8/5/16: Odds & Ends

  • Moved the first log since the accident

It was a moving experience. Ok, bad pun. I decided My wife decided (and I was able to test her theory and prove her correct)- with the finger out of sorts, I couldn’t move logs with a chain, so I focused the last twelve days on moving branches and making brush piles. Twelve trees, twelve days for brush piles- it takes me an entire day to clear branches. With the branches out of the way, I was finally ready to move some trees. It had been a month since the accident. I broke (on purpose) the arch off the trailer with the neighbor’s help last week, and welded some feet on it to keep it stable while lifting logs. On Thursday, my wife came out to watch. The operation went slow- because I forgot where to place the arch- I put it at the end of the log, thinking I could slip the trailer under the middle- nope- can’t get it high enough with the arch in that location, so I had to lower the log, and move the arch (which weighs about 200 lbs), and lift again. The arch is eight feet tall, the chain hoist takes up a foot and a half underneath that, and the strap hangs another foot below that. Then the logs, which are usually at least 20 inches drop the height almost another two feet. So, added together, 8 – 1.5 – 1.5 – 2 = 3 feet of clearance. The trailer is about 3 feet high, so any small variation won’t clear the trailer. Yes, I need a shorter trailer, but options were limited at the time.

My wife took a lot of photos, but we got it moved.

Then we noticed the bark beetles and powder post beetles had started in on the wood.

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Oh no! Yup, they sat for so long on the ground, that the bugs invited themselves for dinner. Bark beetles made it easy to peel- my wife was having a lot of fun with it, actually:


But now it’s a race against the bugs: I have to borate the logs quickly to stop any progress by the bugs. That was Thursday. She came out on Friday to peel another. On Saturday, I moved one with the trailer, then said, “forget it, I’m going back to skidding the smaller ones”. I hooked one up and was able to skid it without the trailer. I did four more that morning (a record for me!), then went home to mix up some more borate solution. Did some shopping with my wife, then went back out to the property Saturday night to apply the borate. I still have one log next to the racks, and two more monsters on the ground needing to be moved off the neighbor’s property onto racks. And I need more ingredients for my borate solution. But it’s progress, nonetheless.

  • Neighborly neighbors

I have some great neighbors. He’s a retired telephone guy from the arsenal. He rubbed shoulders with Wernher Von Braun back in the first days of the space program. He has all kinds of welding equipment, and let me borrow his forks, gives us corn from his garden, and kept me sane when I nearly lost my finger. They are in their 80’s, and are some really good folks- probably the best neighbors I’ve ever had. Now they aren’t perfect, but they are pretty good.

  • Besides work & building a log cabin, what else is going on

    • cell phones

      I’m paying about $70/month for two phones and a data plan. I didn’t add the data plan until I was running my own business, and I just kept it because it was convenient. Now I’ve found a plan for $35/mo for 2 phones, no data, and 800 minutes and free texting. Seems like a good deal, so I’m going back to a basic candy bar non-smart phone. Boring, but saves money.

    • Church choir pianist (and now orchestra)

      I usually play the piano for the choir. My church’s Sunday music is pretty boring- think: traditional Methodist/Catholic/Presbyterian hymns from the late 1800’s. No rock and roll or guitars. The organ is preferred, but there is a piano on the stage just in case.  I played my sax in church back in the 1990’s, but it was outlawed soon after that (probably my fault. People really hate Bach for some reason). Anyway, with my finger out of sorts, I can’t play piano, or ukulele. I’ll probably start back at it next week, but still have areas on the tip of my finger that I have no feeling, so it’s not perfect. My church also does a Christmas Festival every year. It’s a free concert with a choir and a quilt display. They invited me to play sax (!) this year in the church. All traditional  Christmas songs. It’s in it’s 12th year, I think, so pretty neat to be invited to play in it. I originally went to school as a music major, but my professor said don’t do it professionally- do it for fun. I originally started on piano at age 4 (all my siblings and I play). We all play at least two instruments. I play woodwinds (except oboe and bassoon) , piano, accordion, ukulele, a little guitar, etc.

    • truck headgasket

      Ahh, yes- I need to fix this hunka……Ellery diagnosed it as “two dead cylinders- you need a new head gasket”. Fine. What a pain. It’s a 95 Toyota Pickup with a V6. This is a common problem on these vehicles. I’ve got everything apart, but I can’t remember if I need to clamp the cam gear to get the head bolts off without messing up the timing or if I can just take it off. I should probably do the timing belt this time; last time, I was kinda lazy. Just a big pain. But I do need a truck to haul big stuff out to the property- Civic ain’t quite cutting it.

I’m back to work and we’re moving logs like crazy: I moved four on Saturday and four on Tuesday. I just have 2 more monster logs that I need to move with my arch and then I’ll be done with all the ones I cut in the past two months, which means I’ll have about 30 total.  Next up I need about 20-30 more logs to start stacking walls. It’s still early August; I believe the plan was be done with logs by end of September, so that goal is very do-able.


2016 June 24: Military trailer Log arch

I’m finally ready to tackle this log loading problem. Here’s the issue:

I’m getting trees from the property next door. I’m cutting them myself, bucking them (I figured out that bucking a tree means taking off the limbs), then skidding them (dragging them) with a tractor over a small ditch and onto my property where I stack them on some sacrificial logs to keep them off the ground until I peel them. With a smaller log, the tractor can pick it up with tongs, lift it high enough to skid, and I can easily skid it and get it to where I want, and this process takes about 1 1/2 hours:

  • 30 minutes to fell and buck
  • 30 minutes to load and skid
  • 30 minutes to unload

Unfortunately (or maybe I can be positive and say ‘fortunately’, two years from now when I look at the finished house and see massive log eye-candy saving me tons of money on A/C and heat), my logs are usually more than 18″ diameter- some of the bigger logs (A.K.A. “monster logs”) are 26″+ and 50’+ long. It takes anywhere from 4 hours on a good day, to a couple of days to move one log. It’s extremely exhausting – I’ve lost 10 lbs in a month of working. I’m estimating these logs weigh about 6,000 lbs. My tractor is a Ford 3000 diesel. I think it’s rated at 47 hp. It’s not 4wd, but it has a lift on the back rated at 2,000 lbs. It gives up on monster logs. Me too.

Problems multiply when the log gets bigger. The log outweighs the tractor by 2,000 lbs, so lifting it makes it nearly impossible to steer, so ‘just plain skidding it’ is out. I have a military trailer, which is rated at 2.5 tons, but it is about 30″ off the ground, and the tractor can only lift to about 29″ (or some amount extremely close to whatever the trailer height is). But seriously- does it matter what the height is? It can’t lift it high enough to clear the bed of the trailer, and I’m sure it’s that way by design. Yes really. Some guy at the Ford tractor factory colluded with another guy at the military trailer factory 50 years ago, and they are still laughing about their “little joke”. I’m sure of this. It’s a conspiracy.

Cheap, fast, or good: you can only pick two.

‘Why not just get a bigger tractor,’ you may ask? I might reply, ‘Why not just buy a house that’s already built?’ But actually the answer is: I’m doing this debt-free. Pay as you go. You understand when I’m done with this, I’ll have a $400k home that cost $40k to build. Some folks love a telehandler- and I do too- but the cheapest I can get one that I’ve seen is about $18k. My brother-in-law has one, but getting it from Utah to here would cost about $2,000. And he uses it all the time, so he doesn’t want to part with it for even a month. I understand. So the solution has to be cheap. And good. The kicker with my solution, is that it actually ends up being ‘fast’. -er. Instead of 4 hours minimum on a monster log, I’m hoping it is 4 hours maximum. Maybe even 1 hour. Ok, let’s not get greedy.

I came up with a few work-arounds before settling on my current solution:

  • tie two tractor jacks together with a beam bolting them together. But 29″ (the height of the tractor jacks’ lifting height before they begin to buckle and get very unstable (also on my list of conspiracies….) is also not high enough to get it on the trailer.
  • hope that the tree falls near a still-standing tree that I can use with a chain hoist for lifting. This is rare.
  • build a tripod and use the chain hoist in that for lifting. But the trailer usually can’t fit under the tripod. And I have to move the tripod when I unload it, too.

All of these methods take time. Lots of time. And lots of muscle.

I’ve been thinking about a solution for a long time. First, I’ll get a helicopter…..No. It’s something called a “log arch”. You can buy one for like $800 that claims to handle logs “up to 15 inches in diameter”, but I know I can make one cheaper. I searched for “log arch” on google and found a ton of videos and methods. My favorite one, and the most elegant and simplest solution in my opinion is this one:

I already have the trailer. Just need to mount some kind of pivot system.

I got out my copy of LibreCAD, and drew up some plans. After tweaking them a bit, I had my logarch.  I’ll make them available for free.  I checked my math a few times -mostly the shear calculations for a bolt: I figured a force equal to a 6,000 log at standard acceleration of 9.8 m/s^2 gave me about 132,000 psi to work with. I ran it by Ellery (my super-practical better-than-an-engineer mechanical genius friend), and his immediate response was “3/4 inch grade 8 bolts”. I felt proud that it took me an hour of calculations from an engineering standpoint to come up with what he said in 1 second. He plays guitar, violin, banjo, etc., and I play piano, accordian, and now, ukulele.

I bought some 3″ x 3″ 1/4″ sidewall steel tube, and a 1/4″ flat plate. The guys down at C&J welding were super impressed with the youtube video. They all gathered around to give me advice on what kind of steel, welding techniques, issues I might encounter. The owner wants pictures of the completed log cabin. It’s the business that my buddy Ken H. recommended when he was still alive. I can see why. Super nice down to earth hardworking guys.

I need to make all my cuts and learn how to weld (yes, from Ellery), but hopefully, I’ll start welding it on Saturday.

2016 June 13: Update for June 1-13, 2016

  1. Head Smack and a Broken Rib

I finally had some accidents. Both were doosies, but not life threatening. I’ll provide some background:

Head smack:

I was coming out of the woods about three weeks ago with another log strapped to the trailer, and was feeling all proud of myself for getting it. I got to the edge of the road and noticed the tractor wouldn’t turn left. “hmm,” I thought, “that’s strange.” I couldn’t find anything wrong with it immediately, and even thought about just manually turning the wheels when I needed to. But then I remembered how busy the road got in front of my property, and realized I was going to have to park the tractor and log and get it fixed. The dealer I bought the thing from offered $100 pick up and delivery for any repairs. But when they repaired my tire, it took them four days, and lots of whining from me to get it done, even though I took the wheel off myself and brought it to them (the look on the guy’s face was funny: “Most folks just let us come get the whole tractor….” I guess I’m not ‘most folks’.)

A quick google search (“ford 3000 diesel tractor won’t turn left”) informed me that this was a very common problem, caused when a 49 year old tractor turns 50: a shim breaks loose inside the steering column, allowing the worm gear in the gear box to loosen the steering rod- it comes unscrewed. The shim and bearing was $35.00, or I could get the whole thing- steering gearbox – for $350. I thought if the bearing went, what of the other 47 parts was going next? and bought the steering gearbox. It showed up about 4 days later, and I went to put it on, and it was broken:


Packed it up, sent it back, new one five days later, this time not broken. I started to put it on, and had to lever the gas tank out of the way. The bottom of the steering gear box has a bulge on the bottom end that sits down inside the top of the transmission- you can see the clutch plate down in there- but it doesn’t connect to it directly other than with four bolts on the frame of the transmission. I had to lift the gas tank up out of the way in order for the bulge end of the gear box to slide in, and while muscling it in there, the thing flipped up and the steering rod clocked me in the temple pretty hard. Hard enough that I felt woosey, and thought I was going to throw up- or worse- pass out. I was alone at the time, and the neighbors were out of town. No one knew where I was- my wife knew I was working, but didn’t know exactly where. If something happened, it could be hours before I was found. I sat down on the ground for a few minutes thinking that if I passed out, could I call my wife before I did? I make sure I wear my cell phone on me at all times, and I have voice commands enabled, but it was a scary thought.

Got the thing hooked up, and dragged the log over to my property with no other issues. The new steering is smooth and easy, by the way, and still manual.

The broken rib incident:

20160606_162128[1]This log- I had it jacked up against this tree, trying to maneuver the trailer underneath it. This is before I put the trailer under it just in case. Once I had the trailer in place, I thought I could sneak under it very quickly instead of walking around the whole thing. But unfortunately,

20160606_162141[1]If you look closely, you can see the branch on the bottom that broke my rib when I ducked underneath.

It’s caused a lot of concern. I put it out there for the other LHBA members to laugh at for advice. I wasn’t doing anything insanely stupid, but I wasn’t thinking correctly either. It could have been a lot worse. I could have been a lot stupider. I’ve come to the conclusion that (and I posted this on the LHBA forum:

I’ll just throw this out there so some can learn from my mistakes. I like doing things the hard way, by the way. Yes, really. Otherwise, I would learn from my mistakes. 🙂 And mind you, they are not huge mistakes, and I plan to recover from them, but here goes:

1. always pick up the light end of the log when skidding. Seems like my problems with log handling get multiplied x10 when I DON’T do this: later on down the road, the tractor won’t turn cuz the front wheels are off the ground. or the load shifts, and you have to readjust, or a hundred other things happen. Do it right the first time- even if you have to work a little more up front to get what you want. It pays off later.

2. I find I’m doing a lot of small steps (to save time, right?) when I should stop, take my time, and do one big step. Example: instead of taking my mechanic friend up on his offer to weld a “coffin crane” to my log trailer so I can load logs onto it directly and easier, I’d rather: use 2 tractor jacks bolted together with a section of I-beam on either side of the log to lift it high enough to get on the trailer. Or, build a tripod out of 12′ branches held together with tow chain and then hang a chain hoist in the middle to lift the log high enough, only to find out that it isn’t quite high enough, so lower the log back down, move the chain hoist higher on the tripod, then jack it back up, only to find out that now, I can’t get the trailer underneath it where I want, because the tripod is in the way. 🙂 I just talked to my mechanic today- we are going to solve this problem next week- he’s itching to use his new $800 welding setup. It must be good cuz he drove 2 hours to pick it up.

2a the ditch on my property is 5′ deep, but only has a 10′ wide path across it. not exactly ideal when turning a 50′ log onto it from a road that is only 20′ wide. Which means I have to dump the trailer into the ditch anytime I get a log from down the road. Then I have to use the tractor to pull the trailer back out of the ditch (more time, more in and out of the tractor seat, more hookup, more unhook, more lift, more pull, more potential for problems.)

2b (I was actually smart enough to take care of this one early on): build a road before hauling logs- ok, it’s not a road, but I made a bridge over a small ditch out of branches- it sped things up considerably. Only took me getting stuck 3 times to figure out I wasn’t wasting time by stopping and solving that problem.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Not really looking for advice- I’ve already received a lot- just need to practice it. This is for those who want to do it like me and muscle through without preparing the right tools for the job. It really is about taking the time to do things right, get the right tool for the job if you can afford it, otherwise find a way, a friend, etc. But don’t try to save time/money by doing a bunch of little incremental steps just so you feel like you’re busy. Running around quickly is not the same thing as working slowly, safely, and thoughtfully.


For now, all I’ve been able to do for the last week has been the following:

  1. Digging up blackberries

There are probably a hundred blackberry canes on our property. They’ve been bush hogged for years, so I wanted to dig them up and see if we can get some fruit from them. I dug up 15 and brought them home, and they are looking really sad right now. Hopefully, that will change.

  1. Upgrading the trailer

It would be nice to have a “coffin crane” attached to my trailer for lifting logs, so with rain in the forecast this week, and Ellery’s friend (with a crane I might be able to borrow) coming back from vacation, maybe I can solve this log transportation / rib breaking problem. Without the coffin crane, I have to jack the log up with two farm jacks, which isn’t safe, easy, fast, or effective.

  1. A load of plywood


Found a nice deal on some plywood in Nashville. A guy gets it cheap from a shipping company that uses it one time for protecting those metal shipping containers from dents and dings while crossing the ocean. $7 / sheet is a good deal, right? picking through the pieces with a broken rib wore me out. So did the 90 minute drive that ended up being 3 hours because my trailer isn’t big enough to handle 1 ton of plywood.

  1. Bush hogging vs mowing

I maintained for a while that bush hogging did just as good a job as mowing would. My wife wasn’t so sure. We brought the regular push lawnmower out on Saturday to test this theory. I was completely wrong. The grass where the lawnmower was used looks so good. Now I’m wondering why I bought a bush hogger. Except by the time we would get done mowing the grass by hand, we would have to start over. It would seriously take probably 2 or 3 days to mow over three acres of grass. I guess I have a tractor, so I thought bush hogging it with an attachment would be cheaper than buying a $4k zero turn mower (besides- I’ve never seen anyone skidding logs with a zero turn mower, have you?). Craigslist search for “3 point reel finish mower” didn’t come up with anything useful. I didn’t know there was a difference.

  1. A ukulele

Being unable to peel logs, or cut trees, I decided to add to my collection of musical instruments- I bought a soprano Ukulele. Don’t know why, but four strings is so much easier to manage than the six on my guitar (says the guy who plays a piano with 88 keys…). It’s great. It was only $50. I got the pineapple shaped one because it looked really cute, and no one could really say one sounded better than the other. Besides, the figure 8 style just looks like a little toy guitar. So far, pretty happy with it- I can play about 5-8 songs on it, and I’m hoping that will grow. And I miss my island friends (you know who you are!).