Archive for the ‘Builders’ Category

Aaron, Braxton, Jordan, and Mike–The Heroes of Bunny Vista

June 27, 2009

With the SIPs finally unloaded, the crane in place, and Lewis away at a wedding, the serious business of installing the SIPs began early on Friday morning. Kelley took some amazing photos of this undertaking, which was difficult and dramatic.

Here’s the story in the photos from Kelley’s camera.

Braxton and Aaron are ready to install the SIPs, which are lying in front of the little Bunny Vista asparagus bed.

Braxton and Aaron are ready to install the SIPs, some of which are lying in front of the little Bunny Vista asparagus bed.

Mike and Jordan wait on the roof for the first panel.

Mike and Jordan prepare for the first panel.

Kelley is on the inside, looking up.

Kelley is on the inside, looking up.

Braxton and his friend, the good Dr. Pepper

Braxton and his friend, the good Dr. Pepper.

The crane lowers the first SIP into place.

The crane lowers the first SIP into place.

Mike steadies the SIP.

Mike steadies the SIP.

Jordan directs the crane operator.

Jordan directs the crane operator.

Here's a chart of the hand signals, photographed from the side of the crane. And all this time I thought Jordan knew those signals by heart.

Here's a chart of hand signals, photographed from the side of the crane. And all this time I thought Jordan knew those signals by heart.

Aaron prepares the second panel for the crane.

Aaron nails blocks on the second panel so that the crane can lift it.

The fourth panel slides into place. The panels are joined with splines. Unfortunately Team Industries, which supplied the panels, also supplied splines which were too large. The builders had to recut all the splines. Here, they are working hard to match up the panels.

The fourth panel slides into place. The panels are joined with splines. Unfortunately, Team Industries, which manufactured the panels, supplied splines which were too large. The builders had to recut all the splines. Here, they are working hard to match up the panels.

Jordan said the installation of the SIPs on the second side should have been simple, in spite of the height of the roof.

Jordan said the installation of the SIPs on the second side should have been simple, in spite of the height of the roof. The crew made a miscalculation when they placed the first two panels, which resulted in some extra hours of work in the heat and humidity. I understand that someone called someone else a "dumbass." It may have happened more than once.

It took daring and difficult work to correct the placement of the lower two panels.

It was daring and difficult work to adjust the placement of the lower two panels.

This is the last photo of the day. The photographer needed a break from the drama and went to water his garden.

This is the last photo of the day. The photographer needed a break from the drama and went to water his garden.

Although this is the end of the photographic record of the SIPs installation, it was far from the end of the work for the building crew. After a quick meal at Peck’s Barbecue, they returned to work. Kelley, Mike, and Jordan finally stopped working at about 10 p.m.

Mike, Jordan, Braxton, and Aaron are remarkable young men. It has been a great pleasure for Kelley and me to get to know them. They work as hard as any people I have ever met. All four of them take the kind of care with their work that we rarely see.  I am so happy that they are working on this project and bringing to it their knowledge, skills, problem-solving abilities, and good humor. Also their muscles, which are substantial.

Turning the Timber Frame into a Room

June 22, 2009

Today the first wall went onto the timber frame. Now I begin to see how the room will look and how it will feel. Kelley has been working hard to balance our desire to have big windows with our need for space for furniture and storage–not an easy problem to solve. But today when I came home from Pufferbellies, Bunny Vista had yet another new look.

A new view of Bunny Vista, featuring a wall on the timber frame.

A new view of Bunny Vista, featuring a wall on the timber frame. When the long covered porch goes on, it will look terrific. What a place to sit and watch the sun set!

Lewis, Aaron and Braxton framed the walls, nailed OSB to the frames, and lifted the walls up to the timber frame.

Lewis is on the ladder.

Lewis is on the ladder.

Braxton and Aaron

Braxton and Aaron

Braxton works on the first section of the frame.

Braxton works on the second section of the frame. He is standing inside the space for the window.

Lewis, Aaron, and Braxton hoisted the wall into place with a heavy chain attached to scaffolding inside the timber frame.

Lewis, Aaron, and Braxton hoisted the wall into place with a heavy chain attached to scaffolding inside the timber frame. You can just see Lewis through the window.

The second section of the wall is in place. Brilliant! The wall section with the door goes in next.

The second section of the wall is in place. Brilliant! The wall section with the door goes in next.

And from the inside looking out–still wonderful. I think the windows are exactly the right size–they look terrific framed by the cherry braces. The proportions are exactly right.

The glorious timber frame is becoming a glorious room. I am imagining looking out that window every evening as the sun sets and stepping out onto that porch through the French doors.

The glorious timber frame is becoming a glorious room. I am imagining looking out that window every evening as the sun sets and stepping out onto that porch through the French doors.

Thinking about Chinking

June 8, 2009

Chinking fills the spaces between the logs, keeping out drafts and rain. In early Appalachian log houses, the chinks were thin pieces of wood or stone that were wedged diagonally, like fallen dominoes, into the spaces between the logs. The chinks provided backing for mud or clay or other substances. One of the problems with log houses is that they can be drafty because of the spaces between the logs. In old log houses, chinking often cracked and fell out repeatedly, responding to the movement of the logs, which expand and contract especially when green, and the changes in temperature and humidity.  Log house builders have tried many materials and techniques to try to get chinking to stay in place. Charles McRaven’s book, Building & Restoring the Hewn Log House, has a useful discussion of chinking techniques.

Viewed from inside, there is one layer of exterior chinking between the logs at left. The logs at right are unchinked.

Viewed from inside, there is one layer of exterior chinking between the logs at left. The logs at right are unchinked.

For our house, Lewis and his crew will insert metal lath between all the logs. On the exterior, Lewis will use Perma-Chink. When the outside is done, he will begin on the inside by adding a layer of insulation between the logs. Then he will chink the inside with a traditional mortar mix.

The lath is a heavy wire that reminds me a little of chicken wire.

The lath is a heavy wire mesh, designed to hold plaster, that reminds me a little of chicken wire.

Today Lewis began adding mortar over the lath on the exterior of the house. He will cover this layer of mortar with Perma-Chink, which is a modern acrylic latex chinking.  Perma-Chink is less likely to crack as the logs settle, contract or expand in different weather conditions. It is capable of expanding lengthwise several times its length. Since our logs are old, Lewis and Kelley do not expect them to move very much, but Lewis finds that Perma-Chink works well to avoid the problem of cracking chinking.

Aaron mixes the Perma-Chink.

Aaron mixes mortar which will be applied to the lath underneath the Perma-Chink.

Lewis uses a trowel to apply Perma-Chink.

Lewis uses a trowel to apply chinking. Each section of chinking is recessed at its top, beneath the log above it, but even at the bottom with the log below. This makes a little ledge for precipitation to run off. Clever, I say.

The very high-tech device Lewis is standing on is called a “pump jack scaffold.” Lewis pumps with his foot to raise or lower the board he is standing on. Geez.

Lewis on scaffolding

That’s Why We Call It “Bunny Vista”

June 6, 2009
Braxton and Bunny

Braxton and Bunny

We know that our builders Braxton and Aaron are tough on groundhogs, but bunnies? That’s another story.

One of the hundreds at the Vista

One of the bunnies at the Vista

Logs+Lots of Work+Time=Flooring

June 4, 2009

In May, 2008, Kelley located some large Southern yellow pine logs, which he thought would make good flooring for the house, at Yancey Mill near Crozet. Since the logs were larger than the mill usually handles and milling them would require resetting a lot of machinery, it was not cost-effective for the mill to saw them. Kelley borrowed John Boody’s log truck, and we headed for Yancey Mill to buy some logs.

Riding in John Boody's log truck to Yancey Mill. Getting into the truck was the hardest part. Once I was in, I stayed in until the expedition was over.

I was very excited to be in the truck--it was the biggest truck I've ever ridden in. It did not go very fast.

Southern yellow pine is a traditional flooring material, because it is the hardest of the pines, it is relatively inexpensive, and it is very beautiful. There are many varieties of Southern yellow pine. When the European settlers arrived in North America, the eastern coastal plain from southeast Virginia to Florida was covered with Southern longleaf pine forests. The longleaf pine, which is extremely slow-growing, was in high demand; it was used especially by the Navy for timber, turpentine, and resin. Now, only about 3% of that forest remains. The very desirable pine called heart pine has usually come from the longleaf pine; most of the heart pine used for flooring today has been reclaimed from old buildings. The logs Kelley found are from another variety of pine, the shortleaf pine. The logs were very large, some of them nearly 36 inches across. This variety of pine grows faster than longleaf pine, and there is a smaller proportion of heartwood to sapwood. You can see in the photo below the pronounced circle of heartwood in the center of the log.

One log gets loaded onto the truck at Yancey Mill.

One log is loaded onto the truck at Yancey Mill.

The size of a tree’s rings indicate the speed of its growth. The closer together the rings, the more slow-growing the tree. As a tree grows, the cells of the old center part stop carrying nutrients and, essentially, die, while the outer cells continue to nourish the tree. The older the tree, the larger the proportion of heartwood (“dead” cells) to sapwood (“living” cells). The color of the heartwood is different from that of the sapwood. It is also harder and more stable and is therefore more desirable.

Kelley measured the heart of this pine log at about 15 inches.

Kelley measured the heart of this pine log at about 15 inches.

The yellow pine logs were so large that only three of them could fit on the truck. Kelley made a second trip to the mill to pick up two more logs.

The yellow pine logs were so large that only three of them could fit on the truck. Kelley made a second trip to the mill to pick up two more logs.

Kelley took the logs to the Taylor and Boody sawmill at John Boody’s place, where he and John Boody flat sawed them to a thickness of 1 1/8 inches, to allow the wood to shrink and move as it dries and still produce floor boards 3/4″ thick.

John Boody and Kelley sawed the logs.

John Boody

This hefty log is one of the five logs that will make the flooring for Bunny Vista.

This hefty log is one of the five logs that will make the flooring for Bunny Vista.

John Boody begins to saw one of the pine logs.

John Boody is using a chainsaw to saw off the log's butt swell, which was too large for the mill. Kelley gave me this handsome terminology, which simply means the part of the log closest to the ground. Butt swell is funnier.

Even though quarter sawn lumber is more stable than flat sawn lumber, Kelley and John flat sawed the pine logs. Flat sawing produces wider boards and allows the growth patterns to be visible in the surfaces of the finished boards. John very carefully sawed the boards so that the heart sections aligned properly on the saw from one end of the log to the other to produce the most beautiful effect. Kelley and Lewis plan to use boards of varying widths in the house; the widest boards will probably be 12″ wide.

One of many boards from the yellow pine logs.

If you look at the end of this board, you can see the closely-spaced growth rings. Flat-sawing the boards allows the growth pattern to be visible in the board's surface, which Kelley loves. This board is from the very center of the log.

The boards have been stored and stacked now for a year, air drying. They are ready to go into the kiln to complete the drying process.  After they are kiln-dried, Kelley will take the boards to a mill to be made into tongue and groove flooring. We will use the wood throughout the main floor of the house.

The Timber Frame Is on the Way

June 2, 2009
On Monday, Jordan Finch, who has been working on our timber frame room since January, will raise the frame at Bunny Vista! Picture the famous barn raising scene from the movie, “Witness.” Leave out the Amish farmers. Add a crane and a bunch of builders. You get the picture. I can hardly wait.
This drawing gives an idea of the scale of the timber frame room. At left will be the fireplace.

This drawing gives an idea of the scale of the timber frame room. At left will be the fireplace.

From the time we began planning our house, Kelley has been determined to include a timber frame section.  The timber frame at Bunny Vista will be one large room, 30′ x 20′, which will share a wall with the log house. It will have posts and beams of cypress and braces of cherry. Two sets of long braces, called sling braces, are sawed from curved cherry trees. The ceiling will be about 20 feet high, and the beautiful wood framework will be visible throughout the room. The end of the room opposite the log house will have a stone fireplace, which will be framed by the cherry sling braces. As in the log rooms, where we will enjoy seeing and touching the wood, with its axe marks made two hundred years ago, in this timber frame room, we will be able to see and touch the wood and stone that frame our house. We will be able to enjoy, in large scale, the kind of beautiful joinery Kelley has used in building furniture and organs for the past thirty years.
The famously beautiful curved cherry forms the sling brace attached to the collar. The sling brace will enter into the living space of the room more than a shorter, higher brace might.

The famously beautiful curved cherry forms the sling braces attached to the collar of this bent. The sling braces will enter into the living space of the room more than a shorter, higher brace might.

Before we began building Bunny Vista, I had only a nodding acquaintance with timber frame structures. I have been reading some of Kelley’s books in hopes of not embarrassing myself when I actually have a timber frame room as part of my house. (Kelley points out to everyone that I have recently read several non-fiction books–somehow he thinks that is unusual.) I have found out a little more than I once knew about this traditional method of building. I supplemented the non-fiction books that Kelley left in my path with this helpful Wikipedia article.

Timber framing was the primary building technique for residences, churches, barns, and other structures  in many parts of the world for centuries.  In the middle of the nineteenth century builders began to use the “stick-framing” construction we are most familiar with today, and timber frame construction almost ceased, because stick-framing was quicker and less expensive. In this country, timber framing began a renaissance in the 1960s.

In early times, timber framers hewed and shaped timbers with felling axes and broadaxes and joined them together in a system of upright (posts) and horizontal (beams)  timbers with the same kind of joinery found in fine furniture. To ensure the rigidity of the frame, they used trusses and braces in various configurations. When European settlers arrived on this continent, they built timber frame houses, barns, and churches. Now, as timber framing regains popularity, many timber frame companies build houses off-site with the aid of computer numerical control machines and other modern equipment. Although Jordan uses machines in his work, every piece of wood in our timber frame will bear the mark of his own handiwork. He will use traditional joints, such as mortises and tenons. He will use wooden pegs to secure the joints, which Kelley will adjust as the wood shrinks and moves.

Jordan is making all of the parts for the timber frame at his shop in Mount Jackson.

Jordan is making all of the parts for the timber frame at his shop in Mount Jackson. Jordan also built this timber frame workshop.

Jordan sent Kelley some labeled drawings of the timber frame room. Our room will have four bents and three bays, as seen in the drawing below. Now, if you don’t know what bents and bays are, I will explain as Kelley explained to me: if you imagine the side view of the room as the side view of a sliced loaf of bread, each of the four slices coming up from the bottom of the loaf represents the side view of a post rising from the floor. Between each post is an open area called a bay. At the left will be the fireplace. At the right will be stairs leading up to a loft and down to the basement.

Jordan's labeled the elements of this wall elevation of our timber frame room.

This is a view of the 30' wall. Imagine this as the side view of a sliced loaf of bread.

The photo below is a labeled view of one of the four bents. Imagining the loaf of bread again,  think of the bent as a slice of that bread. The main parts of the bent are the posts rising from the floor, the beam, and the braces which form triangles between posts and the beam. (These braces keep the bent rigid. Triangles are rigid forms, but squares are not. Structures built without triangular bracing are going to fall right down in a strong wind.) There are also rafters. The drawing below combines elements from a couple of the bents. The sling braces will be only on the two bents near the fireplace. The floor beam will be on the two posts nearest the log house and will support the loft floor. The railing for the loft is also pictured here.

This is a labeled elevation of one of the bents.

This is a labeled elevation of one of the bents.Imagine this as one of the slices from the loaf of bread in the first elevation.

Many of the terms Kelley, Jordan, Lewis, and our architect Peter use with such authority and gusto are completely foreign to me. I found this useful glossary of timber frame terms on the beautiful Dreaming Creek Architectural Timbering Website. I sneak peeks at it rather often.

These are some of the almost-ready cypress timbers at Jordan's workshop.

These are some of the almost-ready cypress timbers at Jordan's workshop. Jordan and one of his assistants are in the background. Also, there seems to be a yellow boot in this photo. It has been a rainy spring.

The joinery is amazing.

The joinery is amazing.

Kelley met Jordan when Jordan was doing a demonstration at a conference on traditional crafts at the Frontier Culture Museum near Staunton. Kelley visited the timber frame house that Jordan built for his wife’s parents near his own home in Mount Jackson. He is doing splendid work on the timber frame.

Before and Beneath

June 1, 2009
Mr. Lyle clears the property

Mr. Lyle clears the property.

Kelley hired Mr. Pete Lyle to clear the property and dig the foundation for the house in May, 2008. Mr. Lyle was a local legend. He cleared the property and dug the foundations for many of the homes in our area. Kelley met him several years ago when he prepared the site for the addition at Taylor and Boody Organbuilders.  Although Mr. Lyle retired from the company he founded and owned for forty years, Wayland J. Lyle Excavating, he still owned heavy equipment and continued to work. He was seventy-nine years old when he worked on Bunny Vista.

We tried to leave as many trees standing as possible, but some pretty big ones had to go.

Kelley and a big stump.

Kelley and a big stump.

Kelley hired Mr. Bill Shuey, another colorful local legend, to haul away the stumps and branches. Mr. Shuey, a contemporary of Pete Lyle, was a farmer and a life-long resident of Swoope. He was well-known for raising and training Percheron horses. Mr. Lyle and Mr. Shuey entertained Kelley with stories of their younger days, especially one in which the schoolboy Billy Shuey rode his pony up the stairs and into the gymnasium of Hebron School (now Taylor and Boody Organbuilders) during recess and later was roundly punished by his father. Mr. Shuey told Kelley he left Augusta County only when the Army took him away to serve in World War II, during which he lost an eye.

Pete Lyle loads the giant stump into Bill Shuey's dumptruck.

Pete Lyle loads the giant stump into Bill Shuey's dumptruck.

Sadly, Mr. Shuey died in October, 2008, and Mr. Lyle died in April, 2009.

Mr. Bill Shuey makes sure Mr. Lyle gets the job done right.

Mr. Bill Shuey makes sure Mr. Lyle gets the job done right.

After months of preparation, work on Bunny Vista began in earnest in January, 2009. Cornerstone Foundations of Harrisonburg poured the footers and the foundation. Working under a tight deadline, they did much of the pour at night.

First of the big machines

Pouring the footers. Our trailer is in the background.

Pouring the foundation on a cold January night.

Pouring the foundation on a cold January night.

The foundation is insulated on the inside with T-Roc, a newly-patented product with foam insulation laminated to weatherproof drywall. Our house is the first residence to be built using the T-Roc, so the inventor was here, taking photos and watching the procedure.

Inside the basement, T-Rock insulation is already on walls. We also insulated the exterior before Jim Roepke laid the stone. I think this will be a warm basement.

Inside the basement, T-Roc insulation is already on walls. We also insulated the exterior before Jim Roepke laid the stone. Kelley's workshop is on the left, two bedrooms, a bath, and a den are on the right.

The house will have radiant floor heating on both floors. We will use a geothermal system for heating and cooling the house and solar panels to heat our water. Kelley has been working with Eric Thompson at Earthstar, a company in Waynesboro, on the heating and cooling. Tubes to convey hot water through the house were installed on the floor of the basement before the slab was poured.

I am dreaming of warm feet.

I am dreaming of warm feet.

A third local legend, Jimmy Markum, poured the slab. The slab is a thing of beauty.

Jimmy Marcum pours the basement slab.

Jimmy Markum pours the basement slab.

Jimmy Marcum directs the pouring team. Lewis is on the right, ready for work.

Jimmy Markum directs the pouring team. Lewis is on the right, ready for work.

Many months of preparation and hard work went into building the house before the first stone was laid and the first log was placed. In one week, Jordan Finch, the timber framer, will arrive with the timber frame.

Poplar Bark Shingles

May 30, 2009
Kelley relaxes after stacking the poplar bark. Bark is not as heavy as stone.

Kelley relaxes after stacking the poplar bark. Bark is not as heavy as stone.

In March when Kelley was looking for logs in Nelson County, he met someone who was building his own house, using poplar bark for siding. Kelley loved the look of the poplar bark siding. He wanted to explore the idea of using poplar bark to finish the gable ends of the log house. I, of course, was skeptical. When I asked if poplar bark would be long-lasting and low maintenance, Kelley pointed out that trees have bark for many years and do no maintenance at all. Which made sense to me–in a way. When I asked how it looked, Kelley found photos on the Internet that showed beautiful houses with rustic but elegant style. When I asked how expensive it was, Kelley told me that, since loggers routinely strip the bark off poplar trees and discard it, poplar bark is free if you know when and where to get it. “Free” is an enticing word.

We found a lot of information that indicated that using poplar bark to side houses, while perhaps eccentric, is not crazy. In fact bark is an extremely practical alternative to  other siding materials. Bark shingles are durable and can last 100 years. They require no painting or other maintenance. They have a rustic textured appearance that complements the look of other natural materials, such as log and stone. Using poplar bark shingles is also an earth-friendly–the bark that is used would typically be left to rot, burned, or used for mulch.

Using bark for housing has a long history in this country, beginning with structures built by native American Indians. There are examples of more recent bark houses in New England and in the Northwest. In 1895, architect Henry Bacon, who is most famous for designing the Lincoln Memorial, designed a house sided with shingles made from American chestnut bark. This was probably the first use of bark shingles with sawed edges. The house was  built in Linville, in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Between 1895 and 1930, many stylish and expensive vacation and summer houses were built in that area using chestnut bark shingles. Chestnut blight, which began to strike trees around 1900, killed off the trees from which the bark was taken, and after about 1930, no more chestnut bark houses were built in that area. Some of the houses built during those years still stand. Many of the original chestnut shingles have been replaced with shingles from tulip (yellow) poplar. Since the mid-1990s, the use of poplar bark for siding has become popular in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains, often in high-end houses and resorts, and there are several manufacturers of poplar bark shingles in that area.

Although he could have purchased poplar bark shingles from North Carolina manufacturers, Kelley decided that it would be practical and interesting to track down some poplar logs locally and make shingles for the house. He and Lewis checked with loggers, lumber mills, and even the Forest Service to locate poplar logs. When loggers cut poplar trees, they drag the logs from the forest to their trucks and take it to lumber yards where the bark is stripped off and discarded. The bark is considered waste material, and after this rough treatment it is not suitable for shingle-making. Kelley and Lewis needed to locate logs still on the ground in the woods before they were dragged, trucked, and stripped. It was also important to find the logs in late spring or early summer, because this is when the trees create new growth and the bark slips off most easily.

After six weeks or so of searching, Lewis found out about someone cutting poplar on a remote mountainside between Craigsville and Goshen. He was willing to give the bark to us, so yesterday Kelley, Lewis, Aaron and Braxton took Lewis’s trailer to Goshen and found six sixteen-foot poplar logs lying in a meadow near the woods. And it wasn’t even raining.

Lewis uses a chainsaw, Braxton and Aaron follow with bark spuds to strip the bark from a poplar log. They have already stripped the log on the right.

Lewis uses the chainsaw. Braxton and Aaron follow with the bark spuds.

To harvest the poplar bark, Lewis made a cut with his saw through the bark along the length of the log. Then he made crosswise cuts at twenty-inch intervals. Aaron, Braxton, and Kelley followed him, stripping the bark using bark spuds and loaded it into the trailer. Aaron and Braxton bought their antique bark spuds from Menno Kinsinger, who also sold us some logs. I will get a photo of a bark spud next week and post it. The bark spuds look something like a shortish hoe with a curved blade. The blade slips under the bark and helps to loosen the bark from the log.

Braxton uses a bark spud to slip the bark off a poplar log.

Braxton uses a bark spud to slip the bark off a poplar log.

The bark leaves the mountains and heads for Bunny Vista.

The bark leaves the mountains and heads for Bunny Vista.

When the bark arrived at our property, Aaron and Braxton unloaded it from the trailer and stacked it on pallets near the house. This morning I helped as Kelley sorted the bark slabs and restacked and stickered the pieces. Kelley weighted the stacks with cinderblocks so that the bark will flatten as it dries. Pretty soon he will take it to the Taylor and Boody kiln where it will dry for about a week. After that it will be ready to use.

Kelley and Lewis plan to get more poplar bark from the same site as soon as the ground is dry enough for the loggers to get back into the woods.

Poplar bark stacked and weighted

Kelley carefully sorted the bark this morning and stacked and weighted it. There are wooden sticks between each layer. We have three pallets of bark slabs.

Kelley got great and friendly advice from Danny Heatherly, owner of Barkclad Natural Products (http://www.barkclad.com). Kelley called him after finding the company Website, and Danny was kind enough to share his knowledge about gathering the poplar bark. His Website has lots of interesting information, great photos of a much larger operation than ours, and a certain “mountains of North Carolina” flair.

Some of the bark has green lichen. The slab on the right has large and interesting knot. Each slab is different. Cool.

Some of the bark has green lichen. The slab on the right has large and interesting knot. Each slab is different. Cool. It's going to look great made into shingles and juxtaposed with the old logs and the stone.