If I Had a Hammer…

…I’d hammer in the mornin’, I’d hammer in the evenin’, all over this land… I think Peter, Paul and Mary were building a house when they wrote this, because I feel like I’ve been hammering out everything. On another trip to the hardware store I outfitted myself with a hammer named Fat Max, and a nail pouch tool belt, and boy am I glad I did!

Fat Max and I have been doing a lot of hammering lately. Over the past week we have been putting our 1×6 sheathing on the house, and it’s hard work! I have become about 500 times better at hammering over the 3.5 walls we have done already (Raphael was already practically an expert, but I’m sure he’s improved upon his skills as well), and I think my right arm is now exponentially stronger than the left. We have both definitely become more efficient with each board – cutting angles and fitting and sizing out boards to get the least amount of waste – and while we still find ourselves in a pickle every once and a while, we’ve been moving along nicely.

We’ve figured out patterns making it so we don’t have to break out the tape measure as much when we’re 10+ feet in the air on a rickety ladder, we’ve gotten speedy at switching the angles of the saw to cut in different directions that we need, and we’ve gotten real smooth at sliding a board in, clamping it and nailing it on the house.

Our house is looking more and more like a house every day! We’ve had a few random people stop by to look at it, and our new neighbors are really excited about it too. Being inside with walls on makes it so much easier to imagine what living in it will be like, and fortunately it doesn’t seem like it’ll be too small or cramped or uncomfortable. It’s hard to believe that just 6 weeks ago it was a trailer and a pile of lumber, and I’m really looking forward to even more amazing transformations to come!

Of course there have been some bent nails, split boards and plenty of mis-measurements, but we’ve managed just fine, and all in all we should be able to have the house wrapped in weather proof paper by the end of Friday. (We’re going to Victoria, BC for the weekend then coming back for about 24 hours before we leave on a 2 week vacation to the North East, so there won’t be many posts for a little while.)

 

Job Site Woes

I have never built anything as large as a house (even a tiny house) and I am learning that as the project gets bigger, so do the complications. Earlier this year we built a chicken coop, and it’s a d@mn nice chicken coop, but it’s still a chicken coop. We used a skill saw and drills for 90% of any work involving power tools, and since then we’ve acquired a table saw. So naive me thought that we’d have no problem finishing up the exterior stuff with just those saws. However, I quickly learned that not only did we not have all of tools we’d need, but there’s a lot more to setting up a build site than just the tools.

On Wednesday Raphael built us some great stairs to lead up to the front door, and later on the 1×6 doug fir sheathing was delivered so we started making preparations for that. Now that we have stairs outside, we’re realizing that we need a better way to get up into the loft. Right now we’re using a stool and hoisting ourselves up there, and while it’s a low loft, after doing that 27 times in an hour, the loft seems very tall. We’ve also encountered a couple glitches with our roofing – it’s all done except about 2 feet of ridge cap that must have gotten lost in translation and didn’t get ordered, and our storage shed will have to go without a drip edge because the piece we have isn’t long enough. I think I’ve made more trips to hardware stores in the last week than I had in the past year because we never have everything we need, and we could always use more than that – it’s a never ending process.)

Raphael picked us up an awesome miter saw that was amazing for chopping up some 4x4s that needed to be installed before sheathing, as well as cutting everything for framing out the storage shed on the back of the house. We eventually moved our saw station inside the house (after many sessions of leveling it, it’s nice and flat and stable, and much better than the tailgate of Raphael’s pickup). We got all the final framing pieces put in, and then we started to put the sheathing on the house and ran into our first real problem. Our brand new miter saw that cuts through a 4×4 in one go can’t cut a 45 degree angle in a 1×6. To say  there are a lot of 45 degree angles on 1×6’s that need to be cut for our house would be an understatement. We figured out how to get a nice clean line using 2 cuts, but it was incredibly time consuming, and meant feeding 20′ boards in and out of the house and flipping them over, with the cut going 3/4 of the way through.

We got about 4 boards done this way (as well as the storage roof that didn’t require angled cuts) before the end of the day Thursday, which was also when our guardian angel showed up. Our friend, Rio, was checking out the house and noticed our problem with the saw and sheathing and offered us his sliding miter saw that he’s not using – this means that we’ll be able to make a single cut and there’ll be no board gymnastics necessary (and saves us about $500 not having to buy another new saw)! Our next improvement is going to have to be getting our cutting station out of the house (especially now that there are going to be solid walls), and onto some sort of table set up outside. Now we just have to get this Pacific Northwest rain to go away so we can spend all day tomorrow getting more work done!

*It’s a lot harder to take photos when there are only 2 of us and we’re both working… we’ll try to get better and take more pictures to share with all of you!*

Sitting Down and Kicking off the Tires

With the roof metal delivered last Thursday afternoon and Friday being the last day of the timber framing class at The Port Townsend School of Woodworking, it was a bit of a mad dash to get everything squared away for travel.

Although we didn’t quite finish some final details on the roof, we set down our tools to prepare the houses for their transit.

A huge thanks goes out to Josh Bell, who we wrangled into moving the tiny timber frame to its new home. Josh showed his skills and experience as he effortlessly manuvered the seemingly behemoth structure to its very specifically chosen and orientated landing ground.

All said and done the move took less than an hour, not including the time it took to do some temporary leveling and wrap the whole house up in a tarp to keep it dry for the weekend.

Sunday was spent getting the tires off and settling the house on a slightly longer term foundation. We are trying to avoid the hassle of pouring a permanent foundation, but still take the load off the tires and increase stability while we finishing building. After some research and strategizing, we ended up building some wooden footings that we placed on 4 separate 4 inch think pavers.

Although it was very nerve racking, we managed to lift each side high enough to pull the tires off, then it was simply a matter of adding more cribbing until the structure was level. Since Sunday, we have definitely noticed the ground settling under the pavers and so we plan on adding two more support points and better leveling the existing pads.

Moving into this week, one of our biggest priorities is getting all of the framing finished up so we can start sheathing. We had a little extra length on our skids and trailer that we decided to turn into a sort of utility shed. It will house a propane tank, tankless hot water heater, and there are some future plans for a charge controller and battery bank. We have also come up with some floor plan revisions adding a back door, and therefore a header, that will lead to an adjacent shower and composting toilet (more to come on this).

Between all that and finishing up some metal roofing details, we have been keeping busy. A part of it has been developing a workflow for our new job site. Locating all the right tools, setting up cutting stations, and learning when we should just break for lunch. Its all part of the adventure.

Almost time for the maiden voyage

As we headed into this week I found myself constantly impressed and amazed at our progress. As Steve has said, we have already leaned all of the joinery techniques while producing the wall systems. With the roof, it is and opportunity to refine and practice those skills.

With most of the roof system joinery finished up on Friday, we spent most of Monday morning finishing a few joints and glueing up the rafters.

With rain in the forecast Tuesday was all hands on deck as we hurried to install the 2×6 T&G for the roof. It was pretty amazing to see the first glimpses of our interior, as the ceiling was closed in.

Wednesday morning was spent closing up the last bit of roof, and adding some details. I really enjoyed the challenge of fitting the last pieces together as the ridge came together.

Given our mild climate, we are choosing to not insulate the roof. Of course with the added benefit of not covering up our very nice T&G car decking from the inside. In the process of deciding how to insulate the rest of the structure, we decided upon minimally insulating with a product called Infra Stop/Reflectix. It is basically a double think bubble wrap with aluminum foil on both sides. Installed with an air space, it provides a significant amount of interior energy reflection, as well as external deflection.

At some point during the course, the idea surfaced that we could use the same insulation above the car decking and below the metal roofing. It would possibly provide some insulation, and definitely help with noise dampening issues common with metal roofing. We decided to go for it, and unrolled some of the Infra Stop under our roofing felt, and we’ll see if it makes a difference.

By the end of the day on Wednesday, we tacked on a layer of roofing felt and covered up with walls with tarps to prepare for the impending showers.

Most of today was spent refining some last details, adding corner braces, installing gable fascia and waiting on our metal roof delivery.

 

It finally showed up by the very end of the day and we’re prepared to install it first thing in the morning.

The Port Townsend School of Woodworking will be holding a pot luck and open house starting at Noon tomorrow (5/20/16), in honor of the completion of the tiny house building course. Our journey with the school is coming to an end, but for us, it is just beginning. If you’re in the area, feel free to stop by.

Fort Worden State Park Building 304 – hope to see you all there!

Lofty Expectations

Our house is looking more and more like a house every day! Last week both houses got all 4 walls standing and joined together, as well as the framing and flooring the lofts (aka “permanent scaffolding”, “storage shelves” or “drop ceilings”)!! That’s a great enough feat on it’s own, but Friday was spent on roof framing, and everything for our house is well on it’s way to becoming a roof, and the other house isn’t far behind.

It’s hard to believe that 3 short weeks ago we had a trailer and a pile of wood, and now we have what is very obviously the start to a house. There’s only 1 week left in the course, and on the agenda for that week is roofs! Our house is going to have a fairly standard roof for 10’8″ of it, but for the 8′ over our “storage area” we will have more of a dormer style with shallower pitch (allowing for more head room while we’re sitting on the mattress that will be “stored” up there).

We deliberated for a long time about loft height. For me it’s less of a concern, if it’s more than 5’6″ high I can stand under it and I’m a happy camper, but Raphael throws a wrench into it with his 6’3″ height. Our dilemma was this – if he can stand under the loft, we have about 3.5 feet of height at the absolute maximum up top. When you add in 10+ inches of a mattress that means you couldn’t even sit up in bed if you were smack dab in the middle, let alone if you’re off to one side or another.

During one of our sessions of hemming and hawing in our dining room our roommate walked in and suggested a split height loft – kinda like the lofted bunk beds with desks underneath that some dorm rooms have. He mentioned it in passing, but over the next couple of weeks we started to consider it more and more. Our plan for under the loft is a seating area anyway (living room/dining room type thing, with built in bench seating in a U shape), so do we really need to be able to stand up fully? Raphael brought up sitting in a booth at a restaurant – you sit down and one end and scootch your way in to the middle… so theoretically as long as the ceiling isn’t right on top of your head when you’re sitting down, you don’t necessarily have to stand under it. Plus, less ceiling height down below means more up top!

We went back and forth for a while until the deadline of the class needing to know where we were putting it came up. We decided to put the top of the floor of the loft 6′ above the main floor. That means with 1.5″ of flooring and then 3.5″ rafters, the bottom of the rafters is just barely over 5’6″, and in between them is about 5’10”. I can stand barefoot under the rafters no problem, but Raphael needs to lose 6″ of his height when he’s under there, and we’re really hoping that this was the right choice! We haven’t found many, if any, examples of this being done in other tiny houses, so we’re crossing our fingers that it’s just because no one else has thought of it yet, and not because there’s some glaring reason not to do it that we just haven’t found yet.

 

It starts to get vertical

Over the weekend we made some time to do a little bit of planning, specifically regarding how we will be heating the space. We are going to be installing with a small wood burning stove, and wanted to understand some specifics, especially how it relates to running the chimney through the roof.

We ended up learning a lot about this system of heating, but part of what amazes me is how little we knew a few days ago. In embarking upon this build, we knew that there was going to be a virtual S#%t load of projects we are going to need to tackle, and many of them learning as we go. But now that we are underway, we are developing a workflow, and each learning opportunity seems to make us more prepared for the next.

Wrapping up last week in class and moving into this one, things were starting to feel a little tense. We were a few days behind schedule, and still had all the wall layout and joinery to do for the window headers and sills, door headers and loft joists. Feeling the pressure, everyone put their heads down and went into production mode, and accomplished an incredible amount of work.

I was thinking today, that it would be interesting if we could track the amount of times each timber has be touched. First sorted and graded, then trimmed to length. Tenon cheeks cut, followed by shoulders. Mortises laid out, bored then chopped clean. Shoulders cleaned up and joints checked for fit. This kind of care is rarely given to the built world anymore.

Today was a complete whirlwind of activity, but shortly after lunch we started assembling the first walls. We learned a lot putting the first wall up, and it made the second go a lot smoother.

The loft joists are mortised in, which makes for a bit of a challenge as we had to lean one wall out to get the tenons to slide into place. But hey! Look at that! Its starting to look like a house.

From Wood to Walls

It’s pretty amazing what sharpened pieces of metal can do to wood! The past few days in the shop have been spent making more mortises and tenons than you can imagine in the 4x4s for all 8 walls. I was very impressed when I walked in the workshop on Thursday to see things taking shape – corners were clamped together and getting their final fittings and sizings, and after having the labeling system explained to me (there are numbers, roman numerals, letters, triangles and initials, all of which correspond to a very specific location in each house), I could easily picture all of these simple pieces of wood forming our future home.

For the sake of productivity and keeping the students sane, the tenons (after being drawn out with a pencil and square) were all cut on a band saw, and the final cuts were made with hand saws and chisels. The mortises were measured and marked, then bored out on the drill press and squared up with a corner chisel.

Once everything was cut to satisfaction, they fit things together, and looked for any imperfections and figured out how to solve any potential problems, and then set the finished pieces aside for future assembly.

Each student seems to have fallen nicely into their roles among one another. During the first few days no one really knew where to go next, and was much more tentative to step up to a job, but now when I walk in everyone is working on something different. It’s fascinating to see so many individual people all learning the same thing in various ways – ultimately achieving the same end through different means.

 

Stepping into production

It’s been a while since the last post, and in that time we’ve been quite busy! We got the flooring delivered on Tuesday of last week, and Wednesday it got installed on the framing of both trailers.

We treated ours with a couple of coats of Daly’s Teak Oil and covered it to protect it from the elements while class moved back inside the shop to start working on the wall framing.

After spending the weekend at home making some improvements to our chicken coop, and chipping away at the workbench I’m building, it was time to jump back into production on the house. A week in and the shop is already feeling familiar; the workflow has developed a steady rhythm, everyone seems to be figuring out their roles, and no one is afraid to speak up and share with the group.

Most of the day Thursday and Friday was spent working on scarf joints for the top and bottom plates. A big part of that was developing a marking system so that when we are fitting joints, they end up back where they started.

Yesterday and today have been in mortise and tenon city. Each house starts with 40 mortises and 40 tenons for the wall system alone.

More will be added for the roof system, corner braces, headers, sills, and the loft floor joists, but we had plenty to keep us busy so far.

On top of all that, we have been doing some floor plan layout and design to determine window and door placement.

 

I find that questions keep coming up and some of them I know the answers to. Others I haven’t even thought about in the slightest. I guess its all part of the process

First Impressions from an “Outsider”

Although I’m not a student of the Tiny Home course, I’m not exactly an outsider either. I have been given the amazing opportunity to “audit” the class – I can be there whenever I want so I can observe and learn even though I won’t be participating in the actual build.

I showed up bright and early on Monday morning for the first day of school so I could meet all the other students and hear what the instructors had planned for the next 4 weeks. Mornings are far from my favorite time of day, and I haven’t had a first day of school in years, but it was well worth the early alarm. The 6 other students who will be building the houses with Raphael are really fun, super eager to learn, and, perhaps most surprising to me, all female! (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not surprised that girls are interested in taking a timber framing course, I’m just surprised that there are no other guys interested.) There are girls from all over the continent – one woman came all the way from North Carolina, one from Wisconsin, and a couple others from Canada – and they have all graciously accepted me as the “8th wheel” to their group, for which I am very grateful.

IMG_3364First day of class – getting the run down from John.

IMG_3363Moving lumber from the delivery truck to the classroom to grade & sort.

On day 2 Raphael got up early to meet one of the instructors to move our trailer from where it had been stored for the past week to where it will get built on for the next 4 weeks. I joined for a couple hours after lunch, and was amazed at the progress that was made so far! Our trailer had the skids all laid out, ready to be drilled and bolted together, and after a lunch break trip to the hardware store for bolts, those holes got drilled and our skids were attached! The other trailer had “risers” built for the skids, and by the time I left the entire floor frame was built and mounted to the skids.

File_001File_000 (3) Moving our trailer to its build spot (l); Both trailers in the zone (r).

File_001 (3).jpeg Trailers with skids laid out, taking final measurements before drilling.

File_009 (2)File_002 (2)

 

← Getting the floor frame nailed.

Drilling the holes for the bolts. →

 

 

File_005 (2).jpegThe other trailer’s floor system getting framed on top of risers.

You may be wondering why the skid to trailer systems are so different between the 2 houses. In a nutshell it’s because the other house has a permanent home after the class – the owner will be bringing it to her property, immediately taking it off the trailer, and it will live in that spot for the rest of it’s life. The risers built for the skids are just to make the house clear the wheels of the trailer. Since we don’t own our own property yet, our house will be on the trailer for the foreseeable future, but we will want to take it off the trailer and put it on the ground when we have a spot for it to spend the rest of its life. We had our trailer built with the 6×6 skids in mind, so we don’t have to use risers to make sure the floor of the house clears the wheels.

File_009.jpegBoth trailers (ours in the foreground) with the floors all framed out!

So far I’m incredibly impressed with the builds – I never thought that the end of day 2 would have the floors mounted to the trailers and framed. I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks have in store!

File_000 (2)Silas, the unofficial mascot of the build.

Back to school

Its only been about three weeks since the end of Foundations class. It was a perfect time for a spring break. We moved the chickens outside, spent some time in the garden, and went on some nice hikes and bike rides.

But today I packed up my toolbox and headed back to school. There is always something exciting about the first day. I know it will all become routine in no time at all, but now its so new and exciting. On top of that, this is an entirely new class for PTSW. With the Foundations class, you could tell they have been running the class twice a year for many years, but there is something special about being a part of a new chapter for the school.

We started out with introductions, but quickly moved into grading lumber and starting to make the first cuts for the floor system. All in all it was a great first day, and we made more progress than I thought we would. Tomorrow we’ll be getting the trailers all set up and hopefully start assembling the floor system.