Notes from Windward: #66


Closing in the Cabin

  December 1:

     Now that we're "snowed in," it's time to turn our attention to some of the indoor work that's been waiting patiently. The cabin already has all its windows in place, and we've had the doors for a while now, but before they could be installed there's a tricky bit of woodworking that needed attending to.

the cabin's back door entrance

     The electrical code requires that there be a wall switch within easy reach as you enter a space, something which makes perfect sense on the basis of both safety and convenience. The challenge in this case is that instead of standard 2x6 construction, the cabin's wall are made from solid logs that have been lathed to a uniform size and shape, with the result that there's no interior space in which to run wiring and set a switch box.

     Instead, we have to run the wiring down along a notch cut in the ends of the logs, and then through a hole drilled horizontally to intersect with a cavity cut into the log. Like many things having to do with custom work, it's mostly a matter of paying attention to detail, but this will give you an idea of why this sort of construction can entail a lot of finish work.

the plywood saw guide screwed to the wall

     The first step was to mount a piece of 1/2" plywood to the wall centered over where the switch box needed to be. The plywood had to be long enough to cover the log above and below the log to be cut in order to establish a level plane.

      Looking at the curve of the log, it was evident that 3/4's of an inch of wood needed to be removed, so adding that to the thickness of the plywood called for setting the depth of the saw cut to an inch and a quarter.

the cuts ready for the chisel

     The width of the cut was determined by the width of the switch's cover plate plus a half inch, and that was marked on the plywood. From there it was a matter of making a series of cuts to eat away at the waste wood. At that point, the plywood was unscrewed from the wall, and a chisel was used to remove the waste wood down to the depth cut by the saw.

the waste wood removed

     With the basic slot in place, the next step was to relieve the edges, which was done using a hand plane held at 45° to the cut. It was a cross-grain cut, which isn't how planes like to work, but with a sharp blade and a bit of patience, a few minutes of work finished off the first part of the job.

the edges relieved to 45° with a hand plane

  December 3:

     Here's a pic that shows the notch in the wall that we'll use to route the wiring to the switch we're installing.

the notch we'll use to route the wiring


     The next step was to trace the outline of an outlet box onto the level space we created in the side of the chest-high log.


     Then it was a matter of drilling a series of waste holes to facilitate the removal of the wood from the space where the outlet box needed to go. One of the key things to watch is to make sure that each hole is drilled to the same depth.



     Once the four corners are drilled, it's a matter of drilling as many other holes as you can within the outlet box area. Then it's a matter of a taking a chisel and mallet [Thanks again, Jay, for the nifty new mallet] to remove the waste wood to create a recess large enough to take the box.



     The final step for this leg of the installation was to make sure that the depth of the cut-out matched the depth of the outlet box.



  December 8:

     The next step involved drilling a good-size hole in from the edge of the door to the cut-out. Fortunately, we have just the drill for this sort of deep work; it's geared-down so that the bit speed is slow but powerful, which is why the drill comes with a second "handle" so that the drill won't twist itself out of your hands.



     At that point it just took a bit of work with chisel and mallet to get the opening cleaned up and ready to take the wires. It was important to make sure that there was sufficient clearance so that the outlet box could slide into place without crimping any of the wires.



     There are three sets of wires that need to be drawn into the switch box; one to bring power in, and two to carry power to the lights. We'll be using a double switch that fits into the space of a standard wall outlet so that we can turn on the entry-way light separately from the porch light. If you look close, you can see that each of the three wires is cut a little differently--that's so that we'll be able to tell at a glance which circuit is which.



     The next step was to install the mounting box for the entry-way light fixture, and route wire from the switch to there.



     We finished up this part of the work by using some wire staples to secure the three runs of wire to the bottom of the groove. Before we seal this up, we'll want to spray some foam insulation into the groove to make sure that we don't get cold air moving through that passage, and having the wire stapled out of the way will allow the foam to fill up the rest of the space.



  December 9:

     With the cabin's back entrance wired, it was time to turn our attention to the front door, and pretty much do the same thing one more time. But it's rare that there's not something which crops up to insure that things don't go that easy, and sure enough installing the wiring for the front door required a work-around.

cutting our way around the all-thread

     The walls of the cabin are held together with 1/2" all-thread bars that connect to anchor bolts in the foundation. As the logs were stacked to create the wall, these three-foot long bars were inserted through pre-drilled holes, and joined together with rod connectors (they look like over-long nuts) as the wall kept getting higher.

     Once the final height was reached, a flat, steel plate with a hole in it was fitted over the all-thread rod, along with a heavy spring, a heavy washer and a nut. The nut was cranked down to the point where the heavy spring was compressed about an inch. That way, as the walls go through the seasonal process of swelling when it's damp, and shrinking when it's dry, the spring will maintain tension on the walls and make sure that no gaps form.

     What we learned when we tried to drill the horizontal hole was that in order to secure the logs that formed the wall nearest the door, there was one of these rods running up the wall about halfway between the door opening and where we needed to make the cut-out for the light switch. That necessitated making the drilled-out passage-way considerably larger than would have otherwise been necessary.

     Indeed, if you look carefully at the picture, you can see the rod connector there inside the wall. Since the wire had to jog around the connecting rod, we couldn't just push it through the channel; instead we had to fish a pulling wire through the channel, tape the wires to that, and then pull them back through the channel and into the switch box. From there on it was pretty much a repeat of what we did on the back entrance way.

the wiring run and ready to connect to the switch

  December 13:

rod connector, spring and all-thread

     While I was in the cabin today, I snapped a pic of one of the rod connectors, a spring and a bit of the all-thread rod that was used to secure the stacked-log walls.

     The next step was to finish wiring up the switches for the entrance way lights. The switch to the inside of the door is for the inside light, and the switch to the outside of the door is for the porch light. There's a bit of finishing left to do on the cut-out, but that will be taken care of when it's time to finish the rest of the log walls.

the double switch in place

     Now that the wiring around the door is done, we can get back to our original goal of installing the cabin's doors, but before we start the process of reducing the size of the hole in the wall to fit the door, we want to take time to fill the open spaces with foam. The stuff we like comes in a can and is sprayed into the empty space like whipped cream. You fill the space about half-full of foam, let it expand to fill in the rest of the space, and the next day trim off the excess with a handsaw.

foam curing in the door frame

  December 14:

     It took some time, because the weather's cool, but the foam eventually expanded and filled the wall channel, so the first task was to take a flat blade and trim the foam flush with the wood.

the expanded foam cut flush with the wood

     Since the logs weren't perfectly flush, it made sense to add a run of the strip foam that was inserted in between each of the logs--just a little more insurance against air leaks.

adding a strip of foam for a better seal

     With the insulation in place, it was time to nail strips of half-inch plywood to the ends of the logs in order to shim up the space between the wall and the width of the door jam.

nailing on strips of 1/2" plywood to create the door frame

     While we're working on the doors, we're also continuing the downstairs wiring by installing a series of lighting outlets in the ceiling. The intent is to install track lights that use the low-wattage fluorescent bulbs, and have each set wired so that it can be turned on separately. The goal is to have a pleasant level of light where you want it, and not be burning watts where you don't.

adding a series of separately switched lighting circuits

  December 16:

     The next step was to construct a header for the top of the rear entrance. Usually a header is designed so as to distribute the weight of the wall and roof above the door to the sides, but in this case the log wall is sort of one continuous header, so the goal here was to just fill up most of that space with something solid, something that the door could be screwed to securely.

the first piece of the header installed over the door space

     Once most of the space was secured, it was time to fit the door and frame into the space. It's been a while getting to this point; it was most pleasing to see the door fitting into the prepared space so nicely. Whenever we can, we use re-covered building materials such as this door and frame, and while such things are cost less in terms of dollars, they cost more in time and attention to detail--but so be it, we're willing to make the extra effort. By doing the custom work ourselves we end up with better materials which will last longer and be more sustainable.

test fitting the door

     Now that the test fit is a success, the next step is to insert a series of wedge shims in between the door and the frame to provide a solid connection in spite of any irregularities in the wall or the door frame. At this point the side of the frame opposite the hinges is quite flexible, and if not supported secure, the gap would be irregular.

inserting wedges between the frame and wall

     We'll sink long screws through the frame, through the shims and into the wall to actually secure the door once we're sure that lock and door knob are properly lined up.

screwing through the shims to secure the frame in place

  December 18:

     Even in the cold, the insulating foam eventually expands and cures, so the next step is to trim off the extra foam. Before the shims can be sawn flush to the door jam, there's a step that's easily overlooked. If you look carefully, you'll notice that each of the hinges is missing its middle screw. While the upper and lower screws on each hinge are there to connect the door to the jam, the middle screw is there to connect the door directly to the wall.

     So, first a pilot hole is drilled through the jam and the shims, and then a heavy three inch torque screw is seated to make the door really secure for the long haul. Once the screw was in place, the last step was to saw the shims off flush with the door frame.

ready to trim the foam on the rear door

     As before, mounting the front door is similar to the back, except for the challenge of dealing with an opening that's a few feet above ground level.

side shims in place, waiting for the upper shims to thaw out

     The vertical shims are in place on the front door, but we're having to wait for the wood for the top shims to thaw out. We can cut frozen wood well enough, but we can't nail it place because the ice will prevent it from lying flat.

lumber stacked near the wood stove to thaw out

  December 20:

     With the wood thawed out by spending the night in the kitchen, it was easy enough to finish the header over the cabin's front entrance, and slide the door frame into place.

the front door jam set in place

     At that point it was clear that some of the door hardware was missing, so the next step would be a trek into Red's Trading Post in The Dalles, Or., our favorite place to scrounge for miscellaneous old parts of all sorts.

  December 22:

     With a bit of diligent searching, we came up with enough hardware to match one of the doors to the salvaged door frame, although I must admit that it's not the resolution I was expecting. It turned out that we were able to mate up the four inch wide hinge on the frame with the three and a half inch hinge on the door, and use an extra long hinge pin to make it all come together. If you look close, but it's sound, and although it looks a bit odd, it's amazing what a good coat of paint will cover.

the front door mounted in place

     The final step for this part of the project was to replace the door handles with new hardware. Instead of the round knob, which can be hard to manage when you've got your arms full of firewood or groceries, we like to use the style of latch that has a handle that you push down to open. They're not much more expensive, and we feel that the ease of use more than makes up for the added cost. Besides, one of the joys of doing this sort of work for ourselves is that we can afford to spend a bit extra when that's called for.

the back door with its new hardware in place

  December 24:

     Although we're already accomplished the goal we set for this bit of work on the cabin and are in the process of working on some improvements in the dining hall, we're still fiddling with the odd bit in the cabin when time allows. It's usual for us to have a half-dozen projects going on so that when work is held up on one project, say for lack of some hardware or an electrical part, we just switch over to something else that is ready to go forward a bit.

     In this case, Jacque was taking some time to route phone and video wires through the cabin's rafters. The electrical code requires that low-voltage wires not go through the same holes as wires that carry 110 volt wall current--it's no big deal, just something to remember to insure that the electrical inspector is happy with our work. Just another one of those things are are so much easier to do right the first time.

Jacque routing phone lines through the rafters

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 66