Leveling Rafters

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Seems like there’s always more to do…

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.

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How far off level are the rafters from each other? Each letter represents a rafter pair. The top line represents how far from vertical they are. The center measurements (marked “E”ast or “W”est) show how off-center they are horizontally. The bottom line represents how deep to cut to overcome these issues.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Next steps

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.

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RPSL’s installed

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Another small milestone. Just two more logs so far, but wow, it was not easy.

Background

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.

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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.

Getting ready

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.

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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.

 

 

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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:

  1. Cut the rebar off from the pier
  2. set the RPSL in place temporarily onto the pier
  3. 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
  4. lifting the RPSL back up off the pier
  5. drilling a hole in the pier with a hammer drill
  6. squeeze the structural epoxy into the hole
  7. put a stick of rebar in the hole so that 12″ sticks out the top, wait  5 minutes for it to set up
  8. drill a hole in the bottom center of the RPSL where you marked it in step 3
  9. re-install RPSL onto the rebar
  10. re-check that RPSL is centered and plumb and lines up with the other RPSL
  11. check again just to be sure
  12. bolt RPSL to wall on every other wall log

 

 

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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.

New tools

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world’s My longest drill bit

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.

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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.

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Next steps

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….

 

 

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.”

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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