Cap Logs Installed!

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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).

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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.

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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:

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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.

What’s next

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.”

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It’s been a weird month

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I cut 6 more trees

I measure trees by their diameter (straight across the butt of the log), while Julie measures the circumference (with a tape all the way around the butt of the log).  Either way is fine, but since she’s picking the logs, we’re going with her measurement. The idea in the beginning was to stack logs from biggest circumference to smallest circumference. We got started on the second level, and were at a point where the circumference was about to drop below five feet. And then get skinny dramatically. There were still some big ones here and there that we could cut on our property and next door. Julie identified four that were at least five feet around and asked me to cut them. It was now or never. I cut a couple more that are also pretty big.

That was about a week or so before Thanksgiving. I cut them down, and then started moving them over to my racks for peeling. One happened to be back in a swampy area, so I ran into some problems moving it- couldn’t get close enough with the tractor- even with my 60′ cable. So I took down a pulley off one of my lifting poles and used that for mechanical advantage. It worked, but I broke my rope.

I also bent the forks on the tractor again, and re-welded them, and then bent them again. I have some new 5,000 lb forks from a forklift, but need the ok from my neighbor before I weld them onto his frame that I’m borrowing.

I got all of the logs racked, but it took about three weeks to peel just 4 of them- too cold for the bugs to help, and the sap is like glue. I have some huge calluses on my hands now, because manly. Yeah.

fixed the other truck

Meanwhile, my 1979 Ford F150 was having problems starting. I fought with it all of Thanksgiving weekend- I replaced the starter, the alternator, the ignition switch, and the spark plugs and wires. The only thing left is the cap, but I found out through a great shock (literally), that it is working fine. Only mechanics will laugh….

I needed it running reliably because I’m about to replace the motor in my Toyota pickup. But now it purrs like a kitten, and starts every time.

ordered a new motor

I bit the bullet and ordered a new motor (professionally rebuilt long block). Had to put it on the credit card, but don’t worry, selling the truck will pay off the credit card as well. I’ve been putting this off for almost a year. Last year, you’ll remember I had a valve crack in it, and replaced the head gasket. I guess it also messed up the crank. I’m motivated by the idea that it’s still worth a few thousand $$$, so fixing it will help us fund the roof of our home, which is probably the single most expensive part of this project.

 why we hate “daylight savings” or “not daylight savings”

My boss lets me work 6:30 – 3:30. In the winter, this means I have about 1.5 hours of daylight after work. It might seem like a waste to go out there, only to be able to work for an hour, but every little bit of work I can do is  progress. Other LHBA members have to stop work altogether because of snow, so I don’t really want to complain. In the summer, I have almost 6 hours of daylight. If we wouldn’t “fall back”, I’d still have 2.5 hours of daylight in the winter. I realize that in the winter we are actually on standard time, but I’d give up an hour of daylight in the summer for an extra hour in the winter; who’s with me?

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Still progressing

Last weekend, we burned some brush, and put up a log on Saturday. It was bitter cold in the morning, and windy all day. My lips are still chapped from exposure. This was the first log of the 10th course. We are about 12 feet off the foundation, and about 15 feet off the ground. It was pretty straight but had a long bow in it. While I was lifting it, one of the ropes broke right up near where it was tied to the tractor. It just snapped right off the front of the tractor. I saw a poof of dust, and the log falling. Nobody got hurt, and the house and log are fine. I pinned half the log, then hooked up a chain to the tip and had Julie pull it with the car to get the bow out. But it was still up about a foot off the one below. I went to grab my chain binders to bind it down, and I guess they got stolen. Kinda upset at that, and that we couldn’t finish that log. Went over to Harbor Freight that night for two new chain binders and a chain. This week, I finished binding it and added some more pins.

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where do we go from here?

I have a bunch of vacation I have to use at work before the end of the year. Had a big project over the summer/fall that I needed to help out with that prevented me from taking vacation days, but it is winding down. I only have to come to work for 3 days for the rest of the year. And I still have more time from this year, but they let us carry over 40 hours from year to year.

We keep going. The new motor comes in this week. I want to get that job done, and get on with stacking. I ordered new rope, since the existing rope is getting pretty frayed. However, we are getting closer. I may have to hire a trac hoe to come pull my ridge pole out of the woods. The RPSL’s and the ridge pole are the next big items we have to install when the walls are done. After that- I took some measurements on my sawmill- I’m about to turn my 12′ of track into 28′ of track, and will then cut some rafters out of some “still growing” logs.

That’s all for now, folks. Thanks for all the likes on my wife’s video! Comments here are appreciated as well.

 

2016 July 24: Schedule for the rest of 2016

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I got a little raise at work. Yay! Now, hopefully, our account will still be hundreds in the black instead of just tens a week before payday. It’s sort of self imposed: we committed to saving a small house payment-like amount when we started the build. We are counting on this amount to supplement our savings that we used to initially start things off. But I also have some student loan payments and we have the land loan every month, along with our utilities, groceries, gas, and the normal bills everyone has.

I’ve been worried about finances on the build for a few months now- the city charges $5,000 to hook up water, power, and sewer, and this amount will just about clean out our savings for the next few months, and make it difficult to get concrete poured (I’m thinking thousands for the concrete). But we can’t get a building permit until we have utilities, so it was becoming a roadblock to progress. With my little raise at work, we now have some breathing room on our build, although we won’t be able to do the concrete right away.

I’m still cleaning up tree debris from cutting twelve trees a few weeks ago- not ready to move logs, but hope to do so later this week. And the debris piles are getting huge. Even with saving the bigger branches, things are still piling up. I’m probably going to end up with ten or more debris piles. There is currently an annual “burn ban” for the summer in the county we live in, so no burning until October. And I think I’ll be required to have running water on hand while burning brush.

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I also need to borate the trees I have. Borating the trees stops mold and bugs (mostly termites) from setting up shop in your house. Borating only really needs to be done once if your logs are already stacked and dried in (protected from rain). My logs are laying around exposed to the elements, so I’m going to have to treat them twice- once now, and once again when they are under roof. Once they are under roof, further borating is not necessary. The boric acid discourages insects, while the glycol causes the tree to suck up the solution much farther than just water would do. For LHBA members (password and membership required), I like the thread “NOTICE – Borate Mixture- Notice” under the “log home construction” folder. Three ingredients- borax, boric acid, and some kind of glycol. There are some surface mold spots on the logs I’ve peeled (thank you,  ‘The South’, and your overly humid weather). I bought a metal bushel, but I still have to buy the borax and the glycol (both available at Walmart). I also have a sprayer (thank you, Harbor Freight, for having extremely cheap tools). Just need a few hours to boil up some brew…

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All of the above has caused me to think about a (very aggressive) build schedule for the rest of the year:

  • July
    • continue to cut trees, clean up brush.
    • Hope to end the month with 18 existing + 15 new = 33 trees on racks, and half of them peeled.
    • borate the trees I’ve peeled.
  • August
    • cut and haul more trees- hopefully, by end of August, get 20 more trees for a total of 53 trees- enough to start the build. I think I only need 48 for the walls, but I want some breathing room. I also still need a bunch for the roof purlins, lifting logs, cap logs, ridge poles, etc, but I can at least get the build going once I have the minimum.
  • September
    • Peel all trees, and borate the remainder once peeled.
  • October
    • pay for water hook up
    • submit plans and get building permit
    • dig and pour foundation
  • November
    • lay first logs for walls. This also means I’ll make this blog public- that is the goal- make it public after the first few courses of logs are laid.
    • burn brush piles and maybe stumps
  • December
    • Lay last log for walls
  • January 2017 (or whenever I have funds)
    • Get the freakin’ roof on!

At some point, I need to get more tools and materials. Items I’m still missing:

  • plywood for foundation forms ($200)
  • concrete ($2400)
  • rebar (about $1200)
  • 2 3-ton chain hoists ($160)
  • rebar cutter ($150) or chop saw blades ($50?)
  • styrofoam for roof (I don’t know- probably $200-500)
  • roof panels (probably metal roof – $3000)
  • T&G roof decking ($2000)
  • plywood roof underlayment (I don’t know)

It’s obviously very ambitious for one person, not to mention one person that has never done this before. I’m sure there will be delays due to finances or hassles with the city, equipment breakdowns, etc. But if the schedule needs to be adjusted by two or three months, that’s ok- I need to wait for a tax return for a boost to my finances anyway.  It still appears that I can “git-r-dun” within my goal of 2-3 years.

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