Sawmill Saga

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In August, shortly after we purchased our 40 acres, we acquired a portable band saw mill with the intent of creating our own lumber with which to build our own home. But first…knowing we couldn’t afford to complete a home this year nor did we have time to begin with winter nearing…we decided to build a cabin.

Our mill is a band saw mill, as opposed to a circular blade, which is less expensive to buy, but doesn’t make the prettiest lumber. We figured our boards would be inside a wall where nobody would ever see them, so we went with cheap and picked up this little mill from a neighbor for a great deal.  We hauled her out of their woods and set her up in ours.

Since we knew little or nothing about a saw mill or how they worked, there was quite the learning curve involved.  Because Alaska logs are neither large nor straight.  And when it takes you an hour to create four 2×6 boards…the last thing you want to deal with is curvy, lumpy, tapered logs. But alas, that is what we had in abundance.  So we set to work.

And then we taught the kids how to use it because…well…we don’t believe in child labor laws and if they want a roof over their heads, they are going to get sweaty. Except Destini…her motto is, “I’m outta here in a year”…so she’s not exactly been the biggest helper. But she looks cute and is a princess, so we’ll let her slide.

We started out by making 2×6 boards because we knew we would need plenty of them.  Any log larger than 8 inches is worth cutting because we can get 3 boards from it.  Any smaller than that and it’s just a waste of time since the longest part is creating a square piece of wood to work with.  We’ve gotten as many as 12 boards from one giant log but on average, we’re getting 3-5 from a log. We needed 125 2×6 boards…just to get the first floor walls up.  70 for the floor frame and so one…so do the math and you’ll see how busy we’ve been creating lumber…sometimes in the pouring rain.

We decided on a pier and post foundation for our cabin because it’s cheap, easy, and gets the cabin up off the cold ground.  So Billy and I made 12 6×6 posts 8-10 feet long and we buried them four feet in the ground which left uneven legnths sticking up from the ground.  We packed sand around them until they were sturdy and then cut them all off even using a level and long piece of wood until all our posts were level.

Next we made 2 sided 6×6 beams to lay across our piers on which to place the cabin frame.  Billy built a wall with them and then karate kicked it over, because sometimes you just  need to have fun.  We then laid them across our piers and pounded spikes in to hold them in place.

We used our home built lumber to frame in the entire floor.  30 x 21 including a four foot porch off the front, leaving us with a 26 x 21 cabin.  Words of advice…even though you think that extra foot is going to be really helpful inside the cabin…do NOT try to build something not devidable by two because it will screw you through the entire building process.  Very single piece of plywood and lumber now has to be cut down and though we gained a foot overall, it added cost and labor to the project…which Dan will not let me forget since I added that foot while he was at work. 🙂

Once the floor was framed we had to decide whether to use our home built 1″ boards as slats for the floor or to purchase T and G plywood.  We went with store bought because our sawmill, though very cool, does NOT always cut everything the exact same dimensions and we didn’t want to stub our toe every time we walked across the floor. We will, however, be covering the plywood eventually with our own planks as I intend to plain them smooth and dimensional this winter and sand them smooth.  When complete, we will have a gorgeous 1″ plank floor, sanded and varnished.  I can’t wait.

This week we hit a barrier.  We kept snapping saw blades, because they were old and rusty, and had trouble finding a supplier.  By the time we did, we were down two blades and the supplier informed us it would be two weeks before we could have them custom built.  Two weeks in an Alaskan fall means winter will be upon us.  Two weeks can be the differeence between 5o degrees and dry, and 30 degrees and frozen.

And so we had to make an other difficult decision. Though in our hearts we wanted to make all of our own lumber from our own land, we knew we had a time limit.  Dan had to go back to work this Friday and snow hit the hills just beyond our place. So once again, we were forced to buy manufactured lumber for our walls.  It made us sad at first…and then when we realized the weeks of labor it would save, we became excited.  We knew we would be dried in before the freeze up.

Today we frame in the second wall, which will be a short stub wall, and begin the roof line. Since Dan is waiting in the truck…I’d better run!

Oh…and sometimes…we just have fun!

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7 Responses to "Sawmill Saga"
  1. Goofycathy says:

    You guys are awesome, cant wait to see the finished product!  Keep us informed!

  2. Hey, Kiri, my dad bought himself a sawmill a few years ago, first built a wood shed, then a drying shed, then a machine shed, then got to work making lumber and setting it up in the drying shed to make an addition on the house so he and Mom can live all on one floor instead of upstairs and downstairs…Dad is 83!  Can you imagine?  That’s what homesteaders are made of.  This looks like a wonderful project for your family–congratulations on being a genuine backwoods mom!

    • I read this to Dan and he said your dad is his hero! How awesome…I hope I’m that vibrant when I’m that age. I can barely walk today…so it’s not looking good for me!

  3. Im54_not45 says:

    You go girl. I’m loving it.  Our garage blew down in June, well it kind of tipped over.  The second floor was fine but the first floor collapsed like matchsticks.  Got the bottom rebuilt and today a Big mombo wrecker came and lifted the second floor back up on top.  Posting photos later.

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