Quick Update

Hello everyone! Just wanted to tune in and give a pinch of what’s been going on with the house. Most of the projects I’ve been doing are rather monotonous ones such as drain lines, painting, staining the deck, etc. I wanted to make sure the material on the blog was truly something of an update, so I’ve been rather choosy on what I log.

AND, in between Christmas presents, saving for a septic system, and buying our pellet stove (yes I got a pellet stove and I’ll explain in the next blog) we’ve been moving at a painfully slothful pace. However, progress is good and I’d say we’re still on track for moving in during the spring… maybe early summer.

I am excited to say that I got an early Christmas present, a video camera with HD capability. I plan to make lots of video updates on the house in the future. Faith and I already made a video with mostly us ranting about life now and what we would like life to be like in the future. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sdjgz_i4OOY

So stay tuned and God bless!

A Wool Sweater with Some Gypsum on Top

In the past, I’ve approached insulation with a general dreariness. Minuscule particles of fiberglass stinging my arms like a thousand tiny splinters and a nasty hacking cough are the first things that come to mind. On top of that, my insulation job was going to be horrendous. I had random widths between 2×4’s and lots of triangular spaces to fill (between braces).

After a lot of research, I figured it would be worth the investment to go for stone wool insulation. While this stuff leaves you with plenty of itching and coughing, it still has a ton of advantages over fiberglass.

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First off, it’s stone wool, not fiberglass. The tiny particles it lets off are hazardous to your lungs but not much more than sawdust would be. It’s not tiny shards of glass. There was an added piece of mind with that knowledge. Secondly, it installs with a friction fit between studs. There’s no face on it, which means you don’t have to staple anything. And since I had many odd shapes and sizes to fill, this stuff was perfect. Thirdly, it has a slightly better R-value (R-15) than the 2×4 equivalent in fiberglass (R-13).

I’m not sure if it’s the size of the house, or the good insulation, or perhaps a combination of the both, but our tiny home is now very easy to warm up. This morning, the temperature was 51 degrees when I arrived on site. After plugging in a small electric, oil-filled space heater that is rated for about 300 square feet, the entire place was heated up to 67 degrees in an hour and a half. The temperature outside hadn’t changed.

So what’s the downside to this stuff? The price. It’s easily double the amount you could expect to pay for fiberglass insulation. But I will never use fiberglass again. This stuff is awesome.

Then came the fun part… (sarcasm). Two items that do not go together are “timber frame” and “drywall”. Every single piece I’ve installed, yes every one, has needed cut at least once and usually about three times. When you’re working around braces, lots of electrical outlets, and most of your walls span less than three feet, you will be left with LOTS of scrap drywall. By the way, if anyone needs some scrap drywall, I have enough for a decent-sized doghouse.

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While I could have used many smaller pieces on certain sections, I made it a point to have the least amount of joints to mud as possible. I’ve done drywall before, and once was enough to know, the less mudding, the better. So seriously, anyone need any scraps?

I still have a small portion of the living room to hang and after that, the finishing begins.

I’ve decided that once the drywall is finished, I’ll try to complete the bathroom first. So far, I have the tub installed and the cement board shower surround and the cement board on the floor. Installing the bathtub was a chore, but I was lucky enough to have my dad lend me a hand. The tub I purchased required a bed of mortar under it to give it full support. It makes for a nice solid job, but installation was certainly stressful. Me and concrete don’t do well together.

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I also added a bit of extra electrical before finishing the insulation. Faith wanted a chandelier (cue Sia) in the library loft, so after some brain racking, I came up with a decent solution.

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Front Porch and Financial Patience

Coming from an inpatient person, this project has been a valuable lesson. Patience is an incredible virtue when it comes to construction and I’ve been given plenty of opportunity to exercise it. There’s been days where I would buy a few boards, install them the next day, and then wait a week for the next paycheck to get some more boards. And while I’ve been tempted to use a credit card at times, I know it will just lead to a steady hill climb of debt. So far, we’re entirely debt free on the build.

When last we left off, I had begun the frame work for the front porch. I had no clue how much money and time were involved in a porch. It’s rather insane. Just the framework for the deck was over 200 dollars. The deck boards, posts, and stringers for the stairs were another 250. Screws are easily 25 dollars per a 5lb box and you go through many of them. The railing is a good 75 more. The skirting around the deck to keep critters and children from playing under it requires almost as many deck boards as it took to do the surface and adds up fast.

I’ve decided to skip the skirting around the remainder of the deck this year until we’re moved in. It can be finished anytime and getting the interior finished is higher on the list at the moment. Luckily, I was able to source some used stiles for the railing from a friend of mine for 20 dollars. With some pressure washing, the stain came off pretty easily and should look uniform when we put the stain on our deck.

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Stairs are a secret beast in the construction biz. I had my introduction to them a couple years back when I tried to widen the tread on the stairs going to my basement in our current house. What I learned is that if you start to overthink stairs, you’ll screw them up. I won’t try to explain them here because I’ll probably confuse the heck out of you. But I encourage you to buy a book that does a great job of explaining them. That book is ‘How To Build A House’ by Larry Haun. It covers the basic construction methods used on homes made for Habitat for Humanity. Larry was a carpenter by trade (I believe he’s passed) and is great at explaining basic carpentry. I also referenced this book a good bit when it came to the roofing.

My grandmother tried out the stairs a week ago and gave the big stamp of approval, so I think it’s safe to say I have overcome.

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As with any post I put out on the blog, if you want more specifics about the way I constructed things, don’t hesitate to comment or email.

There’s been a few other things I’ve tackled since I last left off. I made the trap door for the basement and installed the 200 amp electrical service entry wire. The trap door was simpler than I thought it would be and will have a couple inset handles that will be recessed into the floor. This way, a rug will lay flush and the trap door will give us a way to get canned goods out of the basement in the dead of winter.

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With the electrical, it’s been hurry up and wait. I got the conduit ran, ground installed, and everything inspected and now have been waiting three weeks for the company to hook up my service. Hopefully, I’ll have some lights in the next blog.

Cedar Siding

I understand the lure of modern building materials, I really do. I understand that vinyl siding is incredibly maintenance free. I understand that fiber cement is practically fireproof. And yes, I understand that wood siding is outdated. However, it would have been a crime to wrap a timber frame home in anything other than a natural material.

And before you ask, yes it was fairly pricey, but I find it well worth the investment. I sourced cedar bevel siding from a distributor out of Scottdale, Pennsylvania. The customer service was greatly lacking and I am thrilled that I’m done dealing with them, but the product is very nice and there were only a handful of boards that were unacceptable. The total price for 900 square feet was $2,200. It’s much cheaper than what I could source anywhere else.

The size of the siding was 1″x8″ and came in varying lengths up to 12′.

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The initial row was the most important and had to be equally distanced from the eaves of the roof. Keeping the siding level was important, especially when it came to trimming around windows, but an entire house from front to back tends to be out of level here and there… especially if I’m the carpenter.

So once my starter strip was installed (just like you would with shingles, but this helps create a rain flare on the base of the wall) I was able to go right up with the siding using a jig I had made. You can purchase a special jig online that is meant for fiber cement and wood bevel siding that allows you to clamp both ends of the board ensuring that they are spaced correctly. However, they are expensive and I was able to have help when installing the siding. With two people, a jig works fine.

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As you can see, it makes a drastic difference to the overall appearance of our tiny home.

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There were some special techniques I had to use for certain parts of the install. When installing vinyl siding, there are no butt joints. One piece simply slides over another. With wood siding, you don’t have that luxury. Some installation manuals recommend that you caulk the end of each board where the two meet. And while this would certainly suffice, the proper way is to put a piece of flashing behind each butt joint that overlaps the next course of siding so that every little bit of water that gets in the crack finds its way out. This took some extra time, but I’m pleased to know that it’s that much more weatherproof.

The next thing to consider was the point of contact between the top of the window trim and the siding. Caulking will eventually fail and windows are the number one places for leaks on a wall. So I installed some homemade aluminum flashing above the window that I shaped into the form I wanted. I could have bought the flashing in the big box store, but this saved me a few bucks and I kinda like the metal-worked look it has to it.

The last technique I had to consider was whether I would face nail or blind nail my pieces. I understand the argument that comes with blind nailing, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave that much of a board unsupported. Plus, my siding tapered to around an 1/8″ on the top of the board. With that little material to work with, the nails were very prone to split the boards. So yes, nails are exposed on my house, but no, it does not bother me one bit.

What we did next made many people, including ourselves, sick. We painted the gorgeous stuff. I know what you’re thinking… “How could you??” Well, let me defend myself. I want this siding to last as long as possible. Stain/sealer will extend the life of wood siding by many, many years; but only paint can give a true waterproof protection that makes it last for 100 years. I didn’t want to re-stain my house every 3-4 years and I like the option of being able to change the appearance of our home with a few coats of paint in 10 years time.

So, we primed it, and painted it an earthy green. Pa calls it OD green (which I’ve concluded is some kind of green he was very familiar with in the Army). With the rustic cedar trim, which is stained, it really pops. Faith and I love it a great deal.

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Now that the siding is done, I’ll begin electrical and add a front porch before my Summer runs out.

Here’s some finished pics with my wife’s phone. Not as good quality, but it’s the finished result. Eventually we’ll add a stone veneer to the foundation.

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Loft Bridge and Finishing Timbers

I wish that I were as organized as some contractors I watch or read about. Then I would be able to pass from one project to another with ease, without hesitation, waiting for funds, or researching how to do what I’m about to do. Alas, I’m not a contractor, I do hesitate, we are building debt free, and I have lots to learn. So while others are moving in to homes two months after a build begins, we’re still trudging through the elementary steps of basic construction.

We have, however, made leaps of progress on the interior. As I stated in the previous post, we decided to make a bridge to stretch from one loft to the other. This way, we only need one ladder on the main floor space. I kept the design as basic as possible but used timber frame construction, simply adding two more floor joists a couple feet off center. I then used oak planks with a 1/4″ gap between the planks to span the distance.

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We hope to incorporate a rustic railing to the design that uses rebar and more rough timbers. It’s still in the planning process.

As much as I would have liked to let my timbers age naturally and receive their gray hue of antiquity, I felt it necessary to give some sort of finish to them. This is mostly due to the fact that our ceiling is pine and pine tends to yellow over time. Since the rafters are oak and poplar, were I to let them age, the contrast from gray to yellow does not seem appealing to us. So we decided we must finish them.

There are many different ways in which I could have finished the timbers. The first that I considered was to stain both the tongue and groove ceiling and all of the timbers to give a uniform color throughout. While I think this would be attractive, it felt a crime to take away the natural color of our timbers. And once they were stained, there would be no going back.

The second option we considered was to oil the wood with a natural oil. I certainly entertained this idea for quite some time but decided against it in the end. The only reason was that oil is much different than other finishes in that it soaks into the grain of the wood. It leaves a dark rich glow to the natural color of the timber but does need re-oiled within a few years. I didn’t want to setup a scaffolding in the center of my house once it was finished in a few years to redo the whole interior.

Long story short, we decided to go with a clear satin polyurethane. That being said, I rather hate the stuff and I’ll be the first to admit it. It’s quite unnatural, requires much prep work, and stinks to high heavens. But once the timbers were finished, they were finished, and my mind can be at ease for quite some time. We went through about 3 gallons worth, but that is less than I had anticipated.

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The siding is also done now, but that is the topic of the next blog.

Windows and Front Door

We’re getting there. Little by little, our cabin is starting to look like a home. I never thought that by the middle of May, I would have windows and a front door installed. It seems like Spring is screaming by, but I’m pretty satisfied with the progress.

Before I put the windows in, I had to install the house wrap. I’m really impressed with the quality of this stuff, but then again, the price is fairly outrageous. It lays really flat and I imagine will help with water penetration a ton. These are not vapor barriers, as they allow vapor to pass through their membrane, but they keep solid liquids out while maintaining the breathability of the wall. This is super important when it comes to a timber frame home.

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I have to say that when planning our home, I had many fears and many feelings of inadequacy. There seems to be many items on the to-do list that can frighten someone away from building their own house. For me, one of those items was putting in a window. I don’t know why, but I had a decent fear of putting in windows incorrectly, and since literature varies from book to book on how to do it, I tended to overthink it.

Really, there’s not that much to it. I watched a couple videos on YouTube that were incredibly helpful. As I’ve said before, find a video with a lot of views and a lot of likes. Usually, you’re getting some quality instruction.

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After the windows were in, I started planning the build for the front door. Now doors are tricky. As a matter of fact, they’re much more complicated than windows, if you plan to build one. When I picture a front door, I picture something that is going to keep every bit of the cold winter air out. So when planning a solid wood entry door, I had to be especially particular as to how I would build it.

To make a long story short, I bought one. I really wanted to make one, but I didn’t want to devote a couple of weeks time to getting the thing absolutely perfect and make sure that it wasn’t going to let any air in. The door that I built for the basement has held up fine, but it has shrunk and no longer latches. Now I have to go back and adjust the casing and latch for it. I really didn’t want that to be an issue with the door upstairs.

I purchased my door from Lowes. It is a solid wood door with a panel design and is made of Douglas Fir. For $170, I really found it to be a great deal. It came unfinished and we applied a rustic cedar stain/sealant on it to match the exterior trim around the windows. I see this door lasting a very long time.

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As you can see, I’ve already begun some trim work on the exterior with some western red cedar. I’ll save those details for when we install the siding.

Since I’m still waiting on the siding from the distributor, I’ve done a good bit of interior work. Faith wanted a bridge to go from one loft to the other, so I’ll be sure to show that process in the near future as well.

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Shingles and Enclosure

Heights and I are getting to be more comfortably aquainted with each other every day. A roof with a 12/12 pitch is appealing when it comes to longevity, but not so much when it comes to installation. My scaffolding on the eaves of the roof allowed me to install the drip edge and up to eight rows of shingles from the bottom, but I needed something else to help me get up higher.

Working with my chicken ladder was out of the question because there was way too much climbing up and climbing down without much result. Plus, I needed to establish some chalk lines across the length of the roof. The only way to do this was with the help of roof jacks.

Roof jacks are simple and amazing tools. They slide up under an existing shingle and nail down into the rafters. Another roof jack is then installed less than eight feet from the previous one and a board is stretched in between them. This gives the worker a scaffolding of sorts to work on that can be removed after you’re done with it. The nail left is driven home in the shingle.

Once the roof jacks were in place, the shingles went on in a couple days. I didn’t take extensive pictures of this process because there are many resources that show how to install shingles and the procedure will vary depending on the brand and type of shingle. The process was simple, though, and I rather enjoyed shingling.

As I’ve said before, I was able to source my shingles for a very good price, but it came with a little setback. The shingles were the same brand and color but were not from the same batch. Whenever you get shingles from different batches, there will be slight variations in the color and finish. You can’t really tell at first glance but it is a tad noticeable. I’m choosing not to worry about it.

Now that the roof is finished, I have moved on to closing in the walls with OSB. I very much dislike this part of the build as it is rather difficult to install sheets of OSB on your own without a nail gun. But the challenge is usually met with optimism and I’ve finished closing in half of the frame. Typically, OSB is installed on the ground while you’re framing up your walls and is raised into place all at once. However, I didn’t have that luxury with the timber frame.

With my walls enclosed and the window openings cut out, the house wrap, windows, and a front door are next in line. I’ve ordered some western red cedar bevel siding from Pennsylvania but I’m not sure how long it’s going to take before it comes in. I might have to begin work on the utilities and interior before I install the siding.

Subframe and DIY Insulated Roofing Panels

Before I could close everything in on the walls with OSB, I had to frame up my window and door openings. This was easy and pleasing work. After dealing with eight inch thick timbers, a 2×4 seems like a twig. I can certainly see the appeal, but looking back, I’m overly satisfied with the work that I put in the timbers.

My hopes were idealistic when it came to closing in the frame. When you set out to build a timber frame, you’re thinking things like “I’m building naturally.” Timber framing is certainly a natural process, but unless you utilize strawbale, wattle and daub, or hempcrete, it’s not going to be that natural at all. I really want to make a timber frame structure with an enclosure of that sort, but for our main home, I wanted to stick to what I knew. I guarantee my future woodshop will be my experiment with natural building.

Our cabin will contain eight windows: a generous one for each loft and six identically-sized windows on the main level. All are either on the east, south, and west walls. The north side contains no windows since this will be the side we place the addition on.

Framing around an existing timber frame was easy and since the timber frame carries the structural load, I was ablet to space my 2x4s two feet on center.

Headers for windows weren’t absolutely necessary since the function of a header is to carry the load of the structure above it, but it’s nice to have that extra insurance against sagging timbers.

It seems that our view of the sunset in the kitchen and loft will be rather impeccable.

Once the subframe was complete, I jumped right into the rigid insulation for the roof. I was able to locate this insulation for an incredibly cheap price even though it’s probably not what I would have selected if I were buying new.

There’s always a price to pay when you try to go cheap. My insulation was sold by the bundle for $10 a bundle. I only needed three bundles. So for 30 bucks, I sourced my roofing insulation. With that being said, it was certainly an odd product. They came in 4’x4′ pieces and tapered from 2 1/2″ down to 1/2″. To my knowledge, they’re commonly used on flat roofs for industrial buildings. The taper allows one to create a very small slope to ensure that the roofing above it doesn’t have water pooling on it.

I used them just like I would use full board insulation and installed one row at a time with the thick side on the bottom. Then the second row was installed directly over the first with the taper going the other way and the thick side at the top. With this method, I was able to stagger my joints and it aided in creating an effective thermal barrier.

My beef with the stuff is that it was inconsistent with the thickness. It wasn’t labelled correctly and some pieces were 2 1/2″ thick on the fat end, while some were 1 3/4″. This made for an awful time when it came to making a perfectly flat surface for the OSB to lay on. It took some strategic placement, but it worked out in the end… Long story short, buying used or discount items has it’s perks, but only if you’re willing to deal with sub-par stuff. Time can be money when you’re building a home.

After that adventure, I placed 1/2″ OSB on top of the insulation and nailed it in to the rafters with 6″ long landscaping nails. Screws would have been the choice of online forums, but the nails seem to seat better in the OSB and the finished result is a solid roof with absolutely no give. I’m pretty content with my homemade insulated panels.

Next in line is fascia boards, felt paper, drip edge, and shingles before I move on to the walls and windows.

Tongue and Groove Ceiling

While most people would be throwing some OSB on the roof at this point, Faith and I really wanted to leave the rafters exposed on our frame. In order to do this, we needed to install the finished ceiling on the rafters first before we added rigid insulation and the shingles.

In most timber frames today, enclosure methods are commonly dried-in with insulated panels that are prefabricated. While there is much to be said for this method, they are certainly not cost effective. Some people go through the effort of making their own panels, but that requires very accurate rafters and it’s difficult to get a tongue and groove finish on the ceilings when it’s all said and done.

I decided that I would simply build up the roof starting with the tongue and groove, then adding rigid insulation, then a layer of OSB, and finally the shingles. This isn’t the time effecient method, but it is certainly the cost effecient one.

I ordered the tongue and groove planks from Home Depot seeing as their price was significantly lower than any other source I found. At the time of this writing, one 1″x6″x8′ piece sells at $4.25. So in the tongue and groove, I had around 1200 dollars.

This is half of what I needed, sitting in my woodshop.

It was important to keep the stuff very dry. The planking was kiln dried, so any moisture from rain would really make the pieces swell and would make fitting them near impossible. This also proved to be troublesome when it came to installing the planks because the process was so slow. With the large amount of rain we had in the past couple weeks, I was covering my progress with tarps almost every day.

Another challenge posed to me was the pitch of the roof. As I’ve said before, the roof is on a 12/12 pitch and is impossible to scale without additional support. I had to work from the top, down so that my pieces at the top would run parallel to one another. If I had started at the bottom, and didn’t stay perfectly square, the pieces at the top would have to be ripped at unequal proportions. Working from the top down kept everything symmetrical and gave me a place to put my footing as I came down the roof.

To scale the roof at first, I placed 2×4’s on the outside of the rafters spaced as far as I could stretch and climbed up. I removed them as I came down the roof with the planking. I had a safety harness for this endeavor, but I still had plenty of uncomfortable moments. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many pictures of the process since I was more concerned with keeping my balance.

As I got towards the bottom, I found out quickly that I was going to need a scaffolding running the length of the eaves to make things a little easier. Pa helped rig one up on each side with two inch rought cut poplar. It makes things significantly more efficient.

Since my rafters are four inches wide, I was able to have plenty of room for error when installing the pieces. The butt joints were on the outside of the rafter, so the planking looks seamless from the inside.

Faith and I liked the look of the solid piece with no bead on the underside of the plank better, so we put the extra bead pattern on the outside. Looking so nice in the end, it was a shame to cover even that side up, but the underside looked incredible.

I have a couple places at the ridge of the roof where there is a bit of a gap, but I’ll cover those with some corner trim in the end.

Once I had the planks up, I was able to lay a layer of felt roofing paper to give me a temporary roof and to give a black back drop in case any holes or gaps were showing in the tongue and groove. This, too, proved to be difficult since I had no place to get my footing now that the 2x4s were gone. So I fabricated a “chicken ladder” out of 2x4s that hooks over the top of the ridge so that I could scale the roof with ease.

When the weather stays consistently dry, I’ll start with the rigid insulation, OSB, and shingles. In the meantime, I’ll be framing windows so that I can close in the walls.

Porch Loft and Overhangs

Once the mad rush of the timber framing was finished, I still had plently of framework to complete. First, I had to go back and fix the brace that was in the wrong position on the post. I cut off the tenon on the bottom side of the brace and fitted the top joint in. Once it was pegged, I screwed many screws into the bottom of the brace going into the post. Since the joint for the brace won’t be exposed in the end, it won’t show and I consider it plenty strong enough for the application.

Faith came up with the idea to make a large porch off of the front of the cabin that could house a loft above it. This way we could have dual matching lofts which seems to be a bit of a staple in the tiny house movement.

In order to do this, I had to come up with some tricky carpentry and decided to over-engineer the whole thing since I’m not an engineer. A few months ago, I poured large concrete footers, two feet in depth and diameter that the posts for the loft sit on. The posts were attached to the footers with a stainless steel post anchor that bolts into the concrete and screws to the post.

These anchors keep the wood up off of the concrete which dramatically increase the longevity of the pressure treated wood.

Once the posts were set and plumbed, I ran floor joists to the posts coming from the crossbeam, leveling each one as I went. I rabbeted the top of the posts where the floor joists met them on the outside so that the load of the loft is more directly transferred to the post instead of the screws set in the post.

Once the two oustide floor joists were set, I screwed 4×4 braces to help stabilize the posts while setting the rest of the floor joists. In the end, I used a total of six braces; four for the front and two for the sides.

After the floor joists were set and the braces were in, I layed 3/4″ tongue and groove OSB flooring in the loft. Building a tiny house is really great when you only have to buy five sheets of subfloor. The total footprint of this loft is identical to the opposite loft, 8′ x 16′.

Following the subfloor, I started framing the 2×4 knee wall that supports the rest of the rafters. This was just conventional framing, but I made sure that I overlapped my top plates to brace the outside corners of the knee wall effectively. When using 2×4 truss systems, that isn’t too much of a concern, but it is when you have 4×6 rafters of red and white oak. (For the record, white oak is crazy ridiculously heavy.)

The knee wall on the gable face needed a double stud design at certain points to carry the load of the window that will be in the loft.

After the knee walls were completed, I had eight more rafters to place. Having Wednesday off and it being a gorgeous day, I decided I would try the first couple sets myself. Yes, I am aware that was stupid, but I pulled it off without any injuries. I carried the rafters individually up to the loft and pegged the joints on the knee wall. Once pegged, I tipped them into position by hand, leveled them, and screwed them into the knee wall. This was tough, but doable.

The last two sets hung out too far off the loft and I needed Pa’s help. He pulled the tractor down and put a pallet on the end of the forks. I stood on the pallet and pegged the joints, and then he pulled a block and tackle to tip the rafters into position. If you had seen the sight, you probably would have started video recording waiting for my impending doom, but luckily, it didn’t happen.

I didn’t get pictures of this process because I was using as many hands as I had available.

After the rafters were set, I created 12 inch overhangs for the gable ends by ripping down some 2×4’s. My father in law showed up at just the right time and we were able to get the front gable done by the end of the day Wednesday. I believe it’s fair to say that Wednesday was one of my most successful days of this build.

Next up, building up the roof, starting with tongue and groove planking. Looking forward to seeing some enclosure on our tiny abode.