Thursday, October 31, 2013

Finishing the Sauna Stove

With the doors and windows in place in the sauna, enclosing the area around where the front of the stove passed through the wall was the next big operation to have it habitable.

Although the bugs had greatly, greatly diminished after another uncommonly buggy summer, they were still there, and we didn't want them to have free run of the sauna, especially with guests spending the night.

Grandpa's saunas both used a straightforward piece of sheet metal to bridge the gap between the front of his stoves and the surrounding walls.  Part of me really liked this idea - it was simple, looked good, and was non-flammable.  It also offered very, very little insulation, and I wanted - no, needed the sauna to have some decent insulating qualities as well.

I opted for something with a bit of thermal mass.  Small bricks.  Kenny helped me to do a dry fit, and they went in the space rather well!

With a small amount of spare mortar in hand, I bricked up the area and was rather proud of myself.  

Some nice wood trim, and we were all set!

Of course, after one or two firings, I got in for a closer look and found that the temperature just above the brick and on the inside was still bumping against 250 degrees.  This is enough to be a concern, and obviously it was an issue.

I removed all my wood trim.  Left a decent sized air space above the brick before my log wall began, and then replaced it with "trim" I cut from a sheet of concrete board.  I believe it still looks good - and it should not be so susceptible to the heat.

After a few more firings, my mortar proved to be cracking in many places.  I took some clear, high temperature silicone and ran a bead over my joints in the brick.  This too has subsequently cracked in the area over the stove (a very vivid illustration of how heat loves to rise).  At this point, I am happy to leave the brick in place in a very tight, dry fit.  It is secured inside and out by the concrete board.

In hindsight, I would use the silicone instead of mortar, to create what for the most part would look like a dry fit of the bricks.  The concrete board would hold the bricks in place and the silicone, even as it breaks down, would still form a seal against air leakage.

But for the most part, the sauna was finished enough to be useable for the foreseeable future!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Tempory Tarp Roof

Nana and Papa still had another day and a bit after the walls were complete, so we rushed to enclose the space so that work could continue in their absence.

Grandpa had the original tie rod from his house, which had served a similar purpose to the laminated beam we had made up for our house.  As we were transporting it from his place to ours, we noted a hitchhiker that explained why it felt so heavy!

With a long connector nut, we were able to extend his rod with some threaded rod of our own, and make it bridge the distance between the two walls.

I put up two notched two by fours, about five or six feet above the tops of the walls.  We then worked to get the tie rod up and into these notches.  This part of the whole construction was to me, the most nerve-wracking.  There was little support around the tops of the two by fours, and we were now at the height limit of most of our ladders.  Not to mention that the rod seemed to grow heavier each foot higher we climbed.

Thankfully, no one was injured and we got the rod in place.  We attached support lines to the ends of it and tied them to nearby trees and blocks.

That was enough, and we took part in yet another campfire.  Thanks to Aunt V!, we had decided to invest in a small campfire bowl, and it proved to be one of Kenny's favourite activities to have a campfire and roast marshmallows  (Although it seems he likes to roast them for others - he likes his best when they are just straight from the bag).  This also proved to be the time where Kenny learned to start fires on his own. He is a bit shy about matches, but is comfortable lighting the campfire with a stick type lighter.  And yes, we are all very careful to explain to him that he is not allowed to play with the lighters, or light fires, without our supervision.

The next morning we unpacked the giant tarp that Donna had sagely supplied.  It took a fair bit of coaxing to get it up and over the first wall, then over the rod, and eventually down the far wall.

Grandpa, as he often does (I suspect he enjoys it), did a great high wire act that thrilled and terrified us all.

In the corners, Papa had the great foresight to install temporary, rounded boards to prevent the tarp from tearing too much.  As it turns out, the tarp has torn at the tops of all the two by fours supporting the tarp, as well as a little bit in some of the corners.  It still has been shedding the rain (and lately snow) pretty well though, with only a few leaks here and there.

Using what I believe to be a trucker's hitch, I have fastened down the edges of the tarp all around the cabin as tight as possible, and occasionally even try to retighten them to keep it as taut as possible.

As far as this portion of construction goes, I have called in a local professional to finish putting on the roof.  I have neither the stomach for the heights involved, nor the skills or time to complete it before we really would like to be inside.  I have volunteered to help out if there is anything I can do though.  And he has graciously accepted my offer, although he did quip that he charges double when a client asks to be involved in the project.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Building a Log Cabin Using Regular Square Beams

With the conjunction of the sauna becoming useable both as a sauna, and an extra space for guests, the next logical step was to begin work on the cabin.

This coincided with the arrival of my parents, and then both my brother and sister just a few days later.  Fortunately my parents visited us bringing their tent trailer and two large boxes of galvanized 10" spikes.  They had good accomodations even if their heater gave them the occasional troubles.  At least they weren't still here when the snow began to fly!

I had contracted out the laying of two runs of cinder block to a local fellow, and his work was completed and dried by the time everyone arrived.  (Although there was still standing water inside the foundation.)

Over the course of construction, I ended up taking delivery of one hundred and twelve white pine beams.  Each of them measuring six inches by six inches (plus or minus about an eighth of an inch) and sixteen feet long.  I have to admit that for someone with little experience driving a large trailer, this was a bit stressful, but with my father and brother's help, I managed.

With our materials assembled, it was time to confirm our building practises, and then get to work!

I confirmed that the outside footprint of the cabin was to be twenty two by twenty two feet.  We also were going to strive for six inches of overhang at each corner where we would cut in a simple mortise joint.  Where logs needed to have a butt joint, we would cut a tongue and groove of about two inches.  Each run would have a layer of five and half inch wide sill gasket installed (sometimes two or even three layers if there was a noticeable gap due to variance in the height of differing beams).

Each beam would be spiked down at each end, as well as approximately every three to four feet, also being mindful of butt joints on the run below, where we would ALSO spike on either side of the joint.

My lesson learned from the sauna was that there was a dramatic amount of labour involved in trying to cut and insert splines in the beams - and as often as not, they actually reduced the quality of work, in that they sometimes would force a beam to rest unevenly on the beam below.

Otherwise, we were rather similar in approach.  The corner joints as a mortise rather than a dovetail would work well, and the fact that my plan included a full wraparound porch meant that the ability to shed water was greatly diminished, if not eliminated!

With my beams at sixteen feet (generally six to twelve inches more than this actually), we were able to use a full beam, plus a half beam, to get us to twenty four feet.  Then trim off rough ends, or the occasional broken or rotten end, and we got down to twenty three feet in good order.

Working together felt really good.  We fired up two circular saws set at slightly different depths (one at an inch and a half for the mortise grooves, and the other at its maximum depth to try to cut through beams completely) and began churning out the first row of beams.

Mentally setting the bottom of my door frames at nine inches (six for floor joists, and then two more for actual flooring materials) seemed about right, so on the second run we notched the beams at the preset spots for the doors.

While Donna and I had spent many hours going over plans, I am pretty sure we both understood that they were just guidelines, subject to the realities of construction materials and techniques.  Many things were unknown going into the project.

A few of the guidelines we had going in, and that we tried to maintain during construction were based on the structural properties of a log wall.  As such, we kept all breaks in the log walls at least three feet in from the outside corner (so basically from the inside, there are always thirty inches of solid logs coming out of a structural corner).  We also insisted on the same three feet between breaks in a continuous wall, so there would be at least thirty six inches of log wall between a door and window, or combination thereof.

Another consideration that happened basically during construction was related to window and door sizes. It is tremendously more thrifty to purchase windows and doors in standard sizes if possible, rather than custom ordering them to fit your openings.  So we went with a standard door, two standard patio doors, and then the remaining windows in regular sizes of three feet by three feet, and five feet by four feet.  Two tiny windows were also standard stock, although they were eighteen by thirty.  Strangely enough, the eighteen by thirty windows cost about thirty dollars more than the three by three windows.  And yes, they both were openers, although the larger ones were just sliders.

The main guideline I tried to stress was for everyone to be safe.  We were very blessed in that no one suffered even a minor injury on this project.

With the first run in place, I had to go off to work for the next day and leave my brother and father to all the fun.  Staying up with my brother and enjoying a quiet beverage (or two), I sketched out the remaining blueprints.  Google sketchup they weren't, but they served the rest of the construction quite admirably.  It's fortunate that Donna was wise enough to snap a few pictures of them before they were recycled.

Sadly, my brother had to return to his life in the south all too soon...  Just as we reached the three foot, nine inch mark - where we began cutting in the windows.

I wanted the windows to begin fairly low to the floor after my work in the sauna.  There I kept the windows fairly high (for modesty), but then it transpired that they were overly shaded by the porch roof.  While I am willing to accept this in the cabin, I'd like to keep it to a minimum.

It was doubly troubling to have my brother leave, as he was another strong back for the hoisting of the beams, which began the next day.

We had mulled over a few different schemes for hauling the beams higher, and higher up the wall.  I wanted an emphasis on safety, but expediency was also important.  It was fortunate that my back and co-ordination permitted me to haul beams approaching the seven foot mark on my own.  I directly attribute this to my aikido training, as I discovered that it was very similar to koshi nage, or ganseki otoshi.  You had to quickly feel for the beam's hara, and position it above your own.  Then the weight of the beam would tend to merge with your own, and you could go about your business normally.  I even utilized this to move much larger beams over level ground, but didn't have the courage to climb a ladder with more than a half beam.

Finally, we settled on a system that worked remarkably well.  We would arrange our ladders on the inside of the walls, one at each end of the beam, and then throw a rope over the wall and tie it to the ends of the beam.  My father at one end of the beam, and myself at the other, we would count down, and then pull the beam up together and position it on the wall.  I insisted that we also screw in some temporary two by fours pointing up to the sky on each wall, to prevent us from pulling the beams right over the wall and onto ourselves.

With a beam in place, we would use my cordless drills to pre-drill a 3/8 inch hole.  Then pressing my four and a half pound sledge hammer into service, we would pound in a ten inch spike.  Finally a strip of sill gasket was stapled into place and we got ready for the next layer.

Door and window openings would be treated to an extra two or three inches on the sides, and two or four on top, depending on their height.  This seems to me to be generous, but at the same time, I wanted to be sure to be able to build a box "frame" around each door or window to attach the trim to for this year.  Nothing was to be directly attached to the sides or top of the opening, as I expect it to continue to settle for a year.

We worked away missing my brother, but he was well replaced by Grandpa who came by to pitch in.  Then the other shoe dropped and my sister too had to return home.  We hold out great hopes that she will be able to return again soon though, perhaps even during the winter, and certainly sometime with her "little girl" K!.  Kenny especially misses her, although just last night he received a lovely card, complete with a large wad of paper money that made his eyes grow VERY large. (Of course, the picture on the money was that of Sandy McTire.)

As we got above the height of the doors, I decided that I wanted some sort of beam from one side of the cabin to the other, to prevent the walls from spreading at all due to the future weight of the roof.

A solid beam would require a complicated joint, and to my mind wouldn't be nearly as strong as a laminated one, so off to the lumber store we went, shopping for enough materials to create one.

We settled on three two by eight boards, through bolted and laminated with industrial strength glue.  We were able to notch and insert this beam into the middle of the north and south walls without too much fuss at about the eight foot mark.  This was actually much higher than I would have intended - I was hoping to create more on the order of seven foot ceilings on the main floor, but I was also mindful of keeping the beam above the height of the adjacent door trim.

As the cabin settles though, perhaps the ceiling will come down an inch or two.

This beam marked the end of the main floor, and the beginning of the second floor (well, loft...).  I had originally only hoped for a six inch knee wall beyond the loft floor.  With careful calculations and fitting of the remaining beams, we were able to push that to a very, very welcome two feet!  This should make the upstairs rooms feel much more spacious!

Just as we completed the final run of beams, my mom and dad's time allotted for us ran out, and we bid them an (internally) tearful farewell.

Kenny passed along a traditional stink eye, and with a farewell "Ba-Ba-Boom!" they were off.

Much still needed to be done!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Installing the Stovepipe in the Sauna

Before I get too far into this post, I want to come clean on something - this blog entry, and I imagine the next few to follow, are all referring to things that happened over a month ago.

After B! left us for the sunny south once again my family all came to visit and pitch in to help on the main cabin.  This left me very little time for blogging about the days work, as we worked the whole day, and then caught up each evening.  I also find myself getting fatigued more easily than in the past, either due to old age, or my ongoing health thingie (a new favourite word of Ken's).

After my family left, then our awesome friends the C!'s all came to visit - that was amazingly fun and a nice way to transition from summer into autumn, although it probably felt more like a transition from autumn into winter.  We were bumping against negative temperatures the final few nights, and it was only a matter of luck that they didn't see actual snow.

In any case, with that off my chest, I will endeavour to try to churn out a few posts between my current work commitments, and see if I can't get back up to date before Christmas!

In the breathing space between B! visiting and my parents arrival, I tried to tackle getting the sauna in a state where my brother could actually spend the nights there, rather than in the tent we had previously been pressing into service for overnight guests.

With B!'s hard work on putting in the windows and doors in the sauna leaving only the hole for the stove to be filled, I knew where my talents were needed!

First up I positioned the stove on some cinder blocks in the opening.  I leveled it with a piece of square stock and then put in the cathedral ceiling support as supplied by Bob's Woodburner's in Thunder Bay.

I was careful to position the ceiling support such that there was exactly three feet between the top of the stove and the bottom of the support.  This would help me in adding a short length of single wall stovepipe later.

The remainder of the distance I used a double wall insulated "Selkirk" type stovepipe.  At least one person told me this was a "zero-clearance" pipe, so I took them for their word and cut the hole in the sauna roof with only about a quarter inch clearance between the pipe and the deck material.

I connected up all the double wall segments to get a few feet above the ridge cap flashing.  This is really easy with this stovepipe.  Just nest them, and then attach the clamping collar.  It feels very secure and yet takes no time or tools to install.

A quick measurement of the outside diameter of this stovepipe, and it was time to trim my silicone "Dektite" fitting.  This is a neat rubbery boot that you slide over any pipe to seal it to a metal roof.

I squirted a generous dollup of polyurethane sealant under the boot and then slid it over the uncapped stovepipe.  Where it contacted the roof, there is a clever strip of some sort of metallic band that allows you to mold the boot to the profile of your steel.  While the band appears to be lead, I'm sure it is some other alloy.  I then fastened it down with many screws spaced out about every inch or inch and a half or so.

Finally I dragged up the cap with Grandpa's ever handy rope.  This too clipped on easily.

I was prepared to pick up a three foot length of single wall stove pipe on my next trip to town, but amazingly, Grandpa had a length that he had picked up at the dump on a previous trip!  With only a little bit of scrubbing to remove some bird poo, I had a pipe that was more than adequate, and came with some history!

With the stovepipe fully assembled, it was only a short time until I could declare the sauna ready for use!  Exciting!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Installing Windows and Doors in the Sauna

With great excitement we brought home from the city a real treasure - our friend B!  He had never been up to see the project before, and we were delighted to at last have him amongst us.

We had loads of fun (especially Kenny) hanging out together.

Walking to the lake...

Visiting the Terry Fox monument, and Kakabeka Falls...

Playing at the Marina...

The most fun of all for Daddy was working together again with his friend.  It was great to be able to commiserate again about our trials and tribulations.

B! and I had spent a large portion of our working life together at ProMark Window Film and Blinds.  It was a great job, with great people there - I still dream about being back at work with them sometimes!

This time things were slightly different.  Instead of installing blinds or film on existing windows, B! and I were actually installing the windows themselves!

B! is exceptionally handy, and with very little guidance from me, had things looking really awesome in no time flat!  I think some of his trim work will be permanent, even though really it should be scheduled to be replaced next year when I add more v-joint and account for settling.

I'm not sure how we managed it, but we got the patio door onto and back off of the truck in what turned out to probably be the most difficult manner possible.  While picking up a subsequent patio door, a local that I know through work showed me the proper way to do it.*

We also picked up an exterior door for the sauna.  This was a bit complicated.  We wanted an outswing door to maximize space inside the sauna.  Apparently most domestic doors are sold as inswing doors.  I'm not sure why this is - I would have thought safety alone would dictate a preference to outswing, or even a requirement!  The lady at the store mentioned screen/storm doors, which perhaps makes sense.

Anyway, we wanted an outswing, so I made the crazy decision to take an inswing (also, inswing are far less expensive than custom ordered outswings...) and we installed it backwards.  I wasn't concerned about the hinges on the outside - any thief would be bound to just smash a window rather than try to pull hinge pins I'm sure.  It took longer than I expected to puzzle out which direction to have the door open. As I age, things that came easily to me in my youth now seem to escape me.  In any case, let me save some of my readers a few moments of topological thought - it's the opposite.

B! got the door in and working great in no time.  No one has yet noticed that it is in backwards until I point it out.

It was with a very heavy heart that we returned him to the aeroport for his flight home only a short time later.  We all hope that now that he has finally taken the plunge and visited us, he will be able to find time for us again soon!  He's certain to be a lifelong pal for our whole family.

* Place the entire patio door centred in your truck bed with the panes both down and the empty frame facing up.  Then use your ratchet straps to go from each corner up to the frame, wrap the frame a bit, and then back down to the far side.  Do this up close to the cab and then back at the back of your box.  It helps to hold the doors at a bit of an angle when you put the first strap on, so as you ratchet it, it comes up to vertical in your truck bed.  Email for further clarification if required.