Log Cabin

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin

by Todd Walker

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I think I now understand why so many pioneer log cabins had packed dirt floors.

Ease of construction may have been the #1 reason. Lacking dimensional lumber, time, and labor, a dirt floor was an easy solution. You weren’t necessarily poor, but the term, “dirt poor”, stuck. Believe it or not, there’s a growing number of wealthy folk returning to earthen floors.

With my self-reliance on trial, I wanted a wooden floor for my little log cabin in the woods… complete with a front porch overlooking the creek. As promised in our last article, here’s what I came up with for my budget floor support system.

Round Log Floor Joists

A big box hardware store is a 10 minute drive from the cabin site. They sell dimensional lumber of all sizes to speed up the build. However, this whole “self-reliance on trial” thing had me going another direction.

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The living area with five log joists set in place.

When I first started this project in February, the cabin dimensions were going to be a cozy 8’x10′. The first tree I felled was bucked into 10 foot sections for the 8 foot walls. Since expanding the cabin size to 10’x12′, the 10 footers wouldn’t work for wall logs. Bingo! These would become my floor joists.

Hew One Side Flat

Ax-cut logs need to be sawn flat on both ends to start the hewing process. Secure the log to cribbing with log dogs. Last year I made two from half-inch rebar which work fine. Hammer one point into the log and the other into the cribbing log. Repeat on the other end of the log.

I choose the side with the fewest knots to hew. Pine knots are a curse from the devil for hewers. The chosen side is turned and secured to the cribbing perpendicular to the ground. Dog the log before marking plumb lines.

Measure the center of the log end horizontally and place a mark at the halfway point. Place a level on the mark vertically and draw a plumb line. Do the same operation to draw a level horizontal line through the center mark. You should now have two lines intersecting to form a cross hair on the end of the log. Repeat this step on the other log end.

One more plumb line to draw before we’re done. Determine how much wood you want to remove from the side of the log. Place the level at that point and draw a vertical plumb line. I took off about an inch of wood which created ample flat surface on the joists.

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Plumb and level lines drawn

Where this second plumb line meets the top of the round log, use a knife or ax to score a slit through the line. Drive a nail shallow in the cross hair. Hook the string of a chalk line box to the nail. Slip the string into the slit at the top of the log and run the chalk line to the other end of the log. Secure it in the other slit you made. While holding the line in the slit, reach down the line with your other hand and pull the chalk line up vertically, not horizontally. Release and the sting to “snap” or “pop” the chalk line.

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The chalkline secured in the ax slit at the top of the line to be hewed.

By the way, all my logs have been debarked. If hewing with bark on the log, strip off a section of bark where the chalk line will be snapped. Read more about hewing with the bark on in this article.

Scoring

Scoring is the process of making relief cuts down the side of the log to remove the bulk of wood before hewing to the line.  With so little wood to remove from the floor joist, I thought slash cuts would be best. Slashing is a series of overlapping 45 degree cuts about 4 inches apart down the length of the log. However, the logs had seasoned enough to make it difficult to remove wood after slashing.

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Slash scoring with the log turned 30 degrees added too much extra work.

I ended up cutting “V” notches about a 8 inches apart down the log side. The raised wood between the notches are called jogs or joggles. The joggles were removed close to the chalkline with my ax. The log floor joists were all in the 6-8 inch diameter range. Not large enough to stand on to cut notches with my long-handled felling ax. I stood on the opposite side of the log and cut notches using a 26 inch boy’s ax. Make sure that the notches go all the way to the line and are plumb through to the bottom of the log.

 Joggling or Juggling

Now is the time to remove the joggles. On these small logs, I used the grub bit of my double bit felling ax mostly. The 36 inch handle allowed me to swing almost upright, saving my back. Removing this excess wood can be the most dangerous part of the whole hewing process. A forceful swing is needed to knock off the protruding joggles. Be aware of where your legs and feet are before swinging.

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I hewed several logs with my double bit only.

My most comfortable stance was to straddle the log with my right foot well to the right of the log. A slight bend at the waist and knees adds insurance that the ax will strike the ground and not my boot. The grub bit will strike the ground as it passes through the wood from time to time. Wood chips create a barrier between the bit and ground as the process continues.

A safer way to remove joggles is to rotate the log on the cribbing about 30 degrees (captured two photos above). A lateral swing (out of the frontal zone) is used with the log between you and the moving ax. You’ll need to re-plumb the log before hewing to the line.

Hewing

With a thin layer of wood (1/2 inch or less) proud of the chalkline, hewing begins. I used my broad ax on some, and the double bit felling ax on others. I’ve become fond of using the longer double bit even for hewing. It dealt with lighter’d knot better. I found that once the joists were rough-hewn with the double bit, I could set them in the sill log notches and comfortable hew high spots by swing horizontally with my broad ax. And it could be done while I sat on the adjacent joist.

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Hewing to the line with the double bit ax. This log was almost too short to use. Notice the ax-cut end almost makes a nice tenon.

The angle in which the double bit struck the wood had to be adjusted. It’s not a vertical swing like the broad ax. Once the angle is dialed in, the wood begins to slice off. I actually obtained smoother finishes using the double bit over the broad ax. I got closer to the chalkline as well. Keep in mind, this is rough-hewn lumber.

Mortise and Tenon

Before joists could be set, a level line was needed on the inside of the sill logs. Using a water level, I penciled in marks on all four corners. A chalkline was snapped to give me a level line on the two sill logs where the top of the joists would rest.

I marked the sill logs at 2 foot intervals for joist positions along the 12 foot walls. Mortise joints (pockets) were cut into the sill log with a 2 inch chisel and dogwood maul. The mortise pockets measured about 2″x4″. Each joist measurement, from pocket to pocket, was different. Working with round logs of differing diameter is entirely different from building with dimensional lumber.

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The faint blue chalkline is still visible. This joist needed to be lowered. I switched to red chalk as it seemed to last longer.

Tenons were cut on the ends of each joist to match the mortise pockets. Joists were set and raised or lowered to meet the level line on the sill logs. A simple wedge of wood underneath or trim of the tenon did the trick.

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Mortises chiseled to 2″x4″ dimensions.

Leveling Joists

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The four-foot level on top of the aluminum bar extended my reach to four joists at once.

Though each joist tenon met the level line on the sill logs, rough-hewn logs will have high spots… at least from a hewer like me. I used a long piece of rectangular aluminum as a straightedge coupled with a 4′ level to ride atop four of the five joists. I moved the level from sill to sill checking for high spots and dips in the joists.

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Close enough!

Taking a comfortable sitting position on an adjacent joist, I planed the high spots down with the broad ax. This was a great change of pace on how I typically swing this heavy hewing ax. Recheck level, plane, recheck, plane… until my OCD subsided. It’s close enough for an off-grid log cabin in the woods!

After shimming and shaving to level joists, I carved and drove wooden wedges into the mortise pockets to take away any wiggle that might be present in the joints. I’m following the same process for the front porch log joists. I’m running 3 long joists perpendicular to the living area joists with a girder underneath at the halfway point. The 6’x12′ front porch will provide hours of relaxing ambiance as creek water tumbles over rocks.

Dirt Poor Floor Joists for an Off Grid Log Cabin - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

One more porch joist to add…

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Doing the Stuff, Log Cabin, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists

by Todd Walker

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

As the song says, “I started out with nothing, and I’ve got most of it left.”

Those lyrics summed up my feelings since starting this log cabin project in February. I all I had to show for my effort was a bunch of skinned logs scattered through the woods and fields. That all changed this summer. Here’s the progress as of mid July…

Setting Sill Logs

I had my doubts about dry-stacked stone piers as my foundation. The largest sill log measured 14 inches in diameter by 18 feet long. A handy online log calculator estimated the weight for this one log to be 925 pounds. The stones/boulders were far from flat. I did my best to shim them with smaller stones to keep them steady.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Dry-stacked stone piers have supported log cabins for hundreds of years… but I had my doubts.

I spent way too much time with a water level trying to ensure all the piers were the same height. Round logs are not dimensional lumber. Get the stones close to the same height and lay logs on top.

In all honesty, my plan was to use only hand tools for this trial of self-reliance. Trees were felled and bucked with an ax, debarked with a bark spud and draw knife, and hauled to site by me as the mule pulling my LogRite Junior Arch… until I attempted to move those half-ton sill logs. A real mule was needed for this job.

My best friend Philip had just finished skinning the two sill logs when Allen, the land owner, walked up to visit. He told us he had just acquired a Kawasaki Mule. Perfect!

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Philip taking a break after debarking one of the 925 pound sill log with the barking spud in the foreground.

Even with Junior hooked to the back-end of the Mule, the big sill logs were a beast to haul back to the cabin site. But it worked!

Log Lifting Tripod

Lifting close to a half a ton of wood, even a few feet off the ground, would require a lot of mechanical advantage using simple machines. Dead cedars were cut and lashed together to form a tripod. The largest leg/pole was about 6 inches in diameter. Standing this heavy tripod up by myself was like watching the Three Stooges. Wish I had filmed this for some comic relief.

Here’s the video of how I lashed the tripod for those interested…

After positioning the tripod over the heaviest sill log, I attached a four-to-one block and tackle system at the top of the tripod. Upon testing the pulley system, I could only lift the log a couple of inches. Not good. I quickly realized that, even if I was able to lift the log, I could not hold the log in place by myself and control the placement on the piers with precision. I needed a lifting device I could control when working alone. I bought a one-ton chain fall (hoist) for $60 the next day. This one tool revolutionized the job!

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The chain fall rigged to the tripod made light work of heavy logs.

Our video below shows how maneuverable the logs are when choked at the balance point.

Sill Logs Notched and Set

I positioned the first sill log on the ground next to the piers to mark for notching. I made relief cuts with my bow saw on each mark about one inch deep. I used a boy’s ax to remove wood chips between the saw cuts. This produced a flat surface for the log to rest on the non-flat stone piers.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Flat notches were cut using a buck saw and ax.

I re-choked the log with the tow strap near the bottom of the log. Lifting by myself with the chain fall, the log slowly turned until the notches faced down. Then the log was lifted to the height needed to be lowered onto the piers. On the way up, the log scraped the side of the piers toppling a few. I re-stacked them and lowered the log cautiously. They held up fine but had a touch of wobble. Small rock shims were inserted to steady the piers.

After months of preparation, the feeling of seeing a huge log off the ground and resting on rocks was pure excitement!

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The first log up!

Square Corners

The next day I set the second log to create the first corner. How do you make corners square using different sized logs which are not even? Here’s how I did it…

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The corner nail is near the head of the hammer where the two chalk lines intersect. The tape measure forms the hypotenuse of the right triangle.

I’ve used the Pythagorean Theorem many times to square corners using dimensional lumber. You need straight lines for this to work. I popped a chalkline down the center of each log. I tacked a nail at the intersection where the two lines crossed in the corner. From that corner nail, I measured three feet down the chalkline and tacked another nail. On the other log, I measured four feet and drove in a nail. I lifted the second log just enough to allow me swing in or out until the distance from both nails measured five feet. This creates a 3-4-5 right triangle ensuring the logs are perpendicular in the corner. A 6-8-10 triangle would be more accurate, but I was by myself and didn’t want to stretch a tape measure 10 feet from nail to nail.

Tight-Pinned Corners

The Butt and Pass method requires no notches. Metal pins hold the logs together to create a sturdy, solid structure.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The brace and bit used to make pilot holes for the rebar pins.

 

I cut 1/2 inch rebar in 20 inch lengths at my shop. Back at the build site, I use a brace and bit to bore a 1/2 inch hole almost through the first log. Probably should drill all the way through but almost through seems to work. Now I drive the pin through the pilot hole and into the adjacent log. I started using a 6 pound sledge with a 36 inch handle. My accuracy suffered. The long handle also kissed my ribcage a few times while hammering bent over. We sawed the handle in half and found it to be the ticket.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A twenty inch rebar pin hammered flush.

A note worth mentioning on driving pins. If you miss hit and bend the pin, stop. Straighten the pin as best as possible before pounding more. A bent pin will find its way through the side or top of the adjacent log. Once all four corners were pinned together, the sill logs became unbelievably steady on the piers.

Log Floor Joists

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

3 of 5 log floor joists set in sill logs. I’ll explain the leveling process on our next article.

I’ve begun hewing log floor joists. Dimensional lumber would speed up the process but I want to use as many raw resources as possible on the cabin. One side of a log gets hewn flat and notched with tenons on both ends. The tenons will mate with mortises notched into the sill logs. I’ll do a more detailed article on what I’ve got planned for the floor system.

Until then, here’s our latest video on the floor system…

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Homesteading, Log Cabin, Self-reliance | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods

by Todd Walker

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Image used with permission from the builder, Wiley Log Homes.

We built crude log forts in the woods growing up. They weren’t water tight or warm. The wind would cut through the muddle of sticks and threaten to take your hat off. Those were fun times. A bona fide log cabin was what I dreamed of then… and that dream remains.

At nearly my age (55), Dick Proenneke set out to live in a remote area of Alaska. For 30 years, he lived in a log cabin he built with his own hands. You can learn more of his remarkable legacy of self-reliance and conservation by watching the documentary, Alone in the Wilderness.

For those following my cabin project on my YouTube channel, I’m in the early stage of cutting and debarking logs. I don’t have the luxury of waiting a year or more for peeled logs to season. I could wait but patience isn’t one of my strong suits. I’ll build my little “practice” cabin with green logs. I’ve already been asked in video comments how long I’ll let my logs season before building.

Here’s the thing, I’m not going to use traditional saddle notches to connect corners. I may try my hand at saddle notches on cured/seasoned logs at some point. Until then, my research turned up a little-known (to me at least) construction method which uses green, unseasoned logs in construction. If you’re not familiar with this style, let me introduce you…

Butt and Pass Style Log Cabin

The advantages of using the butt and pass construction technique is it requires little in the way of tools and construction experience for a DiY log cabin builder. I’ve got plenty of construction experience and tools. My dilemma is that I have green logs and want to finish the cabin before the end of the school year. This no-scribe, no-notch method will speed up the construction process.

The top photo of this article is a butt and pass log home built by Wiley Log Homes. Ronnie, the owner, gave me permission to share a few of his beautiful handcrafted log homes here. I hope to have a few shots of my own cabin corners soon. Until then, take a look at the corners of these Wiley Log Homes.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This cabin has a stone basement.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Five foot eves help keep water off the logs.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A good shot of the butt and pass corner style.

No matter what method is used green logs will shrink. However, with tight-pinned butt and pass construction, settling will only happen if the foundation/piers are not properly formed. With each course of logs, holes are drilled through the top log through the bottom log. A length of 1/2″ rebar is driven through the logs (tight-pinned) about every two feet. As the green logs cure and shrink, the logs shrink around their center line. The gaps between the logs increase but the wall height remains the same. Touching up the chinking over the first few years will have to happen as the logs cure, so I’ve read.

Self-Reliance on Trial

I plan to build my cabin with hand tools only. That’s a tall order especially when I have power tools at my disposal. The pioneer method doesn’t trump someone who chooses to use power tools. I have a comfortable home and don’t “need” this cabin. But somewhere, back in my deeper, primal self, I want this cabin, if for nothing more than to put my self-reliance on trial. Who knows, I may not make it through the project using just hand tools. Either way, this project has been brewing in my gut for years and feels good to take the first step.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

My cousin said this to me after he saw the first logs de-barked. “Hardest step is the first one. I’ve been told this but usually by someone who ain’t doing the stepping.” ~ Tim Hester. This is a photo of Dick Proenneke peering out of his cabin door (Image credit: National Park Service)

I’ve only bucked and de-barked one pine tree so far. My first attempt at skinning logs was with a draw knife. The tool peeled bark really well but would not be a sustainable method for this old man. I needed a method where I’m not bent over scraping with pine sap flying in my face. Enter the tile scraper. I ground the edge on this old long-handled tool and it’s a far cry better than my draw knife on my back. I’ve been using it like a draw knife, scraping long strips of bark off the length of the logs, but will try peeling whole sections off logs by prying around the round part of the log. Not sure how well this will work since the sap is not rising like in spring time.

Another hand-tool concerns that comes to mind is boring holes to accept the rebar pins. Twisting a half-inch auger through logs can’t be easy. Yet another challenge will be transporting 12 and 14 foot logs to the build site in the woods. I won’t be able to split them in half or into rails the way I did in last year’s Axe Cordwood Challenge. I need draught horses, or oxen. Seriously!

Progress Report

To keep up with the log cabin journey, I’ve created a playlist on my channel titled, Log Cabin Build. Most are mine but a few are of Dick Proenneke’s cabin. I’ll also be updating here on the blog.

This is the last video in the log cabin series. I traded my draw knife for a DiY bark spud…

With only one day per week to work on the cabin, progress is slow. Winter break should offer a few extra work days. Below are some photos of my progress.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A storm blow-over bucked and ready for de-barking.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Two debarked logs.

After the first two logs, I mentioned in my video about the fun you can have debarking logs. In honor of Tom Sawyer’s fence white washing pitch, I had a buddy and his son show up to my first Barking Party. Evan Newsom, first picture below, was the first to party on!

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Tom Sawyer would be so proud!

I even have my school students convinced…

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Introduced students at RISE to the draw knife. They have acquired a liking for this tool.

Sure appreciate having the physical health to be able to attack this pioneer project. It will take longer to construct using hand tools. Patience may become a strong suit of mine after all is said and done.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Log Cabin, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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