In a Nut Shell -- An
by Randy Bailey
The following story is the way I
went about building our dream home. The trail I traveled down may not be
for everyone. If I ever have to do it over again, I would not choose the
same path for myself. After reading and discussing other owner/builder
stories, Iíve come to the conclusion that ďbuilding on a budgetĒ is
open to definition. My budget covered buying a few loads of Douglas fir
logs from local land owners each spring and then peeling and sawing them
each summer. I was determined to do a substantial amount of the log work
myself, thus saving money. I had little time outside my 40-hour a week job
but I had even less cash flow. I knew I could not afford a turnkey log
home from scratch so the adventure began in the spring of 1994.
The design was rather straight forward, as was the drafting of the
plans. My primary concern was using the log sizes that I could handle
myself. I attended a Mackie short course log school prior to the first two
loads arriving in July. I picked up a few saw techniques and notch layout
during the course that worked very well for me. Thirty-three logs were
peeled in one day with the aid of some folks I work with. Itís amazing
the amount of work that can be generated from chili, cornbread and a keg
of beer. All the logs turned black with mold within three days of being
peeled. The humidity on the western slopes of the Cascades was not
I started with a sky line hoisting system with cables suspended over
the center line of the walls. I set four large poles offset from the
immediate house location and buried deadman guy anchors to each. The first
10 or so logs I put up with this system. My beater Toyota pickup was the
muscle for lifting. The amount of deflection in the overhead cable was
unbelievable. Being only two logs high, it was evident that this wasnít
going to do the job. I sawed down the poles to get them out of the way and
stored the 400-500í of cable. There went $1,000, not including labor.
I was very fortunate to have a friend that had an old log loader (1953
International) that was sitting idle. He had just recently broken his hip
and said I could use his truck. It was a masterpiece! Trying the start the
old beast in his back pasture was an adventure, to say the least. We blew
the muffler off completely the first try. I was standing right next to it
when she blew and I felt it part my hair for me. He drove it to my work
site. He was afraid I was going to kill myself with it so I had to put it
in my name so he had no liability whatsoever. That was fine with me
because I was happy to have it. There it stayed for seven years. This
machine was an ecological disaster on wheels. There was more oil and
hydraulic fluid on the outside than in it. There was very little glass
left in the windows and the cab was crushed down about a foot from a
misguided log from another untold story in its past. The main ram of the
boom leaked so bad it was a stream, not a drip. It was also a haven for
the local wasp colonies. All in all, it was my last choice and it turned
out well for me. Iím just thankful no one called the haz-mat team on me.
Construction continued until the rains began that year.
The second load of logs arrived in May the following year. Another
peeling party was set. This time, five people showed: these being the
people who had not shown for the first one. Everyone else seemed real busy
at the time. Six out of the 40 logs were peeled. Being desperate, I ended
up buying a 3,500-lb. pressure washer. Another $1,000 . . . From that
point forward, I pressure washed approximately 100 logs averaging 40í in
length and 16Ē on the butt. It was a lot of work but the cambium under
the bank was washed clean with this operation and mold was no longer a
problem. It did make for a royal mess, though.
Year three brought substantially lower log prices. But I found out that
a lower price means no one is selling logs. So, I had to pay $250 more per
thousand board feet in order to get more logs. Another extra $1,000 for
two loads. That same year, the cut bank from the house pad began to slip
and cave onto the pad very near the house. I rented an excavator and
placed six loads of 2í minus rock for slope protection to remedy the
situation. Again, another $1,000 down the tube. This year also brought the
log builder burnout blues. At the house site, I averaged 30-35 hours per
week, year in and year out, on top of my 40 hour per week job. The house
pad was an oven with no shade until the logs began to climb. Canít tell
you how many times Iíve been told I was crazy. But I was in it so deep
that I had to push on. People would stop by now and then and tell me how
much progress I had made since the last visit. Every day, I would show up
and size up the work site by myself. It was like I was getting nowhere. A
few days during the entire ordeal I would find myself doing nothing but
ďdoing nothingĒ. I would throw my tools in the truck and leave. This I
found to be the best thing to do. If not, I would try to take short cuts
and be unsafe with the saw and machines. I knew myself well enough to know
when to quit.
The work progressed until August 2001. I set the last log in the second
week of that month. I went through nearly five gallons of 50:1 oil mix in
my saw -- I donít know how many gallons of gas that is, but itís a
bunch. I also ate up eight chains and two roller tips on the saw bar. I
averaged a 15-lb. weight loss every summer and would gain it back in the
winter. I also destroyed more T-shirts than Carter has pills. And I donít
think I want to put in another earplug for the rest of my life.
The home is just under 2,600-sq. ft. without the cantilevered decks.
There are approximately 5-6 log truckloads of logs in the house. Sure donít
look like it to me but there is. There is a total of 215 sawn logs that I
set plus an excess of 300 notches. The log walls are 16 logs high. The
construction method was Scandinavian full scribe. The walls are on a 24í
x 36í centerline. I built two inside log walls. These separate the main
living area from the first floor bath and pantry. The log floor joists
extend out the north wall, which is the first and second floor deck. The
ceiling in the basement is about 11í high. The main living area ceiling
is 10í high. The master bedroom is 18í to the ridge and rafter roof.
The master bedroom covers the entire second floor. I have a second bedroom
downstairs framed in and ready for sheet rock. The log work I did is all
the horizontal logs in the house, from the sill up to two logs over the
second floor deck. Looking at the pictures, they are the darker logs. The
post and beam work above the second floor was done by the contractor, as
was the roof, stairwells, plumbing, floors, etc. They also moved the home
onto the foundation from the temporary wood piers I built on. The shakes
on the house walls are sugar pine extra heavies. I hand split these
myself. I also installed over half of them with the contractor, with whom
I worked side by side during the completion phase.
Overall, we love our home and canít wait for things to dry out so the
dirt work can be completed on the outside. And, believe me when I say this
story is in a nut shell!
- If you plan on building yourself, get ready for a seemingly larger
than life commitment.
- Have more money than you think you need.
- Get some help before you start and confirm it.
- Absolutely have a good log moving system before you start.
- Donít take seven years to get your part done. You could run into
some rot problems. I had a few to take care of.
- Have a first aid kit on site. Driving back home with your hand stuck
out the window with a bleeding finger is not time effective.
- If youíre married, remember that you may be doing all the hard
labor but itís a two-way commitment. Make time for both of you, even
if itís just a little.
- If you can do anything yourself, do it. Donít pay for skilled
labor unless you must.
- Have an escape route from every log youíre moving. They hurt!
- If youíre tired, quit.
- Donít forget the drinking water at home.
- Donít forget the saw gas at home.
- When cleaning out a notch with your saw, donít grit your teeth
with your lips open. Larger chunks of chips will loosen your front
teeth! A fat lip is more desirable.
- If you walk under the loader boom and it is lower than you thought,
it really, really, really hurts your head!
Randy and Teresa Bailey, Owner/Builders