Hemlock beam

My first attempt at milling an 18-foot beam with a chainsaw came out less than ideal.  The guide rails I used were 10-foot 2x4s butted end to end and scabbed together with scrap lumber.  I used lag screws to hold the rails against the log and in retrospect, there is really no reason I should have assumed the milled beam would turn out reasonably square.  I’m glad I practiced on a windfall hemlock that had a pretty significant shake in the heartwood as hemlocks are prone to have.  I can learn from the mistakes, reevaluate and refine my technique, and move on to the more desirable white pine logs.  Plus, the hemlock 4×6 will make good practice for timber frame joinery when I get to that stage.  I’ll probably make saw horses or timber ponies with them and that will give me some practice with mortise and tenons, and also allow me to get a feel for all the new tools I’ve picked up over the past winter before I jump into the joinery for the actual cabin.  Another quick point I’d make is that I’m glad the first beam was hemlock for a couple reasons.  First, the old growth hemlock and yellow birch complex is one of my favorite forest types and secondly, hemlock has one of the best Latin names ever:  Tsuga.

This 18-foot 4×6 boxed heart hemlock beam is all I could salvage from a large windfall tree.  Multiple stems, knots, reaction wood and checking made the rest of the tree unusable for timbers.  After it was milled, I sealed the end grain and labeled the timber with the species and grade.

Advertisements

Post and beam auger

I picked up a post and beam auger with a 2″ bit from a retiring shop teacher who had it sitting on his desk for 20 years.  I had to drive an hour to get it but the low price and not having to pay shipping justified the car ride.  It’s not a familiar type such as a Millers Falls model and in fact I’m not sure what brand it is.  If anybody knows the manufacturer or can tell me anything about it from the pictures I would appreciate a quick comment or email to clue me in.  Some of the mortises I’ll be cutting will be 2″ wide so this contraption should speed that along.  I’d really like to find a 1-1/2″ bit to drill the rest of the mortises so I’ll have to keep my eye out for one of those.

 

Cost estimate

I recently submitted a building permit application for a 12′ x 16′ timber frame outbuilding, and after a little back-and-forth over email with the county land use specialist while my application is under review, I was asked to come up with a cost estimate which the county needs to help track development.  Since I will be milling all the timbers and lumber myself, the estimate is significantly higher because it’s based on retail prices for specialty milling.  I came up with an itemized list of materials needed for construction and looked up average prices in my area.  For a little context, the building will be finished using the wrap-and-strap method with pine siding for the interior and exterior, yellow birch (or similar available hardwood) flooring, and metal roofing.  The building will sit on concrete piers and have 6-8 windows, a standard door, and possibly a sliding door.  Some important dimensions are 744 sq ft of wall space, 192 sq ft of floor space (plus an extra 80 sq ft for loft), 360 sq ft of roof space, and 1812.5 bf (board feet) of timbers.  The materials list:

Variable width pine @ $3.00/bf  –  $5540

Timbers (expanded list below) @ $6.00/bf  –  $10,875

Flooring @ $5.00/bf  –  $1,360

Roofing  –  $1,800

2×4 framing materials  –  $1,000

Sliding door  –  $500

Exterior door  –  $300

Windows  –  $1,800

Insulation  –  $1150

Plywood  –  $80

Concrete, rebar, and forms –  $95

TOTAL  –  $24,500

To calculate labor, I used the standard ratio of %30 labor cost to %70 materials cost for residential construction and came up with $10,500.  The grand total amount for the complete rough estimate of the finished building would be $35,000 and that is close to the assessed value I would expect for an insurance appraisal.  It seems like a lot for an outbuilding but I have to keep a few things in mind.  First, my out-of-pocket costs will be much lower, probably closer to $6,500.  Second, the building will last decades longer than a conventional stick frame structure.  Finally, the structure is fully weather-proof and ready to accept plumbing, heating, and electrical upgrades so it’s really much more than a lowly outbuilding.  For anyone interested in a more detailed breakdown of the timber materials, I have added a list below:

Sills 8×8  2-12′, 2-16′ (56′)

Tie beams and plates 7×8  3-12′, 2-18′ (72′)

Posts 7×7  6-12′ (72′)

Joists 5×7  5-12′ (60′)

Loft joists 5×6  5-10′ (50′)

Rafters 5×5  18-10′ (180′)

Wall girts and door posts 4×5  7-8′, 1-12′ (68′)

Collars and braces 3×5  9-10′ (90′)

Also hardwood pins:  12-1″dia and 75-3/4″dia; and wedges:  6-12″ x 6/4″ x 11/4″

A joined tool tote

IMG_20170202_051921563.jpg

I wanted to give myself some practice with joinery and hand tools so I thought I would make a traditional-style tool tote out of pine.  I didn’t take measurements and instead relied on a combination square to lay out all the joints and scribe-fit all the pieces together.  The ends are dovetailed to the sides with mortise and tenon corner braces near the bottom.  The tenons are pinned in place along the bottom edges with hand-split pine treenails in 3/16″ holes.

IMG_20170202_040514564.jpg

IMG_20170202_040554248.jpg

The handle is a red maple sapling that I cut last winter.  The bark had been peeled and it was drying indoors for a year with endgrain sealer on the crosscuts.  I forgot what I originally had planned on doing with it but it made a nice handle for this project.  I lodged the sapling into holes in the end boards lined with a piece of leather to prevent it from spinning in the hole.  I pounded a little pine wedge in the hole underneath the handle to secure it firmly.

IMG_20170202_040537155.jpg

The bottom of the box is a loose pine board cut about 3/8″ shorter and narrower than the sides.  It rests on top of the corner braces with four wedges lodging it in place.  I figured the bottom of the box shouldn’t rest directly on the ground where it could wick moisture from the soil and cause tools to rust.  The gap between the bottom and sides has the added benefit of draining away anything that might spill inside and provides a little air circulation.

It’s amazing to me how much more satisfaction comes from building something using only hand tools and joinery.  All of the rigidity of the box comes from the design of the joinery and the natural compression resistance/ tensile strength of the wood.  The facets of the box are held together in complementary tension to one another with no nails or glue whatsoever; just a few wedges and dowel pins in key locations.

The tools I used for this project:  Crosscut, ripping and dovetail saws; jack and block planes; 1/2″ and 3/4″ chisels with mallet; egg-beater drill, brace and bits; combination square; and a pencil.  I bought the lumber from a big box home improvement store after digging through the whole stack for the least cupped, least twisted and most knot-free boards I could find – not easy with cheap, 1″ flat-sawn pine.  I think it was around $8.00 for a 10′ 1×10 and 4′ 1×12 (the dimensions of the finished tool tote are pretty large:  about 3’L x 1’W x 2’H; big enough for axes, saws, etc).  Not a bad price for a nice tool tote, although it took me about 6 hours to make it considering all the mortise chopping.  This project definitely taught me that a quality backsaw for dovetails is something I need to acquire.  The little flimsy pull saw I was using was too frustrating to control and took too much effort.  I could’ve probably saved a little more time by using a rasp or file to clean up the joints.  The chisel seemed to produce the same rough results on the endgrain of kiln-dried pine while taking longer.  I also learned that, not unlike heavier anvils making for lighter work, a bench with a thicker top might be something I should think about building.

Well, now I have another wood item awaiting warmer temperatures for a coat of finish…

Hand-forged framing chisel

Picked up an old hand-forged 1-1/2″ framing chisel.  Actually, I don’t really know how old it is.  There are remnants of a maker’s mark stamped in the steel but I can’t determine too much other than it was a recessed rectangle shape.  There is also a crudely scratched “H+X” in the blade but it’s off-center and I suspect it was an identifier for a previous owner rather than something left by the smith.  I had to spend about an hour lapping the steel flat just to see what kind of integrity the blade had.  There are a couple of hairline cracks here and there but nothing near the bevel edge or around the socket.  Someone was probably hammering it without a handle because the socket has plenty of fresh dings but it’s not malformed enough to prevent a new handle from seating properly.  Overall, I’m pretty happy with it and I needed a big mortise chisel like this for timber framing so now I can cross it off my list.  I might want a 2″ chisel down the road as well but then I’d need to get a 2″ auger bit, too, probably.

IMG_20170131_143427033.jpg

I went ahead and fashioned a hickory handle to fit in the socket and put a steel hoop at the butt.  I think the hoop will settle down a little more, the butt should mushroom out over it and everything should stay in place securely.  I must now get to work on a chunkier wooden mallet to drive this monster chisel.  I’ll also have to finish the handle with the pine tar, boiled linseed oil, and turpentine varnish I talked about in a previous post.  I have some other things that could use a coat as well but I’m probably going to wait until the weather is warmer to mix it up.  Turpentine is not my favorite thing to use indoors.

Disston panel saws

I snapped up three rusty panel saws on the cheap.  The skew-backed profile of the saw plates caught my eye and when I looked closer at the medallions they looked like older Disston saws even though one medallion in particular was obscured by buildup and totally illegible.  One of the saw plates had some black paint covering it so I couldn’t tell how far gone the steel would be from rusting but I decided to take a chance and buy all three since they were only a few bucks apiece.  I used some citrus-based stripping gel on the painted saw plate as well as the handle (someone had made a horrible attempt at staining it).  I unscrewed the brass fasteners and removed the handles.  After soaking the brass pieces in some warm, soapy water for a bit, I inserted them into my drill chuck one at a time and polished with some polishing cloth.  The emblem on one medallion indicated a saw made between 1896-1917 and the other indicated a saw made between 1917-1940.  I used the extensive resources available at the Disstonian Institute to date the saws.  The third saw with the paint on the plate and poor finish on the handle was not in fact a true Disston saw but an inferior quality saw made by the Disston company and sold under the Warranteed Superior brand.  This saw is still pretty old, probably dating back to the 1920-1940s but it’s definitely made with a lower quality steel plate and the handle seems to be made out of some sort of softwood lumber with less elaborate detail work and one less screw to secure the plate to the handle.  In spite of all this, it’s still of a much better quality than anything I could buy new for the same price.  I went ahead and removed the rust from the saw plates to reveal some minor pitting but nothing that would compromise the ability to cut safely.  I sanded the handles smooth and decided not to fix any of the chipped horns or fill in any of the nicks or gouges because again, I thought none of that would affect cutting ability.  After I applied a coat of finish and left it to dry overnight, I fitted the handles back onto the plates with the polished brass hardware and Voilà!

IMG_20170127_220059345.jpg

I wasn’t even thinking about it when I purchased the saws, but the three saws together offer a nice range of different cutting possibilities depending on how I file and set the teeth.  One saw has 5 TPI, one has 6 TPI and the junkiest saw of the lot has 8 TPI.

IMG_20170127_220942956.jpg

I’ll probably file the two nicer Disston saws as rip saws, with the 5 TPI plate filed for softwoods and giving the 6 TPI plate a little bit more of a rake angle for hardwoods.  The 8 TPI Warranteed saw already appears to have a little fleam on it so I’ll just keep that as an all-purpose saw for rough-cutting dimensional lumber and jobs of that nature.  The fleam does make the teeth a little more brittle, and that is somewhat of a concern with cheaper steel and smaller teeth so I’ll have to be mindful of knots and so forth.  The only remaining step is getting my saw set and files to bring them back into complete working order…

Resources for inspiration

I’ve been thinking I ought to dedicate a post to some of the various books, blogs, and other media I’ve come across that have inspired me.  I think every one of us has an innate yearning to build a cabin in the wilderness with all that entails:  a sense of self-sufficiency and pride of accomplishment, to commune with nature and our primitive impulses, or just simply fulfilling a basic survival need to construct a shelter from the elements.  Building a cabin in the woods, in a way, is the root of human ambition.  This impulse for the most modest of conquests has been described in literature through the ages with some of my favorite and well-known examples being Thoreau’s Walden, Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil, and Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac.  I remember seeing an enthralling documentary on PBS, Alone in the Wilderness, about Dick Proenneke who hand built a log cabin in Alaska where he lived for 30 years when I was younger and finding it just as inspiring when I revisited it on youtube a number of years later.  In that same vain, a number of bloggers I’ve been following have left me with a similar sense of awe and provided me with some degree of confidence that I could also pursue this dream.  Lou Ureneck’s From the Ground Up blog on the New York Times’ website details the account of the author building a cabin in Maine;  Philosophy professor Mark van Roojen’s website about building a timber frame cabin in Wyoming’s Sierra Madre; and joiner Peter Follansbee’s blog about working green wood with hand tools have been some of my favorites.  These are just a few examples of some of the great blogs out there that have made my dream of building a cabin with my own hands seem so tangible.  There are also some great video series available for free online that I watch religiously including Paul Sellers’ Woodworking Masterclasses, Wranglerstar’s Modern Homesteading, and Roy Underhill’s The Woodwright’s Shop on PBS.  If you’re reading this and dreaming of building your own cabin, I highly recommend checking out some of these other sites.  And if you have suggestions for other great sites, drop a link in the comment section so we can all keep pushing the dream forward.

dsc_0707

The Aurora Borealis viewed from Saganaga Lake in Minnesota/Ontario.

Open-source 3D drafting software

While browsing through some of the resources on the website of the Timber Framer’s Guild (an essential stop for anyone seriously considering a DIY timber frame project:  http://www.tfguild.org/), I found some references to timber frame plug-ins for Sketchup, an open-source 3D drafting platform offered free from the company, Trimble (http://www.sketchup.com/).  Having used Trimble GIS equipment as an ecological researcher, I began running through the possibilities of mapping the complicated terrain at my building sites in my mind.  I thought it would be a useful exercise for planning layouts for the cabins in terms of views, window and door positions, access to the water, drainage, etc., but I was blown away by how much more I could do with this software and it was all free!  Not only was I able to teach myself the CAD software in an hour or so just watching the free instructional videos online, but the software has add-ons specifically designed for timber framers to formulate and layout joints, generate building material lists, and much more that I’ve yet to try.  After I spent some time messing around with different frame concepts, I started adding roofing materials, SIPs, foundation elements, staircases, furniture and appliances, and all sorts of other items offered in their user-generated warehouse.  I tend to be an adherent to the old-school methods of doing just about anything, but it was certainly easier and less time-consuming to manipulate design features within this software rather than erasing pencil marks and redrawing.  Not to mention all of the measurement calculations for drafting to scale were no longer necessary.  I’m attaching one of the frame designs I completed below.

16x24-timber-frame

It seems that for a DIY person like me, I could mock up a timber frame design myself and submit the design to an engineer for tweaking and approval, and save myself some billable hours avoiding all the professional drafting work.  And as long as I’m on the topic of engineers, I should mention that the Timber Framer’s Guild is a great resource to find engineers specializing in timber frames to help with your designs.

And here we go…

I’m starting this blog to document the construction of some timber frame cabins and outbuildings on two adjacent parcels situated on the shore of Saganaga Lake in northern Minnesota.  For those not familiar with the area, Sag Lake is at the end of the Gunflint Trail about an hour drive from Grand Marais on Lake Superior’s north shore.  The U.S.-Canada border passes through the middle of the lake, and the lake serves as an entry point for both the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the Superior National Forest and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario.  Together, these areas contain over 2 million acres of undeveloped wilderness surrounding 1700 lakes.

So, why the blog?  Since this project takes place in such a remote wilderness area, much of the construction will be done by myself using fairly basic tools and methods.  I’m hoping to document the progress both for myself and for others looking to do something similar.  I have found a wealth of information from other sites and blogs on the subject, and I hope in some way I can contribute to this valuable online knowledge collective.  Along the way, I’ll be sure to share all the links from the expertise I happen to stumble upon which I have no doubt will be crucial to figuring out how to do just about everything on this project.

Since I’ll be spending a lot of time in a beautiful wilderness with limited technological distractions, I’m sure I’ll also include various posts about other things I happen to be thinking about.  I have a background in ecology so probably a lot on phenological observations in the area or perhaps a perfect photogenic wildlife moment will occur.  Also, I expect that I may post about other topics of local interest to provide additional context for the cabins and how their design is relevant to the climate, intended use, local businesses, etc.  I’ll try to keep everything neatly categorized in case you’re here simply to get ideas for your own project.  Hope you enjoy it!