Debt Free Dream Home Build Story – Phase Four

Log Selection & Delivery, Sawmill 55 Logs in 3 weeks, Plane, Oil & Stage All Posts, Beams and Braces for Timber Frame, 5 Day Timber Frame Workshop, Timber Frame Raising In A Blizzard

Build Story Overview

The Debt Free Dream Home Build story is one of lofty ideas, impossible odds, tight deadlines, underdogs, not taking no for an answer and a beautiful, simple home built from a strong desire to be self sufficient and debt free. This is a 36×36, 3447 sq ft home with 3 levels built using principles of building science, high efficiency materials like ICF block, SIP wall and roof panels and a timber frame sawn, cut and raised on site in a blizzard. This owner build project started in 2015, broke ground in 2017 and is currently under construction.


Phase Four Overview



Phase Four Highlights

Log Selection & Delivery

Oh man, where to start with logs…? Okay, so to sawmill you need logs right? But, like, what species? What diameter? Length? Knots? Clear? Butt swell? Woof! So many questions.

So backing up we learned a really powerful lesson earlier if you’ve seen the previous chainsaw milling and other practice sawmilling projects completed up to this point.

  • Logs are cheap!
  • Logs are heavy!

With this profound new knowledge we’re off on an adventure to meet the trees that will become a home. How many people can say THAT?! So cool! We’ve made contact with a local logger who cares as much as for the trees he manages as we do about the trees that will become part of our timber frame.

FIrst we tour some logging that’s ongoing looking at some beautiful douglas fir trees being thinned to encourage native pine and larch growth. These are some gorgeous trees! Beam logs they’re called. Thus the ‘B” on the butts!

After some sawmilling we needed to replenish and the adventure moves to another location where loggers have been busy and they’ve been carefully setting aside some monster logs. Some of our beams are not just big, but long. This demands a very special log. Turns out a unicorn log!

So much so that right up the last day of milling we did NOT have the logs needed to complete some of the largest and longest beams. Logging and sawmilling are somewhat interwoven so enjoy the entire playlist for all of it’s freshly cut goodness!

Sawmilling 55 logs in 3 weeks

They say in order to be brave you have to understand the risk involved. Let’s just go with we didn’t know what we didn’t know and ignorance was bliss! We didn’t now we couldn’t sawmill these 2000 lb+ logs that were over 28′ long in 3 weeks. So we just went for it!

The learning curve here is super steep and our plan was to eat our veggies first so we’d get be more likely to get dessert. Having a cut sheet of every timber in our frame we go to work starting with the hardest timbers first, filling in with the easy ones as they happen.

As soon as we start so do the problems. Lesson about blade length, the true dedication needed to mill 28 foot long beams within 1/16″ precision after the banging and shaking caused by setting them on the mill and rotating them.

The is trial by fire at it’s finest! Our first beam would take us more than a day. At this rate, 114 pieces to go, we’re going to miss our deadline by over two months! No bueno!

Slowly the rhythm starts to come. A routine starts to develop. A way to think through each logs maximum yield, how to minimize rotations, stuff like that.

Just that quick another problem develops! Apparently when sawing this many logs you generate an embarrassingly large amount of firewood? Where the HECK do you put all this firewood?!??

Very quickly the righteousness about wasted wood goes right out the window. It’s about production and anything beyond that is clearly a bonus. We learn quickly what is worth saving and what’s headed to, for now, the rapidly growing firewood pile! BONUS!

With a conscience we couldn’t bring ourselves to firewood everything so we found a way to quickly turn any round wood into hugeeeee slabs which would be stickered and later provide a massive boneyard to make much of the lumber and flooring we’d need for future projects. BONUS #2!

With a good routine we’re up to 2-3 logs a day now! There’s actually a chance this could work! A lot of time and patience is demanded as the precision end to end must be maintained. Not pot belly. No bow. No twist. No variation in dimension. This is an incredibly tedious process, but our efforts are rewarded with some very precise timbers!

It’s time to refresh the log pile. We’re cruising and have a good feel for timelines, but it’s going to be tight by every measure. Another problem is brewing and it’s got the loggers scrambling. We need bigger logs. You read that right. BIGGGEERRRR! There are a couple timbers that demand a log that appears to be a freak of nature and we simply do not have those logs.

While we keep the sawdust coming help arrives to help ward off the firewood monster and keep up with the seemingly bottomless firewood coming off the mill now. Faster than it can be cut and moved! Beams are stacking up and we’re having to find places to put them all. More on that later.

Down to the wire we’ve milled over two log truck loads of logs, 55 to be exact and produced all but a few beams. The unicorns. We’re no longer green sawyers. With a real bond between man and machine we’ve got a system. Logs are going in and beams are coming out! How’s THAT for rookie luck? Well we did blow a tire on the backhoe, ruin a battery, break a grapple, ruin several blades and belts, but currently we’re on a winning streaks!

Absolutely desperate now we’re on the phone with the logger begging for those last few logs. With literally hours to spare the loggers come through and some G-I-N-O-R-M-O-U-S logs show up! By the skin of our teeth there it is. Anentire 115 piece timber frame cut in just 3 weeks by total rookies! Enjoy!

Plane, oil and stage all timbers

Oops. We might have forgot to mention that in tandem with the sawing was all the planing. Are you ready for this? 460 surfaces planed. By one young little woman and her mighty beam planer. No joke! It’s not clear how many miles of planing this is, but it’s absolutely nuts!

And WOW did they turn out amazing!

Starting slow to get the hang of the tool, blade life and dealing with things like pitch build up, yea green trees have a lot of sap, the learning curve to getting fast and smooth cuts is steep and long.

Once the planer is dialed in it’s head down and make shavings. This all while juggling the never ending firewood pile and beams coming off the sawmill.

We’ve got ourselves a proper beam factory run by two people wielding cameras and documented it all. Otherwise no one would believe!

Getting smart, the shavings move onto a hard flat surface because another detail we failed to mention is that to keep to our deadline we’re working well into the night. Yep sawmilling and planing at night! That escalated quickly!

Getting all these timbers staged was a work of art since the space available to spread them out is limited. Each beam will need to be accessible all at the same time for the coming workshop where joinery will be cut simultaneously by 30+ people.

Large bunks were set up and beams were sorted by size and priority. Keeping the most important (aren’t they all? yes we literally did not have a spare, but we did have logs) the posts at the front and center of the class area.

Somehow the beams are sorted, planed, staged and ready for perhaps one of the most magical experiences some of us will have in our lifetimes. The Shelter Institute Pure Living for Life Timber Frame Workshop!

Once In A Lifetime Timber Frame Workshop

To this day this event seems like one more “it was meant to be” events that seems too good to be true. The family who hosts the timber frame workshop located in Maine agreed to facilitate the same workshop, but in the wild, on a full house build, with winter approaching.

If you’re thinking, “Those people are crazy!”, you’re right! Our kind of crazy. So crazy that over 20 people came from all over the world to attend and have their first go at learning to timber frame.

The weather the first few days was epic. That should have been our first clue mother nature had something up her sleeve. Suddenly snow is in the forecast for raising day. This has the fire lit on the class and everyone is ready to make this thing succeed.

Day one is orientation and an abbreviated course on sharpening. Normally this part of the class is spent in a classroom and sharpening gets an entire afternoon, but there’s no time for that!

Everyone gets their post assignment and the measuring and marking begins. Before we know it the sound of saws and mallets starts queuing up. People are making sawdust and wood chips! Learning to cut straight first. So they can get a feel for their new Japanese pull saws and how to properly orient a post.

Then the reality of timber framing using hand tools like chisels, slicks, marking knives, framing squares and mallets starts to set in as students dive into their first 2″ mortise joints. These have to be hogged out with patience. This process is necessary to appreciate the process and how other tools speed up the process.

Students are all laughing and building relationships with one another as they gain some confidence with their assigned posts and other joinery. Checking depth, checking for square, checking for flatness. So far morale is sky high and the forecast is for more of the same.

Each day of the workshop the camaraderie is growing and the wood chips are flying. Some mallets are getting broken, but the work continues and beams are starting to take shape. Incredibly the joinery is coming together at a lightening pace.

To ensure a successful erection on Friday the power tools are out and suddenly there’s a small dip in morale as people realize how a power mortiser can do in minutes what took them hours to achieve. And now the appreciation starts to come over people!

Some of the fun, and complicated, joints are on the menu including the dovetail joist mortise and tenon, the scarf joint and the birds mouth. It’s only been a couple days and everyone is feeling like family, enjoying the cool, crisp fall air, laughter and making things with their hands!

Timber Frame Assembly

While some of the final rafter and floor joist joinery is still happening a big shift happens in the workflow. The Shelter Institute crew knows their program and they have to stay ahead of schedule to ensure this building goes up on schedule.

Using the power of teamwork the large beams are slowly placed in careful orientation to enable the joinery to be mated on the ground leaving the bents to simply be lifted into place on raising day.

First the posts are mated to the carrying beams and a wind brace, knee brace, is added to ensure stiffness. Peg holes are drilled and dry oak pegs are driven in which is the only hardware holding these all wood joints together. No steel or hardware here!

Then the huge scarf joint goes together with the through tenon intersecting and tying the two large beams together over the center post. Some big whacks with a mallet and some convincing come-a-longs and straps are used to coax the entire thing together and into place. Fits like a glove!

With four bents total this process is repeated in reverse order from the raising day workflow. Some joinery needs some tweaks and must be disassembled to shave off small amounts. Tight joinery is paramount to strength. So taking some off is always better than a wobbly joint.

In the background, floor joists are being lifted up to the floor platform and readied to tie the entire frame together. Rafters are being brought indoors to be oiled as oiling them once up will be a near impossible task.

With impressive planning, almost like they’ve done this before, the Shelter crew has the entire frame prepped and ready to be assembled ahead of schedule by over a day!

Good thing because the class will take a day to spend indoors learning principles of engineering and timber framing before the raising day!

Timber Frame Raising In A Blizzard

Here we go again. Another you’d never believe it if you didn’t see it moment! You can’t pay money for memories this good! Mother nature graced this timber frame raising with a proper dose of early winter snow. The wisdom of the crew had the crane arrive early and everyone is present and accounted for. This frame is going up today!

With the grace only an experienced crew can have the bents are easily raised up to the platform and braced while floor joists are added to tie the bents together initially.

Seeing these snow covered bents flying through the air thinking that those were trees in the forest just days or weeks ago is boggling for the mind!

With wind braces in and joists holding the frame together it’s starting to take shape and everyone is basically standing around with their mouths open. Okay, they have their cameras out also!

Thankfully we had the blessing of a proper filmmaker on site to capture the magic because being totally present was all that was on our minds. To really soak in what we had been working toward for so many years finally coming to life.

The top plates and scarf joints are now being assembled with some conviction from a large sledge hammer. Setting the foundation now for the 20 foot tall ridge beam. You gotta see this thing flying through the air. It’s an incredible sight!

Finally the 27 1/2 foot long rafters are being lifted up and the roof line is taking shape. It’s starting to look like a stable gable. 12/12 pitch, Douglas Fir timber frame! The whetting bush is added. You’ll have to watch to learning the meaning.

And the class has come to an end. There are no words. Simply overwhelming appreciation for all the wonderful people and helping hands who help make this dream a reality for some many of us. It’s a building that will stand in memory for generations to come. Enjoy!


Building Phases

Overview Debt Free Dream Home Build Story
Debt Free Dream Home Build Phase One
Phase 1 – Septic, Deck, Hot Tub, Solar, Learning, Test Projects, First House Plan, Timber Frame Workshop, Better House Plans
Debt Free Dream Home Phase 2
Phase 2 – Estate Sale, Off Grid Water System, Backhoe & Sawmill Acquisition, Site and Material Planning, Apprenticeship
Debt Free Dream Home Build Phase Three
Phase 3 – Excavation, Foundation, Plumbing, Radiant, Slab, Steel Beam, Hydronic Radiant Subfloor Framing
Debt Free Dream House Phase Four
Phase 4 – Sawmill Timber Frame, Plane & Stage 115 Piece Timber Frame, Timber Frame Workshop, Timber Frame Raising

Want to do a news story or interview on this build story?

Need content for your news article (HARO), podcast, newsletter, blog or YouTube channel? KERF would love to help you share our message about high efficiency construction, owner builder projects, debt free construction, timberframing, sawmilling, ICF construction and building as a couple! If any of those sound like a good fit get with us to see how we can help!

Hide picture