In a Nut Shell -- An Owner/Builder Story

submitted 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 favorable.

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!

Lessons Learned

  1. If you plan on building yourself, get ready for a seemingly larger than life commitment.

  2. Have more money than you think you need.

  3. Get some help before you start and confirm it.

  4. Absolutely have a good log moving system before you start.

  5. Donít take seven years to get your part done. You could run into some rot problems. I had a few to take care of.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. If you can do anything yourself, do it. Donít pay for skilled labor unless you must.

  9. Have an escape route from every log youíre moving. They hurt!

  10. If youíre tired, quit.

  11. Donít forget the drinking water at home.

  12. Donít forget the saw gas at home.

  13. 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.

  14. 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



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