Life takes twists and turns. But, the Hiawassee Project abides.
I am sorry, patient reader, for not providing updates in the last eleven months. Cabin progress slowed during 2022. I fell in love. There was a wedding. But, the Hiawassee Project continued.
I hope to provide more updates in 2023. Meanwhile, here are some highlights from 2022.
In 2022, I made trips in January, February, March, April, July, August, September, October, November, and December. Although none of those trips was very long, ten out of twelve months isn’t bad!
Regular readers will remember that the trees for the cabin were felled in September 2022. Moving those trees to the sawmill is another matter. Most of the time I spent on the project in 2022 involved moving and manipulating logs in one way or another. By folks in the business, moving logs across terrain is called “skidding“. Nowadays, most skidding is done with heavy machinery. Of course, this is not an option for me.
Most of my skidding is done with gas-powered portable winch powered by a Honda GX35 360° inclinable 4-stroke engine. Many of the logs I’ve moved this year are too heavy for a straight pull, so I use snatch blocks (single or double, depending on the situation) along with a directional to let me set up the winch in the most convenient location. Most of my timber comes from the same woodlot, much of which is on a slope of about 45° or so. Usually, I have to first clear a path, then skid the logs upslope to a track, then skid them along the track to a reasonably level staging area, and then down to the mill and cabin site (which is the only approximately level site on the entire parcel). I have determined that skidding is an artform. I admire those who practice it well.
Due to the small size of my milling and staging areas, I can only handle a couple of logs at a time. During my March and April visits, I worked on improving my milling procedure. To minimize wear on the saw blades, I use a Hud-son chainsaw debarker before milling each log. I hope to write a whole post on this process. Meanwhile, here’s a video of Rico using the debarker to prepare a log for milling. You can see the tent in the not-too-distant background, underscoring how small is the space in which I’m working.
The Hud-Son mill is a little finicky, but much easier to work with than the Lumbersmith. There are occasions that I wish it was a little more powerful. But, for the most part, it eats through large logs pretty quickly. One thing I’ve found is that I’m not very good at judging how straight a log is, or how many timbers or boards I can get out of it. So, there are times when I am “greedy” and try to get more out of it than I can. Inevitably, I end up losing a big timber because I’ve cut it too close. There are other times when I’m too conservative and leave good timber in the firewood pile. (One side benefit of this project: there is no shortage of firewood at the campsite.)
One thing you can see from a close look at the pictures is the small area we are working in. The relatively flat spot is actually quite small, perhaps a little more than one hundred feet long and less than half that wide. The cabin site is at the very tip of this minor ridge. But the ridge as a whole has to encompass the footprint of the cabin, the mill, the staging area for moving logs to the mill, a campsite, and the campfire (which I use for cooking when I’m in camp). Despite the fact that there’s plenty of property overall (forty acres), the work is primarily done at close quarters. For reference, check out my sketch on choosing the cabin site.
I learned a lot of lessons in 2022, mostly about going too fast. One lesson learned was when I accidentally dragged a very heavy log over the end of the mill. This bent some of the angle iron mill rails and I spent a whole weekend rebuilding the mill. Actually, there’s an important point here. This is the third time I’ve built the mill (the second time with the Hud-Son). Each time it gets better. Building a base in the backcountry is exacting work. What I’ve learned is that it’s really important to get the mill as level as possible, at least if you want to have reasonably square timbers twenty-five feet long. A few eighths of an inch variation in the center makes a huge difference in the final product.
I’ve written before about how I sunk some pressure treated 6x6s for foundation posts. After I had a few timbers, the next step was to lay the foundation logs. This required a couple of steps. First, so that the second layer of logs could lay on top of the base layer, I first notched each of the base logs using a half-dovetail jig. I got my jig plants from Fred Beal at logovetailjog.com. Fred explains the process in the following YouTube video. At some point, I should take a picture of my jigs. Of course, the first two logs require notching only at the top. The bottom of the logs lies squarely on the foundation posts.
The second step was to use steel L- and T-brackets to attach the base layer of logs to the foundation posts. (I ordered mine from https://www.timberplates.com/.) I’m not sure that this was strictly necessary, but I feel a lot better about having some steel in the structure. I was concerned about how to align my holes without some kind of drill press. In the end, I decided just to mark my centers and drill as straight as I could. Initially, I used a spade bit and my 18v Makita battery-powered drill. I wiggled the drill a bit as I went to enlarge the holes a bit. Using this technique it took about 90 minutes and two batteries to complete the first L-bracket. After that experience, Dad donated an ancient (c. 1960) Craftsman worm-drive drill to the effort. My fifteen-year-old daughter came up with me in September for a day. With her help (using a speed square to continuously square up the drill), the new worm-drive gear (to give more power, supported by a portable generator), and a new auger bit, we finished the other five brackets in an afternoon.
More of the same
The rest of the year was more of the same. I made trips in October, November, and December, both by myself and with Rico. More trips, more lessons learned, more progress. It’s peaceful at night, as I watch the embers go cold in the campfire. It’s quiet, too, with the occasional call of a Barred owl to break the silence. And the project is beginning to look like something that might one day be a cabin if you use your imagination.