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Building By Yourself

 
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Has anyone build a cordwood, cob, strawbale or other type of home on their own? I feel that a regular cabin would not be possible because of the size of the logs and possible dangers if they fell. I'm have taken workshops in both cordwood and strawbale building and am a bit unsure if I can do the mortar by myself without buying materials for mortar. I am also a bit interested in wattle and daub using willow and cob, as it seems like I could build it on my own but am not sure about insulation and heating it the few cold days of the winter.
 
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traditional cordwood uses a lime mortar in two lines with the center being filled with the insulator material.

If you built two wattle walls you could fill between them with insulation which will keep warmth in in the winter and cold in when summer comes.

Another option, use a soil and lime mortar and build with cordwood.

Log cabins can be built as long as you can make an A frame lifting rig. (this can be found in Military construction manuals from WWII) The A frame makes it safe for a one man operation to construct high walled buildings and roofs.
The A frame can even lift standard stud type walls into place, and hold them there while you set the braces.
 
pollinator
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I have worked alone building for 30 years now, so it is definitely doable. I have not specifically done the things stated, but I have no ill feelings that I could not do so. Over the years I have got more equipment so it has become easier, but overall, a person devises a way to work alone as they go along. It is hard to explain, there is no one size fits all formula from start to finish, there is just working-alone-mindset.

This was a 16 foot long beam, 8 x 8 inches, and my wife (helper) was 7 months pregnant so of limited help. Yet through 2x4 ramps, it went into place easy enough. I mean it took a half hour, but it was in place!


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pollinator
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Working alone is something many of us do and have done a lot. Some people do fine, others find it almost impossible mentally. Travis described the mindset that seems to be the norm for people working alone.

One of the most important aspects to working truly alone, nobody else in sight or hearing, is a healthy cloak of caution. Wear it at all times because a job site is a dangerous place. Part of the problem is that we don't realize (most of us, in the beginning, anyway) just how quick and easily really bad things can happen and then how REALLY bad a problem it really is because we're alone. A 6' step ladder which almost every person in the world has used to change a light bulb can put you in the hospital or worse if you lean too far, slip and break your shoulder - or worse.  When you're all alone it can be _much_ worse. Not to mention power tools, edge tools, trip hazards... Ya-di-ya-di-ya.

Working alone carries serious additional risk over working even with one other person. Respect this in every way the very best that you can.


Regards,
Rufus
 
pollinator
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I work alone 99.5% of the time. Most things are entirely doable; sometimes the time taken difference is crazy though.

Equipment is a great replacement for a helper. I would be very frustrated if I had to give up my tractor.

I try hard to carry my cellphone(not in the jacket 30ft away!), if I am doing something extra high risk alone. Chainsaw, ladders, etc. Could easily be the difference between life and death, especially in winter. Nobody is going to come check on me for a couple weeks; if I'm immobilized and can't get to the cell I could freeze, assuming I don't bleed out first.

An awful lot of homesteady types play it casual with safety gear. Not a great plan, it's cheap at the price, and alone you have no backup plan.

There may be key points that is worth seeking a helper for a short period, even if you have to pay or owe a favour...

Cob and strawbale are usually(in my region) used as non-structural infill for a timber frame. One way to do a timber frame is with bents or walls built horizontal, then raised. Raising would be one of those key points in my opinion.


Rufus, I once worked for a woman whose husband went over on a ladder while pruning.. not a super tall one

The result was brain damage, 5 years of 24/7 caretaking, and finally death.
 
pollinator
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I prefer to work alone, and manage to do that about 95% of the time. My house is a standard lumber frame house. I sought help for those projects that I wasn't skilled enough to do, learning as I watched a helper tackle those tasks. Once I learned, I could continue by myself. If I had to restart all over again, I could build the entire house by myself. It was just a matter of learning the skills for the difficult parts.......well at least difficult from my unskilled point of view.

Working alone means that it took far more time to get it done. But I didn't mind it taking a long time. I had plenty of time available and no deadline to meet.
 
Travis Johnson
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Around here, logging is typically a two person job for some reason; one guy in the skidder and another guy felling (unless they are a bigger operation of course). But I found I was paying the other guy half the money, and not getting twice as much wood out. So, I started logging alone, and always have. I just adapted, and learned ways to make what I did effecient. Eventually that spilled over into everything in life...working alone.

What is interesting is, it would be easier for me to build a log house than I could build a stick framed one, mostly because lifting the trusses, though lighter, are more flimsy.

I think people make a big deal of accidents, but the truth is the highest probability of getting injured is jumping in some vehicle and going to the hardware store for supplies rather than getting injured on site.

Myself, I have cut thousands and thousands of cords of wood in the last thirty years as a logger, and only have three chainsaw accidents from all those years of logging. Two were minor, and the third was a God-Send as the resulting MRI found cancer in me.
 
Rufus Laggren
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Travis

There are lots of possible risks we just normally live through, it's true. And I expect your chances probably _are_ worse on the highway than in the forest. But, remember, at this point you incarnate an immense amount of knowledge and skill and "intuition" that doesn't exist, except, maybe, potentially, in  most other people. I mention the safety angle (and have often in various venues) because newbies of any kind don't have the understanding or, more importantly, the habits, that will let them flow along all in one piece w/out dwelling on their actions. Newbies _need_ a bit of cautionary reminder because they don't realize, in their bones, that "bad things can happen - to them, here!". They won't "see it coming", even in theory.

One of the major risks of a house building site, I think, is the resemblance of the job site to a house we have called home, a safe home, for many years - floors, walls, doors, stairs, etc. That allows new people to carry on in their usual way (whatever it is) w/out much thought. But a job site is NOT anything like a completed building. The stairs may NOT be installed; when you work high and drop something it could fall 30' and really hurt a guy; leaving something on the floor in a frequently used area could cause a broken ankle when somebody carrying something large or heavy comes through like he's done 10 times already that day; a power cord on any high work area could cause a long fall. Most construction tools don't come with triple safety protections designed (and legislated) in like most consumer goods.

It's not so much about smarts as it is about lack of knowledge and experience. The skills and moxy  that are now second nature to you are just a hazy possibility in the lives of many aspiring homesteaders.

And then, the children are watching. Children always watch, everything we do. Safety is an attitude, a life long practice, which is acquired more effectively when a person sees value. Seeing it practiced seriously by respected people will allow a young person to practice it with much less embarrassment about being a"wimp" or "wuss". This was pointed out by a master carpenter whose class I took long ago. One of the students, a very smart quick fellow said that he had been using a circular saw since he was 12 and really, no problem. The teacher pointed out that not everybody in the class, or anywhere, had his experience, skill and... luck. (Note: "Luck" is not really luck - you make it yourself.) And then the teach asked the fellow if he wanted his son to reach ACROSS the spinning blade of a table saw like the guy had done several time that day. That ended the discussion. And it struck home to me, also, although I was not the immediate target, not being as skilled as my fellow student. What children learn from us is actually one of the most important points, one of the big reasons I try to keep conscious of good practice.


Regards,
Rufus
 
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I was going to start a threat about this, but I saw your thread, and...

1) I endorse the emphasis on safety.  It doesn't take long to bleed to unconsciousness.  Get used to the idea that its better to send a false alarm then for someone to find you dead from a missing toe.  If its deeper than an inch, or the puddle is bigger than a pancake or it burbles up like a clogged water-fountain, take a ride in an ambulance, let them decide how bad it is.

2) Sure, you could buy a bulldozer and hire a crew, or you can recruit your family, friends and neighbors and rent equipment, but there are times when by necessity or choice you find yourself working alone.   The Book “Working Alone” by John Carroll is excellent.  It covers residential construction. For example:  from “Working Alone” use clamps as handles to make holding and carrying plywood or cement board easier, particularly when climbing ladders.   You can even use the clamps so that you can run rope through and hoist the plywood to a roof after you’ve climbed up.

3) Some of my solo-homestead additions:  Rolling a log is 100x easier than trying to lift it.  I can roll a 400 lb log, I try to avoid lifting an 80lb one.  So I made hugel beds and raised beds by cutting large logs into 10 foot sections and rolling them. I’m on a 15% incline, so rocks as backstops allows me to take a break.  I get the logs to line up by rolling them onto a small red brick centered under the log, gets em about an inch off the ground, then I can pivot the log and continue to roll into place.  Much easier than dragging or lifting.

4) For my log-cabin shed, I could have built 14 x 14 foot square cabin.  But 14 foot logs are heavy.  Making the cabin an octagon means my sides are now 6.5 ft,  at 6 in diameter, even as fresh green Doug Fir thats about 75 lbs before I debark and scribe.  I can lift those one side at a time onto a 4’ scaffold, and from the scaffold onto the now 8ft tall wall.  Its a work out to be sure.  If you always leave one end of the object you are lifting on the ground, you are lifting only part of the weight (Tangent of Theta, where theta is the angle between the ground and the object? maybe).  Even if the end your are leaving is higher, like a log leaning against a scaffold, lifting one end and letting the scaffold bear some of the weight at the other is a big help.  

5) Don’t pick something up until you have a plan for how and where to put it down so it stays.  That plan is NOT “ I will hold this with one hand, use my other hand to hold a nail, use my other other hand to swing the hammer, and use my other other other hand to hold the level, and use my shoulder to adjust the height.”  Start the nail on the ground, tape the level to the board on the ground.  Figure out which hand is holding the hammer and where its going to grab it and set it down *before* you have joist or whatnot in hand.

6) I really like come-alongs (hand-winches, hand-pullers,) your jargon may vary.  I Rolled a 300 lb slab of cement that had been a stair landing, uphill 250ish feet  on about a dozen little 2 in branches by using a come-along, a tow strap and a series of tree-stumps.  Took over an hour, I listened to a comedic song about Stonehenge over and over while doing it.  If I'm felling a tree that is too small for wedges (because no one thinned after the last clear-cut), I use two 3000 lb capacity tow straps and a 2ton come-along to 'encourage' the tree to lean over the hinge cut. I make a "V" with the tree I'm felling at the vertex and two larger trees as anchors so that the tree falls over the hinge and between the two anchor trees.*** Safety Warning See Below***


7) Forget measuring tapes for anything bigger than 3’ use a 8ft 2x3 or 2x2.  Mark off 4’ and 6’ but keep the post 8’  or if you have a lot of the same cut at a special size (like 79”) cut one piece to that and use it.  Otherwise you will be always chasing and resetting that lose end of the tape. And outside it will get wet, get dirt in it, stop retracting and get easily lost.   Hard to loose a 2x3, and its cheaper than buying a tape.  Always keep a thick finishing nail in your pocket:  that’s your indestructible never out of ink never has a broken point pen/pencil for marking things.  Keep it always in the same pocket, for me, my right, because my cellphone is in my left pocket.  Those two are not friends.  


*** Safety Warning*** If you are going to work with lines under tension remember Chains, ropes, straps, cables, if they are under-tension, they can be storing a tremendous amount of force, which can, if they snap, accelerate the now-free ends faster than anyone can react.  You won't know its happened until its over.  I've seen a 5" diameter tree CUT IN HALF by a snapped chain from a tractor pulling a second tractor out of mud.  I have heard about people getting cut in half by snapped cables.
So...
1) know the rated capacities of every part that is under tension, from pulleys, to shackles to nuts and bolts.
2) put a shear-bolt, or put the weakest link in your system where you want it to fail, so that if something goes wrong, the failure point is known and the failure doesn't put you in danger.   I put my shear bolt right at the stationary end of the come-along, and that is right next to the tree I'm felling. If it snaps, the come-along is pulled away from me toward one anchor tree, and the other end is pulled away from me, around the target tree and toward the other anchor tree.
3) Use a tension guage so you can stay well bellow the rated tension.  in a system where 1.5 tons in the lowest rated part, I use about 500lbs of tension.  that is plenty on a small tree. This does not replace properly planning your hinge-cut, and it is not a good way to cope with a large tree that is leaning.  this is for a tree where there isn't enough diameter to get a wedge in.  
 
Dillon Nichols
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Travis, I am really green at this compared to you. I didn't grow up in a family where anyone really did handyman level stuff, let alone farming/homesteading stuff. My prior professional background was computers, not a big help. And I've somehow managed to be the most experienced construction/equipment person at the few farms that I spent more than a week on, before buying my own place, even when my prior experience was nothing beyond building some shelving and changing the oil in my van.

There's a lot of basic shit to absorb, in terms of how materials, tools, and your own body behave. I'm coming up on 5 years in. I figure on a lot of subjects I know about what a bright and enthusiastic 13 year old would know, if they grew up home schooled on a farmstead.

And yet I quite often meet people who ask me 'how do you know all this shit?', or 'how do you know how to do all this?'



Joseph, I don't much like rolling logs... but it would sure be safer. The worst injury I've had in quite a while was from picking up a log without adequate caution. Top of a Doug fir... it was maybe 18ft long and 170lbs; my technique is lift one end, get it up on my shoulder at what I hope is the balance point, and then raise the front.

Well, I had the balance point right, but the damn thing was crooked, so it rolled on my shoulder, putting a very sharp branch stub right against the joint. It took nearly a year to stop bothering me.

I've since acquired the good sense to skid them if they're that big; an ATV choker cable makes a great way to lift one end and drag.
 
Travis Johnson
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A lot of this boils down to one thing: FEAR.

Fear is a very good thing, it is the checks and balances of life that can keep us alive and safe, but it can also be unhealthy in that it can keep people from living.

Today, we live in a world dominated by liability, and where most people work for another person or company, liability rears its ugly head. It would be crazy for a company to say they are concerned about liability, so they call it safety instead, and many people have brought that notion back to their farms, farmsteads, and homesteads. (I was the Safety Coordinator for many years for one of the largest railroads in the world).

I am not going to live my life based on fear:

I am not going to vote for this politician and not another because I fear what he will do; I will vote on the HOPES of what they say they will do.
I will not climb to the top of a tall mountain for fear I might fall off and die, instead I will make the climb and enjoy the view.
I will not fret about tomorrows problems in fear, because I have always managed to get through the problems of the past.
And I certainly would not let the fear of getting hurt stop me from building my dream home because I am afraid to work alone.

That is really what this comes down too; are people going to let the fear of possibly getting hurt stop them from their dream, or are they going to work through their fear and accomplish something?

Myself I have buried my 19 year old sister from a car accident, and personally I would rather die building my home, logging or farming than I would having a Subaru emblem embedded in my face at 60 miles per hour. It is almost ironic: people are so afraid of getting hurt, they will not even live.

The greater the risk; the greater the reward, and there is no greater reward than building your own home.
 
Rufus Laggren
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Travis

Fear can come with stuff we get into that we haven't done before and see some potentially serious troubles possible. Maybe makes us anxious, worried, doubtful. Fear is something in the mind about a situation that isn't real, hasn't happened yet. Good info about that situation, without careless assurances or foolish "don't worry's", can help a lot to move fear more toward the realm of calculated risk and readiness. Reduces the drama.

Fear is NOT what I promote and not what I talked about above. I was thinking more like, stuff that a person gets into gets interested in, has studied or whatever and that looks like a great thing to do so they get it on. Without having the intuition and experience to understand where the real trouble comes from. (Real trouble usually comes from multiple "little things", each fairly innocuous by itself.) Thus my harping on good practice and citing serious consequences as a reason to do some due diligence. Perhaps that seems a downer to some, but I don't see it that way. What I try to put out there is that this is nothing new, people have done similar things before and here's some of what you'll encounter and what you need to build into the plan to raise your odds for that good outcome you're thinking about. To me that's not a discouragement but a thought or two and encouragement toward  the attitude that will get your job done well.

Perhaps I'm not normal, but I personally don't stop when I find problems, or when I see a risk. I take a close look to see if I've missed some big point  and, if not, decide how I'm _going_ to make this work. Sometimes I have to rethink and change the whole approach. Perhaps people don't see it the same way I do and take  it wrong when I review stuff that can go bad, stuff that has been done better already, stuff one may not want to do _that_ way. But the idea is not to stop, but to move forward, finding the way that incorporates  the credible experience of others so that one has a better chance of making good on those plans.  

If anything, getting a clearer understanding of what one is actually getting into, drawing on the experience of others, being reminded that there is a lot of thought and tradition that bears on one's plan... That maybe tends to put fear in it's proper place.

Scared is different, in the moment, directly related to something real and not, hopefully, debilitating in any way. I have gotten myself into places where I have been scared but that's a real time thing. I don't think that's what you mean by "fear".(?)


Rufus
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