Up to the 4th Course

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The method

Each complete layer of logs (made up of all the logs that are on the same level) is called a “course”. The logs are oriented in alternating pin-wheel courses- and by pinwheel, I mean at each corner, one end of each log “passes” a log that is “butted” up against  it. On the next course, you reverse the butts and passes at that same corner, and on and on.

Each log is pinned with rebar to the layer below- every 2 feet. I won’t bore you with too many of the details, but it is a lot of work: for 1/2″ rebar, you drill a 1/2″ hole through the top log. You beat the rebar into the hole, and then halfway through the log beneath it – and you don’t drill into the log beneath for strength purposes. You can do the math- a 40 foot log requires 20 pieces of rebar, so each course requires at least 80 pieces of rebar. I’m on course four, so that’s 320 pieces so far. By hand, with a sledge hammer. I go through at least a gallon of water every evening. The LHBA recommends everyone do the first two courses by hand, and then buy a jack hammer for the courses after that. So, I did my due diligence, and have now graduated:

Capture

It’ll be here this week, along with a rod driver bit.

The logs…..are fickle: I made a spreadsheet to catalog the logs by size, length, cut date, peel date, etc, but I haven’t used it yet for stacking logs. My wife has taken over that role, and is doing an awesome job. Usually, our evening goes something like this:

Me: pounding rebar in from last night. Her: wandering around the racks of logs, measuring tape in hand, finding the log that will fit over the top of whatever crooked log we put up the day before. She keeps in mind the height of each course, the type of logs we already have up on whatever course we’re on (monster or regular, knotty or clean, etc.). She’s also looking for which log will match the log next to it- ideally, for each course, you find four logs that have the same bottom and top diameter. She’s also thinking about where the windows are, the stairs, the bathrooms, the doors, the kitchen cabinets, etc., etc., and which log will look best in each location. Each log has it’s own quirks- they bow in different directions, have odd knots, may not match the one below, or may match the one below perfectly. I do a bit of surgery on each log- cutting off a knot here or there to make it fit better with the one below. It is a lot of thinking and measuring.

When I’m done pinning, I go find the log she marked with an oil pastel (doesn’t wash off as easily as chalk) and drag it over to the house. We proceed to lift the log using the tractor and the block and tackle into position. I like to get it up there, then fine tune it. She likes to make sure it will fit before lifting it. So we argue a little over the method- sometimes she’s right, sometimes I’m right. Eventually the log gets where it’s going. I cut off the obvious knots and lower it down. We end up having to position it with the tractor for the vertical placement, and the car for the horizontal placement.

With these huge twisty monster logs on the lower layers, this process has been taking more than a night, but when it’s exactly right, I place enough rebar in it to hold it until it’s too dark to work, then we go home. Our evenings begin around 4:00 pm, and we usually pack up and go home around 9:00 PM.

I’d like to speed things up, but with the crooked logs we are working with, there is a lot of turning the log this way and that until it fits as well as can be expected. But these are “monster logs” for the lower layers- some are more than six feet around at the base, or 24″+ in diameter. They take quite a bit of effort to place.

Progress is…..as expected

Of course, I always think things are going to go faster than they do. But we really are making good progress, considering the weather for this month. We’ve had so much rain, they declared the drought was over. In fact, there’s been so much rain that trees are falling over around the county.

 

Rain causes quite a few issues- the tractor gets stuck, the logs are slippery, they get a little heavier when they’re wet, power equipment has to be kept dry, etc, etc. But I did find out something interesting: did you know that there’s no echo when beating rebar into a log during a downpour? My theory is that the raindrops absorb the sound. Go ahead- ask me how I know that…..

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….And then there’s the heat

Yeah- when it’s not raining, the humidity started climbing along with the temperature. The last three days of last week, the heat index was 105. We delayed working on the cabin until early evening on those days. I usually end up soaked from sweat from head to toe. I bring a change of clothes for the drive home, and I go through about a gallon of water every evening. I shouldn’t work in the heat, but we want this so bad that I just push through it all. My amazing wife does laundry for me and repairs my jeans (I now own one pair without any repairs- she’s not happy about that, and banned me from wearing that one pair to the property).

Lessons learned

One thing we’ve learned is how much you can use the crookedest logs- if you know where your doors and windows are going to be. We’ve placed the orneriest logs- logs that curved in all different directions- and they look really good. Had to place temporary lifting poles in the middle to hold them while I cut out the crooks, but when it’s all done, they really look good.

Yes, you can remove a log after placing it. It’s not easy, but after pinning it once, then not liking it, I bought a sawzall from Harbor Freight, and cut all the rebar out of it while suspending it with the pulleys. I turned it and pinned it again, but ended up not liking that position either. So I cut it again, then carefully pulled it out. It just wasn’t working. I don’t recommend it- we lost a day’s worth of progress, but, in the words of my late friend Ken Hieronymi, “I guess I’ll just eventually go crazy from every time I come out here and see that [log] hanging there all cock-eyed.” Didn’t want that to happen, so I pulled the beast out of there.

The neat thing is, the logs look better up than they do down. Seems obvious, but until they are stacked, you can’t get an idea of how the whole thing is going to look. One thing we’re both really happy with is that we made the butts of the logs face the front and back of the house. That’s how I wanted it, but my wife thought it might look better with the tips of the logs facing the front- so that the huge logs wouldn’t distract from the look of the place. We put the discussion on the LHBA forum- and a lot of people said they wished they had gone with my idea. Then one guy said to think about how the roof overhang is going to be supported- with the tips of the logs or the butts? So, for strength, we went with the butts facing the front and back- and it looks so good! Because it’s a 40×40, we needed to offset the mass of the house with some massive looking logs- and boy do those butts look good! I just realized this is starting to sound like some other kind of discussion, but I assure you, I’m not going there!

See:

You made it this far? Here’s a treat:

This is a video of us lifting log #16 into place: Lifting Log #16 into place.

 

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1st layer done

This is a great feeling- The lifting poles worked, the pulleys and chain hoists worked, we figured out the kinks and got all four logs on the piers. It looks less like a grave yard with tombstones sticking up, and more like a….well, at least a perimeter with big posts sticking out of it:

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There was a little preparation required before setting the logs down on the piers:

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That’s pressure treated #2 pine – 2×12 from the local hardware store, laying on top of a shingle (90lb builder’s felt) that I sourced from the county dump (they were new in the plastic, so I scooped up a bunch).

We set the first log, then I had this nagging feeling that I was supposed to call the inspector before stacking logs. I was pretty sure he would find something wrong with the concrete. I checked the inspection schedule and it said a post-pour inspection was due, so I worked up the motivation and finally called him. He said- “No, go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing- call me when you get to the rough in.” Ok! We’re on a roll now. The rough in is when you have your electrical outlets and wires run, along with the plumbing, but you haven’t put any drywall in (yes, we will have framed walls inside the cabin, just like a normal home).

Piqued their interest

With four 30-foot lifting poles sticking up in the air, our property has become something of an attraction. Everyone from the water utility guys, to the motorcycle guy down the road slows down and takes a gander every time they drive by. The utility guys actually drove onto the property and looked over the mechanics of everything- according to one neighbor they were there for over an hour checking out the ropes, pulleys, rebar, and logs. The neighbors say this build is the “talk of the town”. Everyone is so nice and excited. Now when I’m out there working, I’ve seen several cars every day slow down to look. I’ve seen some stop, then back up, stare, then wave, and drive on slowly. A few have even pulled up, just to say hi (and get a closer look). The older guys who stop by tell me if they were 10-20 years younger, they’d be doing this too. It’s nice- the positive support is great motivation.  I usually wave and continue on with my business. The permit office lady saw me at the store last night. She said the utility guys had their doubts, but she set them straight- “Don’t worry- he’s an engineer- he’s got it all figured out.” Wellllllllllll……yeah. I’d like to think I’m more of a mathematician, you know, because that’s what my degree is in, but ok…….

A few notes about the method

If we were laying 2×4’s, it would be pretty easy- draw a center line on the 2×4, measure the distance between each piece of rebar, drill holes, place 2×4 on the pier, done. Logs are a little more hairy….

Curvy logs

They are not straight- and they may curve in more than one direction. Also there are a lot of knots on this wood. Finally, the logs have a lot of taper, which is a comparison of bottom diameter to the top diameter. The taper is a measure how much the diameter decreases from the bottom to the top.  LHBA recommends logs have a taper of less than 1 inch for every 10 feet. Our logs are about 20″ on the bottom, and 12″ at the top, and 40+ feet long. Our taper works out to be 20-12 = 8″ over 40 feet, or 2″ every 10′- double what LHBA recommends. But LHBA also recommends building with what you have. It can be done, but adds a level of complication when you try to level the structure. Probably more on that will come as we stack logs- each layer, you alternate butts and tops: where the butts are on one layer, is where the tops will be on next layer. If you “mind your levels”, i.e., measure the height at each corner as you stack, you can pick logs that match each other. The goal is less than 1/2″ height difference between all corners at the top of the walls.

Block and tackle

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I’m using antique triple blocks that weigh about 20 lbs each. I need two for each pole- one on top and one on the bottom. They are rated at I-don’t-know-but-I’m-sure-it’s-a-lot pounds. They are not made anymore because no one does it like this. The physics behind them is pretty cool. My rope is rated at about 800 lbs, but the logs weigh between 3,000 – 6,000 lbs. Using the triple blocks, I’m gaining a 7:1 advantage- 850 lbs per log, but since I’m using 2 sets of blocks- one on each pole, it’s really 850/2 = 425 lbs per log…..Well, I thought it was cool.

Other equipment

I’m also using 6,400 lb straps from Harbor Freight, a Cant Hook (or “can” hook, 🙂 ), my wife’s Landcruiser (helps center the logs over the rebar), a chain saw, sledge hammer, some trucker chains (5,400 lb) and my trusty tractor.

The process for the first course

The first course is different from all the other layers- you are putting the log down on the rebar (cemented into the piers), instead of pounding the rebar into the log (like on the rest of the courses).

I stair-stepped the rebar before putting the logs on: I cut the longest rebar to 30″, then made the one next to it 28″, then 26″, etc. This helps when lowering the log so you only have to mind getting one piece of rebar in the log at at time.

I also tried the recommended template approach- lay a strip of 1×4 on the piers and mark where the rebar is, turn the log upside down and mark the holes on the log- but they were so bumpy and long that it didn’t work. I asked around- and found a method using string- attach a string to the piers, and measure the offset of the rebar from the string, (remembering that if the rebar is 1″ to the right of the string, the hole will be drilled 1″ to the left of the center mark on the log (because the log is upside down)).  Transfer this info to the log, then drill straight down. Flip the log over (flip is a generous word), then attach to lifting straps, pull until it’s over the rebar. Then slowly lower the log until the rebar can be fed into the hole in the log (done by my wife).

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This is very exciting. All the work for the past year+ designing our plans, getting utilities installed, cutting down trees, borating them, removing branches, burning brush piles, digging holes, building forms, fixing the tractor, and on and on- got us to this point. I guess you could say we are done with phase I. Phase II will be getting the rough in complete- the goal is to get the roof on this year (by New Years Eve). Phase III will be finishing the inside. So I’ll just say thanks for coming on this journey with us. Feel free to leave comments.

Next up is the rest of the courses- these are placed on top of the log below, pilot holes drilled, then rebar is pounded through log and halfway into the log below- every two feet, and offset by one foot on alternating rows.

“Houston, we have lift-off”

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The poles are in! I need to thank everyone who helped out. I often feel like I’m a recluse, and I have a hard time in social settings. I’m pretty much an introvert – parties wear me out, while enjoying gardening or working on my own is energizing. I asked around at church last week, and made a couple of pleas asking for help on facebook. I got a commitment of two people by Thursday night, but we needed more- a lot more. I got a couple more Friday night, and a couple of calls Saturday morning. It was humbling to think that these people thought enough of me to come help out. I’m indebted to them, because this is something that I could not do myself.

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L-R: David Bailey, Nathan Forbes, Brian Hill, Jeff Hoki, Maxon Bromley, Jude Collins, Jared Mayfield. (Not pictured: Paul Glotzbach & Julie Hill)

My plan was to do as much work as possible before Saturday so that the tractor could do most of the work, while a few guys held onto the ropes to keep things from going sideways (literally).

The results were mixed- the guys still had to do a lot of work, but when the poles started going up, it went well – and quick. We got all four poles installed in 1.5 hours. Which was great because two of the guys had to leave for other family engagements at 11:00.

A few more details, then I promise to show some pictures:

When I tried it myself, I noticed the log just went right over the hole. I needed a way to get the log to dig into the dirt enough that the tractor could get it upright. I dug some trenches about ten feet long leading down to the hole. Each hole is four feet deep, so I made the trenches go down about three feet, with a one foot drop into the hole. I figured this little shelf would help prevent the pole from continuing past vertical once it was in the hole. I was right!

Along with the trenches, I piled up dirt to get the upper end of the pole off the ground, which also helped the bottom end angle down into the hole.

On the first lift, the tractor couldn’t overcome gravity due to the angle of the cable.  I needed the pole to be higher before the tractor could do its job. Having eight guys to lift the pole high enough and walk it upright was the answer. Once the top end of the pole was about 10 – 15 feet in the air, the tractor did the rest, and the guys on ropes were able to stabilize the pole while I maneuvered the tractor to get the pole straight. Then, the pole slipped into the hole.

Once the pole is in the hole, there’s a little fine tuning to get the pole completely vertical, then I climbed the ladder to remove the lifting cable, while the guys shovel dirt back in around the poles. Maxon was like, “every time you climb that ladder I get nervous”. Wait- you’re not nervous when lifting? 🙂

The whole process took about 20 minutes per pole. My wife helped babysit the children, took great pictures, and then peeled some logs.

First, the trenches and holes:

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Then getting the lifting poles vertical:

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Next up: getting the pressure-treated sill plate installed, then on to stacking logs! Woohoo! This is a major milestone!

Finishing Foundation, Getting ready to install Lifting poles

We didn’t have any blowouts on the foundation. I waited seven days for the concrete to dry, and then I started pulling the plywood off the piers. They looked ugly:

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The neighbor even came over to have a look. He said, “you gotta cover those up with mortar- if water gets in there and freezes, it’ll crack your foundation.

“But they’ll be under the house- and there’ll be a ten-foot wide porch to protect them,” I protested.

“Doesn’t matter- humidity in the air can do it, too. The building inspector might not like ’em looking like that,” he reminded me.

I knew he was right, even though I didn’t want him to be right. I bought several bags (like 20) of a structural mortar mix rated at 5500 p.s.i. and started slathering it on. It was no fun.

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It took about 3/4 of a bag to do each pier, and it took about 45 minutes to cover each pier. I also had to dig up the plywood to get it out.

Why so bumpy?

As I dug and slathered, I tried to figure out what happened- why were my piers so bumpy? I think there were two problems: my plans call for “3,000 psi” concrete. But when I called the concrete company, they said they had 2500 psi and 3500 psi. That didn’t make any sense to me, so I asked the guy what the difference was. He said you usually use the 3500 psi for footings, while the 2500 psi was for walls. That still didn’t help- are piers considered footings or are they considered foundations? So I went with the 3500 psi. I think it had a bit more rocks in the mix. That was one problem. The other problem was that I buried the piers in dirt to keep them from floating during the pour. I put collars on them and buried them up to their necks with dirt. This wasn’t a problem except that you’re supposed to use a concrete vibrator to shake the concrete during the pour so you get nice smooth faces when it dries. But the driver said you don’t need that- just bang on the pier form with a hammer or the tip of the shovel, and that will shake it up good enough.  But obviously not- I think the dirt softened the blows, and that’s why the face of the concrete was so bumpy.

Getting Lifting poles ready

Well, I finished up on Saturday morning with the mortar. Next up is installing the lifting poles. First, we had to pick which four logs would be the lifting poles- I wanted small logs that were very straight, minimum of 12″ diameter, and they have to be 30 feet long.  The photos below show the preparation of a lifting pole.

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I also had to dig 4 holes in the corner of the foundation- the holes have to be inside the perimeter of the foundation (because the lifting poles will be on the inside of the walls while lifting). The holes have to be at least 4 feet deep. These are temporary poles, and I’ll cut them down when the walls are complete. I have to install cleats to stop the block and tackle from sliding down the pole. The lifting strap in the photo holds the top pulley. The log hangs from the bottom pulley. Since I’m using triple blocks, the rope goes back and forth 7 times. So, a 30 foot pole needs at least 210 feet of rope. The plus side is that the force needed to lift a 4,000 log is 4,000 / 7  = about 600 lbs total, and since each log is lifted by 2 sets of pulleys, 600 / 2 = 300 lbs for each side, which my tractor can easily handle. To tie off the logs while lifting, I plan on using a prusik knot as a “progress capture knot” to stop the log from dropping when I release the pressure from the tractor.

Next, moving the lifting pole into position:

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And then a fail on getting it vertical. I tried to lift it with the tractor, but the pole just wanted to flop around and not go up. So I tried to get it up on a little bit of an angle, but it was still no good.

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So, we gave up trying to do it ourselves. We need help. I asked at church for some guys to come next Saturday- that gives me a week to prep all four poles with cleats, get them into position, have enough rope ready, and get all the pulleys “reeved” (that means getting the rope attached to the pulleys), and get two more 4′ deep holes ready in the corners. Got my work cut out for me.

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