Thursday, April 20, 2006

[Advice] Build a Log Home and Be Free!

To fail to plan is to plan to fail. — Some Wise Fellow Somewhere
I have a plan... well, a vision, actually... OK, for now, it's still a bit of a dream. But, I'm in the process of planning out my vision to make my dream a reality.

Though I was born in one of the wealthiest, most free countries ever founded in the history of the world, by the time I came along, most of that freedom had been lost, stolen, given away and otherwise squandered. We have given up our freedom for security; we've given it up for convenience; we've let it slip away piecemeal through various tax, building and zoning codes; we've squandered our freedom on the altar of personal peace and affluence. I've heard that in California, you can actually take out a 90-year mortgage! In order to have the house we want now, we're actually willing to make ourselves slaves for the rest of our lives, paying a multiplier just a little less than our interest rate times the sales price just for the privilege of living in it now (On a 100-year mortgage at 7.5% would cost 7.5 times the loan amount). But is it "living," when we're owned by the house we own. We actually enslave our children with our endless debt, just so we can have what we want when we want it.

Enter Skip Ellsworth, fourth-generation log home builder. Forty years ago, having grown up building log homes with his father, Skip started teaching others how to build log homes the right way. The "right way" to build a log home and Skip's philosophy of life have inspired tens of thousands of people to build their own homes at a fraction of the cost of other stick-and-mortar site-built homes. Skip has now passed the baton on to his son who, every month or so, invites about forty would-be log home builders to Skip's 7000-sq. ft house (Maurice Minifield's home in Northern Exposure) outside Seattle to teach them Skip's way of building log homes.

Now, Ellsworth and his co-teacher, Steve, know alot about building log homes; not just Skip's way, but how others have done it, how the kit home folks typically do theirs and why you want to avoid them like the plague, what makes a "log" home and when it becomes something else. They have a bias toward actual logs (as opposed to perfectly round 'dowels' made from trees, or so-called 'D-logs') because trees have an outer protective ring which naturally helps fight insect infestation; making a dowel or a 'D' out of them removes that protection, as does rough-hewing them into square beams. Additionally, logs have a God-given beauty to them that is destroyed when you make them all look the same: they taper from one end to the other, they bow, they have knots and branches, they 'check' over time and have a strong, rugged beauty to them that you lose when they're no longer logs. Once you start on the path toward log-home building (that is, building with actual logs), you find that there are several building techniques that have been used over the years, and a couple more that are used by kit home makers.

All of us who had Lincoln Logs™ growing up know about the 'chinked' method of building with logs: cut a notch on the top and bottom of the log, near the end, so that each layer's notches fit into the next layer. In this method, all of the 'load' is on the corners, which have been weakened by the notching. Any variation of the 'chink' to make the logs fit together will weaken the logs, right at the point that they're supposed to be holding up the weight of the house.

Kit builders use various 'cuts' into the logs to make them sit on top of each other, each of which contributes to splitting the logs over time (sometimes it's a very short time). Even though the weight is more evenly distributed down the length of the log, the weight from above pressing on the 'cut' below causes the logs to split. What you want is a full intact log on each layer, that is in full contact with the log below it to allow for equal weight distribution throughout. The only way to get logs to sit perfectly on logs is to 'cope' the top log so that it perfectly fits the log below it. This is called the Scandinavian Chinkless method. It's a very meticulous process if done right. Which is why kit home makers and even custom log home builders aren't likely to use this method.

So, the strongest wood-on-wood home is a Scandy. And to have it done right, you're going to have to do it yourself. But there's still a problem: rot. When wood gets wet and stays wet, it rots and disintegrates. Wood is of course very porous and 'wicks' water like the wick of an oil lamp pulls the oil up to be burned by the flame. When two pieces of wood are in constant contact with each other, water will be wicked to points of contact and stay there. Go to an outdoor lumber yard in the summertime when there hasn't been rain in a couple of weeks. As you lift dry boards, you'll see water between them. This water, over time, will rot both pieces of wood, so even though you have a stronger, more evenly-distributed home with a Scandinavian Chinkless home, you still have to figure out a way to keep the moisture out (or let it escape) so that your walls don't fall down from rot on the inside.

Ellsworth and Steve are all about energy conservation. "It's just that it's our energy we want to conserve." So their goal is to teach you the best, easiest, cheapest, fastest, lowest-maintenance, longest-lasting log home building methods and techniques. The object is to get a CO (certificate of occupancy) as quickly as possible so that you can move in to your debt-free home.

Now, they're also about quality construction, which is why they teach the butt-and-pass method. Using this method, you can build with "green" logs and your house won't shrink and it won't fall down. It doesn't settle. You don't have to use telescoping plumbing fixtures and leave big gaps behind the headers of your doors and windows, because the logs aren't moving, even though they'll shrink toward their own center over the first year and continue to expand and contract with climate changes. This is also one of the quicker ways to build.

Wallace Falls Lodge was built by Log Home Builders Association members. All of the wall logs were put up in two weeks by Tim and his daughter (who was nine years old, at the time!) during Spring Break. Then Tim put the entire roof on by himself in another ten days. You can see from the pictures that the place is beautiful, and well-constructed!

One of the great things about the LHBA is you only pay for the initial class. After that, the meetings are free for members to share plans, critique scale models; network for land deals, free mobile homes to live in while you build, sign up to help someone who's ready to build in order to learn hands-on; swap tools, etc. All the meetings are currently hosted at Skip's house in Washington, so there is the airfare, rental car and lodging aspect if you're not local. But Steve mentioned that they were hoping someone would build something big enough on the east coast (because there are LOTS of members on this side of the country, too) so that we could have some of those members meetings in our neck of the woods. I'm game!! ;)

But even if you can't make it to the members meetings, they have a "member's only" forum where Steve and Ellsworth and other "Certified Log Home Builders" share ideas, deals, etc... the only thing you can't get in the forum is face-to-face with a scale model. It's a great place to ask a question, to share your successes and get encouragement.

Do you want to be free? Build your own low-maintenance log home, debt-free. They recommend you take the class at least two years before you start building... the longer the lead time, the cheaper it's going to be; and the less frustrated you're going to be.

If you go to the class, drop me a line (especially if you're in the Mid-Atlantic, more specifically, Southern Appalachia). I'd be glad to compare notes, critique your scale model and swing a sledge to help you make your dream a reality.

Two tips when you go to class: (a) take some slippers to class (Steve says: "There are two kinds of people who take this class. Those who wear slippers, and those who wish they had."); and (b) don't forget your lunch—they have a large fridge and all the standard kitchen appliances, which you're welcome to use.

FREEDOM!!! —William Wallace

Posted by Jim Bob Howard to Advice at 4/19/2006 08:41:00 PM

Friday, April 14, 2006

[Poetry] How Did You Die?

by Edmund Cooke

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble's a ton, or a trouble's an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it.
And it isn't the fact that you're hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?

You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what's that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It's nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there-that's a disgrace.
The harder you're thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn't the fact that you're licked that counts;
It's how did you fight and why?

And though you be done to death, what then?
If you battled the best you could;
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he's slow or spry,
It isn't the fact that you're dead that counts,
But only, how did you die?

Posted by Jim Bob Howard to Poetry at 4/13/2006 04:35:00 PM

[Poetry] The Telephone

by Robert Frost

"When I was just as far as I could walk
From here today,
There was an hour
All still
When leaning with my head against a flower
I heard you talk.
Don't say I didn't, for I heard you say—
You spoke from that flower on the windowsill—
Do you remember what it was you said?"

"First tell me what it was you thought you heard."

"Having found the flower and driven a bee away,
I leaned my head,
And holding by the stalk,
I listened and I thought I caught the word—
What was it? Did you call me by my name?
Or did you say—
Someone said 'Come'—I heard it as I bowed."

"I may have thought as much, but not aloud."

"Well, so I came."

Posted by Jim Bob Howard to Poetry at 4/12/2006 02:00:00 PM

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

[Poetry] It Couldn't Be Done

by Edgar Guest

Somebody said it couldn't be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn't," but he would be one
Who wouldn't say so till he'd tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing and he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you'll never do that;
At least no one has ever done it";
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he'd begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing and he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That "cannot be done," and you'll do it.

Posted by Jim Bob Howard to Poetry at 4/06/2006 04:45:00 PM

Thursday, April 06, 2006

[Poetry] If

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think-and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And-which is more-you'll be a Man, my son!

Posted by Jim Bob Howard to Poetry at 4/05/2006 07:20:00 AM

Monday, April 03, 2006

[Poetry] Blueberries

by Robert Frost

"YOU ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!"

"I don't know what part of the pasture you mean."

"You know where they cut off the woods-let me see-
It was two years ago-or no!-can it be
No longer than that?-and the following fall
The fire ran and burned it all up but the wall."

"Why, there hasn't been time for the bushes to grow.
That's always the way with the blueberries, though:
There may not have been the ghost of a sign
Of them anywhere under the shade of the pine,
But get the pine out of the way, you may burn
The pasture all over until not a fern
Or grass-blade is left, not to mention a stick,
And presto, they're up all around you as thick
And hard to explain as a conjuror's trick."

"It must be on charcoal they fatten their fruit.
I taste in them sometimes the flavour of soot.
And after all really they're ebony skinned:
The blue's but a mist from the breath of the wind,
A tarnish that goes at a touch of the hand,
And less than the tan with which pickers are tanned."

"Does Mortenson know what he has, do you think?"

"He may and not care and so leave the chewink
To gather them for him-you know what he is.
He won't make the fact that they're rightfully his
An excuse for keeping us other folk out."

"I wonder you didn't see Loren about."

"The best of it was that I did. Do you know,
I was just getting through what the field had to show
And over the wall and into the road,
When who should come by, with a democrat-load
Of all the young chattering Lorens alive,
But Loren, the fatherly, out for a drive."

"He saw you, then? What did he do? Did he frown?"
"He just kept nodding his head up and down.
You know how politely he always goes by.
But he thought a big thought-I could tell by his eye-
Which being expressed, might be this in effect:
'I have left those there berries, I shrewdly suspect,
To ripen too long. I am greatly to blame.'"

"He's a thriftier person than some I could name."

"He seems to be thrifty; and hasn't he need,
With the mouths of all those young Lorens to feed?
He has brought them all up on wild berries, they say,
Like birds. They store a great many away.
They eat them the year round, and those they don't eat
They sell in the store and buy shoes for their feet."

"Who cares what they say? It's a nice way to live,
Just taking what Nature is willing to give,
Not forcing her hand with harrow and plow."

"I wish you had seen his perpetual bow-
And the air of the youngsters! Not one of them turned,
And they looked so solemn-absurdly concerned."

"I wish I knew half what the flock of them know
Of where all the berries and other things grow,
Cranberries in bogs and raspberries on top
Of the boulder-strewn mountain, and when they will crop.
I met them one day and each had a flower
Stuck into his berries as fresh as a shower;
Some strange kind-they told me it hadn't a name."

"I've told you how once not long after we came,
I almost provoked poor Loren to mirth
By going to him of all people on earth
To ask if he knew any fruit to be had
For the picking. The rascal, he said he'd be glad
To tell if he knew. But the year had been bad.
There had been some berries-but those were all gone.
He didn't say where they had been. He went on:
'I'm sure-I'm sure'-as polite as could be.
He spoke to his wife in the door, 'Let me see,
Mame, we don't know any good berrying place?'
It was all he could do to keep a straight face.

"If he thinks all the fruit that grows wild is for him,
He'll find he's mistaken. See here, for a whim,
We'll pick in the Mortensons' pasture this year.
We'll go in the morning, that is, if it's clear,
And the sun shines out warm: the vines must be wet.
It's so long since I picked I almost forget
How we used to pick berries: we took one look round,
Then sank out of sight like trolls underground,
And saw nothing more of each other, or heard,
Unless when you said I was keeping a bird
Away from its nest, and I said it was you.
'Well, one of us is.' For complaining it flew
Around and around us. And then for a while
We picked, till I feared you had wandered a mile,
And I thought I had lost you. I lifted a shout
Too loud for the distance you were, it turned out,
For when you made answer, your voice was as low
As talking-you stood up beside me, you know."

"We sha'n't have the place to ourselves to enjoy-
Not likely, when all the young Lorens deploy.
They'll be there to-morrow, or even to-night.
They won't be too friendly-they may be polite-
To people they look on as having no right
To pick where they're picking. But we won't complain.
You ought to have seen how it looked in the rain,
The fruit mixed with water in layers of leaves,
Like two kinds of jewels, a vision for thieves."

Posted by Jim Bob Howard to Poetry at 4/03/2006 04:26:00 PM

Saturday, April 01, 2006

National Poetry Month

Well, some bureaucrat somewhere decided that April is National Poetry Month. Not sure what that means we're all supposed to do: read poetry? write poetry? speak only in quatrains? iambic pentameter? do haikus count?

So, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to post some of my favorite poems (I already had a Poetry category, so it seemed only logical).

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.