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