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.


  1. So glad you are finally seeing progress on the cabin roof and that you didn't have any catastrophes over-wintering your home with tarps as protection. I always wanted to build a log home, but it's probably more fun watching you build yours! Is Bruce sporting a beard or is that just a big sweater on his chin? ;)

  2. Yes, Paula, Bruce has quite a backwoods-style beard right now! He'll be trimming it before we go to visit him mom at Easter... I hope (or else we will have a different type of catastrophe on our hands!.