Tag Archives: repurposed

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!

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before + after: “four oaks” on telegraph springs road

before + after:  “four oaks” on telegraph springs road
written by David
pictures by Stephanie

Telegraph Springs Road is a classic Virginia Country Byway following the roll of the land from Philomont to Purcellville. The graded gravel travel way is lined by three and four board fencing that enclose grand equestrian estates, small well maintained “Gentlemen” farms and a mix of modest to grand single-family homes. The house that stands closest to the roadway is, Four Oaks. It is so much more than just another address, this small well-lived in house was once home to a family of 14 and over the years the house had become a community eye-sore of epic proportions. Constructed in the early 1900’s as one of four “Farm-Hand Houses” to a nearby Quaker farm, Four Oaks had seen more than its share of life and through that life paid a heavy price. The once proud clapboard exterior was now clad in a sad dingy aluminum. The once stately standing seam metal roof had been replaced by tired asphalt shingles. The roof above the screened front porch was rotted through and in danger of collapse, as was the shed roof above the kitchen and enclosed rear porch. The state of the six-room, center-stair interior was in a word, shocking. In general, the house (and I use the term loosely) as well as the one-acre property on which it was sitting, was indeed a horrific mess. Yet, there was something about the place that screamed…SAVE ME! Somewhere, beneath a cocoon of grime, dust, decay and the over-growth was a diamond. A spectacular, multi-faceted butterfly waiting to be released.

Four Oaks before demo

…and so, just after the New Year 2013 the task of unraveling the cocoon began.

Now, taking a two-story; two-bedroom, one bath hovel and transforming it into a three-bedroom, two and a half bath jewel is without a doubt both an exciting and daunting prospect. Completing this metamorphosis without the benefit of being able to expand a tiny 590 square-foot foundation…a horse of another color.

I reminded myself that “Form Follows Function” as the pencil went to paper and a simple, efficient and very livable floor plan began to materialize.  Gone, the center stairway. Relocated to a corner wall, opening up the main living area and providing space beneath for a powder room. Across the entire back of the house a cooks kitchen complete with semi-custom cabinets, a 5 foot-wide aisle, custom mudroom closets and built-in banquette seating with lift-top storage.  To make the house live and feel larger, the ceilings on the upper level were vaulted to 9 feet. At the top of the new stairs, within the walls of the original structure, a slightly over-sized full bath and a pair of small yet comfortable bedrooms. Above the kitchen, the only option for additional square footage, a new and amazing master bedroom with a fabulous in-suite bath. I could go on…but I will save it for later in this post.

As you can see in the photo above on the surface, Four Oaks was indeed in deplorable condition. In the end, the sheer number of layers, may have been Four Oaks salvation. There were four layers of material covering the floors, essentially “protecting” the original Heart-Pine. The several disgusting layers of material on the walls, both interior and exterior, truly served to protect the underlying elements.

As originally constructed, the interior walls and ceilings were finished with tongue and groove Heart Pine installed on the horizontal. Talk about some serious lateral bracing! This method of construction kept the building square and level, helping the foundation resist the ravages of differential settlement. It was the very solid “bones” of this house: the stout foundation and intact balloon framing, that made this a restoration project instead of just another tear-down. I wish we had been able to restore and expose some of the original wall finish. I think it would have been a beautiful, warm and unexpected treat. Unfortunately, heart pine walls had not been treated kindly over the years, they were riddled with holes, nails and cut-outs, and so they were instead treated to new drywall and fresh paint.


From the start of the demolition through framing resurrection… the plan for the interior and exterior finishes of the project was dynamic. While the real nuts and bolts of the plan remained static, that is to say the kitchen remained the kitchen, the stairs would be relocated to the corner wall and the new master suite was going in above the kitchen. Dynamic were the elements and “opportunities” discovered or uncovered during the frame-up that could and would go on to become focal points. Constantly thinking and planning as the project evolved to ensure that no “stone” was left un-turned with regard to creating those much anticipated unexpected features. From preserving a rough sawed beam that frames and anchors the stairwell, or imagining old window framing (now interior walls) as shelves or wine racks, to salvaging flooring to be re-purposed as a back for a custom shelf unit or the rehabilitating of the shed over the cellar access.

Four Oaks after renovation

The true joy of this project was that it was always all about finishes and unexpected details. The exterior was to be as maintenance free as possible. Hardi-Plank with vinyl trim and new Lincoln Windows of full wood construction with a vinyl clad exterior colored to coordinate with the final trim color. Big, bold yet simple square edged trim. Including the water-table and freeze, give the house presence…a sense of place. The vertical break in the siding was planned and matches on both sides to give the finished structure a feeling that it had grown and evolved over decades not just over months. The porch roof line was changed from a “shed” to a “hip” giving the porch the stature it deserved, a fitting place to sit and enjoy to view of the Blue Ridge to the west . The new roof is anchored by tall square posts square trimmed with eased edges completing the classic look.

Four Oaks after renovation

Four Oaks Exterior #1

The solid wood entry doors are by Lemeaux; custom stained, finished with Sikken’s Window and Door (simply the BEST exterior finish ever!) and fitted with beautiful Oil-rubbed Bronze Hardware. The entire house was crowned with a new standing-seam painted steel roof, in Dark Bronze, by Piedmont Roofing of Middleburg, Virginia.  The ceiling above the porch is tongue and groove beaded Fir, left natural, and finished with Sikken’s Window and Door to allow the beautiful rich golds and reds of the Fir to show through. An unexpected detail: the small overhang above the back door was finished with same treatment as the front porch and was fitted with small recessed lights, down lighting the back stairs.

One of my pet projects was the shed that provides access to the cellar. It was literally falling off the house in January when we started. I painstakingly re-framed the tiny structure adding the shed roof and trimming it to match the house. I insulated and finished the interior. The roofers fitted the piece with a new painted steel roof and I built, stained and finished the door, from scratch, to mimic the other two exterior doors. The carriage lamp, matches the front door. It looks every bit the “big boy” entrance to what would make a very, very cool stone lined wine cellar!

Four Oaks Exterior #2

If the exterior is a reflection of my overall aesthetic then the interior is the embodiment. Boasting full six-inch baseboard with cap and shoe as well as full six-inch picture framed window and door trims. All of the interior doors are solid wood two-panel Shaker-style with substantial oil-rubbed bronze hardware. They really feel like a door when you close them. All of the bathrooms are fitted with electric radiant heated natural stone floors. The floor in the main room of the house is the original Heart Pine flooring and all the other floors in the house, with the exception of the bathrooms, are new Heart Pine. All of the floors were sanded and then hand-rubbed with a custom mixed stain before being finished with three coats of Tung Oil.

The Kitchen

The kitchen is a statement in simplicity. White cabinets, black granite and stainless steel. The white Shaker-style semi-custom cabinets with soft close drawers and doors are from Wolf Classic Kitchens and are made in the USA. I absolutely love these cabinets and have used them on several other jobs.

Four Oaks Kitchen #1

I’d like to think that the kitchen cooking and prep areas not only comfortable and well planned but that we were also able maximize use and storage in the entire space.  There is a “mud room” area with a custom built-in closet at the back door. The eat-in area features custom built-in banquette seating with piano hinged tops that lift for storage. Above the banquette, in what was once a window, a custom built-in wine  or spice rack. There was still a little room left so I designed and built a custom closet to hold a full-sized stacked washer and dryer.

Four Oaks Mud Room #1

The floor in the galley style kitchen was feeling a little long so I decided to break up the run of flooring by inlaying a slate-like tile in the travel way between the sink and range. The frame had to be perfectly square, the perfect length and width to complete the install without needing grout. I guess even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then!

Four Oaks Kitchen #2

The Powder Room

The powder room is full of unexpected details. If the exquisite sink and faucet are not enough perhaps the extraordinary rusticated and heated slate floor is of your liking? Maybe it’s the wonderful oil-rubbed bronze light fixtures? For me, the CHERRY is the base that the sink sits upon! I shaped the front using a log salvaged from an 1850’s log home. The side pieces were salvaged from the cutoff of a rough sawed floor joist from this very house. The plugs I used to cover the screw fasteners were cut from salvaged Heart Pine flooring. I hand sanded the piece until it was smooth and splinter free and finished it with a hand-rubbed custom stain topped by Sikkens Window and Door.

Four Oaks Powder Room

The Living Room

The main room of the house is unbelievably warm and welcoming. The once rough and very scary floor is finished to perfection. The panelized wall that greets you when you walk through the front door was laid out to highlight art and conversation. The maple and wrought iron stair rail was designed and finished to illicit comments and thoughts of a bygone era. Again not wishing to let any space be wasted, I constructed a hidden door, on a piano hinge, in the paneled wall for access to storage under the stairs. One of my thoughts for this space, other than storage, was that with a slightly reconfigured door it would make and awesome dog house or playroom.

Four Oaks Living Room #1

Four Oaks Entrance

Four Oaks Living Room #2

The Stairwell

Oddly enough, the stairwell is one of the most interesting places in the house. Flooded by light from a window on the landing this space possesses four of my favorite unexpected features. The rough sawed beam above the window revealed itself during the framing of the new stairs. I protected it from the tradesmen, drywallers and painters until it was time to apply finish. I think it truly completes this space. Above the header at the start of the stairs I added the small display shelf…you know, it just seemed fitting. The custom built-in stepped book shelf, ROCKS! The taller area of the shelf is an old window location. I captured the adjacent area between two studs in the wall framing to give the shelf some life. In the back of the bookcase.. .the old flooring from the landing at the top of the stairs…I let nothing go to waste. Finally, for me it is the chandelier that finishes the space and really makes you stop and say, “WOW!”.

Four Oaks Hallway

Upstairs, in the original house you will find an over-sized full bath and two small bedrooms. While small, I again want to believe well planned and sized with both an empty-nester and a growing family in mind. Each room, with their interesting nine and one-half foot vaulted ceilings, are large enough to hold a queen-sized bed as in guest rooms for an empty-nester or a set of bunk beds in one and perhaps a loft bed with a desk beneath in the other for the growing family. The full bath is bright and airy even though there is no window. The bathroom door opening outwards was planned to provide the maximum amount of internal space in the room.

Four Oaks Hall Bath #1

Four Oaks Bath & Bedrooms

The Master Bedroom

The Master…ah yes, the Master Bedroom with its fabulous in-suite bath…this just might be my favorite room in the entire house and…the only room that did not exist in January. Where to begin…three windows letting in copious amounts of light and views of the magnificent trees. The room was sized to fit a king-sized bed placed against either of two walls depending on your feng shui consultant. Custom built-in closets a full nine feet tall…his and hers…designed and constructed with two purposes in mind: One…fit the overall aesthetic of the room and house. Two…provide separation/privacy for the in-suite bath. Sliding between the two custom closets is the final unexpected feature…an 8 foot tall paneled door rolling on barn door hardware (darn, Stephanie can’t find the picture of it)! BAM!

Four Oaks Master Bedroom #2

Four Oaks Master Bedroom #1

The Master Bathroom

The Master bathroom is a Travertine Marble clad oasis. The floor…heated Travertine. The shower…ah yes…the shower… Travertine Marble from floor to ceiling. A carefully planned mosaic pattern mimics a waterfall on the far wall before merging with the mosaic on the shower floor. In the end…it is hard to believe, even for me and I did it, that all this grandeur is shoehorned into a six and one-half foot by nine and one-half foot space!

Four Oaks Master Bath #1

For the record, this once old and ravaged home was an unbelievably comfortably place to work and it is now in a condition to last for generations. The neighbors and the neighborhood are amazing, welcoming and protective. Telegraph Springs Road: where residents stroll, walk their dogs and… yes, even ride their horses. These same neighbors greeted me daily, monitored my progress, thanked me for what we were doing and advised me that our work was a fitting tribute to the former owner… a much loved local fixture.

And so to you Four Oaks, I raise this glass! Live long and remain PROUD!

In closing, I must first thank my good friend Brice Leconte and his beautiful wife Stephanie. Brice purchased this property and funded the renovation. Without him this jewel may have ended up as just another pile of rubble at the landfill. Brice’s wife, Stephanie Leconte, is a gifted and talented interior designer with a bright future ahead of her. Stephanie chose all of the colors (interior and exterior), fixtures, tile and hardware throughout the house. She was also the sounding board for my design ideas. Additionally, I would like to thank my beautiful and patient wife Stephanie, as well as our children, Easton and Scarlett. My Stephanie helped me set and grout every single piece of tile and marble in this house. She was also with me, side-by-side, over several late nights hand rubbing the stain into the floors and mopping on the Tung Oil finish. Thanks also to our loving children who watched much of their first month of summer vacation from the inside of a house under construction. Finally, last but not least my gratitude to the new homeowner. This home was sold at the beginning of this month and the new owner, who from what I can tell, might just love this place as much as I do, was kind enough to grant me permission to release this post. Mazal Tov!


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before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – days 25 thru 31

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – days 25 thru 31
written by David
pictures by Stephanie

Day 25: Rain, rain go away, come again… after I finish!

Alarm is going off but it’s still dark outside? Really! What the…RAIN! Well, I guess it had to happen sometime, circle of life and all.  Hopefully it’s one of those quick downpours, over by noon things, so I can keep rolling.

Before I proceed, I forgot to mention in our previous post that our “Red Neck Summer” continued Thursday night. As a follow-up to the Bull Riding and Rodeo at the Clark County Fair, last Friday night in Berryville, Virginia,  we headed over the Blue Ridge Mountains and across the Shenandoah River, again, to Charles Town, West Virginia, this time to visit the Jefferson County Fair. Our good friend Max Bauer, of Otium Cellars in Purcellville Virginia, was competing in the Demolition Derby.  Easton and I drove the 20 or so miles across the State Line to show our support! OK, if you have never witnessed a Demolition Derby and Smash-up in person, and this was my first, I highly recommend doing so! It was AWESOME! The entire evening each time Max’s name was mentioned, Easton would tell anyone who would listen, “…Hey, that’s my friend Mr. Max!”

Day 23 #1

But I digress, so back to reality. The Electrician is plowing toward rough-in completion. This meant it was time to tackle the “mud room”. The room had served as the back entrance to the house vis-à-vis the kitchen. The room is roughly 6′ x 6′ and is accessed, through an exterior door, by a flight of stairs, with no landing, running along the side the house. Once inside the room, there was a right angle turn with an additional step and another exterior door just to enter the kitchen. The current layout basically rendered the room unusable. The reconfigured mud room will have a new door at the gable end, aligned with the kitchen entrance. Gone is the second door and the kitchen entrance now features a wide cased opening, making the space a more welcoming part of the house. We raised the floor of the mud room to match the floor height in the kitchen and we raised the ceiling height into the gable to create spaciousness and interest.

day 23, #2

The new mud room will contain a stacked washer and dryer and a custom bench with cubbies and storage. As a final touch, the new tile floor will come complete with electric radiant heat. Oh no, I gave up some future details… call it a lure! You’re all  gonna have to say tuned now to see how the finished product turns out. But for now, back to framing.

Lonely afternoon…no Masons! Damn rain! I argued that mortar can cure under water… they laughed and hung up on me! How’s that for respect.

Knocking off a little early today. We are going to Otium Cellars to see Max to celebrate his WIN in the 4-cylinder Smash-Up and to have a glass of their newly released 2011 Dornfelder Reserve. Hasta manana!

Day 26: Is it a bulkhead or a valance?

In the master bedroom, on the second floor of the cabin, we have some exciting things planned. Originally, the ceiling height was lower than 6 feet and the cramped 2nd floor space was accessed by a narrow steep staircase. Now, a new wider open stairway graces the cabin leading to a second floor with nine and one-half foot ceilings following the pitch of the roof line. The old collar ties that were removed are to be re-installed as decorative elements and the collar tie tails, along the wall edge, are to be cut back and re-framed as a “valance” that will contain recessed lighting to illuminate the newly re-pointed log walls. After finishing up in the mud room, I was off to the master bedroom to begin work on the valance. I truly LOVE working with reclaimed materials and this is no exception. Even in its rough form, without drywall or finish, it is clear that the valance will be one of the defining elements in this amazing space.

Day 27: The shed-style porch roof has to go and the art of squaring a half-hip roof against a 200 year old log wall.

…and just when I thought the demolition work was finished! Not so! After much deliberation and many banged heads later, it was decided to remove the low-beamed shed-style front porch roof in favor of a much taller hipped roof version. Time to break out the crow bars, pry bars and sawzall. Time to make yet another mess.  Actually, it’s turning out to be quite a day around the cabin for a Sunday. The front porch is coming down, the new brick chimney is rising at the hand of Mason Dave Ratcliff on the side of the house, Mason Alan Cochran was inside the cabin pointing up the new stone fireplace and the Owner was busy playing in the septic tank!

day 25 #1

Inside, on the fireplace profile, Alan was using a traditional clay-lime mortar that he was troweling into the joints in a projecting “vee” . The mortar he was using is an age old mix that dries to a creamy light yellow and tan straw-like color; a color that is quite complimentary to both the stone and the log.  The same mortar will be used to chink the logs. Out on the chimney, Dave was setting the brick with a clay-lime mortar prepared with the deep red-orange Virginia clay. The chimney mortar dries to a rich patina matching the beautiful deep colors of the brick, making the new brick crown look as if it had been there for generations.

day 25 #2

Back on the porch, the metal roof was off along with the purlins and the rafters laying in a pile on the ground. Now, to remove the beam and the posts. During the demolition, I noticed that the beam and posts had been wrapped.  As we stripped away the wrap, we were greeted with an awesome and unexpected surprise, the original porch roof framing. The beam, actually a hand-hewed log, squared at 6″ x 6″ and 20 feet long. The wrap was also hiding four beautiful hand-shaped posts that had been mortise and tenon joined to the beam held in place by hand-carved wood pegs.  WOW! The salvaged posts and beam will be re-purposed as framing for the eat-in bar in the new kitchen.

Day 28: The reality of attempting to square half of a hipped roof against a 200-year-old log wall.

The porch roof is gone! You know that dropped to the ground, loaded into the back of a truck and hauled away kind of gone! Actually, it was gone yesterday, so with a relatively clean slate it was time to set the new posts, construct and hang the new beams. For the record, the porch is approximately 6 feet wide… that is to say is 6 feet – 1 3/4 inches on the left and 6 feet – 3 inches on the right. So, that’s approximately 6 feet…right? More on that later. First, we needed to set the posts. Regarding the posts, we always use 6″ x 6″ cedar. Yes, cedar is more expensive than treated but the benefits far out-weigh the cost. Cedar will not rot, twist and it is more dimensional and stable than treated posts. Seeking the maximum amount of head room, I notched the corner posts so the beam top height would be at 8 feet. I then set the posts in place with temporary bracing to hold them plumb. After I had constructed the doubled 2″ x 8″ beam, it was time to place it on the posts. Since I work alone, I had to position a ladder at either end of the porch and set the ends of the 20 foot long beam on the top rung of each ladder. I had blocked across the notch at one end to safely hold the beam secure while I lifted the opposite end into place. Once the beam was set and nailed, it was time beam over to the wall… and then the real fun will begin.

Day 29: Another day of the reality of attempting to square half of a hipped roof against a 200-year-old log wall.

Day 2 of porch framing and I am 100% certain that I think I might just know what I am planning to do. With only the beams in place, it’s still not to late to make changes. After today and once the hip framing is in place, there will be no changes so, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” that’s just how we are going to roll. Oh yeah, almost forgot… to further complicate things, it’s raining.

Since this is only half of a hip roof, the ridge and square rafters will act as a ledger attached to the house. These elements will be installed first followed by the hip rafters and the common rafters across the front. The front log wall is not square to the beams so I am saving the creeper rafters until last. In order to install them square, they will have to be individually cut and adjusted so that I can match them on either side of the hip rafters. I am planning to finish the underside of the porch roof with beaded tongue and groove fir following the invert of the hip. So, matching the framing is imperative. Working alone, this is going to be a slow process…two ladders, one at the house, one at the beam, up and down…up and down.

Day 30: I will finish this… in much the same way an ant eats an elephant…one bite at a time!.

day 28 #1

Today is the day to finish the roof framing, run the sub-fascia and get set up to deck in the AM. Intermittent rain continues to slow the framing process so I shift gears and “dry set” one of the new windows. I can not begin to tell you how far out of square the existing window framing inside the logs is…suffice to say at a minimum it is INCHES out. Luckily it looks as if the windows will fit and with a little effort I think I will be able to get them plumb, square and possibly aligned. Even still, we are definitely going to have to be very creative with the window trim.

Finally, the rain has stopped and the roof framing is complete and if I have to say so myself… damn tight. No rain tomorrow so decking and felt. I sense victory from the jaws of defeat!

Day 31: Victory is MINE!

What a start to the day, over-cast but no rain and heading up to 90+ degrees…a stack of 5/8″ CDX plywood decking is sitting on the ground, the porch deck 5 feet up and the roof deck another 9 feet above the porch. Now, how do I get 6 sheets onto the roof by myself? I have an idea… just like the ant eating the elephant, one sheet at a time! But first, I’m gonna need another cup of coffee. The best part about Day 31 was that I had a little help today, and I do mean little…my 9 year-old son Easton decided to join me on the roof. I honestly cannot tell you how proud I was of him when I turned around after setting the second sheet and found him standing on the decking without a trace of fear. He was actually quite a bit of help handing me the circular saw and the nail gun or by running down the ladder to get racks of nails. With his amazing help we finished the decking by noon and we were ready to roll out the felt. VICTORY is mine!

day 29 #1

day 29 #2

After 31 straight days on this project time for a few days off. Our family is heading to Bethany Beach, Delaware for a long weekend of R&R. Don’t be surprised if you see a post from the beach!

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.

Our Signature

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – days 20 thru 24

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – days 20 thru 24
written by David
pictures by Stephanie
dbd days 20-24

Day 20: People in glass houses should not throw stones… but it’s OK if they do ’cause people in log homes use them to fill the voids!

Back in the 18th and 19th century building materials were, how shall I say… limited. You had your hand-hewed logs and beams, your hand-made bricks, your field stone and with Janney’s Mill, just over in Waterford, VA., you could even get some rough sawed-lumber. I know, I know… it’s hard to believe that you couldn’t just hitch the horse to the buckboard and make a quick run to the “Early American Home Depot”, or simply pick up the phone and call in an order for delivery but such was life in the wild west. Yes, before there was a WEST… this was West. As we are working with an 1820 log home, each of the above referenced materials is present and accounted for, Sir! None more so, pound for pound, than the lowly field stone. To begin, the two-foot thick, six-foot tall foundation is solid field stone and the “chinking”, the fill for the areas between the logs, is packed tight with field stone providing a solid base for the lime mortar scratch coat and clay-lime mortar top coat. If you look closely at the photographs you will see that there are literally 1,000’s, maybe 10’s of 1,000’s, of flat field stones wedged on an angle and packed into the voids between the logs.


Just thinking about the amount of work that went into placing all of those stones exhausts me! Most of the stone on the interior walls are staying put. The looser stones will be “re-wedged” and then finished in the traditional method of a scratch coat topped with a skim coat of clay-lime mortar (I mean… can you imagine the work required to remove them all?). However, since we are going to be using a more modern form of chinking on the front of the home, where we exposed both the interior and the exterior of the walls, the stones must go! Remember back on Day 1 when we removed the stucco façade under the porch to expose the log? Next week we will be raising the roof line of the porch substantially, subjecting the newly exposed logs to more weather. After removing the stones and repairing any rotted or damaged areas on the logs with wood petrifier and filler, we will be insulating the gaps between the logs with an expanding foam insulation by Foam-it-Green, installing a rigid cement backer board and then completing the chinking with skim coat of Perma-Chink, a modern polymer-based chinking product. Stay tuned… this could be fun!

day 20 #2

day 20, #3

Day 21: Is the Electrician coming today… NO, Tuesday… we be there Tuesday! How about the Plumber? The Mason?

No Electrician today but that’s OK… a little extra time for me to get more framing in place. The Plumber is in and out. Shower valves are set, shower liners and drain connections soon… ready for rough-in inspection by Friday? It’s possible! The Masons show like clock work, every day at 4 PM there is a rumble of diesel engines on Williams Gap Road. Today, the flue liners and the inner chimney will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the old chimney.

day 21 #1

day 21 #2

Day 22: Framing and Plumbing and Block-work…Oh my! Electrician….”Wednesday, Wednesday morning bright and early”

Another day in paradise! Framing like the wind to ensure that the Electrician, once he shows… if he shows, can keep moving! All jokes aside our electrician, Jeff Trump of Premier Electrical Services and his helper Dan, will be here on Wednesday and will roll through this job like a hot knife through butter. In fact, by the end of this week the plumber and the electrician should both be finished with rough-in and inspections called in for next week. Drywall can not be far off!

Day 23: “An Electrician, an Electrician.. .my kingdom for an Electrician!” vs. The search for the elusive distribution box.

Wednesday morning, bright and early… and what to my wondering eyes did appear but a white van with a lightning bolt… the Electrician is HERE! After a quick walk through of the house, with a tape and Sharpie in hand, marking the locations of lighting, outlets and switches, Jeff and Dan were off and running. By day’s end there seemed to be miles of white and yellow wire dangling from the ceiling, routed through holes in the framing and spilling out of blue boxes mounted on the studs. Our little place was eating through some wire. The Plumber was chugging through his rough-in… the next areas to fall were the kitchen and the mud room. I can almost taste that drywall dust now! Oh yeah, not to be left out, the stone masons arrived promptly at 4 o’clock pm. The block work on the outside of the chimney was quickly completed and the new brick crown began to rise!

day 23 #1

day 23 #2

At some point during the afternoon the new PlanetDwell yard sign arrived!  We think it looks really great and with all the traffic on Williams Gap, maybe we will land some additional work.  Actually it would be awesome to have more folks follow the blog and just see what we are doing and maybe, just maybe it will help someone see that you don’t necessarily have to tear a structure down to create something wonderful.

Day 23 #3

So, has anyone seen the distribution box? It’s not that big… about 2′ x 3′, concrete… with a flat top? Well, if anyone sees it, let the owner know. We dug a bunch of gopher holes the back yard until it was too dark to see… no luck! Tomorrow is another day.

Day 24: The more things change, the more things LOOK the same! …except the backyard which looks a lot like the Caddie Shack golf course. Hello there, Mr. Gopher!

day 24 #1

As predicted the flotsam and jetsam following the Electrician and Plumber through the house is EPIC. You could fill numerous contractor bags with the wood chips, trimmings and cut-offs… oh yeah, I did. My idea of issuing brooms was scoffed at, in an almost Monte Python-like fashion. All present had a great laugh when I mentioned the condition of the house when they started and the Electrician replied, “…the house was clean when I started and I am sure it will be clean again… AFTER I leave!” Both Jeff and Mike the Plumber think they are funny. Maybe they could give stand-up comedy a shot if the whole electrician/plumber thing doesn’t pan out! Oh well, I will keep trying and I am certain that at some point in the future I will make some headway, until then it is a good thing their work is top-notch and they sail through inspections or I would have to find another way to deal with such hubris.  Damn, 4 o’clock pm already… here’s the Masons! One thing is for sure, I can count on them to clean up after themselves!

PlanetDwell ICON 300 res

We look forward to the days and weeks to come and hope you will continue to follow us on theChronicles 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.

Our Signature

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – day 16 thru 19

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – day 16 thru 19
written by David
pictures by Stephanie

Day 16: “…at least Dave has some supervision this time…when he built the fireplace at my house we drank all my MOONSHINE”.

Another rocking day on Williams Gap!

day 16, #1

The plumber continued churning through his rough-in and he just might finish soon if the right-angle drill and the 200-year-old framing doesn’t kill his helper! (Heard today;  Mike says, “Paul, careful, those knots are killer, you gotta use them logs to brace that drill!”  Paul replies, “I know,  I know… it’s already HIT me in the face, TWICE!”)

day 16 #2

Well, with the plumbing rough-in complete on the first floor it was time to head upstairs.  So, when working with true 3″ x 8″ hand-hewed ceiling/floor joists, how do you make sure that a toilet drain can run over 9 feet, with slope, and not come out of the ceiling?… a 25 year-old HP 11c Reverse Polish Notation Calculator… that’s how! Oh yeah, and a plumber willing to take his time, core drill ACCURATELY and trust that my calcs are correct. Anyway, it looks as if  we will be able to gang all the plumbing from the second floor into one bay between the joists in which I can trim out to look clean.  This will enable me not to have to frame up an area-eating chase at the corner of the staircase.

Mid-morning and the HVAC crew from Mannix Heating and Cooling arrived and hit the ground running. We had met with Mannix Heating and Cooling owner, Jerry Mannix, at the house last week and marked the sizes and locations for the new ductless mini-split air handlers. After a brief discussion about the line-set, drain locations and drain discharge points, his guys started their rough-in with very little added instructions or hand-holding (damn, that’s nice). Shortly after noon they were finished and I could check one rough-in off my list en-route to drywall.

Late afternoon the stone masons arrived… I’m beginning to think these guys have day jobs! Today is going to be an exciting day with regard to the new fireplace. It’s time to re-build the firebox and start the profile. After a discussion on the distance to set the new profile off the logs (movement in the logs over the last 200 years had pushed the right side logs a bit further away from the hearth stone than the left side, so we had to cheat a little), Alan and Dave began the careful task of removing the stone corners of the original firebox and moving them forward to set the site for the new profile.

day 15 #3

An early evening phone call from the owners (away at the beach for a week) helped end the day with a bit of humor. When asked how things were going, I gave him the run-down on all that was happening including the status of the fireplace restoration. When I mentioned to him my collaboration with Dave and Alan about the site of the profile, he replied, “…at least Dave has some supervision this time, when he built the fireplace at my house we drank all my moonshine.”

day 16 #4

Day 17: … did I say something to make the everyone mad?

The house is quiet without all the Trades running around, the plumber is off in Washington, D.C. on a service call and the stone masons won’t post until about 4 PM, perfect time to start the stair stringers. What’s the old adage? … measure twice, cut once! Ha, I can tell you one thing for certain…that old sage would never work in a 200 year-old log cabin. In this house it was more like: measure 3 times in 4 different locations, layout and cut ends, set in-place, scribe, cut again, set in-place again, shim, level treads, shim, scribe, cut… you starting to get the idea! Stairs function as rise over run, well that’s all fine and dandy if the surfaces you are rising and running from are generally level and plumb. Not so here, grasshopper! The rise at the landing is different from the rise at the end of the stringers, the floor beneath the stringers, “rolls” from right to left like an ocean swell and the log wall on the right side of the stairs is, how shall we put it… less than plumb. OK, now that I got that out of my system I finally have my stringer pattern… Victory while not complete, is in sight!

day 17 #1

Like clock work… 4 PM equals STONE MASONS! What do these guys do all day? Is this a side job? Nah, just juggling multiple jobs and we are damn thankful they worked us in on very short notice! Today’s plan: finish the back of the firebox, run-up the profile and set the lintel… nothing but net! I am truly amazed at how these guys are able to create ART from a pile of rocks!

day 17 #2

Day 18: Virginia is a “Right-to-Work” State and this is a non-union restoration! … and, this is a broom, Trades! Learn how to use it!

Holy crap! The stone masons clean-up after themselves, I keep the site and my general areas free of cut-offs and broom swept… but the flotsam of shrapnel that followed the plumber and mechanical contractor through the house was prodigious. Can’t wait to see what the electrician leaves in his wake. How do these guys work in these conditions… I mean, hell just grab a broom and sweep it into a pile! Oh well, two hours into the morning and the site is clean, apparently I am the site laborer… from now on I think I might issue brooms to the Trades as they enter or maybe just hold a cleaning deposit!

All alone today… finishing cutting and installing stair stringers on main stairs and prepping header for short run from the landing to the second floor. With all the stringers in place, treads level and risers aligned, I can finally claim complete VICTORY. Just a little framing so the plumber can finish his rough-in and time to put another day in the books. Tomorrow, the stone masons will be finishing the fireplace on the inside of the cabin and I will set temporary treads on the stairs…yay, no more ladder!

day 18 #1

Day 19: Now THAT…is a fireplace!

Bright and early… mud mixer spinning! The stone masons are ready to set block in the back of the chimney, set the form for the smoke box and throat and finish the inside front of the fireplace… and what a fireplace it is! Somehow it is rustic, traditional and slightly refined all at the same time. The sandstone lintel and corners are a perfect complement to the Virginia field stones that complete the face. The reuse of the original firebox corners are truly fitting. The fireplace, beautiful as is, will be stunning once the stones are pointed and a thick mantle shelf, milled from a matching log, crowns the top.

day 19 #1

day 19 #2

It may take some doing, but I am confident that the stairs with their planned open profile, maple newels, maple rail and wrought iron stiles will be a fitting compliment to the one-of-a-kind fireplace.

day 19 #3

This little cottage is going to ROCK!

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.

Our Signature

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – day 15

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – day 15
written by David
pictures by Stephanie
 dbd day 15

Day 15: “… he’s like the Tasmanian Devil in a Duck Dynasty t-shirt”.

The plumber, Mike Langley of Total Plumbing, started rough-in today.  He arrived mid-morning in classic Mike Langley fashion, a coffee-fueled bolt of lightning! Quiet would not be a word to describe Mike, Starbucks cup in hand, he stood in the middle of the downstairs bedroom shouting instructions and barking orders at his helper Paul. Mike is the first “trade” in and the house is awash in plumbing fittings, blue and red PEX water pipe and Schedule 40 PVC drain pipe. If today was any indication, by weeks end the plumbing rough-in should be nearing completion and ready for inspection early next week.


As promised, by mid-afternoon the masons, Dave Ratcliff and Alan Cochran arrived causing a mini-traffic jam in front of the house. A pair of over-sized pick-ups loaded with scaffolding, boards and laborers trying to park while two neighbors in their own vehicles were looking to pass. With one headed east and the other west, it was more than enough to create a “Mexican Stand-off” on the very narrow Williams Gap Road. Once the trucks had parked and the road cleared, the scaffolding was set together like an adult-sized Erector set. In very short fashion the scaffolding reached height, walk boards were set in place, the existing metal roof was cut back and… cinder blocks and rubble soon rained from the sky.

day 15 #2

day 15 #3

day 15 #4

As the sun set, the chimney was stripped, prepped and ready for the re-build, the firebox cleared and ready for its new profile, lintel and facing in general, all is well with the world… for now. Tomorrow there will be another full house! More framing, plumbing rough-in and the Mechanical Contractor, Jerry Mannix of Mannix Heating and Cooling, will have his guys on site running the line sets for the ductless mini-split heating and air system. I can almost smell the drywall dust!

It’s time to turn out the lights and call it a day.

day 15 #5

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.

Our Signature

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – days 10 thru 15

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – days 10 thru 15
written by David
pictures by Stephanie

Day 10: Veni, Vedi, Aedificare (I came, I saw, I framed)

…and so it begins. After the dirty work of the last 9 days it’s finally time for some fun to begin. It’s time to start working with clean materials, time to see the plan take shape. We hope you are ready! First, there was still a little demo, of the “load bearing” variety, in the downstairs bedroom. The old bedroom door framing need to be removed and replaced in-line at the common wall with the kitchen. Thankfully the new door framing, with a solid header to carry the roof load, could be installed while the existing framing remained. The work went fairly quickly and the new in-line doorway location really opens up the bedroom. In dealing with a small house, it’s important to maximize convenience and amenities wherever possible, ergo, a private in-suite full bath with a window and in-floor radiant heat.


Days 11 and 12: Veni, Vedi, Aedificare II (I came, I saw, I framed II)

With the first floor framing complete, it was time to move upstairs (about now I wish the stairs were finished… they’re not, so for now it’s “up-the-ladder”). Well, framing the second floor is going to be interesting; tight space, 9 foot ceilings, two ladders and one… me. That can only mean one thing: cut… climb… nail, repeat!! Thank God there are only four walls in the master bath, I just might be too old for this.  (Details on the master bath will be revealed at a later date and they are spectacular!) Once I finish framing inside, the next exercise… a new hipped front porch roof with plenty of head room and lots of light. Since I have to get everything ready and select locations for the trades, in breaks between framing, I set the plumbing fixture locations. The plumber starts rough-in next week, along with electrical and mechanical. But the coolest is tomorrow morning when Dave Ratcliff, of Ratcliff Masonry, starts working on the first floor fireplace repair. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on that being an adventure.


Day 13: Papa, how’s Santa gonna get down that chimney?

The fireplace on the first floor had been bricked in many years ago.  The chimney had been fitted with thimble and an oil burning heater had been installed. During demolition we exposed the fireplace, found the original firebox, and discovered that sometime in the 1940’s the chimney must have  fallen away from the house and had been rebuilt using cinder block. The new chimney had been fitted with a flue liner and back-filled with ALL the rubble from the collapsed chimney. Now it was time for the mason’s to go to work clearing out the rubble, finding all the firebox, blocking the existing flue liner in place, rebuilding the throat and smoke shelf and connecting the new fireplace to the existing flue liner.


day 12 #4

What could possibly go wrong you ask? Well… plenty! After completely exposing the firebox and cleaning out all the loose rubble, it was time to cut out a log to make room for a stone lintel and to give the mason’s a little extra room to work.

day 12 #2

After the log was removed the mason’s started to chip away at the last of the rubble. Our hope was to be able to block the flue liner in place then build the throat and tie the new fireplace to the old flue liner. Just one last piece of old mortar… and… a rumble, a pair of masons diving to the side, and in a cloud of dust, half the contents of the chimney was belched out and onto the floor.  (Stef missed that picture as she was ducking underneath the stair landing, pulling Easton with her!)

day 12 #3

Now THAT was exciting! After the dust cleared my daughter Scarlett stuck her head through the door and looking a bit depressed asked, “Papa, how’s Santa gonna get down that chimney?”

Day 14: This is gonna require a second opinion!

Yesterday’s excitement passed and was followed by hours of shoveling rubble into buckets, dumping them into a wheelbarrow and rolling them to a pile in the yard. Not much fun but the day ended with the original firebox exposed, cleaned up and ready for rehab. Only one problem remained… what about the remaining flue liners and the rest of the rubble wedged just above the level of the second floor? Day 14 started with Dave Ratcliff and Alan Cochran, two local masons, looking up the chimney trying to decide what to do next. As I mentioned, just above the second floor, wedged in the chimney were the remaining flue liners and presumable the rest of the rubble… a party waiting to happen. One idea involved a steel plate and two lolly columns and working from inside the chimney.  A second, removing the upper 6 feet or so of the chimney and working from the top down. Option #2, the safer option, is a go. Scaffolding goes up Tuesday and work will begin soon after. The bonus… a new chimney with a stepped-in brick crown at the roof rake, AWESOME!

day 14

Day 15: No banging in the house until the chimney is stabilized.

A self-imposed day of rest until the chimney is stabilized! Oh well, everything should be clear after tomorrow.

 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.

Our Signature

before + after: chronicle of an 1820’s log cabin – day 9

before + after: chronicle of an 1820’s log cabin – day 9
written by David
pictures by Stephanie
dbd day 9

Day 9: Twelve Oaks it’s not, but it will be an impressive staircase for a log cabin nonetheless!

It is hard to see now with only a landing and some framing in place, yet inside my head I can clearly visualize the open staircase and the maple newels and handrail paired with wrought iron stiles as if they are already exist. Long before any of those elements are in place we needed to determine the size and height of the landing. As with everything planned for the cabin the finished dimensions and construction methodology will be driven by the 200 year-old framing, and the stairway is no exception. The actual width and length of the landing are being driven by the existing second floor joist layout and the squareness, or lack there of, in the log walls.  As luck would have it, there is an existing joist 42″ from the exposed log wall, with just one intermediate to be headed off, this creates an almost perfect stairway width. Now, to determine the landing height we once again need to look at the joists for the second floor and the elements in the planned layout. The plan is to install a powder room under the stairs so we need sufficient height, width and length to accommodate the fixtures. So, lots of math and head scratching later (let’s face it, the walls of the cabin are no where near square or plumb and the floors are not level…not a task for the fainthearted) we set the landing height and built the landing. The powder room is going to be a little tight on headroom, but hey not everyone is 6′ 7″ and it’s a cabin after all…and really, how many log cabins even have a powder room? Now that all the stairway dimensions are nailed down, it’s time to order the material for the stair stringers and finish the framing on the rest of the first floor. It was a little slow going today but totally necessary to assure that everything will work in this very tight space.

day 9 #2

As the day waned and I cleaned up the site, the new owners arrived for a brief design meeting…followed by a glass or two of wine at our log cabin across the street.  I’d like to take a moment to thank the new owners. Not only are they are great friends and super to work with, they have been unbelievably kind to me, Stef and our family over the last couple of years. Additionally, they both spent the entire first week as part of the “zombie” demolition crew covered in sweat, grime and 200 year-old dust. As for the results of the design meeting…well let’s just say an adjustment has been made that will make the master bedroom, upstairs in the cabin, one SWEET space so everybody get ready to “PIN” it on Pinterest. More to come as the framing progresses.

day 9 #1

 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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before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – day 8

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – day 8
written by David
pictures by Stephanie

Day 8: Look Ma…no stairs!

day #1

Quiet, that’s how Day 8 was shaping up. The noise and dust of full on demolition had subsided, gone were the crews of helpers, it was just me…time to create. But first, there was one last item to remove, THE STAIRS. Working in a 200-year-old structure you never know what is tied to what, so removing a stairway is a sketchy task, double for this structure. You see, this cabin once had a switch back stair to the cellar that had been removed and covered over.

day 7 #4

The bracing and header framing in the cellar was inadequate and two of the headed floor joists had seriously settled causing a significant sag in the floor. So, now my homage to the simple shim: With a well placed hardwood shim and two-pound hammer you can literally lift a house, with five well placed softwood shims, I can lift a header and two sagging  joists long enough to slip a post on a footing, under solid blocking lag bolted between the two. Another twenty or so shims driven between the joists and floor will level the flooring prior to adding sisters to the joists to carry the newly leveled floor. There you have it, a stabilized floor, more level than not, good for another 200 years. Well, back on the first floor the stairs were still standing. Before removing them, we needed a wall to carry the load of the second floor transferring that load to the newly stabilized floor and post in the cellar.  Now, getting the wall into place was no easy task; I mean, what do you square from or to for that matter. Well, even a blind squirrel can find a nut every now and then…me, I managed to get the wall in, plumb and square.  As I cut away the framing around the stairs, I was careful to watch the connections of the ceiling joist to the logs in the proximity of the stairwell. As luck would have it, nothing moved…a good sign, load transfer working, OK to wail away on the old staircase. An hour later the stairs lay in a pile on the floor.  The floor had been cleared and the dust was settling and it was time to call it a day. Day 9…construct landing, complete framing for under stair powder room and prepare new stair chase. 

For now…  there’s a glass of wine calling my name.

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.

Our Signature

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – day 7

before + after: chronicles of an 1820’s log cabin – day 7
written by David and Stephanie
pictures by Stephanie
Day 7: …having finished their work, on the seventh day they rested.  
Like HELL, we’ve got miles to go before we sleep!

Okay, so maybe we didn’t start at the crack of dawn (it was more like 9:30 am) and maybe we did knock off a little early (sometime around 3:30 pm) but hey, we still banked a full seven days and made awesome progress. With seven days in the rear view, the cabin is a shadow of its former over-finished self. The place has been stripped down to the bare bones and ready to move into Phase II, the “Re-Build”.

day 7 #4

The day began by stripping away three layers of flooring from the main level of the cabin in search of the original floors. You could see them from below, in the cellar, so we knew they were there. After a couple of hours of scraping, pulling and splintering we found it…the original wide plank heart pine floor along with an insane number of nails (it will literally take days to pull them all!). There is no doubt the floor is in rough shape now but I am positive it will finish beautifully.

day 7 #2

We finished the day pulling nails, removing log chinking, loading trash into trucks and trailers and sweeping up copious amounts of dust.  By the time we left the house, it was “broom clean” and in great shape to begin framing and welcoming the trades.

day 7 #3

day 7 #1



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.

Our Signature