Cutting Rafters

They are not easy to maneuver.


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.



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Current status

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.



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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.



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Here’s a video my wife took of me cutting a rafter.

Next steps

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!


It’s been a weird month


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?


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.


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.


Stuck in the mud

20170217_114739_zpsnf81tunhFixing the Toyota

The bottle-neck to moving forward has been fixing my little Toyota pickup. It’s been sitting in the backyard since last June(?) with a dead cylinder in the #6 hole. I thought it was the head gasket (here in this post), but when I took the head off last month, the gasket was perfect. I started looking at the head- and found one of the exhaust valves had a crack in it . I’m very lucky it didn’t break into pieces and ^%$&& up my engine. Very lucky.

Need a special tool to install valves, so I ordered three (might as well replace all of them while I have it apart), and my awesome friend who wants to remain nameless helped me install them.

if you can see the emergency brake line, and the transfer case support i-beam, just above that is the fuel filter.

Put the thing back together, plugged everything in that I could think of; made sure none of the extra bolts were important- and tried to start it. It tried- it really did, but it won’t start. Sounded like it was starving for gas. First I replaced the fuel filter-

Fuel Filters:

Let me just add a note of frustration here about fuel filters- I’ve replaced three of them in the past 30 days-

Honda Civic– this is a joke- on a Honda Civic, the radiator is held on with one bolt. One. You undo that one bolt, take the hoses off, and it pops out. The fuel filter? Seven bolts- 1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Why seven? Two for the housing, two for the bracket, two for the fuel lines, and one more on the backside of the bracket for who-knows-why. I’m assuming that if that car ever gets obliterated in a train wreck, the fuel-filter engineers wanted to make sure that the filter would remain intact. In case of zombie apocalypse, Ima hide next to this-here fuel filter, where I know I’ll be safe…

Toyota Landcruiser– Four bolts. But waaaayyyyy down in the engine bay- strategically placed above the axle so it cannot be accessed from below, and also to ensure the bolts can only be “felt”, not “seen”. And also, surrounded by a jungle of vacuum hoses, alternator wiring, power steering lines, two dipsticks, and all the brake lines come to a head. The only way to access it is to bend your arms around all the brake lines, remove the dipstick and vacuum hoses, and then try to feel it without seeing it. 12mm bolts on the bracket, 17mm for the fuel lines.

Toyota Pickup– here I have this 4×4 truck with a long bed on it and an extended cab. Here’s how I imagine the discussion at the Toyota Pickup Fuel Filter Location Engineering Meeting:

Technician:..So where should we put the fuel filter?

Manager: What are our choices?

Insane Engineer: Well, we gotta put it somewhere between the fuel tank and the fuel rails.

Technician: How about right up here in the engine bay where it can be easily accessed?

Insane Engineer: Nah. We don’t want it there- someone might think it’s the battery for the windshield wipers.

Technician:  How about under the truck in this 24″ of blank space?

Insane Engineer: Nah. Rock might flip up and knock a hole in it. We’ll put it on top of the transmission support brace, in between this support arm and this emergency brake line bracket.

Technician: Won’t that be hard to access ?

Insane Engineer: No, because we’ll install it before we put the cab on.

Technician: I meant ‘won’t that be hard to access for the owner’- you know, to replace it?’

Insane Engineer: What’s an owner?

Manager: I brought donuts.

–End of “Fuel Filters” Rant

I traced all the wiring, and it looked good, so I took the bed off (easier than dropping the tank- really!), and checked the pump (yes, with the engine to “on”, and in the first 3 seconds) with my voltmeter and- no power. Took the air manifold back off- found that I plugged the ground for the coolant temperature sensor (CTS) into another ground on the engine bay. Oops. That explains why after putting it back together my temperature gauge buried itself in the red zone even when the engine wasn’t on. But no luck on getting the pump going. Put it back together and shorted the diagnostic pins Fp and B+ and voila! pump is pumping. So now it’s either the circuit open relay or a bad ground somewhere.

Meanwhile, found a blown fuse in the left side kick panel labeled “Ignition”. Replaced it, and blew it again when I accidentally shorted one of the relays while trying to remove it. But I didn’t know that until my mechanic friend showed up a few days later. While I was “not knowing that”, I got so frustrated with the thing, I called my buddy and offered to pay him if he could help get it running. Since he’s a full-time mechanic, he’s pretty busy anyway, so he said he could come over this week after work one night.

He came over, and we started checking for spark at the coil- none. I that’s when I checked the ignition fuse again- replaced it, and now we were getting spark at the coil and the spark plugs. He sprayed some carb cleaner into the intake, but it still wouldn’t go. That’s as far as I got the other day. He commented that maybe my timing is out of wack. But I checked it 3 times already. So he started looking at the distributor.


“Maybe the distributor is set 180 degrees off?” he said, “Maybe it’s firing on the exhaust stroke instead of the compression stroke?”

Lightbulb! I took out spark plug #1 and he put a rubber hose on the hole to check for a puff of air on the compression stroke while I hit the key and then checked crank pulley to see when it was Top Dead Center- shornuff- the distributor was off by 180 degrees.

For the non-mechanically inclined: The spark is supposed to occur just prior to the top of the compression stroke, which will force the piston down, and rotate the engine. But on a 4 cycle engine (about 98% of all gas vehicles) the piston also rises a second time on what’s called the exhaust stroke- where the exhaust valve opens, and the spent gas is expelled. So there’s technically 2 points where the piston is at Top Dead Center (TDC)- once at compression, and once at exhaust. If you fire at the exhaust stroke, your engine will never start, and it will sound like it’s starving for fuel (which it is because the injectors are firing on the exhaust stroke).

He quickly put the distributor back on, setting it at the correct TDC, closed everything up, and I fired it up- started right up, ran a little rough (still need to set the timing on the distributor), blew a bunch of smoke, and kept running.  Yay!

The next day, I started it and realized I had one of the fuel return lines plugged in to the wrong slot- and one of the air boxes that deals with the pcv valve started overflowing with gas instead of air. After a few hours of searching for a diagram of all the air hoses, I finally found one- and not from the manufacturer:

Screenshot - 02172017 - 06:18:50 PM.png
complete air/EFI/ vacuum hose diagram for 1994 Toyota 3VZE engine

I still need to torque the crank bolt (harmonic balancer pulley), put some fresh oil in it and some antifreeze. Then it needs a bath, and maybe I’ll drive it for a while- at least until I find that Highboy….


Bought a sawmill

Meanwhile, found a really awesome deal on a sawmill. An Oscar 121 – a mid-range saw usually costing around $4,000. From an LHBA member for cheap. Almost half price. Only used once and looks brand new. Has some bad gas in the tank, but the compression is good. Just haven’t had a chance to put good gas in it.

Got the building permit

Follow up to my last post- the guy at the inspection department plugged in the numbers- said my plans show my house will pass with flying colors. The reference home is set for an energy efficiency of 100 (see my last post). Mine had to be 70 or less. He called a few days later and said my house comes in around 56. Awesome.

Took the info down to the city- and after some confusion on which comes first-  utilities or the permit (the city said it was utilities, while the utilities said it was the permit- it’s the permit), paid my $650. The secretary said it would be a few days- had to go before the city council, but then she sent me an email that afternoon:capture

I think the neighbor had a word with the mayor. But now I can’t transport my forms until I get my truck fixed (don’t want to keep using the trailer).

Finished the model

My wife has also been working on the model- It is looking really, really neat:



We’re going to need a sawmill. Pricing out the cost of lumber for the flooring and the interior of the roof shows me that the lumber alone would cost about $11,000 by itself. If I can get a sawmill for $3-4,000, that saves me about $7,000. Plus, if I get the logs for free or nearly free, it’s quite an investment. Besides, what man out there does not want a sawmill? Even if you don’t know anything about carpentry or woodwork (or, like me, have never even used a sawmill before), having a sawmill just sitting in your garage says, “A man lives here.”  On the other hand, sawmills can quickly get expensive. It’s common to see an advertisement on Craigslist for a $42,000 sawmill, so let’s not go crazy here. I narrowed it down to three:

Woodland Mills HM126

The Woodland Mills HM126 has a 9.5 HP engine, can cut a 26″x10′ log, plus longer logs as well. $2,800 is a pretty good deal.

Timbery M100

For the same price, the Timbery M100 is another good looking portable sawmill with the same basic features.

Burg Sawmill

And then there’s this one: 36″ capacity for $3700. Made by some company called Burg Sawmills out in Oregon or somewhere 16 HP Honda engine, and two 10′ sections of track.

I like certain things about each of them, so I’ll have to narrow it down.

Some of the logistical problems:

Portability: so, I get this sawmill, haul it down to the property, set it up (which could take a while because it’s heavy – maybe 1,000 lbs, and it has to be absolutely level to use), start sawing wood, and then at the end of each day, pack it back up so it doesn’t get stolen? Or do I build a shed to keep it in temporarily? Maybe I get a trailer to put it on (more expense)?

Timing: Looks like it takes about a year to get usable lumber out of logs because of the drying time – something like 9 months. Since I’ll be using some of the lumber I saw for the roof, getting my first board cut using the sawmill kind of sets up the timeline for when I’ll be able to use that board 9 months later.

I’ll also need a tractor to load the logs on the rail (and then what do I do with the tractor when not in use?), but that’s a post for another day…


Update (4/27/17):

I ended up buying an HudSon Oscar 121 mill from a LHBA member up in TN. I’ve made a few cuts on a scrap 400 lb+ maple log someone left in their front yard. You can see a photo of the sawmill here.

Cost analysis

I got bored while looking for land, so I priced out all the materials I could think of that I will need to build this log home. I went to HomeDepot online, and just looked there for everything. I’m sure that I can get stuff cheaper if I keep my eyes open- for example, I saw an ad recently on Craigslist for 3/4″ OSB for $7.00/sheet.

The cost is very surprising. Assuming I can get the logs for free (I found a Craigslist ad for a guy that wants someone to come take 50 mature trees out of his yard), everything else prices out as below. I’d have to hire a logging truck to come pick up the logs, but I already found out it’s about $300 or less. So, here’s my price list: log-home-cost-analysis

For less than $10,000, I get the shell. That includes a sawmill, a chainsaw, other tools, concrete for the foundation, the logs, the spikes, and the roof. I forgot to add one thing: a tractor. Found out I’m going to need a way to load the logs onto the sawmill, dig holes, drag chains attached to pulleys, level the ground, build driveways, move dirt, and basically lift heavy stuff. I’ve been looking, and it appears I can get one for about $3500, so the shell will cost about $13,000.

The whole thing (not including the land) will cost about $40,000. I’m using the sawmill to make the beams, and also the flooring. We may even do concrete counter-tops like this: concrete-countertop

Our plan right now is 36’x48′ two levels, with 5 bedrooms, 3 baths, an atrium for plants, and a balcony. $40,000 for a 3,000 sq ft log home is pretty darn cheap!