Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Starting at the Bottom

We stalled out a little bit on the house.  I took an unexpected trip to Iceland, we've been working a fair amount at the local restaurant/bar, and have been side-tracked by a few other projects.  It's still pretty early in spring, though, and that's all done now.  We took today, our first full day of building together since I left, to bust straight through that bump in the road.

Where's the house at now?  Well, it has a total elevation of 4''.  

While that may seem like a puny first step, it's pretty exciting for us.  Our house has gone from a whimsical dream, to a concrete slab, and now, something you can actually trip over!

The strata of that 4'' goes like this:
Layer 1 - A thin foam sealer
Layer 2 - Sill plate: Pressure treated 2X6s wrenched tight to the concrete with the imbedded J bolts
Layer 3 - Base plate - plain old 2X6 lumber, which marks the beginning of our walls.

It was a tedious process getting everything cut and laid down.  We had to double, triple and quadruple check ourselves, because any mistakes this early can cause real headache and heartache further down the line.  To complicate things, our slab was poured slightly out of square, and a few J bolts were askew.  The price you pay for getting a great price on a poured slab, I suppose.  

Holding the plates down are some pretty substantial washers.  They're required by code because of our earthquake-proneness.  Those, combined with J bolts which are slightly too small, lead to us, well, Christy, spending the better part of today chiseling the washers in flush to the plates.  Tedious work.

Over the couple of days we're going to draw all over the base plates.  First, we'll mark where all the doors and windows will go.  Off of those we can draw the trimmer, king and cripple studs associated with them.  After that, we'll mark the rest of our studs from the corners in, making sure to stay at most 16'' on center, and land a stud at every seam of the 4' OSB that will eventually sheath the walls.  We learned the importance of that from building the shop.  The hard way, that is.

This way, the base plate will the serve as an easily-referenced road map for when walls start going up!
Soon soon soon.....

Saturday, May 19, 2012


John here, back from Iceland, where I spent the last week or so recording an album with the band Lullabies For Falling Empires.  Meanwhile, Christy has been holding down the fort and pushing forward on whatever one-person projects exist on our to-do list.  Included on that list was making a plan with the local lumberjack who agreed to take down some trees from the back 40, and mill them up for future use in the house.  The date was set for the day after I got back.  Thus, one day I was on a treeless island, the next I was tromping through the dense woods of the Pacific.  Is foliage-shock an accepted term?

The front and back of the house will have eight-foot-deep covered porch areas.  While most of the house will be stick-framed with 2X, those overhangs will be supported with some larger timber framing.  Four 8'' diameter posts on each side will support two 27' 8X10s.  Not only is an 8X10X27 a hard piece of wood to purchase, most mills won't even make them.  The closest band saw mill to us can't mill anything over 24'.  What that means, is that we need to find a suitable tree, cut it down, and mill it on sight with a portable saw which will have to be turned around in order to cut our timber in two passes.  Fun stuff, right?

We were excited and a little nervous when the time came to fall the first one.  It's hard to describe feeling you get, the sound or the earth-shaking force from a big tree coming down.   There's an inevitable gut reaction to watching a tree fall, at least for the environmentally concerned amongst us.  The largest we cut counted 66 rings, and 3 feet across.  That's not old growth, but it's also no sapling.  Three came down all day, each picked with the idea of enhancing the surrounding forest.  We took vulnerable, topped or crooked trees that still looked like they could give us what we needed, and left the really healthy, impressive ones.  Two already-dead snags were hauled out of the woods as well, which will probably give us 3 cords of wood once it's all cut and split.

Finding the proper person to mill these into lumber is taking a little longer, and for now we have these massive logs laying between our airstream and the orchard.  To prevent any rot or decay, we've taken it upon ourselves to start stripping the bark away.  How do you do that?  Well, apparently you take a shovel and just go for it!  Luckily the sap was running, making things a little easier.  It's an exhausting process, although it does give you the same sense of gratification as peeling Elmer's glue off of your hand did in elementary school.

A temporary distraction from framing, and a new contender for the strangest thing we do with our time.
Things are moving all over the place now, and we have officially lit each end of our respective candles.  Summer is here and this house is going up!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Chalkin' up some lines

First.... apologies for the lack of posts lately. John has been recording an album and has spent a lot of time practicing,  I picked up quite a few extra bartending shifts,  and the house foundation has been silently mocking us.

Seriously though, we did in fact start the framing. We chalked out lines for the sill plate to go down and got two whole boards fastened in place. ( read extreme sarcasm). Then the rains came in earnest and washed away our lines. But I am getting ahead of myself a bit.

We set up a kick ass work station next to the foundation under a tent and loaded it with all of our gear and benches at working height with a place for the drawings.

Then we stared at the drawing for several days wondering how in the world we were going to do this. We had people come over to stare at it with us. One person, our friend Matt, was incredibly helpful and suggested we chalk out the lines of the sill plate.  Now the importance of this step cannot be stressed enough. I realize the foundation looks like a simple rectangle in the picture, but large areas of that are covered porch, which means the sill is floating in space on the foundation. That is a recipe for a house with no right angles.  Chalking out the lines insured that we were going in straight lines and meeting up at the right spots. There are several oddly shaped walls that meet up perfectly in center from opposite sides and those will determine where the ridge beam sits. We measured and checked and chalked. Measured again, re-chalked, and re-measured.  Are you starting to understand the importance of these chalk lines? Because it was around this step that I started to.

So we got all of our lines down and somehow had gained 4 inches on one wall. The extra length was pushing the wall out and away from the J bolts, but we couldn't just shorten the wall because then it wouldn't reach the center were the ridge beam needs to sit. AHHH.  We called our freind Matt and he helped us figure it out. There is one weird corner that juts out of the rectangle of the foundation and it was not at 90 degrees, pulling our wall line from the corner and pushing the wall out. It is amazing to me the amount of time spent on these little details. I was thinking the sill plate would go down in one day and here we are a full week later. I do understand how important it is.  If this goes down off, then our walls will be off, which will make the roof and ceiling off and basically every single step after this will be harder.  No pressure though. With heavy rains in the looming future we decided to put tape on all of our corners so we would not lose all of our work.
It was a very good thing we did because that night the clouds let go and dropped a lake on the foundation. Our tape was even threatening to wash away. We were able to get the boards laid down and the holes for the J bolts drilled before that happened, but just barely. The next step will be laying the foam sealer and then the boards and then bolting them all down.

In the meantime, I made this little hanging planter out of an old china cap lamp shade and planted fuchsia in it. I think I am going to make a wind chime to hang from the bottom.