Standing around, behind a row of protective trees, I have to say that I felt pretty useless. Eben was cutting down the first of the massive trees we would need for the logs of our home. He had the chainsaw, the wedges, the sledgehammer. I had my phone and a set of lungs to yell as loud as I could if, god forbid, anything were to go wrong.
Even though my role was not so hands-on, I would not let Eben wander into the woods and cut down any trees without a second person around. Safety first. I guess my role is more like “Site and Safety Manager”.
Luckily for us, and my vocal chords, no yelling has been required. Other than me yelling at him “timber” when a tree started to go a bit early.
Chopping Down Trees
Cutting down the trees was the most stressful part of the task. If any one little thing went wrong serious injury could happen. We were careful. Extremely careful.
We were going for specific trees. The aim was to cut down Pine and Douglas Fir. We wanted large trees, ones we could get several columns or beams out of. Cut down a few big ones, rather than many smaller ones. We were also going on Eben’s brother Jair’s recommendation, since he needed a few cleared anyways.
Once they were down there was lots more to do. We were cutting down trees that are about 80ft+ tall. When the beasts hit the ground then we had to delimb them, measure them, cut it into manageable sections, and get the bobcat to drag them out of the woods. All the while trying not to damage too much of the forest around us.
Some were easier than others. The “others” had either not fallen exactly where we wanted them to. Or were slightly out of reach for the bobcat. Or “bit” the chainsaw, meaning getting the blade wedged in the tree when trying to cut it into pieces.
Every day came with a different challenge. We managed them all!
It seems we struck gold in what season to peel a log. Apparently at this time of year the trees are growing and sucking up a lot of water, their bark has expanded, making it much easier to peel it off.
Rather than sweating away, peeling off an inch at a time, on some trees I could lift up the edge of the bark and skin the tree from end to end. I just held the bark in my hands and walked along the log, tugging away at it. It was beautiful and disturbing all at once.
I had never seen a freshly peeled log. I mean real fresh. The wood underneath is so clean and smooth. It’s so pretty. But the act of peeling away a trees skin also felt somewhat gory. Especially on the Douglas Fir trees that have a pink fleshy layer of bark. GAG! It was too “human” looking. But I persevered!
Sometimes I would think, “what would the Grandmother tree in Pocahontas think of me?” Had to shake that thought out of my head! And maybe stop watching so many Disney movies!
The peeling itself was quite manageable. I liked being able to work side by side Eben. Feeling like I was being productive and helpful. Who knew that I was so good at log peeling! With the peelers and cants I could make easy work of cleaning a log.
Putting Up Logs
With our huge stack of cleaned logs, we went through and measure each one. This was to decide their placement. The columns are Pine, and the beams are Douglas Fir. We selected their position in our design based on their diameter and what parts of our house will be bearing the most weight. When it came down to the nitty-gritty, where they were all close in size, then we went on aesthetics. Which looked best, those would be up front.
We started with the columns. We measured each log to find their centre points. Then Eben sanded the bottoms and drilled a hole in the centre of each. This was so that when we placed them vertical they would have an extra length of rebar that was protruding from our footings go up inside the column, for extra stability. We PL glued the bottom of the log and the rebar (to create a water barrier).
With the help of the bobcat (super handy machine to have when building a home) Eben drove the logs up to our work site. One by one, he would tie them to hang upright from the bobcat forks. Carefully he would them drive the log over to its corresponding footing and slowly lower it down. At that same time I’d guide the log into place so the rebar met the hole.
Surprisingly to both of us, the logs didn’t just slide down to the footings. We thought the weight of them would cause this to happen. Instead we actually had to bearhug the logs and rotate them back and forth as they slid down the rebar and into place.
The final step was taking the level and some 2×4’s and creating supports for each log. We levelled each log and braced them in three directions. To keep them upright and solid until we could get the beams in place.
Dealing with logs this size is terrifying work. They are massive and weigh a ton. I couldn’t breathe easy until each was up and had supports all around it. Eben would say a prayer before erecting every log, and I would breath a huge exhale when we could step away and admire having “one more log up”. We had to do this 17 times!
Seeing things go vertical is exciting. The feeling of seeing our house go “up” in front of us is so cool. Even if this is just the base of our elevate home, it is stunning to look at.
I have also surprised myself in the amount of help I can provide. Here I am working power tools, driving the bobcat, setting logs in place. It has been so rewarding working with Eben. He takes the time to teach me how to do things, and then trusts that I can do them right. Which I do! It has been a learning experience and I take a lot of pride in knowing that I am building our house with him. It’s not just him building us a house.
Next Build Project Post: This week we’re working on getting those beams up. If I thought putting logs vertical was stressful, laying logs above our heads is a whole other level of scary!