Tools & techniques

Updated: January-2019


As can be imagined, I anticipate learning a ton of stuff about everything from felling trees to installing stove pipes. I think it’s time I started organizing that knowledge. There are two sections here:


  • Chainsawhusqvarna450reviews
    • Husqvarna Rancher 450 20″ bar. I also looked at a Stihl. I settled on the Husky because of the price. I’m very happy with it. Runs fine after cutting down 85 trees. I’m up to chain #5.
    • Problems:
      • case/cover bolts fall out if not kept tight.
      • if experience kick back, check chain tension- usually kick back causes the bar to loosen slightly, and chain can fall off.
      • must use exact sprocket, bar, and chain type and length. Probably best to just use husky chains and sharpening tools. Had to replace my sprocket due to ill advice from an “expert”.
    • Solutions:
      • make cut as close as possible to stub of bar (not tip of bar)
      • use weight of saw to make most cuts
      • use factory sharpening tools
      • sharpen often
  • Chain hoistimage_20437
    • Harbor freight 3 ton chain hoist with 10′ lift.
      • Plenty of lifting power. Rugged device. Very strong hooks.
    • Problems:
      • Not much lift- 10 feet max
      • weighs 45 lbs. Very heavy to use.
    • Solutions:
      • does not care how much log weighs; lifts it anyway.
      • if you let go of chain, log stays put- no need to tie off.
  • Block & Tackle1489785074404_zpsq4tepvus
    • Ebay. Buy two at a time. $30 is a good price. 8″ sheeve for 5/8″ rope or larger. Need 100′ of rope for each set.
      • search for “block” at Collectibles > Tools, Hardware & Locks > Tools > Pulleys, Block & Tackle
    • Make your own: see this post
    • Problems:
      • make sure 8″ is correct. Sometimes have to clean the pins. Avoid wooden blocks.
      • weighs 8-10 lbs. Reeving blocks is an art:
        • img_2509
        • hat tip to rocklock
      • here’s a diagram by reiddnauer:
      • block_rigging1
    • Solutions:
      • can lift logs to any height- limitation is amount of rope, and height of lifting pole
      • use a prusik knot on snatch block to prevent load from falling if you let go of rope.
  • 2.5 ton military trailer20160804_180421_zpsxlgi4iuw
    • unknown brand
    • Problems:
      • very tall- hard to get logs loaded.
      • very heavy- hard to manuever
      • bent after 80 logs. In the trailer’s defense, I loaded it with 3 ton logs…
    • Solutions:
      • very rugged.
      • work out more.
  • Log arch (see photo above)
    • Home made. Plans available here
    • Problems:
      • darn near ripped my finger off when attached to trailer and using improper lifting methods. Arch was fine. Other equipment not heavy enough to withstand vector forces.
    • Solutions:
      • remove from trailer.
      • added 8″ square “feet” to bottom.
      • Use only on ground for best results.
      • place arch over log at point that is just in front of mid weight of tree (probably within 15 feet of butt) – this will be the center of weight.
      • to move logs, place butt end on trailer, not top. chain top of log to tractor.
      • Not a scientific measure of capacity, but I lifted a 10,000 lb ridge pole with this arch. It’s pretty strong.
  • Load binderimage_24748
    • Problems:
      • straps not strong enough to stop log from shifting on trailer during skidding operation
      • log is too crooked to use
    • Solutions:
      • chain load binder cinches chain around log and holds it extremely tight. Use 2 for best results.
      • chain binder- use 2: Tension log with chain and chain binder. Use second binder and chain nearby to tension the log some more. first chain binder is now loose, so tighten it now. Now second binder is loose, so tighten it. Repeat until log is straight or can no longer bend.
  • 6-ton lifting strap
    • Problems:
      • chain too long to practically use for lifting logs
    • Solutions:
      • This strap from H.F. is only 6 feet long- short enough to wrap around a large log once with a bit left over.
  • 4 ton winch/come along
    • Problems: Too lightweight for much use with my logs. Good for getting tractor unstuck, though.
    • Solutions: get an 8 ton winch.

  • Welding supplies
    • Problems:
    • Solutions:
  • Tractor20160721_175929_zpsxntgsdlj
    • 1967 Ford 3000 diesel with PTO.
    • Problems:
      • Old- steering wheel column went out right on schedule (just shy of 50 years old, from most people’s reports)
      • linch pins keep falling out
      • welding lifting arms when they break
      • not heavy enough.
    • Solutions:
      • Learned how to weld!
      • Learned how to fix a flat.
      • Learned how to bleed fuel lines.
    • Hud-son Oscar 121 20170129_090442_zpsqlajythw
    • Problems:
      • wood is expensive. Log rafters: about $200 per rafter x 32 rafters = $6400.
      • make sawmill portable to avoid having it stolen (not leave it on site).
        • will need to weld ears on axle to attach it to sawmill
    • Solutions:
      • Lots of crooked logs that would make good 4×4’s, 4×12’s, etc.
      • Good sawmill is between $2,000 – $5,000. Figure to save about $10,000.
    • David White professional builder’s level, $50 on craigslist
    • Problems:
      • need ability to set foundation parallel to the road, and also make it “square”.
    • Solutions:
      • This builder’s level has an accuracy of 1/4″ over 75 feet.



  • Cutting trees

I’ve now cut down 100+trees. They range in size from 8″ diameter and 30 feet tall, to my ridge pole, which was a sweet gum tree – 33″ in diameter and 90′ tall.  That ridge pole weighed 10,000 lbs, after I peeled it and cut it down to 60′, according to the crane operator.  A couple of Youtube videos are a good place to start learning how to cut trees.

  • Use this method at your own risk.
  • I’m not a professional.
  • You’re an idiot if you try this.
  • Really. LHBA class book says not to cut your own trees, ok? Forbes magazine lists “Logging” as the most dangerous profession.
  • Wear chaps if you can,
  • a hard hat,
  • safety goggles,
  • ear plugs,
  • and some heavy leather gloves.
  • Wear steel toed boots (some videos I watched said not to wear steel toe boots. I’m not sure why. probably dummies).
  • Don’t cut trees when the wind is any more than 2 mph.
  • Don’t cut trees if you’re hungry, tired, cold, in a hurry, or wet.
  • If I need to tell you not to cut at night- really?

Now that you’re NOT going to cut your own trees, I’ve boiled it down to a few steps, if no structures are in danger of being crushed:

  1. Check the lean of the tree- which way does it “want” to fall? The best and safest way to fall a tree is to let it fall the way it wants to fall.
  2. Once you’ve established which way the tree will fall (the “front” of the tree), plan your escape path. Make sure there is no brush in the way to trip over. Make sure you can get as far away from the monster as it is tall, and then some. Plan to leave your saw if you don’t think it will get crushed.  If you have spotters or people watching, make sure they are as far away from you as the tree is tall, plus 30 feet.
  3. First cut: cut into the tree at a 60º angle on the front of the tree from top to bottom, aiming for a point on the horizontal that is just more than halfway, maybe 2/3’s through the center of the tree.
  4. Second cut: on the front of the tree, make a cut just 10º below the horizontal, angling up about 10 degrees to meet the first cut just past the halfway point.
  5. Third cut: on the back of the tree, make another cut about horizontal with cut #2, except:
    • make this one horizontal and
    • about 2 inches above the point that cut #1 & #2 meet.
  6. Watch cut #3 carefully. You can steer (use that term loosely) the direction of the fall by cutting more or less off of each side of the cut with your saw.
  7. Pull off your earplugs. You want to listen to the tree at this point. When the gap begins to widen (the tree starts to fall), you’ll have to gauge when to get out of the way (i.e. “run”)-
    • you don’t want the tree to start to fall and then stop- I call that a “widow maker”- the most dangerous situation I can imagine.
    • On the other hand, you don’t want to continue to cut, and risk getting your leg broken, or your heart getting stopped by the tree kicking you in the chest because the monster jumps up and clips you on its way down – yes, they do that.
    • Very dangerous stuff. Cannot scare you enough on this- you’re standing inches from a 6,000 lb tree falling with increasing acceleration, and going about 30 miles an hour with no brakes.
    • How ever dangerous you think it is; it’s worse than that by a lot.
    • You don’t know what you don’t know.
    • Experienced loggers run away from trees when they fall.
    • Not running away from a falling tree, i.e. “Your pride”, can kill you.
  8. Be aware that as the tree goes down, there’s a lot of wind that gets kicked up. There are also a lot of branches that can fall from nearby trees, and the tree you cut. The branches can spike into the ground, and snap- throwing chunks of tree at you at high speeds.  But you’re wearing a hard hat, right? Here’s a video.
  • Moving logs

Using a smallish tractor presents its own problems. If you have this problem, here are some tips:

  1. If you have lift arms, get a forklift attachment.
  2. chain the log to the middle of the attachment, and don’t lift it higher than the mid-point of your rear axle. This will help keep your front wheels on the ground (and help you steer).
  3. The idea of lifting the log high enough that only a small part of the log is touching the ground is a good idea, but you have to balance this idea with step 2 above.
  4. Understanding #2 & #3 above helps you get to know #4: Keep moving forward – with the log in the air, and pulling on it, you’re creating a force vector that reduces drag- you’re effectively pulling the log upwards while moving horizontally.
  5. Figure that you’re driving a Semi and a 50′ trailer because you are in fact, doing that (wide turns, etc).
  6. I don’t know the highway rules in your area. Don’t go smashing mailboxes, or nothin’.
  7. Never use your forklift attachment unbalanced- meaning, place both forks equally under the log before lifting.
  8. Be careful with your tractor- downtime is time where you aren’t stacking/moving logs: if you break it, you’ll have a really hard time moving it for repairs, not to mention all the time you’ll require fixing it- could be weeks of frustration.
  • Site Surveying

We decided to set the building parallel with the road- but we are almost 200 feet back from the road, so eye-balling it is not an option. We could have done compass points – this was an aesthetic decision. We also didn’t want to start building and find out that our building was “all cockeyed and skee-wampus” (nod to Ken H). I decided to lay out the site as follows:

  1. Set up the transit on the side of the road. There’s a short distance (about 50 feet in both directions) where the white line on the road is mostly straight. I set up the transit and sighted in on a line along the white line which runs East and West- and set this angle as 0 degrees. I set a nail in the ground and spray painted it to mark the location. The plumb on the tripod is positioned over this mark.
  2. Now turn the transit 90 degrees and line up the first two corners of the house so they are in line with each other.This guarantees the North-South line on the East side of the home is perpendicular to the road, and by definition, the East-West line (the front of the house) will be parallel to the road. Place two nails in the ground to mark these locations.
  3. Once the North-South line has been established, move the transit to the first house corner (the SE corner) and level the transit. NOTE: Since our land is mostly level (elevation change across building site is only 18″ total), we can use any corner to set the other ones. But the general rule on surveying a site is to establish all of the corners from the highest point on the property.
  4. Sight along the North-South line and establish a mark at 40 feet on this line. This is the NE house corner. Also place marks at 3 feet back and 43 feet from this corner. These are the batterboard corners. Install batterboards perpendicular to the string that will be tied to them. NOTE: It’s best to ensure that the batterboards are high enough that you can set the forms underneath the string in step 10. Our city code requires forms to be at a minimum depth of 12″ below grade, while our piers will be under 48″ when set up.  Our batter board height needs to be 48-12 = 36″ tall minimum to ensure the string will clear the top of the forms.
  5. Turn transit 90 degrees to the West and establish another mark 40 feet away, along with other marks at 3 feet and 43 feet. This is the SW house corner, and two more batterboard corners, respectively.
  6. Turn the transit to 45 degrees from the North-South line, measure to 56′ 6 13/16″. This is the NW house corner (pythagorean theorem: √(a²+b²)= √c², so √(40²+40²)= 56.5684′, or 56′ 6-13/16″.
  7. Use the tape measure from the NE corner and again at the SW corner to establish the batterboard corners at 3 feet and 43 feet for each corner as in steps 4 & 5.
  8. Steps 3-6 mark the batterboard and house corners. The batterboard corners are set back 3 feet from the corners of the foundation.
  9. Level each corner: Using a story-stick and the builder’s level, establish a level line on all of the batter boards by either raising or lowering the boards until they match  a mark on the story stick. This has to be exact. My goal is less than 1/16″ error.
  10. Set the string up using nails set exactly on the batterboard corners, and double check everything is square using a 3-4-5 triangle: Place a small mark on the string at 3 feet from a corner, and another mark at 4 feet from the other corner. Now measure from one mark to the other. If the corner is square, the length between the marks will be exactly 5 feet (Cool math aside: a 3-4-5 triangle works because √(3²+4²) = √(9+16) =√(25) = 5. There’s also a 9-12-15 triangle and many others that work). String tied at 3 feet from the corner of each batter board along the relative N-S-E-W lines will cross over the exact center of the corner piers- the point where the rebar comes up out of the pier.
  11. All the other piers can be offset from the corner piers, by first measuring to the center of each pier location, then establishing the base from this center point.
  12. Once the string is set square and level, mark the location of the string ends on the batter boards. Also mark the center of each pier. Excavation marks can be spray painted on the ground or marked with stakes, and the foundation dug.  Again, since elevation change is less than 18″, have the backhoe operator dig all the holes to the same depth (12″), then level each hole by hand using a water level (make out of a garden hose and some clear tubing with level marks stuck in the ends of the hose).
  13. After the foundation has been dug, reestablish the string using the markers on the batter boards in step 11 to set the pier forms. The string should cross the exact center of each pier. The intersection marks the exact center of the rebar or all-thread that will be placed in the pier when the concrete is poured.
    • Lifting poles

      • Best installed with help. I used 8-10 guys, my tractor, and a 60 foot 20,000 lb aircraft cable. I dug trenches at 45 degrees leading down into 4.5 foot holes. The guys lifted the end of the log high enough that I could get a good angle with the cable (which was tied to the tractor), then I lifted the pole into a vertical position by backing up the tractor. Two guys on ropes tied to the top of the pole kept it from swinging side to side. The two ropes are then tied to the base of their neighbors for stability. My poles are 30 feet tall, and about 12″ at the base. 12″ doesn’t sound like much when lifting 5-6,000 lb logs, but rest assured it will work- the compressive strength of a log (the force required to break it) when the force is applied vertically is around 600,000 lbs. However, in the horizontal direction (when the force is applied downward along a log placed horizontally) is only around 30-60,000 lbs, depending on the length of the log. It took about 2 hours to set all four poles (It took a week of preparing the holes and the poles to be ready for the guys to lift them).
      • This slideshow requires JavaScript.

    • Lifting and setting logs:

      • block and tackle, lifting poles, tractor, and car. See video here
    • Removing logs that are pinned and installed:

      • Sometimes, a log goes bad, or it is too crooked, or you hate the color (no- don’t replace a log just because you hate the color- it is a lot of work- more than you think). You can replace a log already installed, even if you’ve installed another log above it. We’ve done it twice now. One we just didn’t like how bowed it was. The other went bad – probably didn’t treat it enough or let it sit too long.
      • Step 1: make sure you have a suitable log to replace the one you’re removing. Don’t leave the structure just hanging for weeks while you try to find the right log. Have the new one ready to go- measured, cut to size, near the house but out of the way of the old one. Make sure the new one will fit. I suggest measuring and noting the space it will fit in every two feet. Then making sure the new log matches. If it doesn’t, mark it at those spots, but don’t make any cuts just yet- turning it once it’s installed might solve that problem for you.
      • Step 2: cut out the old log in four foot long chunks. Any longer, and it’s too heavy and dangerous to work with. Also cut the rebar holding these chunks in place with your sawzall. Push the log chunks out of the house, and get them out of the way. Also, go back and cut off the nubs of rebar that you couldn’t get with the sawzall when the log was in the way. Use an angle grinder if you have to. Make sure you take a picture of the huge hole in your house – makes the kit guys jealous that they can’t do this with their stuff.
        • 45232341434_03b3191d94_k
          Logs look weird suspended like this
      • Step 3: install the new log. Use a chain hoist or pulleys or whatever- just get it close and rest it on the pass logs below it. Move the chain hoist or pulleys to the inside of the house to further maneuver the log into position.
      • Step 4: fit the log by turning it and/or cutting off the nubs and knots.
      • Step 5: begin pinning the log- put in the horizontal pin first- to the log it butts up against. You’ll have to install most pins at an angle. Just get them close enough- you’ll chink over it anyway later. Done!
      • Step 6: brag about it on social media.
    • Knots and Rope

      Lifting other stuff

      concrete-forms”>Concrete forms

      • made out of 3/4″ plywood for best results.
      • make “collars” out of scrap plywood / pallets found behind furniture stores / 2×4’s (last resort- expensive).
    • Making Rafters

      • I found that all of my trees were *almost* too small to use as beams for rafters.
        • However, I discussed with my engineer on some cheats. He calculated that I could cheat the required size (4″x12″x26′) by making them 4×12 on one end, 4×12 in the middle, and allowing them to taper to 4×10 on the small end. He said as long as the middle was 4×12, they would have the same strength as a 4×12. Let me emphasize that this was specifically for my situation. Yours will be different. So I went one better- I made them as big as I could- many are 12″ on both ends. All of them are 5x instead of 4x.
      • How to get the most rafter out of your trees:
        • I’m sure there’s an expert out there. I figured out that if I jacked up the small end of the log to be level with the big end and then make my first cut, I could get some pretty good sized rafters.
        • consider that you only really need one flat side to nail to, and that flat side only has to be a few inches wide. You are more interested in having a solid mass that is strong enough to reach across your free span. But also consider that a rafter gets it’s strength from the 12″ (height) size- not so much from the 4″ (width).
    • chinking




  • Plumbing

  • Electrical

  • Electrical

  • Electrical