Sunday, September 28, 2014

Cabin part 11: Making visible progress!

The cabin finally has been caulked and stained, and we've finished the face of the dormer; it is starting to look like the real deal. Just for fun, I'll post a few shots from earlier in the process, so you can see the changes; all were taken from roughly the same position. The two just below the big photo were taken the day the cabin was moved onto our lot at the beginning of October 2013, and at the end of October 2013, when we put a temporary tarp roof on the cabin to hold it through the winter. Below that are two shots from March 2014, when the rafters and dormer frame were added; a door was also cut into the side. The last set of shots are from May 15 and May 29, when the peak over the door was added and the soffits and roofing were completed. (As always, you can click on a photo to see an enlarged version of it.)

We just returned from several weeks up there, to oversee the installation of the actual windows, and also the caulking and staining of the exterior. The stain is a little darker than we'd anticipated, but overall we like it a lot.

The cabin now has four windows in the log level. Two were cut into the logs when we bought the cabin shell: the square one on the north wall of the cabin (visible in the first photos above), and another on the east wall, which is opposite the wall with the door in the photos above. We also added a double casement next to that side door on the west wall (you can see the new window in the large photo), and a single casement on the south wall, which is where our deck is (that's the side that overlooks the lake).

Bruce and I had installed two windows in the dormer face in July, and on September 7 and 8, we put up the board-and-batten siding and window trim. Next year we'll finish the gable ends; right now they are covered with plywood.

At right is a photo of me working on the dormer face. I did most of the work on the scaffold, while Bruce ran the saw on the ground. I had figured out the dimensions and spacing for the window trim and board-and-batten siding, so I measured for each piece and then installed the boards Bruce cut. I also caulked around the windows and along the board edges where needed, and did some sanding and staining on the big cedar logs. Two days on the scaffolding is enough for me!

We had gas lines run to the two stove/fireplace appliances in mid-September; now all we need is a propane tank to fuel them for cold weather. We're in a race to get this stuff done before the snow flies, and we may--or may not--get it done before we have to close up for the winter. We're also waiting for the actual doors to be delivered; once they are in, we'll be close to buttoned up for winter. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cabin part 10: Adding windows and other work in July/August

It's been a busy, busy summer, but I've finally gotten around to some new posts. In this one, you'll see the preparation we did before staining, as well as the actual cutting of window openings in the log level in August. We also had some fun, relaxing times with friends, and I did a guided field walk at a local nature center. (Click on any photo to see an enlarged version of all photos.)

In mid-July, Bruce and I installed two windows in the face of the dormer. This gives a lot of light and ventilation up there, and the larger window is also a legal egress window which can be used to crawl out onto the roof in case of fire below (heaven forfend!).

At the end of July, we hired McMillan Tree Service to remove some trees in front of our deck ... some were sick or beginning to die off, while a few others were just blocking the view from the deck. We also had them clear trees for the septic installation. One of the McMillan guys, Mike (also known as Boogie), was part of the crew that helped to re-assemble the cabin on site back in October 2013, so it was great to see him again. Tree trimming up north is a very physical, difficult job, and these guys really work hard.

We also had our first overnight guests in late July, when Bruce's niece Carey and her husband Kipp came up to stay with us for 3 nights and helped us get ready for staining. It was great fun to have them, and they were awesome house guests. They spent a lot of time sanding the logs on the deck side, as well as other helpful things such as clearing and hauling brush.

Carey and Kipp were also there on Sunday, July 28, when I led a nature walk at Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center, at the end of the Gunflint Trail. The topic was "Wild Edibles of the Gunflint Trail" and I led 20 to 25 people on an hour-long walk through the Chik Wauk grounds, pointing out various edibles, non-edibles and other natural curiosities. Afterwards, Carey, Kipp, Bruce and I hiked up the very steep, rocky Saganaga Corridor Trail, which leads to a high overlook of the water corridor that leads to Canada (the background of the photos in the second row below is Canada; we were about a mile from the border at this point). We also enjoyed fabulous blueberry and serviceberry picking/munching up there ... although there are many berry pickers on the Gunflint Trail and at Chik Wauk at this time of year, very few venture up that steep, difficult trail we hiked, so the berries were largely undisturbed.

While at Chik Wauk, we found a number of very nice wild lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum), which we picked and brought back to the cabin. I made a delightful appetizer for dinner that night, sauteeing the cut-up lobster mushrooms in butter, then adding some half-and-half and cooking it until it reduced to a thick sauce. Delightful with a glass of wine!

Carey and Kipp also helped us build a boardwalk on our path to the lake, which was badly needed. The path goes over a low area that is often quite wet, and it's been difficult to walk to the lake without getting a wet foot (or risking a twisted ankle because the terrain was very uneven). They also gave us a charming set of "cabin rules" which we hung up on one of the logs by the door. Finally, we all enjoyed watching the antics of the local ruby-throated hummingbirds, who fought to defend the hummingbird feeder we have hanging off the deck.

In August, the team from Higher Mark Construction came up to cut openings and install four windows in the log level. This is very specialized work because the logs are still likely to settle, so the windows can't be attached to them; a special buck has to be built that allows the logs to settle without disturbing the windows (explained further in part 8 of this cabin-building blog).

The first step was to put up framing to use as a cutting guide for the windows. The photo at left shows the framing for the new single casement window that overlooks the deck, and the double casement window that looks out over the parking/entry area. (The door to the parking area is barely visible to the right side of the photo; the gas stove/fireplace in the corner is covered with the grey tarp in anticipation of the sawdust that will be created by all the log cutting.)

Cutting the logs to create the openings is, as you might imagine, a very messy job. The floor of the cabin--and the arms of the workers, as well as everything else in the cabin--were covered in a thick layer of sawdust. In the first row of photos below, Casey is cutting the opening for the window that looks out to the parking area. After that, you can see Casey working the window opening while Matt is squaring up the framing for the door to the deck. What a mess! (For the best view of this crazy process, click on a photo to enlarge it so you can see the detail.)

After Casey was done cutting the window from the inside, he went outside to complete the cuts. Then, they simply pushed the logs from the inside, allowing them to fall out of the opening and crash to the ground below. The other three windows were cut in the same way.

Casey then did some touch-up trimming from the inside, while Matt started cutting the slots for the bucks in the openings.

Once all the openings were cut, the team installed the windows. Below, you can see Matt and Kyle setting the window in the frame, while Casey is on the scaffolding outside making adjustments. Below that is a photo taken from the deck at the end of the day ... what a beautiful evening. And with our new windows, we can see this view from inside the cabin!

Once the windows were installed, the team of Casey, Matt and Kyle caulked the cabin inside and out, and put two coats of stain on the outside. The east side is very high above the ground, and the scaffolding they used was pretty scary to us ... a narrow aluminum plank stretched between a board nailed to the front of the cabin and a pump jack at the back of the cabin. The height from the scaffold plank to the ground is about 18 feet at the front of the cabin, so it was pretty hair-raising to watch the guys scamper around on it. Thankfully, these guys are pretty accustomed to such heights and no one fell off!

We also had new cedar deck posts installed; I'd never cared for the spindly pine posts that came with the cabin, and the log guys were able to come up with two lovely cedar logs from nearby Swamper Lake. You can see the westerly post in the photo at left. I'll stain them a light golden color later this year, if there is time; otherwise this step may have to wait until next year, as it will soon be too cold for staining.

Thanks for hanging in and looking at this very long post ... as you can see, a lot happened in July and August! I'll post again when something interesting happens. In the mean time, thanks for visiting my blog, and if you're interested, check out the earlier posts by clicking on the links in the column at the right of this page.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cabin part 9: Starting on doors and interior

On May 22, we loaded up the trailer with two gas-burning Quadra-Fire "woodstoves"--one for each level. These look pretty much like regular woodstoves, but use LP gas instead of burning wood. If you're thinking of old fake fireplace logs that look awful, think again; these things have really come a long way and look really nice. No mess from hauling logs in, no ashes to haul out, no sparks shooting out the chimney to start a forest fire... a concern up there.

Between the two stoves (still crated), a dolly and hand truck we planned to use to help moves the stoves, three screen doors strapped to the roof of the Jeep, and various other things, we were loaded down pretty well. All we needed was an old rocking chair strapped to the top of the load and we would have looked like Jed Clampett and Family heading for the North Woods! We stayed for 10 days, with the Memorial Day holiday in the middle of the trip.

On our previous trip, we'd done some "2x4 art" and built some rough-and-ready bunk beds in the lower level, and the Memorial Day trip was the first time we stayed in our own cabin. We also had built a long workbench in the lower level, which served as a temporary kitchen area. I brought up an electric skillet, hot plate, coffee maker, small microwave, an assortment of cookware, and tubs with utensils and food, and was ready to set up camp.

A corner staircase connects the lower level to the upper level. We put a big sheet of foam insulation over the opening at night, to help retain heat and to discourage bugs. But the carpenters were still working on the roof during the day, and all their tools were stored in the upper (log) level, including their compressor. So every morning, we heard the compressor roar to life upstairs at about 7:30. We also were constantly being showered with sawdust, small gravel and general dirt that came down the stairs.

Upstairs, we had similar organized chaos. The carpenters' tools were scattered all over the place, as were various supplies of ours. There was a big stack of 2x10s along the east wall, and a pile of plywood and other sheet goods against the west wall. It was tough to even walk around at times. The upstairs stove added a touch of class to the situation, though. It's sitting up on its platform, which we will cover with slate or some other natural-looking material. We also added a temporary screen to the deck door; it's two sheets of screening that open in the middle, and after you go through it swings together and closes itself with magnets (the dark square in the center). It's a good temporary solution for us until we get the real doorway squared and framed.

As you can see from the photos above, the outside was just about as cluttered as the inside. There were piles of lumber covered with tarps, stacks of wood and log ends laying against a tree, a drying rack for the trim (which had to be stained before it was put up), stacks of scaffolding, and just general chaos both outside and in. I spent Saturday afternoon staining some trim in the driveway.

Later that day, we had our friends the Meyers (from the cabin next door, which we'd stayed in so many times) over for drinks and snacks on the deck, followed by dinner al fresco at the picnic table.

We stayed through the week of Memorial Day. The shingling was finally completed during this time (including installation of the vent stack for the upstairs gas fireplace). When we left on June 1, there was still scaffolding in front of the main entry because the carpenters were still working on the peak over the main entry.

On June 11, we headed back up, and were delighted to see that the lilac I had planted last summer was in full bloom. This lilac is very special; it's a memorial to my mom, and I scattered some of her ashes in the hole when I planted it. Because Birch Lake is so far north--our lot is 2 miles from Canada--I searched for a special variety that is hardy in that region, and it is doing very well.

One of our top priorities for this mid-June trip was to install a screen door and a temporary entry door in the main entry. We'd been unable to do this earlier because the scaffolding was blocking the doorway, but now that it was gone we could work on this much-needed improvement. First, we had to complete installation of the "buck," a special type of door framing that is used in log construction.
Because the logs continue to settle for years, door and window frames can't be attached to the logs. A special channel is cut into the log ends, and a 2x4 is inserted into the channel; this 2x4 is called the spline. Then a wider piece of lumber--in our case, a 2x10--is attached to the spline to make a T. The door jambs are attached to the spline, and extra space is allowed above the door header. This entire assembly is called a buck, and is required for all windows and doors in a log building.

Steve the log guy had cut the channel into the main entry, and Bruce did some fine-tuning with the chainsaw. In the middle photo above, you can see the channel; the photo next to it shows the 2x4 spline inserted into the channel. I also stuffed some insulation (ground-up blue jeans, which we used in between the logs as the cabin was being reassembled on our site) into the gaps next to the spline.

In the photo at far left, Bruce has attached the 2x10 to the spline, and is pulling it out to be sure that it is working properly; it needs to fit snugly but still move. In the next photo, he's pushed the spline assembly fully into the channel. We added a similar spline assembly to the opposite side, then attached a header board across the top, leaving the extra settling space above the header. As the logs settle downward, they slide along the spline, so the space above the header becomes smaller.

Once the buck was done, we installed a screen door and a temporary solid door on the inside. It is so nice to be able to enter the cabin without having to crawl through scaffolding, and also super nice to have the screen door to let in breezes without bugs!

Next, we built some temporary pieces in the kitchen area upstairs. This is the best way to try out our kitchen layout before we order cabinets and countertops. Because the cabin is so small, space is at a premium, and our kitchen is a galley-type layout with two cabinet runs. The photo above left shows both of them. The one in the back runs along the stairs that go to the lower level, and will contain the sink and stove; we've got a two-bowl stainless steel sink in place right now, and the stove will go to the far left where the blue towel is sitting.

The other unit is an island that will have 16-inch-deep base cabinets and a full-width top (we've found a wonderful butcher block top for this one), creating an overhang that will have swiveling stools. This makes an eating area, or a place for someone to hang out while I'm cooking. Right now, we've got two logs in place as temporary stools; not the most comfortable, but they were on hand and we just cut them to size.

The fridge is tucked against the east wall, and there's room between the fridge and the island for someone to walk through; the stairs to the loft are in the corner to the right of the sink. There's also room on the end of the island to open the fridge door. We will have a small, counter-height round table under the window on the east wall (currently covered with plywood) and two swiveling stools the same height as the ones that tuck into the island. The rough layout above gives you a better idea of what we're planning.

We hung a hummingbird feeder on the second day, and got action shortly after. I spent some time trying to take photos of them, but it is pretty tough! They move fast, and it is hard to focus on them. Below is a shot showing a hummer visiting the feeder (and a corner of our beautiful soffits!), and two enlargements. That's about it for now. Next time we go up, we hope to install two windows in the dormer face, and eventually finish it off with cedar board and batten. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Cabin part 8: Roof and soffits

We had hoped to get the entire roof done by early April, but the weather and other circumstances were against us. The Gunflint Trail continued to get snowstorms through April, and there were still several feet of snow in the woods, making it tough to get the scaffolding up. On April 16, Steve from Superior Log Restoration returned to do a bit of additional work (he's working on the doorway, in the shot at left), and the carpenter team of Nace and Matt was also on hand to work on some of the decking.

The next day, as we were getting ready to return to Minneapolis, we awoke to ... snow. Bruce is brushing off the car on April 17 in the shot at right. Ugh.

We returned on May 2 to find that there was still snow in the woods, seen in the shot below left. We'd really hoped to have the roof decking in place by this point so the logs could start drying out, but the carpenters just could not get decent access, particularly to the very high east side. The good news is that there were no bugs yet! Progress was slow, but the decking gradually got installed.

On May 13, the power line got extended from the box in the driveway down into the cabin (3 photos below). This was a huge step, and meant that we could finally get rid of all the extension cords we'd had snaking down the driveway since last fall. We also had cables run for internet and phone, although they are not hooked up yet (and may never be, depending on cost!). They dug a huge channel in the driveway, but did a great job of filling it back in and smoothing it out.

We also got to watch the ice break up and disappear from Birch Lake. Below are two shots from the deck of our neighbors, the Meyers. The one on the left was taken on May 13, the one on the right on May 16. Minnesota's fishing opener was on May 11, so there was still a good bit of ice on the lake ... not enough to walk on, but too much to drive a boat through!

Work on the roof, soffits and fascia continued throughout May. The east side (left side of the cabin in the shot at left) is very high above the ground due to the terrain. It's about 15 feet to the bottom of the log level, and close to 30 feet to the top of the roof. The scaffolding required to get up there was truly scary; check out the middle photo of the group of three a bit further down the page.

We lived with the scaffolding in the front of the building for a very long time, too... it was not taken down until the end of May, making access to the front door a matter of crawling over and through metal bars.

The carpenters did a great job putting up the soffits and fascia, which is very detail-oriented work. These are cedar, which is a better choice than pine for wood that is exposed to weather. Kinda spendy, but right now, it looks like a million bucks.

The yellow tape in the dirt in the photo at right marks the power line where it runs into the building. Eventually this will be buried completely.

We also had a peak added over the main door, to keep rain off our heads when going in and out. This was a great addition, although a good bit of work. Below: May 15 and May 29.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cabin part 7: Rafters

The cabin slept unattended all winter, snug under its blanket of snow. We hadn't found a roofer last fall, but we wanted to get something up before the thaw because we were afraid our tarp might not stand up to spring rains. Also, once the gravel roads thaw, there are road restrictions and heavy vehicles can't come in until it firms up. We feared that if we waited until the road restrictions were lifted, it would be May before anyone could get in.

Luckily, Stephen Brown of Superior Log Restoration in Duluth was willing to come up in mid-March to put a rafter system on the log trusses, and also to add a dormer over one side of the loft to give us head room up there. So on March 10, we met him and his assistant, Zach, to oversee the work.  The morning started out crisp and beautiful; below is a view of Soderberg Lane, the road that serves us and our neighbors on the north side of Birch Lake, at about 8 a.m. that morning.

When Bruce and I got there, we had to scramble down a huge snowbank to get into the lower level of the cabin, which has a temporary door that allowed us to get inside. We wanted a door on the parking-lot side of the cabin, and Steve cut that for us; this would allow them to work from the inside without having to slide down the snowbank all the time to get in.

First, Steve used a laser to project a straight line on the logs, then drew lines on the laser path for cutting reference. The lines were repeated on the outside.

After that, Steve cut out one log so he could communicate with Zach on the outside; Zach was in charge of watching the saw's path on the outside to help Steve make straight cuts. Once he had the window, Steve cut out the logs below to make a doorway; it's not the final height yet but it sure makes it easier to get into the cabin.

The noise of the chainsaw, and the sawdust produced by the cutting, were pretty amazing inside the cabin! Steve was wearing a safety helmet with earmuffs and a dust filter, and he gave Bruce and me earplugs to wear while we were inside. (By the way, you can click on any of these photos to see a larger version; the one at the right is pretty cool.)
After the door opening was cut, Steve and Zach needed to set up scaffolding on both ends of the cabin, take a lot of measurements, and figure out where the log trusses needed to be shaved to make a level plane for the rafters. We were very glad to have experienced log builders for this phase, since this is pretty painstaking work and outside the expertise of general carpenters.

Once they had the angles figured out and did some contouring on the long horizontal logs (the ridgepole, purlins, and top plates), Steve had to cut the overhanging logs (what I call the tails) from the log trusses and loft rafters, so they were at the proper angle. Again, this isn't something you'd want just anyone to do, and Steve spent time feathering the cuts to make them smooth and perfect after he got the ends off.

The weather on Monday was amazing, by the way. We had bluebird skies, and the temps soared into the low 50s. This had the unfortunate effect of making Soderberg Lane very soft and slippery. The weather turned quite a bit cooler after Monday; it was 12 below on Tuesday morning when Steve and Zach came to the site to start work. Mornings remained cold throughout the week, with temps getting into the 20s most days.

Measuring, shaping the purlins and other logs, cutting the tails, and other preparation continued through Tuesday. On Wednesday, Steve and Zach put up the rafters.

We were staying in the cabin next door with our friends, the Meyers. There's no running water there yet, and by Wednesday we were all feeling a little cruddy. So we went to Hungry Jack Lodge, about 6 miles away, and paid to use their shower house (photo below)... best five bucks I ever spent! We all had dinner on Wednesday night at Trail Center; we'd invited Steve and Zach to join us for dinner because a trip "up the Trail" just isn't complete with a visit to Trail Center.

On Thursday, Steve and Zach put up two beautiful cedar logs for the posts in front of the dormer. They also cut and tailored the massive cedar log for the dormer header. Another beautiful day, with sunshine and temps in the 20s.

Steve and Zach were surprised at what a busy place Soderberg Lane was. Although it's way up north (2 miles south of the Canadian border), there were visitors to our building site every day. At right, Steve enjoyed taking a cuddle break with the Meyers' little dog, Cooper, who came over several times along with Flint, the yellow lab. They also had visits from Gale Quistad, who lives at the end of Soderberg Lane, and Nace Hagemann, the builder who did our lower level last fall and will be working on the roof decking soon.

Neighbors Don and Leny Wendel were up there most of the week, and visited several times. Leny had run a 4-dog team in the fundraising dogsled event, Mush for a Cure, on Saturday March 8. This event raised $36,000 for breast cancer research. Steve and Zach saw Leny's dogsled flying by on Soderberg Lane from their perch in the rafters on several occasions; at left is a photo with her beautiful Samoyeds, Ariel and Packer. (Steve and Zach also saw a FedEx truck on Soderberg Lane; kind of an unexpected thing to see in such a remote location!)

Deb and Bob Meyer fished quite a bit, catching some lovely rainbow trout. Most were 19 to 20 inches long. Bob got a 22-inch beauty on Sunday. When we went to Trail Center on Wednesday night, we discovered they are running a big fish contest, so when Deb caught a nice fish on Thursday, she took it in and had it measured for the contest. It was 20-1/2 inches long, and was the biggest fish registered so far. Way to go! (Too bad Bob's big boy was already either eaten or in the freezer before they knew about the contest!)

OK, back to the cabin. Friday was the most challenging day, because that's when Steve and Zach raised the 400-pound cedar log for the dormer header. The weather had turned colder, and it was windy and snowing on and off all day; a real "wet sandwich" kind of day. They built a gin pole (which I quickly re-christened The Whiskey Pole) and used a rope hauler--kind of a big come-along--to crank the log up into place. It was touch-and-go for a while, but it finally all came together. Bruce sure looks happy to have it in place.

Once the header was secured, everyone could breathe a little easier. Steve and Zach put the rafters on the dormer, then put tarps over the whole thing to keep snow out until the roof decking can be put on (hopefully very soon!). We spent a relaxing evening with the Meyers, who left for home on Saturday. Bruce and I stayed on to clean up and organize things, which took all day Saturday. We were told it got down to 27 below on Saturday night! On Sunday, we worked on floor plans; it's rough to fit a working kitchen, woodstove, functional sitting area and a stairway in a 16x20 space. We stayed again on Sunday night and enjoyed a fantastic rib dinner at Trail Center, then drove home on Monday afternoon. Next challenge: getting the decking on so the cabin can survive the spring thaw! Thanks for looking at my blog; I'll post again when the next phase is done.