before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – days 36 thru 41

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – days 36 thru 41
written by David
pictures by Stephanie

Day 36: First Day of School! Woo Hoo!

School Days

After 3 months of children trapped in and around the house, held fast in the lazy days of summer it’s 03Sept2013 and time for Easton and Scarlett to head back to school.

0600 hours rouse (read: rudely awaken) the Sleeping Angels, 0630 hours start breakfast and prepare lunches, 0712 hours the bus pulls up out front and in a wink the kiddies are off… rinse and repeat… 179 more times.

With the children off to school it’s time for me to start my commute. I wait, and wait as 3 cars pass by. Walking across the street I open the front door! Really unhappy about the delays this AM. I could chalk it up to the start of school… or if I could find someone  to listen I’d complain! Let’s face it, pedestrians do have the Right-of-way… right? OK, so I’m not going to get any sympathy, especially after 4 days of R & R at the beach, I’ll stop!

The first thing I noticed when I opened the front door was that the construction fairies hadn’t bother to show up. I’m seriously considering sending a strongly worded letter to their union. Ya know you just can’t get good imaginary help anymore. Oh well, Numero uno on the list this week: dry-in the mud room. I noticed that while we were at the beach the new entry doors had arrived. Before they could be installed, the exterior of the space had to be wrapped in a vapor barrier. I am using that ever wonderful Tyvek House Wrap.

Tyvek Wrap

How did we ever get along without this strong and very effective barrier? Grabbing the slap stapler and filling it with T50 staples, I cut a length of House Wrap and scale the ladder. Holding the wrap in place with my left hand, I swung the stapler at the wall with my right…THWACK, THWACK…THWACK! I let go of the wrap and it drifts peacefully to the ground. What the…ahh, Crap! My hopes for a quick install are dashed! For the record, 60-year-old plaster over wire lathe is damn hard… there will be NO slap stapling! Bring on the roofing nails! I hate roofing nails! Bound to flatten a digit during this operation… only question is which one will it be this time… index or middle? (Note to Self: the time has come to a purchase a Pneumatic Roofing Nail Gun.)

The first day back is a good one, albeit a little slow. The mud room has its new door and window installed and is ready for exterior trim and siding, Won’t be long until we insulate and hang drywall.

Day 37: A Mini-me Hip Roof for the Cellar Entrance

The cellar entrance is located on the west side of the house in a “bump-out” extension of the front porch. Previously, the entrance was enclosed by a gabled roof attached to a full height wall that made up the west end of the porch. The wall completely blocked the western view and restricting sunlight to the front of the house. With the demolition of the old porch roof, the wall and the roof above the cellar entrance met a similar fate. So, starting with a clean, although out of square rhombus-like slate, it was time to design and construct an enclosure that would: protect the entrance from the elements, add an aesthetic flair to the side of the house, not restrict the western view from the porch and allow natural light to flood the living room. Solution: a knee wall at approximate rail height, finished on both sides with Hardi-Plank Siding and crowned with a wide, 16″ +, top that will double as a bar or serving area while entertaining on the porch. Above the cellar entrance, a new hipped roof keeping the profile low,. giving the space definition and interest. Once the entrance area is finished, including a water-table of El Dorado Stone with Hardi-Plank above, it should look like a small Spring House.

Cellar Roof

Day 38: So, the new painted-steel roof is going on… Saturday? Really?

It’s Thursday. The roofer is coming on Saturday. The old tin roof on the log cabin is still in place and the roof on the back of the house is still topped with shingles. A cursory inspection from below indicates that the purlins beneath the existing tin are beyond help and will have to be “decked over”. I will be using 5/8″ CDX plywood. The overhangs on the west side of the house appear to be well beyond help, they will most likely need to be removed and re-framed (Thank the gods it looks as if the overhangs on the east side are salvageable). OK, did I mention that I work alone? Well, I’m committed, or perhaps I should be, either way I must have the house ready for a new roof by Saturday morning and continuing to procrastinate will not get me or the roof any closer to that goal. With help from the Owner and working in tandem, one of us on the ridge and the other on a lower roof, we quickly and if I say so myself, efficiently stripped the old tin from the main roof. How do you get started you ask… well, using a crow bar like a large an unwieldy can opener you, for lack of a better word,  “open” the ridge. Then, sliding the crow bars up and down the seams you lift the aging clamps. Working from the end, you roll the panels onto themselves until they noisily plummet from the roof landing in a twisted heap on terra firma… BOOM, nothing but net. Once the metal was gone we were able to closely inspect the condition of the framing and the purlins. I can not begin to describe the condition of the purlins, save to say they looked as if they had been in a fire. I guess if you spent a century under tin with the sun beating down on you day after day you would be dry, brittle and what appeared to be charred, too.


Also free of tin, we were finally able to get a close look at the gable overhangs. As was evident from the ground the overhangs on the west side of the house where, in a word: HISTORY. On the north side of the chimney I lifted, by hand, the end rafter (actually a crudely shaped pine sapling) along with the outriggers and trim and casually tossed the entire structure to the ground. The south side overhang was not in much better condition although the removal of the end rafter, outriggers and trim did require the use of a crow bar.

Down on the lower roof prior to beginning removal of the shingles the Owner an I examined a chimney that had been connected to a wood stove in the kitchen. The wood stove has been removed so the chimney was no longer necessary, In fact it was a bit of an eyesore so we decided it had to go. After a brief discussion on how to remove the chimney (pulling with a truck or a coffin hoist) and how much damage said removal may cause to the back of the house I leaned on the top of the chimney and it moved. That’s right…MOVED.

Rear Chimney demo

After further examination, we cut the counter flashing at the roof and with a small push the chimney when from vertical to horizontal in 2 seconds! Best part… no damage to the side of the house because it was not affixed to the side of the house… the only thing holding it up for 60 years was the roof flashing and caulk. WOW!

Back on the main roof after removing the gable overhangs I was planning my next move while on the lower roof the owner stripped the shingles. For the record, I have something to say with regard to the homeowner, “I would work for or with him ANYTIME… ANYWHERE… PERIOD! End of story!”.

So, it’s 3:00 on Thursday afternoon, there is no framing for the overhangs on the west end of the house, there are 18 sheet of 5/8″ CDX plywood on the ground that need to be attached to the roof by Saturday morning and my help, the Owner, needs to leave in 30 minutes. A sane man would call and postpone the roof… quick, somebody find me a sane man. None available? OK, game on! Before leaving, the Owner was kind enough to help me get the 18 sheets of plywood and a hand-full of 2″x 6″‘s to a bracket I had installed on the lower roof. With my safety harness and rope carefully stowed in my tool bag (I wouldn’t want them to get dirty and a 7:12 pitch roof is walk-able…right?) I begin the task of rebuilding the overhangs and adding additional rafters to the roof framing. Generally, the first rule of construction is: everything shall be square, level and plumb… except when working on a 200 year-old log cabin.  When working on a 200 year-old log cabin the first rule of construction is that the first rule of construction is irrelevant! What is important is that in almost every non load-bearing case the new construction will need to match the amount of out of square, out of level and out of plumb as the closest adjoining member. Keeping this axiom in mind I began my all out assault on the Western Front… that is the gable on the western end of the house, Working off ladders, inside on the second floor, or from the very sketchy purlins on the roof I move across the west end of the house with cat-like precision. I have no idea how many trips, up and down from the roof, I took to complete this effort… lots, comes to mind. For efficiency sake, if there was such a thing, I had set up two stations each with lumber and saws (one inside on the second floor the other outside on the roof) for cutting new end rafters, outriggers and blocks. I assembled the new gable ladders to hit the new chimney while matching the existing profile of the long ago settled roof as closely as possible. With the new overhangs framed I claim a small and possibly insignificant victory. Day is done. Gone the sun… tomorrow I deck!

Gable overhang

Day 39: I roof alone! Yeah, with nobody else. And you know when I roof alone, I prefer to be by myself!

Friday morning…0730 hours coffee in hand and the decking is still in a pile on the back roof of the house. Once again those inept construction fairies have left me holding the bag…damn them! Oh well, George Thorogood drank alone, perhaps I should have considered that, but it’s too late now. Now, it’s time to roof alone and that pile of plywood decking is not going to move itself up and onto the main roof. So, one sheet at a time, starting at the newly framed gable overhang I work my way up and across the back of the main roof and in relatively short fashion, the backside of the roof is finished. An item of note: saw dust on roof decking is slippery! With the safety harness and rope still in protective custody I opt for toe boards… I’m crazy… not insane! Besides, I have 9 sheets of decking that magically need to crest the ridge before firmly ensconcing themselves on the front of the house and that will require leverage (and lunch)!


Now the front/south-facing side of the roof really took the brunt of the sun for all those many years and the purlins side on that were a complete mess. Several had taken the easy way out, committing Hari Kari leaping from the roof to the floor below, leaving gaping holes in the roof line. Others, rested peacefully in place with out a nail or fastener to be found. Another note to self, be very careful what you grab onto for support!

Working from the newly deck back side of the roof I lift the first sheet of plywood up over the ridge and slide it down the front-side roof. Using the uneven nature of the existing purlins I temporarily  anchored the plywood against one of the old  metal roof clips that had not yet been removed and I climb down off the main roof. I slip out a second floor window onto the porch roof to muscle the first sheet into place. From the porch roof, the sheet slides easily down the roof into place and I nail it tight. Easy…right? One down…8 more to go! With the first sheet in place giving me a straight edge to work from I decide to try installing the rest of the plywood from the main roof, saving myself all the climbing. Once again, the sheet slides easily up over the ridge and down the front side to rest against the top edge of the first piece. I move myself into position and start to work the plywood towards it ultimate destination. My hope was to get the two sheets aligned and then slide the second sheet along the edge of the first sheet into place, were I could tap it tight and nail it. Somewhere between items 1 and 4 above an outside force tries to take control… GRAVITY. Thus began a 10 minute battle of wills between me… and the Forces of Nature! Gravity, that wily and crafty B@*#H, was using every element at her disposal: the slope of the roof, the weakness of the purlins, the weight of the plywood and distance to the ground in an evil attempt to either drag me from the roof to my death or force me let the plywood drop to the ground. What ensued was Mexican standoff of epic proportion… me refusing to give…GRAVITY trying to make me cry! In the end all I can say is that the plywood is in place (it never left the roof) and both GRAVITY and I live to fight another day. Once scorned… I will have to be on my guard.

Day 40: 8:00 AM… are the Roofers there yet? P….lease,  real roofers don’t even think about starting 10:00 AM!

10:01 AM and the white trucks from Piedmont Roofing roll into the driveway. Piedmont Roofing owner, Tim Reid hops out of the lead truck and together we walk his crew chief around the house describing the job. The rest of the crew wastes no time setting up the steel, the Roll-Former and hauling all the tools out of the truck. By 10:15 AM 3 guys are on the roof rolling out the underlayment/ice break while the other 2 are on the ground running pans.

Piedmont Roofing #1

There is no wasted motion or chatter. Every member of all his crews know their job and their responsibilities to keep the other members of the crew moving. The Piedmont Roofing Crews and Tim Reid absolutely do not fool around, these guys are good. This is the 6th roof that Tim and Piedmont Roofing has installed for me and I would highly recommend him to anyone looking for a metal, shake or membrane roof in Virginia, Maryland or Washington D.C. His crews are fast, accurate and always make my roofs look good, No matter how rough the old framing and decking might be. I can not begin to tell that having someone you can trust to deliver a product that is one of the most visible elements of a renovation is paramount… when working with very old homes it is critical! With a single crew working on this project Tim and his guys will most likely be here for the next two and a half days. For me, time to finish punch-out framing for drywall, install the windows.

Piedmont Roofing #2

Day 41: First day of NFL football!

Let them play I say, I got work to do. I thought the roofers might show to try to finish today but no such luck. Me, I have an exterior door to install in the kitchen. The new door will replace an old window and will lead out to a new deck that will provide an awesome view of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. Additionally, I have existing windows to remove and new windows to install.  Not to mention the ever-present framing and blocking to get ready for drywall. Next week the exterior trim arrives and the outside will really start to take shape. No rest for the weary… gotta have this place ready for the Holidays!

PlanetDwell ICON 300 res

We look forward to the days and weeks to come and hope you will continue to follow us on the “Chronicles of a Log Cabin.  We welcome any and all comments on our posts.  We would love your audience and implore you to “follow” and “like” us here on our blog.  We also encourage you to “share” our blog posts among your friends.

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