and steal it. There were no takers.
And five minutes later, the “what the heck happened to the jack hammer” problem: it just lost power in between pounding rebar. I took it home- I guess all the vibration and the weight on the cord from being up so high pulled its guts loose from the switch. I put a new clamp on the wire, taped it in place, and then put the handle back on. Then I taped the cord to the handle on the outside to alleviate some of the stress.
The final height of our cap logs determines the final headroom height at the top of the stairs, since they are on the eave side of the house up against the wall. It works out to be (starting at the NE corner and going clockwise): 18′ 4 1/2″, 18’6″, 18′ 5 1/2″, 18′ 4 1/2″. Pretty good.
Now we finish with double-butt logs – these are not logs with 2 butts on them- they are logs that, instead of being normal “butt and pass” logs, are just logs that butt up against their neighbor logs on both ends. In this case, the logs they butt up against are the cap logs.
After that, we begin the next phase: installing the RPSL’s (Ridge Pole Support Logs). Two of these get bolted to the walls. Along with one in the middle. They are 30′ tall, and they hold up the Ridge Pole – which holds up the rafters and the roof.
The Ridge Pole is a monster sweet gum tree from our woods. It is by far the biggest heaviest longest and straightest log I’ve ever cut down. So far, it has evaded me being able to move it. But it won’t for long.
We also need to commit to a height for our girder log. This log spans the width of the house and holds up the 2nd floor. It also ties the East and West wall together so the rafters don’t push the house apart. It provides the “rigidness” that keeps the house tight. At least a little.
I don’t want to think too far, but I’m hoping we can get the roof on this summer.
We had a lovely visit from some LHBA members- Gary (Mosseyme) from East Tennessee came and looked one day in the rain and gave me a lot of good tips, and encouragement. Also, ‘Sdart’ on the LHBA forum- Sara and Rene were very nice and came out to see our progress. They are building in extreme Northern Idaho in an off grid location. They have been to many LHBA homes over the years all over the country and Sara told me, “even after looking at pictures, these homes are always impressive in person.”