Lincoln Logs Have Instructions, Don’t They?

Now that we had a start on our second row of beams, it was time to step back a bit and think about some minor details. As you might recall from an earlier post, the design of this cabin was something we struggled with a bit in the beginning. But, once the timbers had spoken, I put pencil to paper and created a conceptual design of the cabin’s exterior and floor plan. This allowed Hoot to get an idea of what I had in mind, as well as providing a plan and dimensions for the layout of the cabin’s foundation. It also led to further detail drawings that would serve as instructions for putting this cabin together. Without a well-thought-out plan for the walls of the cabin, we would surely find ourselves experiencing at least one, or many, “Oh Shit!” moments. And the simple fact was, we had just 23 beams to work with – each approximately 20 feet long – and that was it. We would need every inch of each and, if we made just one wrong cut, we were screwed.

And so, while on a week-long business trip with only my laptop to serve me, I turned to my old friend Excel to “draw” the necessary detailed elevations for each of the four cabin walls. As I developed each drawing, it would be extremely important to design window and door dimensions such that they served the purpose of both providing adequate entry and lighting effect, while also achieving the most efficient use of every inch of the limited number of beams at our disposal. In doing so, I referred to my conceptual drawing to keep in mind the cabin’s south (front) and east elevations and it’s floor-plan, and to the “drawing” in my head for the north and west elevations. My idea was that we would build the north wall solid to help keep the chill out in winter, and build two windows into each of the other three walls, for a total of six windows. That would provide a window in each bedroom and two each in the kitchen and living/dining areas where we would need the most light. I hoped this design would provide the “leftover” pieces of beam needed for us to build the cabin eight feet high from floor to ceiling.

Original Concept Drawing of "The Cabin"

Original Concept Drawing of “The Cabin”

Before putting pencil to paper, so to speak, I tossed over the cabin’s design and dimension in my head to try and get an idea of the size the windows would need to be in order to provide just the right amount of lumber to construct four walls to our desired height. Ideally, the interior floor-to-ceiling height in the bedrooms would be eight feet, but with the floor framing and flooring taking up about seven inches of the bottom beam, we would have to stack the walls seven beams high to have that kind of clearance. I was not sure six windows and a door would provide the amount of surplus pieces of beam we would need to get there. So, I would just have to go through some quick Jethro Bodine cypherin’ to see if I needed to plan for six or seven beams high.

I knew from years of framing houses in my youth, exterior doors are typically three feet wide by six feet, eight inches high. This equates to 80 inches, or the height of five beams, but the bottom of the door had to be at floor level, which meant notching half-way down into the bottom beam (eight inches), figuratively cutting up through four full beams (64 inches), and reaching the door’s top by notching halfway up through the beam that would go over the door (eight more inches, for a total of 80 inches). So, the door opening would yield, roughly, four, three-foot pieces (or 12 linear feet) of unused beam.

Let's see now... 2 winders gozinta 2 walls 2 times. 1 door and 2 winders gozinta 1 wall, 1 times. A naught winder gozinta 1 wall 1 times. So now, we can cypher that 2 plus 2 is 4, plus 2 is 6, plus 1 is 7, minus 1 naught is 6 again, ain't it? Yep, believe we gonna have ta build that cabin 6 beams high fer sure. Now where'd Granny hide that Reumatiz medicine...

Let’s see now… 2 winders gozinta 2 walls 2 times. 1 door and 2 winders gozinta 1 wall, 1 times. A naught winder gozinta 1 wall 1 times. So now, we can cypher that 2 plus 2 is 4, plus 2 is 6, plus 1 is 7, minus 1 naught is 6 again, ain’t it? Yep, believe we gonna have ta build that cabin 6 beams high fer sure. Now where’d Granny hide that Rheumatiz medicine…

Considering the planned layout of the kitchen, with the stove and kitchen sink each positioned under a window, the sills would need to be just above the counter-top’s back-splash, or about 40 inches above the floor. This measurement would put the window bottom at the top of the third row of beams, which was great, because I did not want to do a bunch of notching in the thick beams – notching the beams above and below the door would be enough work, and enough waste! And, so one would have enough window area to provide both adequate lighting and a comfortable view while standing at the stove or kitchen sink, I figured the kitchen windows would need to be two beams (32 inches) high and three to four feet wide. Considering my goal was to gain as much extra beam as I could, I decided on a width of four feet, which would yield eight linear feet of “spare” beam per window opening. Counting the two bedroom windows, which I planned to be the same dimension as the kitchen windows, all four window openings would provide a total of 32 linear feet of “leftover” beam.

Including the door, we were now at 44 linear feet of beam gained – basically, just over two full beams – but we needed five beams gained to build the cabin seven beams high. There were only two windows left to design, so it was rapidly becoming obvious that we would have to settle for bedroom ceilings that were only about seven feet, five inches above the floor. Oh well, as Hoot would remind me later, we were not planning to invite any NBA basketball players out for a weekend at the cabin anytime soon, at least not that he knew of. Resolving myself to the fact that we were just building to six beams high, I decided on a width of three feet and three beams (or four feet) high for the dining/sitting area windows. This dimension would provide adequate lighting for the area and a great view of the meadow and reservoir while seated at the table having a meal or reading a book. Each window would yield nine linear feet of “extra” beam, or 18 feet total. The final tally of lumber provided by the door and window openings was 62 linear feet, or roughly three full-length beams.

Though still two beams shy of what it would take to build the cabin seven beams high like I had originally hoped, we would have two, full beams left over with walls built only six beams high. So, instead of using precious lumber from the bridge planks to form the perimeter of the ten-foot by 20-foot front porch as I thought we would have to, we could use these beams instead. One beam would be cut in half for each side, and the other would be full length for the front. With this design, we would only have to use the plank lumber for the porch’s floor joists and, if we were lucky to have enough, its deck boards.

Basic South Elevation - Time to add dimensions to each piece of this "kit-cabin".

Basic South Elevation – Time to add dimensions and numbering to each piece of this wall.

After much consultation with Jethro, I finally began my drawing process by equally sizing the rows and columns of the first Excel sheet I had opened in order to create a sort of electronic graph paper on which to “draw”. Once I had my graph paper ready, I formatted the borders of the top row and left column such that they created “rulers” I could use to ensure my elevations were drawn to scale, where one cell equaled four inches in length and height. Now, I was ready to create the instructions by which we would put the cabin’s walls together. I started with the south elevation, which I had previously diagrammed in my conceptual drawing. This wall would have our front door and two windows – one dining/sitting area window, and one kitchen window – so I figured it was a good wall with which to start the process.

First, using my “rulers” as a guide, I established the south wall’s perimeter by adding borders to the outsides of the cells within a rectangle of the proper length and height. Next, I added borders to the tops of cells in the rows that were 16 inches apart. This created horizontal lines that represented each beam in the wall. I then added solid-line, vertical borders to represent the ends of the beams of the east and west walls that would pass the south wall’s beams, while adding dotted-line borders for those that would butt the south wall. To establish the floor line, which would also set the level for the bottom of the front door, I used another variation of the dotted-line border. Now with the beams and floor-line fully represented, I had only to draw in appropriately placed and sized windows and front door – and the “drawing” part of this elevation was complete. After finishing this “prototype” drawing, the remaining three elevations were a snap.

South Elevation Detail with dimensions and numbering.

South Elevation Detail with dimensions and numbering.

Now it was time to give all these chunks of beam in my elevations a dimension and “ID number”. This would ensure each beam was cut so it could be utilized to its fullest – leaving little or no scrap. The first step was to add dimensions to each piece of the puzzle so I would know what lengths I had to work with. Then, beginning with the bottom beam of the south wall, which would be the full, 20 feet in length, I began the “ID” process by labeling this beam “1s” (beam #1, south wall). Working my way up to beam “2s”, I could see that I needed 17 feet of it for the two pieces on each side of the door, leaving a three-foot piece that would fit perfectly at the left of the living/dining area window. Moving on to beam “3s”, I labeled the pieces to the left and right of the door, noting they would require exactly 11 feet of beam, leaving nine more feet to work with. I found efficient usage for this in various places on the next two rows with only about one foot of beam “3s” leftover – actually less than that when accounting for the kerf (width) of the chain saw blade. Progressing to beam “4s”, I marked 11 feet, eight inches of it to finish out the remaining cuts for the south wall, leaving eight feet, four inches of “carry over” for the east wall. Full-length beam “5s” finished out the south wall and it was time to move around the corner to the east wall and continue the process until I had completed all four walls.

East Elevation Detail - Approximately 5' carry-over for west, and final wall.

East Elevation Detail – Approximately 5′ carry-over for west, and final wall.

After working through this elevation, I had marked the usage of another five beams (ten total so far) with two walls yet to go.

North Elevation Detail - Six, full-length beams.

North Elevation Detail – Six, full-length beams.

With six, full-length beams, the north wall was an easy one, so I let Jethro do the cypherin’ for me while I checked out Granny’s latest batch of Rheumatiz medicine. According to Jethro, we were now at 16 beams used. Taking another swig from Granny’s jug, I reckoned I had no reason to doubt him…

West Elevation Detail - Twenty one beams used, leaving roughly eighteen inches of "scrap".

West Elevation Detail – 21 beams used, leaving two for the porch foundation.

Completion of the west elevation brought me to the end of the process – and left us approximately 18 inches of “scrap” and two full beams. We would use these last beams to make a nice, solid perimeter foundation for our cedar posts that would hold up a ten-foot by 20-foot covered front porch!

Many times, Hoot and I would enjoy the shade and scenery of the front porch for lunch breaks and a celebratory beer (or two) after a hard day’s work at our goal to “dry-in” and complete the cabin before the start of the Primitive Firearms deer season in late October. But that’s another story…

© From Creek to Cabin in 287 Days

Sledge Hammer Blues…

Sunday morning of March 4th, 2012 brought with it both the quiet stillness of a beautiful, clear Oklahoma spring day, and the booming excitement of seeing our cabin walls begin to take shape. Having reached an important milestone the day before – and proving, with the placement of our first beam, that we could do this thing the old-fashioned way – Hoot and I hoped to make some real progress setting more beams today. After spending most of our Saturday constructing the lifting rig, we only had time, by the end of the day, to set one beam. But there were 22 more still stacked at the side of the meadow…

With Patric cheering him on from the side, Hoot sits proudly atop our first beam!

Hoot sits victoriously atop our first beam!

Prior to setting the beams upon the foundation piers, each pier had to be marked to indicate where the butt end and sides of the four, first-row beams should be placed. To accomplish this, we called on our old friend Pythagoras for help in squarely marking out the cabin’s perimeter on the top of each pier. We marked the corner piers to align the “butt” end of a beam so it sat upon roughly one-half of the pier’s diameter, with the “pass” end of the adjacent beam resting on the remaining half. We also marked where the inside of the beams should align such that each beam’s outside face would be flush with, or slightly overhanging, the outer edge of the foundation piers. This would protect the piers from water pooling on top and causing decay.

The "Butt-and-Pass" method. Courtesy of

The “Butt-and-Pass” method requires re-bar pins to be driven through one course and half-way into the course below. Courtesy of

After completing the layout and setting a beam, the next step in the process required recalling (from an earlier post – Pythaga Who?!) a discussion of the butt and pass method of log cabin construction. Employing this method, each log, or beam in our case, must be pinned to the one below it using lengths of 1/2-inch steel re-bar placed every two to four feet. For the first row of beams, we only had three re-bar pins to install – a pin driven through the beam and into each of the three foundation piers it sat on. To accomplish this task, we began with an old, Craftsman 1/2-drive, T-handle electric drill that had been my dad’s – powered by my gasoline-fueled generator. We fit the drill with a 1/2-inch diameter, 16-inch long auger bit, which would just make a hole through the depth of the beams. Once drilled, we (or, more properly in most cases, I should credit Hoot) then used a five-pound hand sledge to start the pins, and followed up with a ten-pound sledge hammer to drive them through the beam and beyond – approximately eight inches into the foundation pier below.

Hoot swings the the big boy - the 10 lb. sledge hammer.

Hoot drives a pin on through with the 10 lb. sledge hammer. (Photo by Lori B.)

Three beams and nine re-bar pins later, our first row, or “course”, of logs was in place! Hoot and I looked at our finished cabin “foundation”, and then at each other, with a knowing that we were now on our way to having the walls of the hunting cabin of our dreams finished – and that we could do this ourselves, with only a limited set of modern tools and equipment. We also knew that it was not, by any stretch of the imagination, going to be easy. But with daylight still left to burn, we were not ready to call it a weekend just yet. We had time left to set at least one more beam, and the excitement of finishing the first course was still fresh in our minds!

Our first row, or "course", of beams complete!

Our first row, or “course”, of beams complete!

Before placing that “one more beam” on the second course, Hoot and I had to lay a strip of fiberglass insulation on top of the first-row beam below. At first, we tried tacking the insulation down with a bead of caulking, but the Oklahoma wind would have none of this idea. Finally, having no staple gun with us this day (which would have been a more appropriate tool for the job), we drove sixteen-penny nails through it every four feet or so and bent them over to form poor-man staples. Installing this strip of insulation would fill the gap between the beams created by irregularities in the surface and squareness of each beam. When our beam stacking was complete, we would fill the remaining gap at the inside and outside faces of the beams with “chinking”, but that is a topic for a future post.

A strip of fiberglass insulation serves to fill the gaps between beams.

A strip of fiberglass insulation serves to fill the gaps between beams. (Photo by Lori B.)

With the insulation now securely in place, we had only to rig the beam for lifting with the block and tackle, place it properly, drill our holes, and drive the re-bar pins. Perhaps that last phrase, “and drive the re-bar pins”, with its simple structure and sound, falsely indicates simplicity of the task itself. So let me just clear that up. Until this “one more beam”, driving of the re-bar pins had been a breeze – for we were driving them 16-inches through a pre-drilled hole and then another eight-inches into a vertically-buried pier post, with the grain of the wood. Now, moving beyond this base row of beams, it would be necessary to expand the number of pins from three to five, (providing one pin every four feet), and pound, not drive, them into the solid beam below, perpendicular to the grain of the wood.

Hoot drives a pin on through with the 10-lb sledge hammer.

Hoot starts a pin with the 5-lb sledge hammer. (Photo by Lori B.)

Because we are both good students, Hoot and I began the process of pinning the beams in strict accordance to the “rules” associated with the butt and pass method of log cabin construction. These rules allow pre-drilling of the top log, but not of the log below, making it fairly easy to drive the pin through the 16-inches of pre-drilled beam with a five-pound hand-sledge. However, the rules of the method also dictate one not drill the log below or sharpen the end of the re-bar pins (effectively creating nails), in order to avoid splitting the lower log – especially when driven at the end of the logs where the corners are formed. This portion of the pin-driving process, therefore, requires a bigger tool – a long-handled, ten-pound, full-blown sledge hammer – like those that the convicts can be seen swinging as they bust rocks at the beginning of the George Clooney movie, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”.

Red-faced and panting after driving the first one or two pins, Hoot looked at me and said, simply, “That’s damn hard“! “Sure seems like they would drive easier if we just grind a little point on the end.” So, I explained to Hoot that, no, we could not sharpen the pins, as it would potentially create a split in the beam below. This is because a blunt end crushes the grain as it is driven through the wood, where as a sharp point tends to separate the grain as the pin is driven, and this is what causes a split. Though I believe Hoot understood the science behind this, I am pretty sure he was not convinced it should apply to these dense beams, in this heat, and with him on the end of the ten-pound sledge hammer!

Hoot drives a pin on through with the 10-lb sledge hammer.

Hoot catches his breath before driving yet another pin. (Photo by Lori B.)

So, being the team player and good friend that I am, I gladly relieved Hoot of the sledge hammer to take my own turn at pounding in the re-bar pins. Like Hoot, I found that, after driving the pin through the pre-drilled hole of the top beam, pounding it the last eight inches into the solid beam below got “damn hard”. However, I was still not tempted to break with the rules and agree to do what Hoot had suggested. No, this was not something to find a way around, it was just another challenge and bit of hard work I was sure we could endure. We would just take turns to give the other guy a chance to rest and we would be just fine.

I take my turn with the big sledge hammer... (Photo by Lori B.)

I take my turn with the big sledge hammer… (Photo by Lori B.)

I cannot tell you (because I do not remember exactly) at what point It was when, after pounding in yet another blunt pin with the ten-pound sledge hammer, Hoot’s rebellious, redneck, country-boy side finally said, “Screw this!” I can, however, tell you that by the time this happened, there was no argument coming from me. For, by this time, we had burned up my dad’s old Craftsman drill and one 16-inch drill bit, and we had bent over, straightened, and bent over again, countless re-bar pins while attempting to drive them fully into the beams. Yes, Hoot and I both had succumbed to the Sledge Hammer Blues, and Granny Moses did not have enough Rhuematiz Medicine in the cupboard or root cellar to bring us out of our misery. So, we cheated and ground our re-bar pins to a point. Sorry – let the purists sue us.

That "one more beam" is finally laid.

That “one more beam” is finally laid.

But now, armed with a powerful, new, one-half-inch-drive Dewalt “D-handle” drill, a new 18-inch-long, one-half-inch diameter auger bit, and sharpened re-bar pins (well, not sharpened to a spear point, but at least tapered) Hoot and I were, once again, geared up to make some real progress! And so it was, that with an invigorated spirit, a swig or two of Rhuematiz Medicine, and a swift kick in the ass to the Sledge Hammer Blues, we continued this journey…IMG_3800 (136)

© From Creek to Cabin in 287 Days

The Transformation Begins…

Hoot and I could hardly wait for the next weekend to arrive. Having completed the layout and installation of the cabin’s foundation piers the previous weekend, we had finally begun the actual construction of our cabin. Though we certainly considered this a significant achievement, the coming weekend’s activities would mark the beginning of an even greater milestone. If all went as planned with the setup of the beam lifting rig, we would have our first course of “logs” in place and be well on our way to bringing the cabin structure to life!

Much like the previous weekend (unfortunately for Hoot), this weekend’s work also began with the task of digging three-foot deep holes with a hand-operated post hole digger. In order to construct the beam lifting rig, it would be necessary to set a 20-foot cedar pole just inside each foundation pier at the four corners of the cabin. These four cedars would form the “frame” of our beam lifting rig and, along with some rope x-bracing, provide a solid structure from which to hang the block and tackle sets that would make it possible for Hoot and I to lift the large, heavy beams in place by hand.

Hoot takes a rest after a long day of digging holes and setting posts.

Hoot takes a rest after a long day of digging holes and setting posts.

When the first hole was finished and it was time to sink a cedar post into it, we quickly realized how fortunate we were that my sister Jo and brother-in-law “Mr. P” had come to visit us this weekend – and that Mr. P was more than willing to give Hoot and I a hand with the cabin construction. Still very green, the cedars were quite heavy, so standing them upright and sliding them in the hole required the backs, legs, and arms of three old geezers, not just two. Without Mr. P’s help, I am fairly certain there would not have been enough of Granny’s Rheumatiz Medicine to help Hoot and I recover from this task! As it was, getting that fourth post tamped securely in the ground called for a short, celebratory break with our very cool friend Adolph Coors!

Taking a well deserved lunch break with our friend Adolph.

Taking a well deserved lunch break with our friend Adolph. (Photo by Lori B.)

After the break and some quick calculations, we began the final steps necessary to complete our lifting rig. First, we drilled holes and installed 12-inch long, half-inch diameter eye bolts through each cedar post at a height of 12 feet above finished pier grade. With eight-foot walls, the extra four feet of height would allow room for the length of the block and tackle and nylon straps when lifting the top row of beams. Finally, we braced the whole structure by tying half-inch diameter rope from just above each eye bolt down to the bottom of the cedar posts at each adjacent corner. This rigging of ropes formed a solid system of x-bracing that would keep the posts from bending or collapsing under the weight of the beams. Our lifting rig now complete, the moment of truth had arrived – and the time had come (finally!) to place our first beam!

Our beam lifting rig stands ready to go to work...

Our beam lifting rig stands ready to go to work…

First, Hoot and I picked out a good, straight beam for this important, base course of “logs”, as they would virtually complete the foundation of the walls. Then, using the eight-foot pry bar and a cut-off piece from one of the pier posts to set up a small lever and fulcrum, Hoot raised one end of the ~800-pound beam while I looped a heavy, tow-rope around the end. With the tow-rope hooked to the trailer ball of my pickup, I drug the beam to the north wall of the cabin while Hoot guided its placement.

Hoot spots as I pull a beam in place with the tow-rope.

Hoot spots as I pull a beam in place with my pickup and tow-rope. (Photo by Lori B.)

Hoot grinds off the stubborn ring-shanked nails.

Hoot grinds off the stubborn ring-shanked nails. (Photo by Lori B.)

With the tow-rope removed and the beam lying near the three foundation piers it would soon rest on, the next step was to prepare the beam for lifting in place. First, we had to remove all the old nails and spikes that had once helped it to form the old bridge. This was not an easy task, as each beam contained as many as 20, stubborn, six-inch long, heavy-duty ring-shanked nails that had not wanted to come out when we dismantled the bridge. Most beams also contained up to four, 12-inch long spikes that had been used to toe-nail the stringer beams to the main support beams. After breaking the claw on a three-foot crowbar while trying to remove one of the more stubborn ring-shanked nails, we finally decided to simply cut all these nails off with the grinder, and try not to get into them with the drill bit or chainsaw later on. Fortunately, though it was sometimes a struggle that required teamwork, we were able to remove all of the 12-inch spikes.

Removing the 12-inch spikes took some teamwork!

Removing the 12-inch spikes took some teamwork! (Photo by Lori B.)

After grinding and removing all the nails and spikes, the beam was finally ready for lifting into place. To accomplish this, Hoot and I once again utilized the lever and fulcrum principle with the pry-bar and post stump to lift each end of the beam and slip heavy, nylon slings around them. We then looped each end of the slings over the hooks of the block and tackle sets that were attached to the eye bolts of the lifting rig and prepared to lift the first beam. Would we have the strength to do this… just the two of us… by hand? Well, we would soon see!

Hoot uses the lever and fulcrum method to lift one end of a beam, while I slip a sling around it.

Hoot uses the lever and fulcrum method to lift one end of a beam, while I slip a sling around it. (This photo by Lori. B gives a sneak peek at some later progress)

With our first beam cleaned of nails and spikes, securely cradled in the heavy, nylon slings, and attached to the block and tackle sets, the time had finally come to test our lifting rig – and our own strength! This next step in the process would be one of the most critical of all. If we were unsuccessful, the whole project would be in limbo until we could find another solution. And, with the exception of the front wall, there was not room in the meadow between the cabin and trees to let our pickups do our pulling for us – we would just HAVE to do this ourselves!

But the angst around these thoughts would not dampen our determination to succeed. We had anticipated this moment for nearly two months, and our spirits were high! With confidence, Hoot grabbed the rope of the block and tackle on one end of the beam and I took hold of the other. As Mr. P photographed this momentous event from the side (we would have welcomed his help but, for a true test, we had to do this alone), we looked at each other, nodded our heads and, on the count of three, reached high on the hauling lines and pulled with all our might.

Raising our first beam! (Photo by Patric A.)

Raising our first beam! (Photo by Mr. P)

At first, it seemed as if we were not gaining any ground, as our first tug seemed only to stretch the ropes taught. But, grabbing another hold on the hauling lines of the block and tackle sets and, once again rearing back with all our might, the beam began to slide across the red, Oklahoma dirt, finally slapping into the foundation piers as it cleared ground level. Just one more dose of blood, sweat, and tears, along with a little lead from a couple old country boy’s asses, and the first beam of our cabin-to-be sat firmly on its foundation! We had done it! But then, somehow, I just knew we would… and the transformation had begun…

With Patric cheering him on from the side, Hoot sits proudly atop our first beam!

With Mr. P cheering him on from the side, Hoot sits proudly atop our first beam!

© From Creek to Cabin in 287 Days

Pythaga Who?!

It had been nearly a month since Hoot and I cut and hauled our cedar porch posts to the cabin site. This was mostly because the weather had not been very cooperative since then. The good thing about this short lull, is that it had given me time to draw out our design and research log cabin construction – particularly the poor-boy kind of construction, using lots of manual labor and hand tools. I knew there was no way we could manage the use of the kind of motorized equipment, such as a fork lift or small crane, it would take to raise and set the heavy beams. Neither of us owned or had access to such a rig, nor could we afford to rent the proper equipment for the length of time it would take to complete the walls of the cabin. No, we would have to build this cabin the pioneer way, or via some slightly more modern version of it at the very least.

The Internet can be a wonderful thing. Along with all the BS one is sure to encounter, it also provides a wealth of great information. In my research, I discovered the answer to all the lingering questions I had regarding design and construction of our log-cabin-to-be. In fact, most of my answers came from a site called ““. It was on this site that I discovered the building technique best suited for the eight-inch by 16-inch by 20 foot beams – and for maximizing the use of every inch of those beams. Named the “butt-and-pass” method, it provides a way to construct a log cabin without the need for notching the ends of each log. Employing this method, logs are placed on the same level with one log “butting” the side of another at each corner. The log being butted, “passes” the butting log on its way to the far corner. For strength, each row of logs, or “course” is pinned to the course below with 1/2-inch steel re-bar, placed every two to four feet.

The "Butt-and-Pass" method. Courtesy of

The “Butt-and-Pass” method. Photo courtesy of

I also discovered on this site, the answer to the beam lifting problem. On the Building Techniques page, the words “There is a process that we will use that can be done by one person…” really caught my attention! This was exactly the kind of information I was looking for! One click took me to the Lifting The Logs page of, and here I became joyously enlightened. The method described on this page entailed the use of a device called the “Block and Tackle” to raise the logs without the aid of machinery.

A diagram of the block and tackle. Courtesy

A diagram of the block and tackle. Courtesy

Greek mathematician and engineer Hero of Alexandria (Roman Egypt) first described and illustrated early block and tackle systems in his “book on raising heavy weights”. This device would be our savior, that I was sure of!

To utilize the block and tackle, Hoot and I would need to figure out some sort of method for attaching it at each end of a beam in order to lift the beam in place. Again, the answer to this dilemma came from the Lifting The Logs section of the website The method described and depicted here was advocated by the Log House Builders Association and put to use by Paul Kahle, whose photos of his lifting rig, to my fortune, were shared by the OurLogHouse website. Somebody once said, “A picture is worth a thousand words” and that was certainly the case here. Going with the design shown in the photo below, we would soon be setting the beams of our own cabin! All we needed now, was to get our hands on a couple sets of block and tackle.

Paul Kahle's block and tackle lifting rig. Photo courtesy of

Paul Kahle’s block and tackle lifting rig. Photo courtesy of So that’s how you do it! Also shown is the “Pillar and Post” technique for forming the cabin’s foundation.

With questions answered concerning building and lifting techniques, I only had left to decide on a proper design for our cabin’s foundation. Those shown on the website were of the “pillar and post” style. With this technique, concrete “pillars” are dug and poured at each corner of the cabin and every eight to ten feet in between. The tops of all the pillars are level with each other and the first course of logs is placed upon them and fastened with re-bar. Neither Hoot nor I were too keen on the idea of mixing enough concrete in a wheelbarrow, and hauling water to do so, to employ this method for our foundation. We would have to find a way that produced a similar, sturdy result, but with less work and expense.

The answer came in the form of a Time Life book I acquired from my sister Jo called “Cabins and Cottages”. In this book, the “poles and piers” method was described for foundation construction. Given the soil type and fairly shallow frost line at the cabin’s location, we decided on a variation of this method that eliminated the need to pour concrete. We would simply bury cut sections of power line poles three feet in the ground and level all the tops. These wooden pier posts would serve the same purpose as the concrete piers used by Paul Kahle and the good folks at

Hoot digs the first hole - right where Pythagoras and I have set our string line.

Hoot digs the first pier hole – right where Pythagoras and I have set our string line.

Before we could begin setting the piers, however, we first had to lay out the cabin’s perimeter. We accomplished this task using batten boards, string lines, and the Pythagorean Theorem to square the corners. Hoot’s first response to my description of this process was, “Pythaga who?!” To which I explained that the Pythagorean Theorem (a2 + b2 = c2) was a geometrical equation, developed by ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, for determining the hypotenuse of a right triangle. Using this calculation in laying out the corners of the cabin, we could ensure the cabin’s foundation was square with the world. After this simple and clear explanation, Hoot suggested that “Pythaga Whatever-His-Name-Was” and I, should take care of laying out the foundation ourselves, and he would drive the stakes and dig the holes. This sounded like a good deal to me!

And so that is how we proceeded and, by the end of that first day of the weekend, we had the three pier posts of the cabin’s north wall set and cut to finish grade. We started this process by setting the pier post at the corner with the highest ground elevation first (the northeast corner of the cabin) and working our way westward down the north wall to the next corner pier. We cut the top of the first pier on a level line about 8 inches above the ground and then used a laser level set on top of this pier as a reference point from which to shoot the proper elevation for the other piers. Once marked for height with the laser, I penciled a level line around the circumference of each pier, and finished the process by cutting along this line with the chainsaw. As the sun began to creep below the trees on the west side of the meadow, I cannot describe the feeling of pride that came over us as we looked back at our accomplishment of that first, official day of cabin construction!

Our first three piers, cut to finish grade!

Our first three piers, cut to finish grade!

The next day, Hoot and I had only to repeat this process for the other three walls and center pier of the cabin. Pythagoras and I would lay out each pier location, and Sir Hoot would dig the holes. I did help with the back-filling and tamping of the pier holes – while Pythagoras looked on, waiting for the next corner. As each new pier was tamped in, Hoot would move to dig the next one while I shot a reference mark with the laser level, drew a level pencil line around the circumference, and cut the pier we had just buried to finish grade. Then I moved up to help Hoot tamp in the next pier, and the process began again.


All the piers of the main cabin complete! Well, almost…

I must give Hoot credit for our efficiency throughout this entire project, beginning with this first process of establishing the cabin’s foundation. Efficiency of tasks and processes is Hoot’s livelihood, and he is damn good at it. Considering we were only a crew of two, efficiency had to be the name of the game if we were going to get this cabin livable in time for primitive fire arms season in late October. With the aid of Hoot’s expertise in this area, we had completed the layout and installation of all the foundation piers necessary for the main cabin structure by the end of our first weekend of actual cabin construction!

Pythagoras of Samos (Πυθαγόρας ὁ Σάμιος)Ancient Greek Philosopher and Mathematician. (Photo Credit:

Pythagoras of Samos (Πυθαγόρας ὁ Σάμιος)
Ancient Greek Philosopher and Mathematician.
(Photo Credit:

The only thing left undone at this point, was cutting the center pier to the proper elevation. But alas, Hoot’s chain saw decided to quit on us. Perhaps it had tired of hearing us boast about our efficiencies while it received no credit for its part. Whatever the reason, we were due for a couple shots of granny’s Rheumatiz Medicine by this time anyway. So, to hell with that miserable chain saw! Besides, Hoot and I had some celebrating to do while we admired our work and began to plan the next weekend’s task of constructing the beam lifting rig. Old Pythaga-What’s-His-Name would be proud, I thought – I know we were.

© From Creek to Cabin in 287 Days

If I Were a Cabin… The Timbers Speak

Most of the old bridge still lay in stacks at the edge of the sandy, windblown cotton field beside Stinking Creek, a spot that had been its home for the last seven and a half years. But the runner planks, the bridge pieces with perhaps the most character and stories to tell, now sat tucked against the cedar, Blackjack, and walnut trees that line the north end of a quiet meadow, slightly uphill from a glistening, 20-acre flood-control reservoir. This was a favorite place of Hoot’s late father-in-law, Albert, and now the peaceful meadow would be the new home of the lumber from Stinking Creek bridge and, someday, the cabin we would build from it.

This photo by my wife captures the character of the "runner planks". If these planks could talk...

This photo, taken by my wife, captures the character of the “runner planks”. If these planks could just talk… I imagine the stories they could tell!

Having had the luxury of some much appreciated help from Ronnie and his tractor the day before, Hoot and I returned to the cotton field to cut the bridge beams in half – a length that would, hopefully, allow them to be loaded on the 16-foot trailer and hauled to the meadow. With the beams laid flat and about three feet apart in the sand of the field, we simply had to measure the center of each, mark a line along the edge of a framing square, dig a trench in the sand under this center line for saw clearance, and cut each beam in two with my 20-inch chainsaw. In little time at all, we were looking at 23, 20-foot beams ready to be loaded and hauled away.

The odd beam – the 23rd beam – was the center support beam which, before the flood, had been attached with huge spikes to large, wooden pylons, or piers, that were driven vertically into the creek bed. Originally, there were two other support beams – one at each end – upon which the 11, 40-foot long “stringer beams” sat, but both were torn from their piers and ripped out from underneath the bridge during its trip down the flooded creek. The stringer beams, spaced approximately two-feet on center, were toe-nailed to these support beams with large spikes, and the deck boards – the “bridge planks” – were attached cross-ways on top of the stringers. The runner planks were then nailed side by side across the bridge planks, in one row three planks wide and one row four planks wide, providing a “roadway” for the vehicle tires.

Wooden Stringer Bridge over Spring Creek, just a few miles west of where the bridge over Stinking Creek washed out.

Wooden Stringer Bridge over Spring Creek, just a few miles west of where the bridge over Stinking Creek washed out.

In Oklahoma, most “wood stringer” bridges of this style, including Stinking Creek bridge, were built in 1940 and reconstructed in the 1960’s. According to the National Bridge Inventory, Stinking Creek bridge was reconstructed in 1965, and ultimately replaced (after the flood) with a modern, concrete bridge in 2009. And now, 47 years later, the old bridge was about to undergo a major renovation – like no other of its kind. I wondered if its now scattered pieces and parts lay anxiously anticipating the transformation ahead? Did they think about what we had in store for them? Did they wonder where they were going and what they would be? If so, they were not sharing their thoughts with us, and Hoot and I were going to have to come up with the cabin’s design on our own.

The draw that always served as "Camp"

The draw that always served as “Camp”.

For the location, choosing the quiet meadow as our cabin site was a fairly easy choice. “Camp” had always been much closer to the water, tucked in a narrow, wooded draw between two north/south geographic features – a ridge on the west and a ditch on the east – but this traditional location just would not do for our cabin site. Though not a thickly wooded draw, the walnuts, oaks, and cedars (without a good deal of thinning) were too close to allow safe room for the cabin we had in mind. One good wind or ice storm, and we could be looking at major damage to the roof structure. Besides, attempting to dig foundation pier holes amongst all those tree roots would have had Hoot telling me to jump in that lake for sure! No, Albert’s meadow, with its sandy soil, good drainage, and spectacular view of the reservoir, was most definitely the spot for our cabin!

Looking towards the reservoir from Albert's meadow. This would be our view from the cabin's front porch.

Looking towards the reservoir from Albert’s meadow. This would be our view from the cabin’s front porch.

The two rows in front are the runner-planks. The other four rows are the cross-planks.

The two rows in front are the runner-planks. The other four rows are the cross-planks.

With our location set, we had, at least, a place to stack and store the planks – and eventually the beams – from Stinking Creek bridge. But, after the beams were cut in half and we discovered they were still MUCH too heavy for two old country boys to lift onto a trailer by hand, Hoot and I spent that fifth day of our adventure hauling all the cross-planks (the deck boards) to the meadow’s edge. And, as we made each trip back and forth from cotton field to meadow, we continued to discuss the cabin’s design. This was the next, and perhaps the biggest, decision we still had to make.

Keeping economy in mind, Hoot had always talked about, and envisioned, a simple “lean-to” structure for a cook/sleeping “hut”. This could be built, he mused, fairly inexpensively using a “pole barn” design with corrugated metal siding and a simple, dirt floor. Being quite an astute camper, Hoot would have been completely satisfied with such quarters, but I had much more in mind for the glorious amount and type of wood provided by Stinking Creek bridge. With this pile of lumber, I thought, we could likely frame a structure of the same dimension as the bridge – 20 feet by 40 feet or, since all good cabins should have a front porch, maybe 20 feet by 30 feet with a ten-foot, covered front porch. Hmm… This was going to require a good deal of thought.

Hoot spots for Ronnie as he loads the beams on his trailer

Hoot spots for Ronnie as he loads the beams on his trailer

The next weekend, Ronnie brought his tractor, four-wheel-drive pickup, and 24-foot goose-neck trailer down to the cotton field to load and haul the heavy beams to the cabin site for us. With hay forks attached, this was a fairly easy task for old John Deere. Hoot worked as Ronnie’s spotter as each of the heavy beams (estimated at 800 pounds each) were placed on the trailer. With Hoot providing plenty of help, I took advantage of the opportunity to snap some photos of the process. I do not know why we failed to think about taking pictures as we worked those first two weekends, but finally my wife suggested I bring a camera along to start documenting our progress. After several photos and a count of 11 beams, the trailer was squatted on its suspension springs as far as we dared, and so we departed the cotton field with the first load.


Hoot goes after another short plank to fashion a ramp for rolling the beams to the ground.

Without having the luxury of Ronnie’s tractor at the cabin site, we would have to unload the beams by hand. After discussing the possibility of using my pickup and a chain to drag them off the back of Ronnie’s trailer one by one, we hit on another method – we would simply roll them off the side. Right. Sure. Maybe “simply” should not have been included in the description of this method. But I digress. So, we leaned a couple four-foot pieces of runner plank against the side of the trailer and, using the eight-foot pry bar, crow bars, and a lot of just plain country boy grit, we rolled each beam to the ground and stacked them two and three high. This was Ronnie’s turn to “bout have a goddamned heart attack”. But, he (thankfully) did not and, with one more trip, all the beams (and planks) from Stinking Creek bridge were stacked at the meadow’s edge.

Hoot and the Bad Boy Buggy prepare for gathering porch posts.

Hoot and the Bad Boy Buggy prepare for gathering porch posts.

The next day, still lacking a definite plan for the cabin structure, Hoot and I decided to take our chainsaws to the other side of the reservoir to gather cedars for our front porch posts. Whatever its design, we had decided the cabin would have a front porch and the posts would be cut from local cedar trees – this much was certain. We were aware of a spot where several appropriately sized cedars had been cut some years before and, having dried over that time, these would make perfect porch posts. All we had to do was trim them up a bit, cut them to length, and then drag them out of the woods and over a ridge with my electric, four-wheel drive Bad Boy Buggy. Once we had them on the other side of the ridge, we could load them on the 16-foot trailer and haul them with my pickup truck back across the reservoir dam to the cabin site.

This stout cedar tree was released from the bondage of this brush pile and given a new home on the front porch of our cabin

This stout cedar tree was released from the bondage of the brush pile, so it could have a new home on the front porch of our cabin.

While trimming limbs from one of the larger cedars, I began to envision what a nice corner post it was going to make for our front porch. I thought about how all the beautiful, wood posts, fashioned from cedars harvested on this land, would look quite natural and at home in the meadow on the other side of the reservoir. And, as I cut the main trunk about ten feet up from the base, and freed the tree from the tangle of the brush pile in which it had been trapped, it felt as if the cedar was somehow thankful, appreciative of the opportunity for a new life. I wondered if the massive bridge timbers felt the same about being freed from the creek bank. I thought about how we could best honor them, as we would the cedars, with a place on the cabin that would show off their natural beauty and rugged strength. And then, at that moment, it came to me. We would stack the timbers one on top of the other, log cabin style. “That’s it!”, I told Hoot, “We were going to build a log cabin!”

Our cedar porch posts sit atop the massive beams of Stinking Creek bridge

Our cedar porch posts sit atop the massive beams of Stinking Creek bridge

I had always dreamed of building a log cabin, and now, with the gift of Hurricane Erin, we had the materials to do just that. At eight inches thick and 16 inches high, the massive, rugged wood beams would make excellent “logs” for cabin walls. I did some quick calculations in my head. It would take six beams to make a wall eight feet high, and 24 beams would make four solid walls. We had only 23 beams, but the cabin would need a door and some windows to provide light and ventilation in warmer weather. What would be cut out for the door and windows would surely make up for the lack of a 24th beam. The cabin would have to be smaller than Hoot and I had first talked about, but I was sure we could make do. I was not yet certain, however, how we would manage without having the luxury of modern equipment to handle the heavy beams but, if the pioneers could do it, I knew, somehow, we could do it too. After all, we just had to do it! The timbers had finally spoken…

My wife captures the character of the beams in this photo.

This photo, taken by my wife, shows a row of stubborn ring-shanked nails that once held the cross planks in place.

© From Creek to Cabin in 287 Days

Blood, Sweat, and Perma Frost…

So, you and a buddy just acquired a butt-load of lumber, enough to provide a really good start on the “huntin’ cabin” you have always dreamed about. Problem is, to get it, you have to completely dismantle a 40-foot long, 20-foot wide, wooden bridge; then load the lumber and cart it all out. And, oh yes, the bridge is perched cock-eyed and twisted on the bank of a creek a quarter-mile into a sandy cotton field. And, another thing, it is the middle of January in Oklahoma, and cotton fields do not have any trees – or anything – growing on them to stop the wind from sandblasting the top layer of skin from your face.


Tear this apart with pry bars and sledge hammers? Hell, let’s do it!

If the aforementioned scenario sounds daunting, that is because it is. I believe it would seem daunting even to the young and agile, much less for the middle-aged and, well, not-so-agile, like me and my buddy, Hoot (at ages 51 and 46, respectively, when this project began). Most men our age, I would venture to say, would have soundly refused such a task. In fact, looking back now, I would not have blamed Hoot at all had he taken that stance, and told me to go jump in a lake – or issued some other response with the same meaning, while employing more descriptive and much stronger language. To his credit, however, even upon personal inspection of the bridge on the morning of January 14, 2012, with the temperatures barely up from a morning low of 29°, Hoot was all in, saying, “Hell yes, let’s go for it! I think we can do this!” So, with that decision behind us, and our conviction to “go for it” in front of us, we climbed in his pickup and drove the 18-mile trip back home from the bridge site to gather the proper tools for the task, excitedly discussing potential cabin designs as we traveled.

Dismantling Tools

Can you say, “Manual Labor” boys and girls? Sure, sure you can.

Now, at this point in our story, one might be starting to formulate, in one’s mind, pictures of fancy power tools and the like, maybe even a tractor or fork-lift. I wish I could say you were right, but you are not – at least not entirely. No, growing up as simple (translated “poor”) country boys, the tools of the trade for such a task were always of the manual kind, and that had not changed much at this point in our lives – only that Hoot was the proud owner of a real, store-bought, eight-foot, pry bar. Back in the day, he would have had to grab a crow bar, or perhaps an old tire tool from a corner of the garage or, like me, an axle rod from one of my granddad’s old Model “A” or “T” cars. No, the tools we threw in the back of Hoot’s truck to tackle that huge chore on that cool, winter day were not fancy at all:

1 – 8 ft. Pry Bar (store-bought)

1 – 5 ft. Axle Rod (from old, Model “something” car)

2 – 3 ft. Crow Bars

1 – 10 lb. Sledge Hammer

2 – 5 lb. Hand Sledges

6 – 8 inch Concrete Blocks (to stack lumber on)

1 – Bottle Yukon Jack Perma Frost (Rheumetiz Medicine)

But we were pumped about finally turning all our talk and dreams of a hunting cabin into reality, and we were up for the challenge! Smiling, as “Mrs. B”, my lovely wife, would say later, “like a couple young boys about to build their first tree house”, we headed back to Stinking Creek bridge.

By now, the temperature approached the mid forties and the sun was shining, but the Oklahoma wind was gusting up to 20 miles-per-hour from the south. Our spirits still high, we jabbed the eight-foot bar under the first runner plank (the ones running the length of the bridge, serving as “runners” for the vehicle tires) and began to pry it upwards. But the large, ring-shanked nails holding the runner to the cross-planks below did not give and the edge of the board split off. Not to be defeated, I grabbed the ten-pound sledge hammer and beat the pry bar further under the plank. We pried again, and this time the nails gave. Sliding the axle rod in the pry bar’s place and moving the eight-foot bar down to the next set of nails, we repeated the process until we had our first 20-foot plank removed from the old bridge. As we carried the heavy board up the bridge to the stacking area on the edge of the field and placed it on a set of concrete blocks, I thought, “By golly, we CAN do this!” We were on our way and, by the end of that first day, had all of the runner planks from one side of the bridge removed and stacked, awaiting transport to our construction site.

Hoot stars in "The Grapes of Wrath"

Hoot stars in “The Grapes of Wrath”

The next day began at a brisk 26° and was, weather-wise, basically a repeat of the day before, with one exception – the  wind was blowing steady at 20-25 mph and gusting frequently to 30 mph by the time Hoot attached his 12-foot trailer and stopped by to pick me up. With the excitement still high, however, we quickly packed a lunch and a couple beers, grabbed our tools from my out-building, and headed out for Stinking Creek bridge, where Hoot and I beat, and pried, and hammered, and stacked lumber until we had removed all the runner planks from the bridge. Wind-blown and tired, we decided to call it a day, have a shot of Rheumatiz Medicine (see Granny Moses/Beverly Hillbillies, circa 1962) and then stack a load of planks on Hoot’s trailer and haul them to our future cabin site. We would tackle the chore of removing the “cross-planks” the next weekend.

When we returned home, my loving wife noted (nice way of saying “quipped”) how it seemed the boyish glow on our faces and excitement of that first day had been replaced by windburn and the fatigued look more typical of a couple fellows our age; to which Hoot replied, “Hell, yeah! This is damn hard work!” I could not have agreed more. My face burned, my right elbow ached from swinging the sledge hammers, and my body was tired – but my determination, our determination, was undaunted. We would get that bridge dismantled come hell or high water, though it was looking like the former might be the more likely.

The next weekend began much like the first. Hoot came by and we packed lunch, threw in our tools, and hooked my pickup to a sixteen-foot trailer borrowed from a friend to make hauling of the 20-foot planks easier – and less likely to get us a ticket from the Highway Patrol! Shortly after we arrived at the bridge site, Ronnie drove up to check on us. He was going to have to attend a birthday lunch for his mother-in-law, but might be able to give us a hand later on, if we needed it. Well, we needed it! It was considerably more difficult to pry the ring-shanked nails loose from the heavy, dense bridge beams and, after pouring out much sweat and blood over the course of a couple hours, we had only removed eight cross-planks (about one fifth of them) from the bridge. It was definitely time for a shot of Granny Moses’ Rheumatiz Medicine and a bite of lunch!

IMG_2997 (cropped)

Getting some help from Ronnie and John Deere

As we were eating lunch, Ronnie came down to the site again to let us know the birthday bash had been changed from lunch to an early dinner and he would be able to help us for a few hours. Observing our limited progress, Ronnie suggested he bring his tractor down while we finished our lunch and see if he might be able to use it to put some pressure on the planks while we pried them up. This turned out to be a most excellent (and welcomed) idea.

Reaching the tractor’s loader bucket over from the creek bank, we were able to get a chain, attached to the bucket, around one end of each plank. As Ronnie applied upward pressure with the tractor’s hydraulic system, Hoot and I worked our way from beam to beam, applying manual pressure with our pry bars to assist in lifting the planks from the bridge without snapping them into pieces. As a plank came free, we would run (literally) to the top of the creek bank to guide the plank onto the stack, remove the chain, flip the plank, hammer the protruding nails over, and run back to the bridge to hook the chain around the next plank. This process brought some serious sweat and blood from our old bodies, but it was working well and we wanted to get as much out of Ronnie and his tractor as we could before he had to go, so run we did! (Hoot would later say he thought he was “going to have a goddamned heart attack” before it was through.)

After placing the last cross-plank on the stack with about 30 minutes to spare before he had to leave, Ronnie decided to take a stab at dragging one of the eight-inch, by sixteen-inch, by 40-foot beams out of the depression in the creek bank and up into the field, just to see how his tractor would handle it. Well, it handled it quite effectively, thank you, and thirty minutes later, with me and Hoot again running to hook and unhook the chain, we soon had all eleven beams from Stinking Creek bridge lying in the cotton field at the edge of the creek bank amongst stacks of lumber that had once served as its planking. The bridge was now completely dismantled and, once the long beams were cut in half, ready for transport to a new home – and a new life…

© From Creek to Cabin in 287 Days