I messed up.

The last four weeks…

We spent the last four weeks burning branches, got the water hooked up, power installed:

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Digging 31 holes and moving the driveway

I checked the weather for the second week of April – and noticed they were forecasting about a week’s worth of dry weather.

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If you read my last post, you know it’s been raining every 2-3 days for a month or more. So this little break meant go time. I called the excavator- he said he could come Monday.

I busted my butt finishing up the last of the pier collars on Friday, but then the excavator called on Friday and asked if he could come Saturday instead- great! Except all the rain washed away my month old paint marks for where to dig the holes. So, Friday night, I loaded the trailer with the collars.

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I left early Saturday morning to meet him out there at 8:30, and the trailer was fishtailing with all the collars on it. I didn’t know it at the time, but some of them had slipped a little after I tied them, and were hanging out the back of the trailer. It wasn’t many, but enough to shift the balance of weight. I took the drive very slowly- 20 mph, but it wasn’t enough- after fishtailing, the tongue of the trailer wore out and broke in half.

Looking at the tongue, I was surprised-  they used 1/8″ thick angle steel everywhere on the trailer except the tongue. On the tongue- the most important part of the trailer- they cheaped out and used 1/16″ square tube. I’ll never understand people. I could write a whole post on fixing the trailer, but let’s just give the short version: had to leave it on the highway, get my holes dug, then go back for the trailer. Used a blow torch to cut the hardened steel pivot bolt off the trailer side of the tongue. Brass welded the tongue back together at the neighbor’s house, hooked onto the trailer, and went to property to unload collars.

Then, the tongue broke again on the way back (empty). Stupid thing did a cartwheel on the highway. 5-6 good people stopped to help, and nobody got hurt. Met Matthew Hunter, who hooked me up with a new tongue and paint job on the trailer. Tongue is now 1/8″ x 4″x2″ tube steel- it’s a beast. And the trailer no longer tilts (I hated that “feature”), and pulls like a dream.

I got the holes dug- took him only two hours instead of four:

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and moved the driveway:

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I also fixed a flat tire on the tractor

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So, how did I mess up?

Details about the plans:

Capture

Above: You can see the detail of a corner of the pier layout:

  • red: pier outline
  • purple: outer edge of log walls
  • white: center of log wall

As you can see, the plans don’t specify a measurement or offset from the edge for where to place the logs on the piers- probably because they don’t know what size logs you will use- the plans state they are for 12″ logs, but mine are a little larger- like 18″ or something. Starting with what you know:

  • base of pier is 36″ square
  • top of pier is 8″x24″
  • log (according to the plans) is 12″ diameter
  • log is supposed to set just in from the edge of pier, not the center.

Thinking about the above brings up a practical question: How far from the bottom edge of the pier do you place the rebar (i.e. the white line goes over the top of each stick of rebar in each pier)? To ask another way, if I hang my string layout at 40’x40′ square, how far out from the string is the edge of each hole for each pier?

My mistake in laying out the foundation was that I never considered this. So I spray-painted marks where I thought they should go, but I can’t prove that is actually where they go. So I messed up.

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I spent all day Wednesday burning in the hot sun to place 4 piers. I had to dig about 12″x36″x18″ of dirt to get the forms lined up correctly under the string. My wife finally talked me out of my stubbornness- and had me call the excavator. It took me five hours to fix 4 holes. I got better at it, but 31 holes means 31 hours of work if I do it by hand.  I did accomplish one thing: I know how far from the string the bottom edge of the pier goes- in my case, to get the rebar 8″ from the top edge, I need the bottom edge to be 16″ from the string. I got a plumb bob and a tape measure, and spray-painted marks. Then I called Jim to have the excavator come back and cut some more out of my holes. He couldn’t do it right away, but said he would call. I was worried he won’t get it done before the next rain, but he pulled off of a job he was doing on Cloud Trail road, came over to my place and fixed the gravel and the holes. He left before we showed up- under an hour.

Moving forward

Leveling the holes is now taking me about 10 minutes, instead of an hour. There’s a small chance of rain next week. Cross your fingers, and pray I can get concrete before anything happens.

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Stuff Breaks

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fingernail is making a comeback!

Since the beginning of this project, stuff has been breaking: Logs are too heavy, I do dumb things, money is tight, I have another job, etc.

My whole life, I’ve been working in jobs where I see areas that need improvement- more efficient methods, outdated standards, etc, and every new job I get, I try to implement changes that are more efficient. I guess my whole life has been one of “process improvement”:

I had this old Nissan Sentra my grandma sold me for $1.00. It had been through several cousins as a starter car. Finally came to me. One time, I was driving it home late at night from work while I was struggling through college and the lights went dim. When I looked under the hood, I found the belt to the alternator was loose- the tensioner bolt had fallen out. I looked in the trunk for something to brace it with or an extra bolt- and found an old screwdriver. I jammed the screwdriver in there, and I meant to fix it, but a few weeks later, the clutch went out on it.  I got it to a mechanic, and when I came to pick it up, he said, “Oh, by the way, while we were in there fixing your clutch, we found this:” <holds up screwdriver>.

“Oh yeah.”

They start laughing. “Yeah, we fixed it for ya.”

Hopefully, I’ve come a long way since those days (baby steps). Building this log home, I’m improving my methods as I go, but there are some set-backs.

Logs are too heavy (Process improvement)

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Your log home dealer offers “oversize” 12 inch logs? That’s so cute…

This is a given. The logs are always too heavy. I can’t stress how dangerous this is. They are very heavy. Tractor can’t lift them, so I have gone through several improvements:

  1. 2 tractor jacks- one on each side of the log. very unstable. Tend to “max out” at just under the height needed to get the log on the trailer.
  2. lifting tripod made out of large branches: works pretty good- very heavy, hard to set up.
  3. a trailer- works pretty good. very heavy, hard to maneuver to get it under the log- usually has to be maneuvered by hand- can’t always get tractor involved with tight turns that might bump the log while it’s hanging in mid-air and knock everything down.
  4. a log arch attached to the trailer….and a broken finger, so…
  5. ….log arch NOT attached to trailer…so far so good…
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anti-tank house logs

“Why don’t you use smaller logs?”

It’s a thought…That I don’t have. Go big or go home. Because Manly.

OK, seriously- a log home made out of 12″ logs has been proven to be at least twice as efficient as a home made from 2×4’s in a standard fashion. Most log home folks report paying 1/3 the cost in AC/heating costs as they did in their “stick-built” homes. The logs I’m using range from 14 inches to 27 inches. I’m expecting a cheap utility bill when this is all said and done.

There’s also the artistic factor: Big logs are inspiring. Look at the two homes below:

Which one has the “Oh…wow” factor? Yeah. I thought so.

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“Mommy, mommy! That man is not wearing a seat belt!”

The tractor is kinda light

I think the tractor must weigh in at about 3,500 pounds. The logs are probably about 5,000 + lbs. In a tug-o-war, the logs sometimes win. I’ve broken the tractor a few times:

  1. broken steering column
  2. broken pins on three point hitch (several times).
  3. bent the 3 point hitch mounting points.
  4. broken front grill, smashed front cowl
  5. flat tire on rear (I’m suspicious that it came that way as a slow leak that got faster with use).
  6. broken/stripped out lift arm screw – right side
  7. broken/stripped out lift arm screw – left side

For #6 & #7: I welded the right side with the neighbor’s supervision- well, he has a pacemaker and can’t get near high voltage devices, so he sat on his porch and listened to the welder. When I was done welding the first time, I drove by on the tractor and gave him the thumbs up. I got across the street, backed up to the log that broke it in the first place, and immediately broke the weld. Limping the tractor back across the street, and I see the neighbor in the chair grinning at me.

“What?” I said.

“I knew that was gonna happen- you were welding it too hot.”

“Too hot?” (I don’t know anything about welding….I guess you can ‘hear’ when someone is welding too hot?)

“Yeah- when you’re welding hardened steel to cast iron, you gotta turn the heat down on that thing – otherwise, you’re not really welding it,” says the former certified welding instructor.

Oh.

Turn down the heat. Weld it cooler very carefully. Grind off the slag. Weld again. Grind off some more slag, adjust the heat. Weld again. The neighbor comes over to eyeball it. Gives me a nod. Off I go.

Back at the log in question. Start to lift it- “clunk!” <a few choice curse words>. Turn around and look- my weld is holding ok. Look at other lift arm: now it’s broke. <smile>. Drive back across the street. Neighbor is a little concerned as he sees me coming up the driveway. Then I show him what happened. Now he’s grinning, too.

“I’ve done that same thing before, believe it or not,” he says, laughing. Luckily, I bought a universal screw pin from Tractor Supply, and what do you know? It fits. And the weld has held up since then, too. Third time’s a charm?

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I do dumb things:

Did you know that you can’t interchange a 80-link bar on a chainsaw with a 72-link bar? Yeah, I got bad advice: “just change out the bar”. They forgot to mention the drive sprocket aligns with the links on the chains. For a few days, I couldn’t figure out how the teeth on that sprocket got all chewed up. Now I know, and I now have a new drive sprocket on order from Ebay for my saw….

 

Money is tight:

This was part of the plan- do the build super cheap. With unlimited funds, I could build this thing in about 3 weeks. With no funds, I can’t build it at all. With some funds, I can afford some equipment, but not the expensive kind, so the build timeline is in between 3 weeks and forever. I’m going for 2 years…

Without a lot of money, I’ve got to stick to being innovative – do more with less. Lesson from class:

  1. cheap
  2. fast
  3. good

You can only pick two. I guess I have to pick #1 & #3. Which means any cool trick I want to try has to be cheap and good, or forget it.

I have another job:

Believe it or not, I work full time as a support engineer (no, I’m not usually the white collar guy with pink hands, so this is a huge career improvement for me- usually, I’m crawling under raised floor panels dragging some CAT-V cable). Yes, this affects the build: I’m trying to hurry as much as I can because of my limited time to build. There are those in our organization who only work on their cabins for 4 weeks out of the summer. Then there are those who do it for a living. I’m in the “do it every night after work” group. This creates problems of being too hasty:

  • Like the time I came within five feet of smashing my tractor while felling a tree- I was in too much of a hurry before it got dark to go grab my 60′ cable. So I used my 20′ chain to hook it and pull instead. I had to dive off the tractor as the tree came down. Luckily, the tree missed. You can’t really get away from a falling tree while chained to it with a tractor. Whew.
  • Borating the logs before the bugs get to them: I have to make my brew on the weekends. I was using a “rocket stove” design on my cinder blocks for the fire. I changed it this weekend to a new design with more airflow. Process improvement? yes: the first way of cooking, the brew took 3 hours. This time, it took me 1 hour.

Conclusion:

The conclusion is: Stuff breaks. Lessons?

  1. Learn how to fix it.
  2. Process improvement.
  3. Focus on the task at hand.
  4. Figure out what isn’t working, what is working, and the difference between the two.

#1 and #2 are my bright spots. #3 can be hard, but if I get ahead of myself, really heavy logs bring me back to what really matters at the moment. #4 is where I get stuck, believe it or not- it’s good to be married to a level-headed woman: whenever I get harebrained ideas like: “I know- let’s buy a 1 ton truck to drag logs around,” she straightens me out with “what you’re doing is working- you just need to stick with it.”

2016 July 07: Military Trailer Log Arch: Part II

Note: I meant to post this around 7/1/2016, along with a video showing how it worked. But then I had “the accident” (read about it here). I’ll post this anyway, so you can see the intent of the arch. I’m going to re-do the arch, and I’ll make a post about it when I get it done.

Photos of the build last weekend (6/25/2016):

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One of the better welds I made….

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Pretty proud of this- first time welding, had a great instructor (Ellery), who just let me go for it.

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It will fit on the trailer like this. From the last welded joint to the bottom of the legs is six feet. I measured repeatedly to make sure the legs were parallel. When all was done, I re-measured and found that the legs were 1/4″ wider at the bottom than they were at the top- pretty good for my first time. I had to adjust the top beam- I made it a little wider than the plan called for: In all my figuring, I forgot to figure the amount of material lost during the cutting- the cutting blade is 1/8″ thick, so two cuts equals 1/4″, and that threw off the angles a bit in the angled beams, which made it necessary to change the length of the top beam. It all worked out in the end.

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You can see in the chalkboard drawings one of my dilemmas. Friday night, I drew the 3-D drawing, with the first cut going perpendicular across the tube, and the second cut making a chicken mouth. But that night I had a dream that my calculations weren’t correct, and woke up with an uncomfortable feeling. The second drawing shows my corrected calculations- I found if I made cuts using the first method, my joint would not meet up – you have to bisect the cut so the two edges will touch when folded over.

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.