The Timber-Framed Cabin Project Continued (Part 4 -- June 2007 on)

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This page continues the story of the construction of a timberframe cabin in the Sierra Madre Mountains from the previous pages which you can access here (April - August 2006) and here (September - December 2006) and here (January-May 2007) . An index of all of my timberframe cabin pages is at .

A Fresh Working Season

The Memorial Day visit gave me good reason to think that I could start working on the place before the fourth of July so I planned a trip up for the last week of June. In the interim I worked on some additional windows for the upper part of the building - for each of the roof gables - in my shop at home in Lincoln. With those installed sleeping in the loft could get some way of knowing what was going on outdoors. These would then be brought with us on the late June trip and installed in holes I would cut in the wall sheathing

As it turned out there was apparently a pretty severe snowstorm right after the Memorial Day weekend. Aside from noting some anomalies on the snow monitor website I remained blissfully unaware. Not everyone was so lucky. A tree fell on a neighbor's porch in the storm. But our place seemed to have weathered it fine. When we arrived the cabin looked much as it had on Memorial Day, with windows on each end but none on the sides or in the roof gables, very much as pictured below at the end of May except without the snow.

Our first day was spent unloading the van and carrying various heavy items (A barrel, table, rocking chair, chainsaw, paint, packs, tools, etc.) down to the cabin site from the road. The next morning we drove to Saratoga and picked up materials and the generator and lugged those down. From there Jenny commenced to paint.

Meanwhile I worked on windows installation in between other distractions such as too many carpenter ants in the cabin, our water supply, and safe wood burning in dry conditions. The 4 new windows took surprisingly long because there was lots of futzy work to do the trim and such. The basic approach is to saw a hole for the window in the sheathing and attach framing lumber on the inside to which the window frame assembly and trim is then screwed. With these securely fastened the sashes are placed in the frames. The photo of Jennifer painting above already shows one of the installed side windows. The one below shows the back gable window installation in progress.

Here's a shot looking out from the inside through one of the side windows.

And On to the Roof

If you've read any of the earlier pages or just paid attention to the photos, you'll recall that last Fall's early storms did not allow us to finish the sheet metal roofing beyond the minimum necessary to deal with the oncoming snow. And when I returned after the snows hit, there was just no way to get up there safely to finish. My next project was to remedy this. Basic tasks included finishing the top of the roof peak, including fitting that piece of sheet metal to the chimney, installing foam barriers under the corrugations to keep out insects and whatever else might try to get in that way, and installing the edge pieces.

The first step was to borrow a neighbor's scaffolding, set it up, and then erect a ladder on these to reach the peak safely. To feel safe all of this had to be leveled properly and ratcheting straps had to be installed to hold the ladder in place while I swung myself onto the roof from there.

The finished scaffolding setup looked like this:

And if you like the suspense involved in watching a middle-aged man straddle the peak of a 12 over 12 pitch roof while cutting sheet metal and screwing it to the substrate all the while trying not to let the cramps in his thigh muscles induce him to lean in the wrong direction and slide off, these photos are for you:

The finished product looked like this:

Close Encounters of the Porcupine Kind

I mentioned a borrowed the scaffolding from a neighbor. This involved driving up the mountain a ways to the neighbor's place, carrying sections down to the van, driving back and unloading the van and then carrying the sections several hundred feet down the mountain to the cabin site from the road. Since it was unseasonably hot (or what used to be unseasonably hot until global warming has helped create a new norm for the area the side effects of which are truly unpleasant to consider), I did this early in the day.

Where the scaffolding was stored I noticed some interesting scat, but not being a scat expert I could not say what from. I guess I could say it was neither cow nor elk, but that leaves a lot of room for other creatures. After carrying out the majority of what I needed I started to collect the diagonal cross bars. I was startled to feel something push on the other end of what I was lifting and to hear a noise not caused by me. It turned out a porcupine had been sleeping in the scaffold parts the whole time I'd been moving them. Very quickly I went my way, and more slowly he went his.

The porcupine was not there when I returned the scaffolding later on in the week.

That's Where We left It For Now

We managed to finish most of the painting, to install all of the windows, to finish up the sleeping loft, and to tidy up inside well enough. Looking back on what I did it seemed like less than a weeks work, though Jenny did a lot of painting. The cleaning and tidying was much needed since cutting window holes threw sawdust everywhere inside. Lucky for us some of our kind neighbors let us stay at their lovely place while we took three days to finish that part of the project. In any case we were able to leave the cabin looking better than when we came, and even a bit livable on the inside. We'll be back up there quite soon to do untold further projects.

Four Days To Dig a Hole

Well almost but not quite. Let me explain.

I've been dying to get some electricity in the cabin at night. Jenny and I both read a lot and the best flashlights for reading use unusual batteries that cost a good bit. So we've been going through lots of batteries when we are up here, especially since we often work late enough to be cooking in the dark.

So it is time to put in a small solar system, using one panel to charge some deep cycle batteries to run lights and a small inverter for any 120 volt loads such as a radio or computer. So I placed an order with Backwoods Solar for a 130 watt Kyocera panel, two Trojan T105 deep cycle golf cart batteries, a Trace 35 watt charge controller, a Samlex Cotex true sine wave inverter, a DC breaker box, and various and sundry other stuff. I had most of it sent to me for pick up at UPS in Laramie, and the remainder by regular mail general delivery since no postal truck or UPS van is likely to ever venture down our road.

I want the batteries to maintain their charge year round, even in the coldest weather. But I have no basement or other way to moderate temperature extremes. But the frost line is actually rather shallow up here because the deep snow acts as an insulator. So the plan is to make an underground battery box partly under the cabin, using the heatsink of the earth to maintain a reasonable range of temperatures. The box will be partly under the cabin so that I can get access to it even in the deep of winter should something go wrong. And it has to be large and deep enough to accommodate possible future expansion for more batteries.

If one wants a hole one has to dig (to parody if not paraphrase Aristotle on practical syllogisms). And if you want to dig up here you will encounter lots of rocks. Since I needed a hole roughly two feet deep after the bottom was lined with concrete and similarly 2 feet by 1 1/2 wide after concrete the hole had to be larger than that. And since one might encounter springs or water might run into the hole, provision had to be made for a drain line. And since the hole was mostly under the cabin, digging had to proceed from the side, necessitating a larger hole than absolutely necessary. It could be worse, but the hole took roughly a day to dig.

The second day was filled with running to UPS to get my shipment, checking the post office to find that part had not arrived, driving to Cheyenne so that I could get 1600 lbs of concrete in 60 lbs bags rather than in the 80 pound bags I could get closer by and which I had used for the piers. The memory of that brutal task made the extra hundred miles seem worth the effort for the smaller bags. Of course a minivan with that much concrete, a solar panel and various and sundry other devices and implements of destruction doesn't go up mountains too fast. So I was lucky that my neighbor, Mark, was willing to help me bring the concrete from the road to the site in his ATV. And I was lucky to get the bottom poured for the box on the same day I did all that driving for supplies. I even made significant progress on a trench for the drainage pipe shown below:

Day 3 was spent running down more supplies, including the stuff that was supposed to have gone general delivery by US mail but instead went UPS (who don't do general delivery) finishing the drainage trench, and making forms for the rest of the box, placing rebar, and mixing and placing the rest of the concrete into the forms. That was only half a ton of concrete before water was added, and it came out rather well. The forms both empty and filled are shown in these jpegs, as is one of the hummingbirds that sound like big wasps when they buzz around one's head:

OK, so I'll never work for National Geographic. The photo still conveys one of the nice features of life in the woods.

The following and final day was spent on finishing out the box with rocks and concrete over some foam for additional insulation value.

And the day included helping my neighbor rough in some plumbing for a planned future septic system under his drive while the bulldozer was on site to rearrange things. That and a few odds and ends inside the cabin such as installing a small sink (details of the plumbing are still to be worked out), insulating the wall beside and behind the stove and covering it with fireproof cement board, and making a screen.

We won't talk about the trip home the following day, or about forgetting my checkbook and returning to retrieve it, or about the hailstorm and the blasting roadblock, or the five hours between the time I first and last times I set out for Lincoln that day. No we won't mention that. If we did it would seem more like five days just to dig a hole, and that seems like too long.

Not the Most Carbon Neutral Week I Ever Spent

Jenny and I took a week to do some more work toward the end of July. Sad to say we spent much of it in the car. Still we did get a bit done. Probably the most significant was to buy and stack 600 board feet of lodgepole pine rough sawn boards to use in finishing out the interior. The photo above shows them sitting at the small mill that custom milled these for us. (Soderberg Logging - who gave us a fine deal on a nice stack of wood.) The following photos show a closeup of the stack and a bit of us loading the lumber on Keith Soderberg's truck for delivery. This last move saved us half a day's work since there were at least 3 van loads worth of wood to retrieve.



From there we milled the wood to use as paneling for the interior of the cabin. We want to run vertical boards with a lap joint for the interior wall surfaces over the hard foam we are using for insulation. 2/3 of the wood we got is for this purpose thus we took 100 8 foot boards and put rebates on each edge on opposite sides. This required a tablesaw, which we got by setting up my old Walker Turner with a 20 buck garage sale Beisemeyer fence, laminate extension tables, and a bit of steel bar. Not what a Beisemeyer had in mind as the I used their rear rail as the holder for the front fence mounting tube, but it worked after half a day of retrieving the saw, drilling new holes and adapting things to fit. With that done it took most of a day to make four cuts per board to cut rebates. Doing that on 100 8 foot boards amounts to 3,200 linear feet of cuts, but in the end things worked out

The photos below show me pushing a board through and Jenny catching another one as it comes off the saw. They should give you an idea of what the above description is meant to suggest.


The finished product looks like this installed:

This was not the only task we accomplished, but due to running over 1,000 miles worth of errand there isn't much more worth photographing. Our potential insurance company requires a primary heat source other than wood, so we need a propane heater for the cabin. If I'm going to put one of those in it needs to be small (since it will mostly take up space) and above all, safe -which means vented so we don't asphixiate ourselves. An Empire DV210 self-venting heater seems to be the best choice as it is vented, Empire has a good rep, and it is physically their smallest model. So using their website we identified a dealer and ordered one to pick up the following day. Sadly for us the web-dealer-locator (which said we were only 109 miles away) was designed for crows not cars, and we actually had to embark on the journey to get it twice, since it did not make it from the warehouse on the first try. 700 miles of driving later we had our stove and some good advice from the folks at the dealership in Douglas.

We installed the heater and roughed in the main components of the electrical system. The result was the High-tech Corner pictured below:

The only other photographable things we did was have a blacksmith at a Mountain Man Rendezvous make us a propane lamp hanger to our specs, and modify a Wagner step ladder to give us more aesthetically pleasing access to the sleeping loft. The hanger allows a propane lamp to hang nearly two feet beneath the relevant beam but offset, so that the rising hot air heats neither the beam nor the hanger. And the ladder sure as heck looks a lot better than the aluminum step ladder we had been using to access the loft. Once again there are pictures below:

One other significant milestone which yielded no photographs was a meeting with Joe, the County Fire Department's fire danger mitigation specialist. He gave me good advice on creating some fire breaks and other strategies for reducing forest fire danger. We set up a plan for cutting what turned out to be a relatively minimal number of trees to create the breaks. And he showed me two pine beetle trails on one of my few Lodgepole pine trees. This allowed me to do my best to dig out the eggs to preserve the tree. The pine beetles have pretty well devastated much of the pine forests of this part of the world, and I'm hoping to save the few that I have. We'll see how this turns out over the next few years. If all goes well, perhaps the trip will have been just a bit closer to carbon neutrality than if the tree doesn't survive.

Next week I hope to get the solar electric system completed, to finish the interior paneling, and to side the cabin with the cement board I purchased last year and never got installed before the snows came. I don't want to haul it around in a plastic toboggan once again to save it for next year. Hopefully all will go according to plan.

A Last Week of Work Before the Semester Starts

I put in one last trip in August before the start of the semester back in Lincoln. This one was all by myself, but my hope was that I would not need to do as much driving to get parts and materials as on the last trip. I had spent the intervening weeks shopping for anticipated parts needs and building a frame on which to mount the solar panel. The plan was to do as much as possible towards getting the electrical system up and running, to insulate and panel the rest of the interior, and to put on the cement board siding. Two out of three isn't all that bad.

As it turned out I did get the main walls insulated with hard foam and covered with paneling made from the rough-sawn pine featured above. Because the frame of the cabin includes lots of diagonal supports, much of the fitting is messy work. I used the trusty Disston D8 marked with '1932' and 'Darrell' on the handle to make most of the cuts, along with a rasp to make small adjustments and a drill and drywall saw to make cutouts for electrical boxes. The photo above gives one view of the results. The two below show work in progress and another view of the same.

One chore that needs to be done periodically is siphoning water from the ditch to fill the water tank. Since the tank is downhill from the ditch by a good bit we get a nice fountain when it is full:

The electrical work is not quite as photogenic as the water tank (or even the paneling). Here is a shot of the finished panel mounting bracket constructed of aluminum stock and an old aluminum level that gave its life for the project, followed by a closeup of my father's milling machine (now mine) making one of the hinge parts for the bracket.

I never got a chance to actually get it up on this trip. But I did limb a tree to allow me to mount the bracket about 15 feet up the trunk and reasonably close to the cabin. This idea came from copying my neighbor Alfred, who I was happy to find made it up while I was up there. We had a good meal one night, and he gave me useful advice on the solar arrangement as well as helped me pull some of the wires between breaker and battery boxes.

You can see the results here:

Starting from the top we have the Square D 12 volt DC breaker box, then the charge controller on the right, the 600 watt Cotek true sine wave 12 volt to 120 volt AC inverter, two boxes housing fuses and disconnects for the above, and conduit going through the floor to the battery box. This equipment is mounted next to my new heater installed at the demand of the insurance company. Since we were working with gas I let Bauer Plumbing of Encampment install the lines to it after installing the heater itself on my previous trip. You can see the results below:

I could take my time leaving on the final day because some friends who were going to visit in Lincoln called the visit off, so I no longer needed to arrive at a civilized hour. So, for some reason I don't completely understand, I got started limbing trees nearest to the cabin before 6 in the morning and finishing around noon. This is work that helps with fire danger to the cabin itself and would need to be done because of our contract with the county for fire hazard mitigation. But why I started on it then, I can't really say. The result though led to some new views of the cabin and swollen hands filled with slivers that have been healing slowly in the intervening week. The pictures below show some of the work and also allow you to see the outside where the conduit enters the battery box and the furnace vents.

I'm still hoping for a long weekend or so up there as well as Fall break to finish the electrical work and to do the siding. Don't hold your breath.

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