A chronicle of Mike and Julia's adventures creating a home on the Missouri range...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pegging and posting

       The weather today has sent me scurrying to the library in town to stay warm and dry rather than get work done on our house frame. This isn't always an unwelcome change of pace, however, lately it seems to be proving the trend. Sunny, dry days seem harder and harder to come by, and it is taking us longer and longer to warm up and get going in the morning. All of this seems to signal the winding down of our workable season. On the one hand, I feel ready for a season of turning inward and staying cozy by the stove, reading and painting and cooking hearty things. On the other, it would of course be nice to have a home to do that in, hence there is no letting up yet.
      Our hope is to get some sort of protective roof covering over our frame before we leave, perhaps an ambitious goal given that we have only a month to go before migration time. The past few weeks since our raising day we have been dotting our i's and crossing t's on the frame. Our neighbor Jake whipped us up bucket fulls of oak pegs which Mike has slowly been adding to the connection points of our frame. Out came the metal pins, in pounded the pegs. The first few split from the pressure of being squeezed into impossibly small holes before we figured out some tricks to prevent the splitting.
      Another detail we finished was cutting support
 stumps to tuck under our floor tie beams, which will help keep our floor from sagging. And probably the biggest other addition to our frame we have added since raising have been our eight large jowl posts. Like almost everything about this process, the first jowl post took us about four times as long to set up and raise than all the others, but a lot of that was figuring out how to utilize the right combination of lifting devices to do the job. Our winch and cable got some more use in the process, and the rigidity of even our temporarily braced frame has stood the test of the post raisings. One by one, we looped the cable over the second floor beams and around the tops of the jowls and up they pulled (with several people supporting the posts from swinging wide). Once up, we ratchet strapped and pinned the joints in place, sledge hammering the base into position. There were some tight fits due to some checking the twisting in the wood over time since cutting, but overall, the post raisings went smoothly. Now that all eight are up, our frame looks more stable and house-like. Still, it is something new and different and a bit curious looking. We have noticed an increase in traffic past our house and slow-downs to check out the strange new addition to the landscape. Our local friend Mark Grindy has apparently been telling curious townies that we are building us one heck of a deer stand. Indeed!

       I have been working on preparations for our next step, adding on the knee braces and long wall plates.... namely, debarking. More quality time with the draw knife and oak wood! The nice thing about the braces has been the fact that they are a manageable size for one person and are green and young enough that the bark comes off relatively easily. We have just started cutting the bottom joints in them and will hopefully have them mounted up in the jowl posts in the next week. Hopefully.

     Despite all of our hustling and bustling on the house and the occasional damp, cold day, this past month has been really quite beautiful, the best of weather of the year. And, of course, being the wild edible lover that Mike is, he has been foraging in the woods, seeking out the best of the fall harvest for our dinners. It is a good time for mushroom hunting, the fall rains having flushed out the decomposing downed log, and Mike has been bringing many types back. Fortunately, we have a good guide to local Missouri varieties, so I am not quite the guinea pig you might thing. The other day, some friends of ours came over to forage with Mike and they found a new variety we hadn't seen before, called, in the guide book, "Big Laughing Gyms," no joke. Apparently they are mildly hallucinogenic (and toxic) and cause laughing fits, though we didn't care to find out. Several other varieties proved to be quite savory, and Mike's biggest load discovered was a collosal grouping of Chicken-of-the-Woods, which taste, as you might expect, quite a bit like chicken in texture and taste. Other choice finds have been wild salad greens, wood ear mushrooms, Blewit mushrooms, and acorns aplenty! Mike is excited to try leaching the tannins from them and grinding them to a flour, though probably saving the exercise for one of those rainy cold days to come. 


Note the new mushroom hunting bag I just finished knitting for Mike--the holes in the side hopefully let spores fall out and reinoculate new logs. I think it was lucky in the above chicken-of-the-woods find!
      We are not alone in our fall scramble--our neighbors Brian and Teri and their two kids are rushing to get in their new house soon since they have been alternately tenting and house-sitting and the weather is turning frosty. They are much closer than us to finishing a small guest house, and Brian was working hard to get it done when the building gods gave him a slowing blow with a falling-off-the-ladder injury to his ankle. A huge bummer for him, but he is now okay, and it has meant that the neighborhood has been pouring on the support and alternating shifts helping out in work parties. We spent a few days blowing in cellulose insulation in their stud frame walls and nailing up siding, and it seems, with all the additional help, they might be in a warm, insulated space by the end of the week. Teri has been documenting the process on her blog site- homestead-honey.com for more on their journey.
    Well, that is about all for this post! More to come soon and thanks for reading along!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Raising Day

       Finally! The day arrived! Saturday, October 5th, a miraculous thing happened in the history of our little homestead... with the help of almost our entire community, we erected something that actually looks like a house, well, the skeleton of a house. In the words of our friend John Arbuckle, "this may sound trite, but that was literally one of the coolest things I have ever experienced." I feel exactly the same, probably more so. It was incredible. To have over a year of planning and hard work hinge on a single day, well, you can imagine how intense the day was for us, alternately exhilerating and incredibly stressful. Let me back up a little...
      The day before the raising did not go as we had planned. There were a lot of little details we had shoved off to the last minute, including, oh... let me see... just that little inconsequential detail of the tripod we were going to use to leverage the cable and pulley during the raise.  Somehow in our minds it seemed but a moment's work to cut down a few trees, tie them together at the top and with the help of a few friends, push the whole thing standing. Wrong. It was a monstrously heavy and unwieldy and adrenaline-pumping nightmare of a tripod raising. Thank god we have some seriously strong, positive, can-do friends who keep coming to our aid. Dan and Sarah spent the better part of a day with us heaving and hoeing and problem-solving the below tripod creation into being. Then we had our neighbor Brian agree that he thought it wouldn't topple under the first ounce of pressure. With everyone's basic confidence, we were ready to move forward. But still, it was a big question mark in the raise... would it hold?

      The other big unknown is that we were basing our scant knowledge of how to raise such a frame out of a book (Roundwood Timber Framing, by British woodsman Ben Law), and although we have poured through the book enough times to sun bleach all the pages and have the binding almost fall apart, we still didn't know exactly how much each section weighs (is it comparable to Ben Law's raises using different wood species?), and thus, what to size our cable, winch and what to use as ballast. We gave it our best guess, with our neighbor Don's 2-ton tractor as our anchor. (By the way, a word about above-and-beyond neighborliness, Don came riding his tractor down to our aid at 9 am, only three days after finishing round 3 of chemotherapy, and still feeling like hell... on his insistence. What a neighbor! And on a good note, his test results are showing very positive progress.)

       As our neighbors and community members started arriving, we divided up roles, with various people manning ropes and tourniquets and pevees. Mike manned the very sturdy and expensive hand winch we just purchased for the job, anchored to the back of the tractor. We looped our cable through the pulley on the tripod and hooked it to the first section and started to crank... and... the tripod started pulling toward the frame! Ack! Fail. Because it wasn't a true tripod, it needed to counterbalance itself to an upright A. So we tried chaining it back to the tractor for additional stabilization and counter force, and it worked.  Up slowly cranked our first section. Because the first section pulls up the ridge poll, we had our friend Brady making sure the ridge poll was sliding smoothly against the other frames. This worked well until we ran out of frame to support it! The poll was on track to clear the cruck of the second frame, which is what needs to pull it up the rest of the way. Quickly we scrambled to screw on a little temporary extension to the end of the poll so that it would stay in place in the cruck of the second section. This worked and we were able to pull up the first section into a fully upright position.

Brady supporting the ridge poll as it slides up
      The second section was probably the most anxiety-inducing of all of them, including the questionable first. This was because the second section raises the ridge poll up, and therefore the friction between the two causes greater tension on the cable and these horrible staggering lurches of progress as the pressure gives way in short jolts. We realized that the only thing we could do to help the situation was push on the ridge poll with long boards, bouncing it upward to release the friction in pulses. Even despite that, the cable tension was audible and we all held our breath until it was up fully, thank God. No snapped cables, no snapped timbers, just hungry bellies ready to break for lunch.

Adrenaline and muscles taking a lunch break midway through the raise

     The really wonderful thing about our community here is that when someone has a work party or event such as this, everyone plugs in perfectly and effortlessly, bringing and doing exactly what needs to happen. In this case, we had decided to make a big pot of chili and have folks bring whatever else they thought would help make a meal. This meant that I was frantically chopping vegetables at 6 am, and trying to alternately keep a fire going under the beans and help set up the raise.... for about a half hour... until help showed up. Thank goodness for our friends the Jones family who set up a cooking tent and helped the fire keep going, because, as luck would have it, it RAINED off and on for most of the raise! Not an ideal day for sure, cold and rainy... but people simply paused and retreated and then returned to keep it going. And the fires kept going, with more and more people jumping in to help the chili happen. By meal time, there were plates of cornbread, fresh baked brown bread, cut up apples and sorghum, and a huge salad grown and brought by our friends at the Possibility Alliance. Hallelujah! There was even a watermelon for dessert. Somehow a dish station got created and all was abundant and delicious. There were moments like this one throughout the day where I felt the grace of the community's help quite palpably. We really couldn't have done any part of this alone. And we haven't! (A funny side note, we made so much chili we sent everyone home with some and still ate it for every meal, two days straight. We probably won't be making it again anytime soon!)

Two-year old Everett getting creative with our shortage of plates!
      At the beginning of the third raise, we had to switch over the pulley from the tripod to the top of the second section, making for a better angle to pull up the third section from. Thanks to our neighbor  Brian for climbing up a tall shaky ladder to come to the rescue with that. Too shallow an angle on the cable makes each bent want to slide across the ground toward the tractor instead of pivoting. To this end, we had folks putting pressure on and roping the bottom of each section to coax the pivot, and that seemed to work, we never had a problem with bents sliding. What began to be a problem, however, was getting each section to line up with the already air-born ridge poll. As both section three and four came up (much more easily and swiftly than one and two), we had to push the ridge poll into place in the cruck of both! Scroll down to see a picture of Dan and Matt (two big strong guys) pushing with 20 ft. long boards at the ridge poll while other folks pulled with ropes on the other side. It worked... just barely on number four. But we ended the raise successfully in the afternoon with our frame standing, braced, roped off, and with a very excited and tired group of people who came through the day with us.
     I dreamed about the frame all night, after celebrating in the evening, and couldn't wait to get up in the morning to check that it was still there, still standing. Miraculous, but yes, it was and is. We have since figured out how to adjust the placement of the sections with sledge hammers, come-alongs and chains, and the ridge poll has settled down into place better. My first reaction to seeing the frame's proportions was a little embarrassment about how huge and looming on the landscape it is, compared with its surrounding squat Juniper trees, but now I am used to seeing it and can appreciate that it probably is sized just right, and may even in time feel a little small. There are eight more pieces to go on, our jowl pieces, and then two very long heavy sills and twelve little knee braces and then the ropes and temporary bracing can come off, it will be free-standing. Already folks have been asking us "next phase" questions like, "have you thought about what kind of stove you are going to get?" "What kind of roof and water system will there be?" "Can I see the floor plan?" We are probably most excited of all, with new motivation to keep going for another month and a half.... Back to stripping bark and cutting notches for a little while, but we are much closer! Just another year and who knows?

Matt and Dan jousting the ridge poll
Next morning, still there...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Indian Summer

      Sunrises are particularly beautiful around here, or perhaps they are beautiful everywhere and we have been rising especially early to catch them lately. This past month we have been working really really really hard to finish our timber frame and get it erected. So we have been following the advise of that wise man Benjamin Franklin, "early to bed, early to rise..." which is easy to do without electric lights to keep us up at night! The weather has been in our favor, with cool nights and mostly sparkling warm days, full of wildflowers, hawks soaring overhead, Monarchs migrating through (turns out one of their favorite flowers to feast on is rare Blazing Star of which we have a whole meadow of!) Our wonderful neighbor Beth has been helping us on the frame cutting (see the lovely lady winding up for a swing below) and truly an arsenal of talented, generous community members have been accompanying us every step of the way. We are so blessed. A friend recently told me about a Native American community he had spent some time with, where he learned from an elder that when they are taught how to pray, it is never to ask for what one needs, since we already are surrounded by everything we need on this earth, but rather they are taught only prayers of thanks. I can feel the truth of that these days...

        As you can see, we have been doing quite a lot of chisel-and-malleting of joints, positioning and marking timbers to be jointed and then lifting logs on and off the framing bed. There have been days when I couldn't have been happier than sitting in the sun, tapping away a perfect connection for hours, and more lately me and my aching wrists have been very ready for this phase of our project to be over. What has helped a lot in this endeavor have been timber dogs and temporary pins that our neighbor Brian blacksmithed at his forge for us. The timber dogs act like giant staples to keep heavy logs from rolling. I finally got a photo of Brian at work, making something far more beautiful than our practical basic tools. Also a key tool has been pevees or cant hooks, which enable one us alone to roll the giant weighty logs around, in and out of position for micro adjustments to the joints. But enough of this talk! We just finished our last bent/section on Saturday! Woohoo! On to the lifting party!

Timberdogs holding tie-beam to crucks

      Another friend I have been feeling a lot of gratitude for this past week has been our neighbor Ethan, who this past week helped us pick out our ridge poll and two sill beams from a nearby mature forest of oaks and hickories. We needed a straight, 36 ft. tall, relatively consistent diameter tree for our ridge poll and Ethan was the logical person to turn to since he has been practicing and teaching sustainable forestry ever since he lived in France and was on the woodsmen team at The Arch (radical simplicity community). Everyday he would go with a team of men and fell trees with only saws and axs, then section off, split and stack firewood for the community's winter use. It took us hours to pick out our three trees and then many hours more of cutting and felling them. All three got snagged since the forest is fairly dense, but we ended up with a shagbark hickory, a black oak, and a red oak. Our Amish neighbor Jake then took over with his team of Belgians and pulled the massively heavy timbers to our land nearby, bless their hardy horse hearts! 

     Then Mike and I took over with our old familiars, the drawknives, and spent a good many hours stripping bark and preparing the ridgepoll for our upcoming raising day. It has been a year since we stripped our last sixteen logs and I was reminded of how grueling that task can be, and how far we have come. Our great hope is that on our raising day, some kind folks might feel inspired to whittle a bit on the two wall plate logs, since we have a combined 72 ft. more to debark!
      That brings us nearly to the present... As we got closer and closer to finishing our last section, we have had to start planning the next phase. The terrifying-moment-of-truth phase when we see whether our frame will stand erect or tumble apart in front of all of the eyes of our friends and neighbors! Part of getting ready for the day has meant having a "lifting day" when we reassemble all of the sections and get them in position to be lifted on raising day. I have been a bit anxious for lifting day, since I hadn't really been able to conceptualize how it would all be physically possible. Sure, we have been able to lift one log at a time with six to eight people, but would the joints line up again? Could we lift combinations of logs and how would we brace each section to get it pivoting off the ground? Could we do all of it in a morning and feed volunteers afterward? On top of worrying about all that, we had to scrounge up twenty straps, twenty-six pins, disassemble the framing bed, juice up the drills.... Oh, and get enough volunteers to come. Turns out, this time of year is a busy project time for just about everyone, and we had a hard time coming up with even eight people! The morning of, we weren't sure if enough people would show up, but somehow we seem to always get the perfect help for the task at hand, and our lifting party was no exception! Thanks especially to our neighbors at the Possibility Alliance who sent four volunteers to our rescue, we were able to do all of the above with muscle to spare. The framing bed came down, the bracing came together, the first bent was a bit touch-and-go but once we got it together, it took us only twenty minutes to assemble the second and then fifteen for the third, followed by a perfect-amount-of-food lunch. Then three folks had to leave, leaving only five of us (plus Mike the non-lifter) to assemble the last one. We contemplated sitting around for an hour until more volunteers would be able to come, but we decided to just try it, and guess what? We did it, though with no muscle to spare. It was a group high-five moment for sure. Wow. So we are almost ready for our raising day, which we have set for Saturday, October 5th. Everyone in our community has been invited and we are now hustling to get our last details in place, our final tools, ropes, our work site ready for the day. By our next post, we should have something resembling a house standing upright... So if you happen to be passing through northeast Missouri this coming weekend, stop on by and join the moment!