Off the rails

Busy week. I am back at work now, so we are an evenings-and-weekends type of operation for most projects now. But, we did manage to install the railing in the loft this weekend, and did some other detail work to nearly finish it up. The railing seamlessly integrates with the steel downrods we used to help support the large logs in the living room, and we think it looks pretty sharp. Kee Klamp is really the best place for railing fittings, in case you are ever looking!

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Zero car garage

So, we built a garage, but not to park our car in it. Rather, we needed a place to store a lot of tools and materials, since we have no storage in the house and no workshop space. We’ve been steadily going through all our tools and various other stuff to finally get the workshop in order, and finished up today! Our goal was to go through every single drill bit, chisel, saw blade, screw, and staple and only keep the best and brightest, organizing it in a way that would make Norm Abram proud. I think we did it! Here are the glamour shots, before we make a bunch of sawdusty-mess in there.

Lofty goal

One of the last big to-do items on our list for the cabin has been the loft. There was a terrible, awful, mouse-pee-filled loft that was barely accessible and shoddily built when we moved it. It so ruined the flow of the house that one of the first things we did was cut the wall open to let the light in. But, even in its gross state, it was a cool little hangout, and well-situated over the bedroom as a good potential storage space. So we’ve always figured we’d build a loft – just not sure when or how. Before photos:

Two years ago, we picked up a load of 2×6 T&G flooring at an outdoor salvage yard and have kept in stored in tents and the carport, moving it around the yard seemingly a dozen times. Next we needed to figure out how to create joists that didn’t take up much headroom and went with the character of the house. Logs, of course. At the time, there weren’t any copies of this book available, so I had to get one via interlibrary loan from the Fairbanks, AK public library – the only copy I could find in the country! We learned that even with soft cedar or spruce logs, we only needed logs that were about 4″ at midbeam for this application, which allowed us to consider using a small, simple ledger system that could fit in the header between two log courses on the back wall of the house. Now we just needed those logs!

It’s tough to find relatively small diameter, good logs – most people try to sell giant trees, or skinny fenceposts – in-between stuff is scarce. So when I saw a Craigslist ad where someone had a set of antique rafters removed (and denailed!) from an 1800s barn, located near K’s parents’ house, and for only $10 a log, I called immediately. Turns out, the logs were also flat on one face – ummm, perfect! K had to make a trip down that way anyways, and picked up 9 logs (we needed 6, but with old material, you always need extras for insurance). They are actually hemlock, gorgeous, heavy, rock-solid logs! We spent a cold afternoon giving then a quick scrub, then they looked like this:

Awesome worm trails everywhere. We ordered some rough-sawn hemlock (total cost: $12) from our local lumberyard for the ledgers. Then we got going on putting together the floor/ceiling framing. Because of the limited vertical space we had to squeeze it all in, we notched a bit of each log and the ledger. Then attached the ledgers with Timberloks and dropped the logs in the pockets. Seriously, they fit right in – we only had to re-cut one. Here’s the framing:

Finally, we planed all the floorboards – which are a mixed old un-used salvage lot including pine, fir, cedar, hemlock, and oak – to as close as we could to the same thickness. The goal was to have a rustic, attic-plank-y floor, so perfection was not needed (or happening). Of course it started snowing while we planed them, but luckily we have the carport to work in now. Yesss!

And we attached the floorboards yesterday. Now it’s all of the trim work, paint touch-up, decor, and building in some storage and we’ll have a nice little guest sleeping loft/hideaway/storage solution. We’ll wait until summer to urethane it all, when we can sleep outside and let things air out.


Winter break has begun! What could we possibly be building this year? Hint: today’s prep tasks included washing these lovely antique logs outdoors in the barely-above-freezing weather.


In the meantime, decorations

We’re waiting for the garage to be what one might call “well organized” before the big reveal – we are still moving items in from all the nooks and crannies where we’ve been storing them, and selling some extra stuff, so it’s a bit of a work in progress.

In addition to continuing the garage organization saga, we did holiday decor this weekend! We decided to string lights and ornaments from a log beam in the house  and call that the X-Mas tree this year. And, I remembered how to make a wreath, after last year’s fun wreath & wine day. I re-purposed the Thanksgiving napkin rings to make a bow, and we found an awesome branch full of acorn caps to include, since this was the summer of falling acorns. I’m on break soon (hooray!) and we have big plans…

Windows, benches, and food!

It’s December already?! Thanksgiving happened. We had dinner here in the little cabin with K’s folks. Instead of turkey, we enjoyed baked stuffed scallops, grilled veggies with a roasted red pepper sauce, and artichoke risotto.

We have mostly been working on the garage – luckily we were planning to do indoor work over Thanksgiving break because it rained most of the time! We snagged a corner countertop from Craigslist, but needed more bench top material. On my last day at the office, there were two huge desks being thrown out, and they were just sitting on the loading dock, disassembled, waiting for trash pickup. I ran up, checked with the building manager, and got the OK to load them up! They are 6′ lengths of super-hard laminate material, about 29″ wide, and in near perfect shape. It’s amazing what people toss. They were the exact right size for the two remaining benches. Next time we post more organization will be done and we’ll show you our other amazing score…

Finally, even though it’s gotten cold and reminded us why we need to wear gloves to work in winter, we got several things done today: installed exterior window and door trim for the garage (used up leftover salvaged wood from the cabin and old barn boards we dragged here from the other house), sealed up the window openings with spray foam, weatherstripped the door, and changed out the door knob so we can finally lock the garage. Progess! We’ll stain and caulk the trims if we get a warm day, or else in spring. In all, there are four windows. The original design we were given had just one (!), but we picked up four windows in a lot with our garage door for super-cheap (we actually got 5 windows plus the garage door for less than half of a new door + 1 window), and we’re so happy to have much better cross-ventilation and light with all the windows.


…and more logs.

I am so glad I had so much experience with Lincoln Logs as a kid. And enjoyed working with them. Because we are still in log-ville over here! But we had a super-productive weekend despite a kind of crappy week politically. I’ll save that diatribe for Facebook, though. Here’s Bisbee’s take:


I picked up a set of fencepost cedar logs on Monday, just as the sun was going down, after leaving a desperate voicemail at the farm where they advertise logs but take a while to call back to set up time to pick them up. My voice must have conveyed the urgency (I could only get out of work before dark on one day this week!), and I made it with my $20 ($2 a log!) and loaded up.

Friday was a holiday, and I spent it peeling logs, and sanding them. Luckily the weather held all weekend in the 40s and even into 50-degree territory today, so we were able to keep moving forward.


Saturday we finished prepping, peeling, sanding, and slightly reshaping our 16′ log for the handrail. So we woke up today with everything prepped and were ready to build our final railing (we’ve had just temporary stuff until now).

It went really quickly, so there aren’t many photos in progress, but here’s the final thing!


Since we finished before lunch, we had time to use the scrap ends to finish up the very center triangle on our garage gable end. I think doing the gable end in logs to match the house might be one of the best improvements we’ve made – the garage really goes perfectly with the house now.


And then, we took another quick hour to install a window in the cellar. No photos (it’s not that exciting), but closing up a six square foot hole definitely improves our chances for a racoon-free winter.

Logs and more logs

So we needed more logs. Another weekend morning road trip out to the guy who is clearing a field of cedars…


And we had a log pile again! The logs we acquired needed to go along the front cellar wall, since we are into November and start imagining piles of snow drifting around and into everything that’s not buttoned down. Having the bottom half log-covered makes a huge difference in the facade of the cabin. All will hopefully get stained this week during the last couple of warm days. And we still have to rebuild the door, which might be a job for spring?


Note the cool log design in the gable end of our cabin. We planned to grind off the red paint and stain it up this summer, but it will have to wait for next year. However, we decided to re-create the log pattern in the gable end of the new carport/garage, so that the garage looks like it was born here, with the cabin, not newly built. And so we’ve been chipping away at filling in that seemingly small triangle, which actually meant making 40 small logs all work together. It looks great, and really ties the two buildings together. We are nearly done with log work, which is actually a bit of a bummer, since we’ve grown quite fond of (and good at) working with them.


Sweet and witchy

Since I was off my feet at the end of summer and into October, I missed the usual season of transplanting, end-of-summer plant sales, and gardening in general. But, it has been warm and I’m more excited than ever to get started on setting the tone for our landscaping next year. After posting pictures of sweet fern a couple of weeks ago, a friend said she has a bunch growing in a field that they plan to burn to get some blueberries started. Yes, I was interested! I headed out (in a drizzling rain) on Friday and we dug several sweet fern (Comptonia) plants for me to try out in our yard. Thank you so much, JM!

Even though sweet fern is native and grows in all kind of difficult sites, it’s reportedly hard to propagate. I put most of the plants right in the ground, but I am also trying this propagation technique with one root sucker – we’ll see if it works. They are cold-stratifying in the fridge right now.


Also saw a witch hazel in bloom this morning while walking the dogs. Nearby (in a roadside edge), a sucker is growing in what was recently bulldozed ditch material. Might have to go liberate it from its gravelly grave – it won’t do well given its location right on the new dirt road edge.


We’ve also been organizing the garage (not photogenic) and will circle back to working with the rest of the logs that need staining next weekend. But it was nice to get my hands dirty outside for a change!