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:



Our model

all you need is some grocery store bags, hot glue, and one of my knitting needles to make paper logs…

How we made our model

We made a model of our future log home out of strips of brown paper bag rolled into “tapered logs”. We had talked about it since I took the class. They actually recommend it during the class, and I had been pushing my wife to let me create one, but dowels are $2.50 for a four foot length, and we’d need about 15-20 of them for just the walls, plus some for the rafters, so $60 for a model didn’t seem practical. Loghousenut even mentioned it in a comment to me- people are willing to spend big $$$$$ for a model, then complain that they don’t have the money to get started on the real one.

The other problem with dowels is they don’t have any taper, so it wouldn’t really represent our build- other than the dowels are round.

I thought we could just save some branches from cutting trees and use those, and Julie spent some time one Saturday trying to round up some that were the correct size, but it’s very time consuming to find branches that are to scale, and they still don’t have as much taper as our logs.

Our very tapered logs and the fact that we haven’t seen any actual log homes built with logs with as much taper as our logs seem to have spurred us to build a model to see how things would look. We ended up spending $4 on the thick foam-poster board. $2 for “stirring sticks” that are our 2×12 beams. The “logs” were free (made out of long strips cut from paper grocery bags)…. Construction paper- $2 for a pack of it. The glue- I don’t know- got it at the thrift store. Had to buy a new glue gun- I think Julie said that was $2.50. Also, some cardboard for the roof cut from cereal boxes, and toothpicks for the handrails.

Benefits of a model

We learned a BUNCH working on the model – in fact, I couldn’t believe how much we learned:

  • The clockwise/counter-clockwise “pinwheel” arrangement of the log layers (LHBA people know what I’m talking about) was pretty confusing at first, but the model helped sort it out. Just gotta remember the pattern when building with real logs.
  • Everything is pretty much to scale. Each square on the graph paper represents 1 foot. the walls are a little off scale- they come out at 9 inches thick instead of the usual 6 inches, but it’s still pretty close. Even the logs are to scale (as much as possible). It really gives us a realistic view of what 24 inch logs that taper down to 8 inches will look like. Adding how crooked the logs were wasn’t feasible in the model, so we have yet to decide how that will look.
  • For me, I think that a 40×40 log home looks a lot better with bigger logs- the massive logs offset the massive home, making it look not so big. Julie thinks straight, uniform logs would look better.
  • We can now play with where the stairs are, and how steep they are. I forgot that the floor joists for the second level adds at least a foot to the stair height, so when we build for real, I’ll have to be careful.
  • Ceiling height- 10 feet? 9 feet? 8 feet? I like nice tall ceilings (helps with dissipating heat), but that means more logs. I think we’ve settled on 9 feet on the first floor, and maybe 8 feet on the second level. We might even have enough space for a little third floor storage area.
  • The woodburning stove is going to be an awesome appliance- and Julie’s idea for the location is perfect- it’s sort-of central in the living area, so it will efficiently warm the house. It’s close enough to the center of the roof that we won’t have to extend the smokestack 10 feet in the air- which would look stupid, I think.

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  • The girder support log might be hidden from view by the framed walls- I don’t know yet, but it’s something we have to think about when we build.
  • You can’t see the back doors or bedroom doors from the front door (which we like). It also gives us a great idea of what the place will look like – how the kitchen looks from the living room and how the living room looks from the bedrooms or the balcony. It’s just neat seeing what we are heading towards when we finish.
  • I can’t emphasize how much insight we are gaining by building a model- how high should the walls be on each floor? How steep should the stairs be? How much overhang do we want on the balcony? Does this angle work? How much headroom will we have in this part? Can we move this wall slightly?  It is very, very revealing when you have a model to work from.

Problems / Solutions

We ended up redesigning the second floor several times. We also moved some walls on the first floor a little to make room for HVAC and plumbing. We noticed the massive model logs are actually encroaching on the interior floor space. I got out the plans and looked- and the 40×40 stock plan is measuring 40 feet from the center of the wall log to the center of the opposite wall log. I was thinking outside to outside was 40 feet, so this actually adds a foot to our interior floor plan that we desperately need.

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We also haven’t completely settled on how to finish the second floor.  At first, we thought, just extend the walls of the bedrooms all the way to the roof, but that would make the ceiling in the center room almost 20 feet tall, and possibly hard to heat or cool. So there’s enough room above the bedrooms for a third floor loft / storage in the center area under the roof. We could just “cap” the bedrooms with a ceiling, and then use the space as a loft / storage. But to access it, we would need some stairs- we’re not sure where to put them- maybe next to the bathroom. But this is something we can decide later.

If we do have a third floor, there are all kinds of options- maybe we hang the third floor joists out over the second floor hallway.

T&G roof- the insulation is above the wood. Pretty!

Maybe we have the walls go up to the roof, or maybe it’s open with just a rail. Tons of possibilities. With this style of building, the insulation that is normally in the attic in a “stick built”home (what log home builders like to call a home built with 2×4 framing), is actually in the roof. So all you see from inside the house looking up is tongue and groove woodwork (T&G).

Here are some early photos of our model:

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Some interior views after we added the rails (we can almost imagine ourselves inside…):

For more photos of the model, see this post: stuck in the mud

Tapered and Crooked Logs

A depressing reality…

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The more logs I cut, the more I realize how crooked, twisted, bowed, knotted, and generally undesirable they are. It came to a head the other day while peeling them with Julie. We went and looked at each log, trying to figure out how to use it. I remember from class that we were told you can use the crooked ones in doorways and windows- you cut them at the worst part of the bend, and extend them past the door. Or you can winch the bows out of some of them. Our logs are sort of an “all-of-the-above”. Many of them bow in two different directions. Some in three. But I’ve never done this before, so my wife wasn’t feeling any confidence from me that it would actually look decent.

They all taper pretty badly: class workbook recommends taper of no more than one inch per ten feet of log, or 1% taper. Ours are 2.5% and up. The best ones have a taper of 1.9%. As the number of “unusable” logs began to mount, we both began to get very depressed.

Not to mention they are Southern Yellow Pine (SYP), which has a low decay resistance. And the growth rings are too far apart. And there are plenty of knots.

Assessing the situation

Skip says “build with what you have”. Well, we have free logs, so we thought we should start there. But the other day, we were thinking about calling a logger for some logs. That could increase the price from between $12,000 to $25,000. We don’t have that kind of money. We started thinking about just staying put in our current house. That we hate.

Julie is the realist. I’m the dreamer. But the reality was eating me, too. We were both really depressed.

Not to mention that my tractor forks are all beat up and bent, along with my trailer about to fall apart:

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LHBA to the rescue!

LHBA has been a great resource. I started looking through the forums for pictures of crooked logs. I found some, and began to make a pinterest page for “crooked logs” to prove to Julie that it could be done. But there aren’t any pictures of logs that look as crooked as ours. I noticed a thread from loghousenut where he talked about crooked logs- kind of a “before” and “after” showing that you can build with crooked logs.  But one of the log pictures was missing, so I sent out a “help” message- “could you re-post that missing photo?” and told him my troubles. More members responded. Pretty soon, Ivanshayka was telling me to call him- he built his cabin with hand tools on a pier foundation out of some crooked logs he got from neighbors mostly.I took notes- got about 25 tips from him on how to straighten a log. And a lot of encouragement. Confidence level went back up a little. My wife was really liking the LHBA members after that.

Then loghousenut gave me his number, and some free advice. And then said this: untitled

“you have become the one to watch.” Kind words from a member of our organization. How many organizations do you know of where people say stuff like this? Huge confidence boost from that. Of course, that’s what I’ve always said- I didn’t need to go to the LHBA class to learn how to build log homes. I needed to go for the confidence. The method – “Butt & Pass” – is stupid simple. Almost anyone can do it- but it’s not about know-how, it’s about confidence.

More people weighed in. I can’t help but succeed at this- just have to work hard and be precise. And cut more trees. Lots of them. I have almost 50 up on racks. I figure probably 20 more logs ought to completely flatten the trailer. do it.

If you are on the fence about which log home company or organization to go with – may I recommend LHBA? Awesome organization with awesome people.

Reality check- with a model

So, with the confidence boost, we took another look at our logs. I have a spreadsheet going tracking my logs. Now I need to add comments on which log is crooked, and what to use it for. Each log will be artistically placed into position for maximum use and effect. This is the kind of stuff that triples the price of other log homes.

My wife began creating a model using paper from paper bags and a hot glue gun, and a copy of our plans:


The model logs match the taper of our real logs. We started stacking logs on our plan- and we are really impressed- the taper really doesn’t matter as much as we thought. In the photo, our logs are  ten feet high- halfway to our goal. They aren’t bent or crooked like the real ones, but we get an idea of how it will look with our super tapered logs- and it’s not too bad. It looks kind of cool, actually.


Good neighbors and friends beat heavy, crooked tapered logs, broken tractors, and flattened trailers. Work will win where wishy washy wishing won’t. Confidence is more important than tools. A good woman is to be valued above that of rubies. We are still worried about how crooked the logs are, and whether they can be used effectively, so we are not completely confident that it will all work out, but we are moving forward anyway.