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Thread: Simple Homestead Construction Methods

  1. #1

    Default Simple Homestead Construction Methods

    I wrote a blog and thought I would post it here as well. I intend to write a series along this line to aid poor folk transistioning from urban to rural living to build a home and will just add them here as I write them. I will be keeping it simple and I'm sure you guys have some too that will help them.

    CLASSIFYING GRAVEL

    I was raised to the homestead way of life and these things are natural for me but I have always had a deep admiration for those that come with nothing but fierce determination to build their lives with hands. The blogs I write as with the first one “Basic Comforts of Life” are aimed at those who have the heart to take the leap with little or no money. There are other ways and you may not have the same resources in your area, I just hope you take what I post to heart. People tend to bite off more than they can chew and that is where most go wrong. Start small and you can always do more after you have been established. A topic like this one may not seem that important or interesting but if experience means anything to you heed each word. I will post other building methods to turn your resources into a home in time.

    A building does not begin with the foundation. It begins with the excavation. Gravel is the best to build on because of its drainage qualities. Large structures are dug down below frost level to gravel or backfilled with gravel but that type of project is beyond the reach of the people I am addressing. A gravel pad is all that is needed to lift a small cabin high and dry and give it a firm foundation and floor. I’m making a pad for a fuel storage tank here but the principal is the same.

    Large rocks in gravel make it hard to dig with hand tools.

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    The tools I use are a cultivating hoe, a small spade (I’m getting old) and a rake.

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    I use cultivating hoe to pull rocks out of surface.

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    Larger rocks are separated into a pile for building rock walls.

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    Gravel can now be shoveled much easier and I shovel it across an area where more rocks are brought to the surface.

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    At this point I use the rake to remove the remaining smaller rocks. This size rock is great for drainage and in this case I will be building a retaining wall and it will be backfilled against it. The racks tines are about of an inch apart so what remains is minus. This is the right mixture for making concrete and is easy to shovel and level and compacts firm. Us poor folk don’t need a compactor either, just hose it down with water and sand will work its way between rock better than a compacter will do the job.

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    This is all you need to build a cabin on. Stay tuned, the rest is just as simple.
    Last edited by Alaskan Survivalist; 04-25-2011 at 01:20 PM.


  2. #2
    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    Nice post AS - I gotta spread some rep around before I can give you any more.
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    Senior Member hunter63's Avatar
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    You been there it seems, good start.

    Will be watching this tread as I have kinda been thru the same process, with a slightly different, "Permit" orientated point of view.

    Nothing wrong with permits, they kinda help you build something that won't fall down and kill you.

    That said, they can be a PITA, when used against you, rather than for you.
    And remember there is the local/farmer way, and the outsider way, if you know what I mean.
    Press on, this is intresting.
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  4. #4

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    PROCESSING TREES

    Homesteading is about learning how to use what the land provides. Trees are one of the resources you need to consider. Understand that If you are thinking a scribe fit log cabin it sure helps if you have trees of consistent size (not common on most property) and full length logs are more difficult to move and position. Clinging to this idea has caused many to fail. The first thing you need to do is get a roof over your head. You can build your dream home later. I have had my own logging/sawmill business (Ripsaw Services) and still have a band sawmill in Fairbanks, I have built dozens of log cabins in all styles and boiled all this knowledge and experience down to this simple, inexpensive method anybody can do.

    When selecting trees make sure it has a clear path to fall and room to cut it up. Cutting it up where it lands eliminates the need for logging equipment.

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    My home is built so I am primarily concerned with firewood but I don’t saw good lumber into firewood and I process all my logs this way. Spruce bark beetles kill the tree by boring into the bark leaving the tree “standing dry”. Always your first choice for firewood because the are a fire hazard. Besides from being dead with no needles on it holes in bark are a dead give away what killed it.

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    Before we go any further UNDERSTAND THIS!!! A chainsaw is the deadliest tool known to man! Read owners manual FULLY! Clear brush away from surrounding area so you can move out of the way when the tree begins to fall. I make the first cut straight, about a little shy of halfway into the tree and perpendicular to where I want it to fall. I also make this cut at comfortable height for safety and because the base of the tree has the most taper. Maximum size of lumber is determined by small end of log not the big end.

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    I make the second cut in a downward intersecting path with the first. I always try to make as many downward cuts as I can to let the weight of the saw do the work (that getting old thing again).

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    The final cut is another downward cut. This one needs to be made perpendicular to where it is to fall and as soon as the tree begins to fall remove saw and get clear. Once it begins to move it will go the rest of the way. No need to linger there.

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    Now is the time to cut stump close to ground. This will make further removing of other trees easier and a nice big chunk of firewood. With the weight of the tree off of it you should be able to make this cut without binding saw.

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    With a little practice you will be dropping trees exactly where you want them.

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    Then remove the branches. I have not found much use for them and scatter them around the forest floor to return to the soil.

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    At my age humping 8 foot logs out is about all I can handle so I start cutting them in that length going up the tree. I just lift one end and roll it back onto my shoulder. If they are bigger than a foot in diameter though I have to flip them end over end.

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    At some point the tree will taper down or get so knarly its not worth the effort and the decision has to be made to start cutting firewood. At this point it is getting marginal and I need firewood more than lumber but if I had a greater need for lumber I could get another section out of this tree.

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    The rest is cut into firewood.

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    A wheel barrow takes it to my wood pile. Another basic tool every poor homesteader should have. In the background you can see I have four 8 foot logs to cut up. This one tree will yield a minimum of 32 linear feet of two or three sided logs plus siding and framing studs. Last time I checked three sided logs where going for 4.50 a foot.

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    Now I am going to let you in on a little known fact. Everyone knows it is harder crosscut that it is to rip lumber. This because it is cutting with the grain and not across it. If you look at the end of a log and can visualize a saw cutting through it you will see it is still cutting across a lot of grain but there is a way to over come this and increase cutting speed tremendously by changing the angle of attack. Another thing that speeds processing lumber is cutting on a vertical plane, this makes squaring log much easier. This is good news to those with limited funds because there is a small, relatively cheap (100 dollars) chainsaw attachment that accomplishes all this. It is so simple that even if you don’t have the money to by one you can make one easy enough and I will show you how I did it if interested. There are other variations of this that cost about 40 dollars but I recommend the Haddon Lumber Maker because it can use many size guide boards. You will learn that this guide has many more uses than just cutting lumber but we are just talking sawmill uses now. Changing the angle of attack also means that a special ripping chain is not needed. You will see that it will not be spitting out chunks but instead long strings shaving will the grain. Note a slight modification is needed. There are bolts that clamp the chainsaw bar. Sooner or later these will loosen on you and you will damage your chain. Instead of clamping it to bar drill two holes in bar and bolt it directly to the guide. This will not come loose. Believe it or not I have actually used this right beside my sawmill because by the time I added set up time it was faster.

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    For the guide board I use a 12 foot pressure treated 4x6. It is thick enough to be used across supports for ripping lots of lumber but that is not what we will be doing here. It can also be turned to the 4 inch side for thinner portions of the tree. All the various ways this tool can used is in the instructions and over the years I have invented some of my own. Believe it, this thing is capable of much more than I will be demonstrating. I use heavy nails to nail it to log and I did not have long enough ones to reach so I drilled a counter sink so it would reach. I pre-drill all nail holes at intervals about two feet apart in guide board and use just those hole to attach to log.

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    Simply set log on blocks to prevent bar from hitting dirt and nail guide to top of log. You can see I am using a cheap Poulan and this method is so efficient it is even up to the task but whenever ripping lumber with a chainsaw bigger is always better. Also note that guide extends past log on both ends.

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    Cut down one side. The slab that falls off will later be trimmed for siding. I don’t bother nailing guide for that cut and only takes seconds to rip.

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    Now just flip saw and cut the other side in other direction and you will have another piece of siding. At this point you have two side logs that any body that has ever played with Lincoln logs can stack into a cabin all you have to do is match sizes starting with bigger logs at base of wall and thinner logs as you go up.

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    I turned the guide on edge to show that I could two 4x6 three side from this log. If I lived stateside or in warmer coastal area I would but here I cut 6x6 three sided logs and have a 3 sided 6x wall stud. That may sound a bit funny but how many side of a wall stud do you nail to and it will be buried inside wall. It is just not worth it to me to make the extra cut.

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    With only 3 cuts I have a 6x6 three sided log, a 6x wall stud and two pieces of siding. The small scraps to the side are the only waste.

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    Maybe not the planed, kiln dried lumber you are used to but plenty good for building warm, strong cabins. And the beauty of it is any Cheechako can do it.
    Last edited by Alaskan Survivalist; 04-23-2011 at 08:35 PM.

  5. #5
    Hall Monitor Pal334's Avatar
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    Great post. Thanks for sharing
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    Administrator Rick's Avatar
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    Great tutorial. My GG Grandfather built a church using two sided logs for the floor joists. That was around 1848. A basement was later add. The church is still standing and you can go into the basement and still see the bark on the original floor joists. For all I know, the wall studs were made the same way. His were all hand crafted but the principle is the same and a very solid way to make logs. Good stuff!!

  7. #7

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    Nice post. Just a note that if you are going to be pulling those stumps to clear the land, you want to leave them tall. Easier to crank out.

  8. #8
    Senior Member huntermj's Avatar
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    Good post.
    I almost agree with you, i only differ when when you say construction begins with excavation. I would say it begins with design. Does what a person want fit the land? What is the substrate, how deep is the water table? How deep is the bedrock. What types of materials are localy avalbal? And how do intenational building codes afect the design? Just to name a few conderations.
    I work with architechs all the time. my respect for them drops each time i work with them. And they take no liabilty for there work.I have seen some bad designs cost builders deerly.
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  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by LowKey View Post
    Nice post. Just a note that if you are going to be pulling those stumps to clear the land, you want to leave them tall. Easier to crank out.
    Spruce trees roots are spread over surface. They are pulled up getting under root and lifting. I have huge Cotton woods three feet across and have tap roots that go down 8 feet. Spruce tree stumps are easy. There is more than one way to deal with stumps. I rented 850 Long track to clear the land I'm on now and it had to grab a root of cottonwood and split tree into pieces to pull them. Don't forget the burm pile you'll have to get rid of too. Hand removal is another story and I've done that too. I know a dozen ways to pull stumps, this is my prefered method.

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    PS I often tell friends I will operate thier rental equipment for the same price it costs to rent it. It's not to hard to find people in rural areas that can run equipment.
    Last edited by Alaskan Survivalist; 03-20-2010 at 11:25 PM.

  10. #10

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    Really like the tree processing part. I'd give you rep but the system don't allow it.

  11. #11

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    CONCRETE AND STONE

    I have found there is a natural tendency for people smarter than me to over think and complicate things. My endeavor is to make things simple to aid those deep in the woods trying to scratch out a living not to make people skilled masons or meet building codes of urban areas. There are some very well written books on the topic and even if you don’t read them you can look at the pictures and get ideas you can use. Concrete is the cheapest, most durable way to build many things assuming you have sand, gravel and rock it can be very cheap!

    Homesteaders should keep a few things in mind. First, rock is cheaper and harder than concrete, use all of it you can. Second, this is labor intensive work with a limited amount of time to get that work done. It needs to be planed out prior to mixing concrete. Third, concrete does not flex, it cracks. It must be built so it does not move or free floating and steel reinforcement is to help prevent it from flexing and keeping it together if it does. It will still crack just be held together by steel.

    Mixing concrete - It’s as simple as 1,2,3. That is 1 part cement, two parts sand, a tree parts aggregate (rock). The cement gets between the grains of sand and the sand fills the cap between the rock. As I mentioned in “Classifying Gravel”, minus has about the right mixture of sand and I just mix it 1 shovel of cement to 5 shovels of minus. Mortar is just as simple but a slight variation. It is One part cement “to” 3 parts sand for binding block or rock together or sealing outer walls. This is the basic mix and you may find time you will wish to add more cement for some applications and you will get a feel for that with experience. One person can mix mortar in a wheel barrow for stone projects or mix concrete in wheel barrow although it is much harder than mortar and should only be considered for something like setting a post or making sidewalk stepping stones. Even a small electric mixer will keep two people busy. One feeding mixer and the other hauling and working concrete before it sets up. Bigger projects will need more man power. The largest pour I have done with a mixer is a 10” slab for my garage so I could work on heavy equipment. It was 4 hours of back breaking work for 4 men and no time to take a break or catch your breath. You will be limited and have to adapt by making smaller pours to match your available man power. Homesteaders have to learn to do the best they can with what they have. Remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary.

    Forms - Forms are not always necessary but will always make the job quicker and easier. When my last barbeque grill rusted out I did not want to spend 40 dollars to buy another one that would rust through in a couple of years. Instead I spent 13 dollars for a bag of cement, gathered rocks and mixed a thick, dry mortar in a wheel barrow so it would dry as fast as I could stack rock. I won’t be buying any more BBQ grills for the rest of my life! I have worked many concrete and block crews but never did any stone work professionally so don’t think you have to be some kind of skilled stone mason, I’m not and while not perfect my steaks will never know the difference.

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    For comparison another project I did because it did not have the money to accomplish with convention building methods was a chimney I made for a wood stove in my basement. I used forms for this. I used just used ordinary stove pipe to form inside wall and just covered it concrete between boards to complete the form.

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    Note the rock in form, remember it’s cheaper than concrete.

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    When I got to the portion above ground I laid rock to the outside of form then pulled forms while concrete was still green but firm enough to stand and used wire brush to expose rock.

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    Small forms can be made to make things like patio pavers saving a ton of money or giving you some to sell if you need a few bucks. Concrete blocks cost about 2 dollars each around here. Factory seconds can be had for about half that but I can make my own for pennies. The board to the side is what each block sits on while curing. I can make about 20 an hour.

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    It is all hinged.

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    Sides and back fold away, pinned centers are removed, end piece removed and block is slid out to be elsewhere for drying.

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    Working construction we always had a trailer load of form boards but has a homestead I have used slip forms for building footings. Just set a string line to use as a guide and fill and slide form as it dries.

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    I made another to fit over footing for building stone walls if I want that is slid and filled the same way.

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    Determine your need - Building codes call for a 10”x16” Footing. That’s a lot of concrete and work. Believe me, I worked three seasons doing nothing but footings and laid over 18 miles of it each season, that’s why I have a bad back today. 6”x6” is all I need to keep logs high and dry off ground and supported on a good gravel base. Code will call for 4” thick reinforced slabs, again I have found 2” slab with no reinforcement works in my cabins and I can always pour a slab over it or easily tear it out with a sledge hammer. As a matter of fact In one cabin deep in the woods I just leveled the gravel and since I didn’t have a mixer just made a slurry of cement and water, pour a light coat directly on smoothed out minus and later after it set and would hold water better poured a larger amount of slurry to set up. The idea came to me after doing a clean up on my mixer and seeing how the ground firmed up. Great easy method when you intentionally do it. Be creative. I have also used a similar dry pour methods building stone walkways. I just set the stone, mix cement and gravel dry, sweep it over stones to fill gaps and then just hose with water. You will be amazed at what you can do with this stuff when you are not limited by knowing what you are doing.
    Last edited by Alaskan Survivalist; 04-25-2011 at 01:24 PM.

  12. #12
    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    Good stuff AS.
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    Thanks for the great post AS, very informative.
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    Senior Member randyt's Avatar
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    thanks for posting some good and interesting info. lots of common sense there.

    nothing really to do with your post but i get a kick out of some folks. i built a log cabin years ago and built it on dry laid stone piers. somebody had asked about it and i told them and then heard all about how i should have did this or that. in a perfect world i guess i could have built a continuous foundation but i hardly had the funds for boards for a door and floor much less a full foundation. the old cabin is still standing 25 years later.

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by randyt View Post
    thanks for posting some good and interesting info. lots of common sense there.

    nothing really to do with your post but i get a kick out of some folks. i built a log cabin years ago and built it on dry laid stone piers. somebody had asked about it and i told them and then heard all about how i should have did this or that. in a perfect world i guess i could have built a continuous foundation but i hardly had the funds for boards for a door and floor much less a full foundation. the old cabin is still standing 25 years later.
    I hear you I slapped this cabin together in a week 30 years ago and drove by last summer and it is still standing. Really amazing because I just toe nailed roof studs on top log. I'm the guy on the left with the sun in my eyes. We have a guy here in the Homer area. This cabin is a Mile 15.5 on the East end Road just past Dead Womans Curve If you've seen it.

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    Senior Member hunter63's Avatar
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    So, What are you using for footings?

    Your reference to the basement chimney was a good option on use of concrete.
    How does that draw?
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  17. #17
    Senior Member randyt's Avatar
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    that's a cool cabin. it has real character. my kind of construction.

    ever see those housing developments that all the houses look the same? heck if a guy got tuned up down at the pub he could get lost in there.

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by hunter63 View Post
    So, What are you using for footings?

    Your reference to the basement chimney was a good option on use of concrete.
    How does that draw?
    These days I build on the ground with concrete but in the cabin above I just creosoted some big logs. There is no good gravel in Homer. I use what the land provides where ever I am. My next post will be on making wood shingles. Alaska has always provided my needs as long as I am willing to work for it.

    There is plenty of rise for the chimney and rises two sections of pipe in the basement before exiting. I left it a little low because I'm thinking of making a small smoker on top for my wife.

  19. #19
    Administrator Rick's Avatar
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    AS - How does the basement stove chimney work for you with the snows you get? It looks like it might be 4 feet high and I know your snow is deeper than that. Any problems?

  20. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick View Post
    AS - How does the basement stove chimney work for you with the snows you get? It looks like it might be 4 feet high and I know your snow is deeper than that. Any problems?
    It melts snow away from it. No problem.

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