Welcome to the July 2021 Workcation series. The fourth post in the July Workcation Series is the biggest task that we tackled on the homestead, hauling logs out of the woods. I’ve already given you a brief overview of the projects we tackled while at Kowalski Mountain for our annual workcation. If you missed the overview post, you can find it here. I’ll link all the posts in the series at the bottom in case you missed any of them, when complete, there will be seven posts in the series.
Why Are We Hauling Logs?
Our plans are to build a log home harvesting the logs right here on Kowalski Mountain. The house we have selected is not exactly what I would call a “cabin”, but a 2000 square foot multi-story home. I tried to find something smaller as that seems like a lot of house for the two of us, but each time we’d end up right back in that 2000 sq. ft. range. One of the must-have items is a bedroom on the main floor. As we age, we want to ensure that the house will meet our needs. Eventually, we likely won’t want to take the stairs to the master suite, but for now, a suite with a balcony is important to us.
Philip likes to be prepared and in preparation for building that house, we are going to build a smaller guest cabin to practice and hone our log cabin building skills. While Philip has a lot of building experience, I have none! Neither of us has ever built a log cabin, so we have a lot to learn.
I advocated for building a “cabin in a box”. This would be a log cabin kit, basically, a life-size Lincoln logs set. The logs would come cured, cut, and numbered. However, right now, the cost of these kits is exorbitant! That would only include the shell, the finishing inside would be an additional expense. Our goal is to build the homestead debt-free so the cabin in a box method is unfortunately not an option.
The Clock is Ticking
One of the most time-consuming processes in building a log home is drying the logs. It can take the wood 9 months to 2 years to sufficiently dry. This is dependent on a lot of factors, types of trees, and exposure to moisture to name just a few. Philip wanted to start that process as soon as possible, so while we did not have time to haul the logs out of the woods, he cut the trees in February 2021 when we were in Kentucky for our wedding. We laid them on the ground and limbed them. It’s not optimal, but it started the clock ticking.
Why Do the Logs Need to Dry?
The logs need to dry for a couple of reasons. First off, moisture is what causes rot. Wood that has a moisture level of over 20% will begin to rot. Building a home is no small task! It would be horrible to watch the house rot before our very eyes!
The other reason is that the logs will shrink as they dry. If we were to build a log home with greenwood, the logs would still dry. The shrinkage of the wood would cause spaces between the logs and could bring instability to our home.
For construction, commercially sold wood is dried to a 15% moisture content. We live in Florida which is extremely humid. We must carefully store wood so that it does not warp. Warping is caused when the moisture content in wood changes unevenly. Since the wood is dried to a standard, the wood naturally will absorb some moisture in its environment, which in the state of Florida is high. In some places, the wood would continue to shrink if the environment is excessively dry.
Logs Processed on Site
We are air drying the logs on-site, which has the advantage that the moisture content of the logs will adjust to the environment. The logs need to reach the Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC). This means that the logs have dried sufficiently that they are no longer shrinking, but they are also at a stable moisture level for the environment that they are placed that they are not absorbing moisture from the air. Now how we will know when the logs have reached the EMC, I have no idea…. I will leave that decision up to the chief engineer.
Just to follow up, I asked the chief engineer, Philip, he told me there is a special tool that will allow us to measure the moisture content in the logs.
Why The Urgency to Move the Logs?
Laying the logs on the ground is not optimal, mostly because they are laying on the ground! The ground is wet, there are puddles and damp areas. The logs are beginning to dry, however, they are exposed to a lot of moisture from the ground itself which can lead to rot. They are also exposed to decomposers, all the bugs, worms, and creatures that naturally decompose wood are there on the ground. For the logs to properly dry, they must be off the ground and ideally covered.
Our intention was not for them to be on the ground as long as they have been. We had intended to go back in early spring and get them off the ground. However, life happened: selling the house, moving and the truck needing repair have all hindered our ability to get to Kentucky.
How Did We Move the Logs?
I will admit, I think this was the first time I wished I had more technical training. Philip always encourages me to operate all the equipment. I drag my feet about it a bit because it’s out of my comfort zone in so many ways. However, since I don’t have the skill to operate the bobcat and the tractor, that means I get the ground positions.
Philip had a custom log hauler built for this very purpose. He designed the log hauler from elements that he liked in similar haulers used for this purpose. Philip uses the bobcat to drag the logs to open areas where he can stage them on the log hauler. From there, we used the log hauler and the ranger to haul them out of the woods. We tried pulling two logs at once and that was too much for the ranger. Philip ended up pushing from behind with the bobcat as I drove the ranger to get up one of the steeper hills. From there, Philip would use the bobcat to stack the logs on the racks.
Since I am THE ground crew, I get to manage the hook and chains. Hooking up each log and then unhooking it at the end. This my friends is why I work out. Chains are heavy! I also find them confusing to “tie”. Philip repeats himself over and over again telling me how to go around the log and hook the chain back to itself. Because as simple as that sounds, I struggle with it sometimes, ok more frequently than I probably should.
We were making good time using that system hauling the logs out of the woods. I was still struggling with my chain tying, but we were getting there. We headed to the middle of the property and were pulling the 5th log out when the bobcat seized up. Philip discovered that we had blown a hydraulic hose.
I can’t imagine building the homestead without the bobcat. It is a versatile piece of equipment and Philip can operate it as it’s an extension of his arms, but when it breaks down, it’s never good. The only bobcat dealer near us is an hour away in Bowling Green. Unfortunately, bobcat parts are not available in every hardware store. Philip called to be sure they had the part and surprisingly a hydraulic hose must be ordered. It would take at least a week to get it.
Thankfully, we have a tractor! We weren’t sure it could get up the steep hill to get to the logs. The bobcat was blocking the main trail that we would normally use, so we’d have to take an alternate route with a few more twists and turns. I hung back and gave Philip plenty of space and we gave it a try anyway. That tractor didn’t even struggle, we are a go!
Another hurdle in hauling the logs out was the trails. Philip does like a more direct path rather than a meandering trail, but still, there are turns and corners to navigate. A few areas are a bit narrower than others. Hauling a 20+ foot log out of the woods can be challenging. Thankfully for homesteaders, we are a stubborn pair, even that didn’t stop us from hauling those logs out of the woods.
Time Ran Out
As hard as we worked, we ran out of time. We were only able to pull half of the logs out of the woods before our workcation at Kowalski Mountain was over. The equipment issues did not stop us, but they did slow us down. There are still 9 logs in the woods on the ground and one standing that we girdled. This was a logging technique I learned from Duane Ose, the gentleman who built the log home in rural Alaska who gave it away on Win the Wilderness.
Girdling is when the tree is cut in a way that it is still standing but will begin drying. The advantage is it’s not on the ground. It’s also not ready, not limbed. Essentially it’s just dying. Or in the case of the one tree we girdled, it’s still living, bright green leaves are still on it, so it’s not drying properly.
I wore the GoPro for part of my filming. This was challenging to film, such a big task. I hope you enjoy this video of us hauling the logs out of the woods and the footage from the Barbra-Sue Cam, BS Cam for short!
Why Are We Cutting Down All Our Trees?
One of the concerns we get from people when we talk about harvesting our own trees to build the house is the concern of the number of trees we will be taking. The small cabin will use about 8 logs per side. We may get more than one log from each tree depending on how tall the tree is. The house will use quite a few more trees, I don’t even want to ponder too long just how many logs I will peel.
Like all things in nature, healthy forests are managed. The removal of trees throughout our wooded area will open the canopy. It will allow more light into the darker areas of the woods and this will allow the area to grow and thrive. Removing large trees will allow the smaller trees room to grow. The pine grove where likely a significant number of trees will be harvested for our house I suspect will become a lovely meadow. A secluded place where the plants can thrive and the animals will have a safe spot to graze.
It’s a lot of work to not only cut down the trees but also clean up the debris and process the firewood, However, I look forward to seeing how the forest blossoms from the improvements that we will be making.
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.
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Links to the July Workcation Series
Trip Overview: July Workcation: A Summer Tradition