Monday, January 26, 2009

PART TWO ... in which we find our hero hunched over a log, grinning

This post is part two of my photo essay on preparing a log to be part of a wall. In part one, I described milling and chalking the log.

As promised in a previous post, here is a step-by-step account of transforming the structural material-formerly-known-as-tree.

The log is now bald, having had its bark and cambium removed, has seasoned for a year or two, has been milled so it now has two flat sides, is roughly the correct length for its place in the wall, and has had the approximate center of the log marked with a blue line. After consulting his *ahem* extensive plans (almost entirely contained in his head), The Husband measures and marks the log for its cuts.

The marks guide his cuts for a corner notch or corner tongue. The corner notch or tongue is made in the ends of logs that will meet at the corner of the house, so that they overlap like so:

August 9, 2007

After measuring and then marking the logs, the Husband makes the cuts with a chainsaw and hand chisel.

Chiseling corner notch.

Using chainsaw to cut corner tongue.

Another type of joint, the lap joint, is made where two logs will meet in the center of a wall. The end of one is cut to slip over and the other under, so that they join togther to be a single course. The initial cut for the lap joint is made on the sawmill, by simply cutting the end of the log, horizontally, four inches down. Later, on the sawhorses, the vertical cut is made with a chainsaw, resulting in this:


Please join us next time, for the continuing saga.

First Catch and Clean One Large Log

As promised in a previous post, here is a step-by-step account of transforming the structural material-formerly-known-as-tree. [PART ONE]

My father begins every set of instructions with "First, catch and clean one large.... " (for example, instructions involving Scotch whisky would begin with, "first, catch and clean one large Scotsman"). This reference to my father's idiosyncracy will probably be the closest he ever comes to the world of blogging. But it may give you insight into yours truly. So, after we 'caught and cleaned' our logs, we [by which I mean Bob, our friends Rob and Craig, the ongoing aid of Bob's father, Paul of course, coworkers Johnny and Chris, and me for three days last November] toiled over them to make them into a house. This process began in fall 2007 after the basement was in place. Boring, notching, and securing the sill logs (those directly on the sill plate on the walls of the basement) and floor joists requires a few more steps, which I won't go into. [Although, having said that, I'm sure The Husband would LOVE to explain it in detail to you. Just ask.] The process outlined below (and in subsequent posts) describes the arduous arduousness involved in creating the average wall log.
First, select a log from the rapidly dwindling stack.

Should have taken a picture when the stack was 10 feet tall. C'est la vie.
Next, pick up log with ca. 1972 Allis-Chalmers tractor (affectionately named "Alice") and transport to Hud-Son portable sawmill. Mill two sides of the log to create an 8-inch thick log (resulting in 8" courses).

The Husband and friend Rob mill log, with Alice standing by.

Move log to work area, place atop sawhorses, and measure length against need. If considerably longer than the place in the wall calls for, trim with chainsaw.


Using the coolest invention ever, snap chalk line to mark center of log. If you've never used one of these, pop down to your local hardware store and ask for a demonstration. It's a long string, wound around a central spool inside a casing that contains blue chalk dust (not unlike that used on a pool cue). You draw out the string along the length of the log, carefully laying it in line with the center mark on each end. Then, you pick up the line and snap it back against the log, to create a blue line down the center. Wicked cool.

What the photo doesn't show is the difficulty in grabbing a thin string with completely numb fingers. The temp when this Nov. picture was taken was about 35 degrees F.
Tune in next time for the continuing story .... 'Logs of Our Lives'

Monday, January 19, 2009

Year Three, Help, and Manual Labor

Our short little house (with but 4 courses of logs up) slumbered all through the winter of 2007-8 under its temporary roof. But, Spring must come, even to the North Country. By June the snow was melted and work resumed on the house. (Just in time for black fly season!)

June 21, 2008 Our front door!

All summer, the Husband worked full days on The Lake and then put in several hours on the house measuring, cutting, milling, routing, joining, lifting, fitting. His father and partner has been so very understanding through this journey into log insanity. He allows Bob wide lattitute to work on the house instead of at clients' camps some days, directs the work crew to help on other days, and spends day after day working on our house himself. Without his father's help and support, we'd be sunk. During the summer of 2008, Paul, a family friend, decided that retirement was for slackers, apparently and worked close to 40 hrs each week to build our house. OUR house. Gratis. Now that's a good friend.
Progress seemed slow as the summer raced along. It didn't help that it was a particularly rainy summer, which is great for the grass and crap for the house builders. I say *seemed* slow, because in reality, the house rose course by course as Bob and his merry band of men (a small band; a duet really) toiled away. Each log had to be selected from the pile, milled onsite to give it two flat sides, measured and then cut to size according to where on the wall it was destined, routed, foam stuffed into the channel, notched with a tongue and/or groove, and lifted into place. Laborious, indeed.

August 9, 2008

September 27, 2008
As Bob raced against winter to get the roof on, I had the rare privilege to help him prepare logs for several days in 35-40 degree weather. Yes, he was scraping the bottom of the barrel when he requested my help; thanks for mentioning it. I discovered that I HATE manual labor. HATE IT. Not just is my flabby self out of my element, but I could see the joy the Husband gets from building with his hands contrasted starkly with my misery. I like the outdoors. I like logs. I am reasonably competent when properly instructed. But noooo siree bob. Not for me. Which, of course, makes me even more grateful for a husband who glories in building our family a log home from scratch.
Tune in next time for a photo essay on preparing a log to be part of a happy, happy home.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Post

Hymns are balm to my soul. Poetry and music joined. We sang this oldy-but-goody this morning; number 1 in the hymnal. I repeat the first two stanzas only with special emphasis on the boon that certain lines in hymns (as in poetry) are to my faith life. EARLY in the morning, my song shall rise -- up with the sun, up with the birdsong, up with the mist on the lake. And, more prosaically, the use of the archaic 'wert'. A satisfying word.

This morning's sermon was on holiness, part of a series on 'The Nature of the Church.' Personal holiness is required of Christians, as we are not our own. To paraphrase the scriptures: would you wear your muck-spattered barn boots across a beautiful white carpet? Neither should we try to join our new selves, which are one with Christ, with our old muck (or new muck, I suppose).

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Words by Reginald Heber
Music by John B. Dykes

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Anne the Word Nerd

On my bedside table right now is Roy Blount, Jr.'s Alphabet Juice. It's not a book for the person content to say, "It was a nice trip. We had a good time. Thanks for always being there." It's a tasty snack of a book for the unrepentant Word Nerd. Say it loud; say it proud. This is one of the ways in which the Husband and I are oh-so-different. As far as I'm concerned, finding the perfect word for your meaning is as satisfying as a good meal. The Husband finds it vaguely irritating when I use words he's either not acquainted with or that he finds to be a bit too much - a surfeit. Mmmm... good word. Exact language gives me a little thrill. I'll admit it. I've embraced the Wordnerdiness and decided I like it here. It feels sloppy to me to use trite phrases or blah language. It pained me to write those three sample sentences earlier, in fact. I admire words like: consternation, emphatically, tongs. Some words are just..... right. They ring in the ear and they convey just exactly what you feel, not merely the data you are trying to communicate. Big words meant to impress, don't. The right word is satisfying to a Word Nerd's very soul. It's not always better to use a bigger, longer, more obscure word. But reducing language to a handful of overused words that have broad, vague meanings? That I can't swallow.

And for dessert- more yummy words: tome, elegant, ostracize, calypso, conflagration, phlox, lumber (v.), awaken, assignation, pollop.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn..."

The time between this

and this

was almost exactly one year. ONE YEAR of seemingly no progress building our house. The first pic is of Little G on April 29, 2006 inspecting the log peeling process. The second pic is Slightly Bigger G overseeing the end of the lot clearing and the beginning of the foundation dig on May 5, 2007. And, for a woman who was so Eh about building a house to begin with, I quickly became an impatient armchair housebuilder. The logs have to WHAT? Season? Just slap 'em up and call it a day.

Anne's housebuilding lesson #1: If you ain't sweatin', you keep the trap shut.

Apparently, a new log will warp and twist and such as it dries. Which you want to happen in a lovely little stack on the ground and not fastened together as a house... unless you want your windows to pop out in the middle of the night letting in all the red squirrels to jump on your bed. But I digress.... So, the Husband stacked up all the bald logs in two piles and built little temporary roofs over them and let them sit. For a year. Although, technically, most of them seasoned for almost two years before they got to leave their little stacks and become our house. And, since we had nothing to do for a year, we decided to have another baby. Because, every family living in a small two-bedroom apartment should have a second child, right? Especially when they won't be able to move into the home they're building for several years.

Anne's housebuilding lesson #2: Like a frustrating ride on a city bus, building a house is full of starts and stops.

Because, although we only progressed from quietly slumbering stacks of logs to a cleared lot in one year, we jumped from milestone to milestone that summer and it felt like we were really cookin'.

5-22-07 digging foundation .............

6-29-07 Bob smoothing concrete footers ....

8-1-07 Concrete forms (basement walls) .....

8-19-07 Radiant floor heat tubing ....

9-14-07 sill logs being placed .........

10-25-07 little, stubby, glorious walls!

And then, WINTER. (can't you just hear the cartoon SCREEEECH of brakes?)

Winter in the North Country has a way of putting the ol' kyebosh on outdoor projects. So, the bus stopped again and we all got off this time. And put on wool socks and sweaters.


Tune in next time when the Husband elucidates on the process and I take a nap.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"...Our Home and Native Land..."

Whence logs?

In 2005, Bob (also known as 'the Husband') began to research the ins and outs of log home building. His first log project was under the guidance of his father, renovating one of the ca. 1930 one-room log cabins at The Lake and creating a substantial addition. (Note: now four of the five are completely renovated, updated, and make beautiful vacation rentals! But I digress...).

Amazingly focused when he bumps into something that interests him, Bob spent hours poring over log-building manuals, web pages, magazines, and any other material he could find. On car rides from here to there, as I mused on the quiet companionship of a ten-year marriage, he was pondering the R-value of the trees we passed. As I was drifting off to sleep at night, he would suddenly ask my thoughts on roof pitch.

And then one day it happened: the Husband proclaimed his decision. He would build our home with Eastern White Pine logs, hand-peeled and dried for a year. But where could we get unadulterated logs? Because that particular type of tree has become a valuable finish wood, it is (nearly) impossible for the private individual to acquire the necessary quantity of the logs. Bob descried the uniformity and perfection of logs milled or de-barked at a saw mill. For him, the natural inconsistencies of wood are beautiful. In fact, the presence of a knot right where it's most inconvenient or the differences in diameter between the ends of logs that need to be joined compelled Bob to coin an affectionate new term: logularities. But, social networks are amazing things.  A neighbor on the Lake knew a guy who owned a sawmill .... and, after paying a customs broker and wrestling with the intricacies of the lumber and logging industries, we found someone willing to sell us just the logs. Beautiful logs. Straight, 20', newly cut Eastern White Pine logs.

Little G atop log pile.

The logs arrived in April 2006 on two massive trucks with attached arms to pick up the logs and drop them in a stack. The Husband, gripped with a sort of log-induced insanity then proceeded to use a draw-knife to strip the logs of their bark. I'm not quite sure how many calories are burned in a day of peeling logs, but let me put it this way: during this phase of the project, the Husband could eat almost half of a lasagna by himself.

Bob peeling bark, not eating lasagna.

He hired some other strong backs to help him peel bark, and to them we are eternally grateful. It's a heckofa way to earn money for college. Without Chris and Josh, we might still have been the proud owners of a half-peeled pile of logs, which doesn't quite make enough of a story for a blog.
Tune in next time for a riveting description of The Year the Logs Dried

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday Post

Hymns are balm to my soul. Poetry and music joined. Since my soul feels a bit chapped, I share the lyrics of one we sang this morning, as well as the memory of standing on the beach at Hunting Island State Park, SC looking out over the Atlantic Ocean with the sun on my face and feeling every word of the hymn sink in as I sang it aloud. Vast! Boundless! Free!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
love of every love the best!
'Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

Words: S. Tre­vor Fran­cis, 1875.
Music: Thom­as J. Will­iams

Friday, January 9, 2009

Do Re Mi

*editor's note: a point to you if you can figure out the references in my post titles*

To Begin:

When we fled the ever-spreading suburban landscape nearly five years ago, and returned to the wilds of the North Country, I assumed that we would purchase a nice old house in town within a year. Real estate is actually affordable here and there are wonderful homes built around the turn of the century (previous, not present) that provide lots of room (and rooms) for a young family. Yards, sidewalks, neighbors.... ahhhhhh.... However.

The Husband became a partner in his father's business and it soon became apparent that we needed to live close to The Lake for efficiency's sake. This town girl wrapped her mind around the idea of moving to the country and abandoning the sidewalks, neighbors, walk to the library and quick jaunts to the grocery store. As no suitable houses presented themselves immediately, the Husband decided we might build a house at The Lake.

Of log.
From scratch.
With his own two hands.
After recently changing careers from F/A-18 (Marine Corps fighter jets) avionics.

Ever the supportive wife (ahem), I shrugged and said something wonderfully encouraging like, "Eh. Sure, if you want." And so, with such an inauspicious beginning, we embarked on this journey of log, sweat and tears. Well, maybe no tears yet. And, frankly, 99.9% of the sweat has been Bob's.

Stay tuned for the next episode, in which the Husband acquires the logs, and I learn how easy it is to spend down assets.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Post, that is... not that of the US President. Because, at this stage of my life, the micro is all-consuming and the macro barely registers on my radar. So, the details of my life (mainly the progress on our house build) take priority in my own self-aggrandizing way.

So I bravely enter the world of blogging - the public diary, the catharsis on [virtual] paper, the eg0-centric certainty that everyone is dying to hear one's take on the minutae of daily life, the... the.... excuse to use all the big words that don't get enough airing.

Stay tuned for next time.... in which our heroine explains the mania for logs that has overtaken her once sane and peaceful family.