Duke of Oil

Rustic Venture

Now that all the framing members are sanded, it’s time to finish them. Clare and I have been looking into natural finishes for Nerdwood, and rather than use polyurethane, we decided to use linseed oil, which is an oil derived from flaxseed. It’s a drying oil, meaning it soaks into the wood, then dries slowly to a hard finish. It also yellows and darkens somewhat over time, which is desirable in a semi-rustic house, in my opinion. The only real drawback we’ve read about is that it’s not a very tough finish, and doesn’t resist abrasion very well, which makes it unsuitable for finishing, say, a floor, or your in-home bowling alley. That’s not really a problem for the posts, beams, and joists we are using it on; we’ll be unlikely to be doing balance beam routines or walking on the ceiling.

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End of a Chapter

As it happened, 2015 was the year a number of chapters were closed. One chapter closing, that of my Dad’s life, was particularly sad. He was a big fan of Nerdwood and would have loved to have seen Clare and I move in. At least he went out with a whole lotta love all around.
There were some chapters that were much happier to close. I finally got my degree (Bachelor’s), and managed to do so before all my hair fell out. More salient to this story, however, is that we finished the last of the cordwooding, at least in Nerdwood proper.

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My Autumn’s Done Come

Roundy bales

Ah, September in beautiful downtown Tapiola. The hay has been baled up, the vegetable garden harvest is in full swing, berry-picking season is winding down, apple picking is in the offing, and talk has begun to turn to the topic of shooting things. The weather is cool, the bugs dying off, and it’s an ideal time for a cordwood construction workshop.

The workshop is scheduled for Saturday, September 21. If participating in a hands on cordwood construction workshop sounds like something you would like to do, head right over to our good friend Matt Manders’ spiffy new website, superiorskills.net for information on how to sign up. Matt is putting it all together, Greg will be doing most of the instruction, and I will be on hand to heckle them and maybe help out. We’ll be working on the garden shed, and we hope to cover mortar mixing, wall construction, pointing, bottle ends, and cordwood best practices. If you can’t make it to this workshop, it looks like Matt has a bunch of other cool stuff coming up, so definitely check out his site if you are in or plan to be in the area this fall.

So what has been going on at Nerdwood? I realize it has been a painfully long time since I last posted.  Much of what goes on is, frankly repetitious, but I will try to cover some of the salient points on future posts. We’re making good progress on the second floor interior walls.

Second floor madness.

Most of the living room is finished, and we are working our way into the second floor loft.

Second floor wall in progress.

Bottle feature at the top of the stairs.

We hope to finish the interior walls this fall, and we’re enjoying the excellent weather while it lasts.

That right there is a big zinnia.

Never Enough Logs

Logs, glorious logs.

Last spring we were very eager to get started building cordwood walls on the inside of the house. As is usually the case with cordwooding, there were a million and one tasks that had to be completed before we could get going. Cordwood — is it a noun, or a verb, or an adjective, anyway?

We needed more logs! There are never enough logs! The more the merrier, and the more varied your selection, the more interesting the cordwood pattern will be. So we prepped all the logs that had been drying in the kiln all winter, and chopped up lots more on the sawbuck.

Greg hooked up an outdoor spigot so we could mix mortar and water the garden.

This really made life a lot easier.

When those trees you ordered arrive in the mail one day, you have to put them in the ground quickly.

A pair of pears.

We also spent some time trimming out a few windows and installing screens so we could start taking advantage of the warmer weather and let the fresh air into the house. It’s always amazing how quickly everything greens up when the snow melts.

Somehow, this overwintered.

Construction Time Again

This past winter was surprisingly brief. By mid-March the ski trails were mostly bare, as opposed to years past when we would be on the trails through early April. So, back to Nerdwood. Surely we’ll get it closed in this year! We’re going through logs at an alarming rate, though. The pile that was three years old in late 2006 is getting more and more rotten as it sits out. If we had it to do again, we would de-bark, cut, split and stack the entire pile of logs first so they would dry out quickly. Since we haven’t built a cordwood time machine, though, we’ve been cutting up what we can this spring and looking at obtaining some additional, fresher logs to make up for the rotters.

Someone Clare works with had cut some cedar this spring and offered it to us (thanks, Bill!), so we’ve been stopping by his place for pickup-truck loads, debarking and cutting it up straightaway, and putting it in the kiln to dry. We’ve also been expanding our food production. We love mushrooms, so we’re cultivating some varieties this year. Here’s a mushroom bed, with a potato bed to the left:

No badgers, but occasional snakes

We also put in some fruit trees; someday there will be a nice orchard in front of the shed. We had to put the trees in “jail” since deer munched the leaves almost immediately after we planted them:

Tasty cherries? Or world's most enticing deer food?

Starting in June:

More Cordwooding!

A Likely Story

Finally, at the end of August, it was time to start laying up walls on the second story.  This starts out a bit tricky since we have to mortar in between the joists that stick out of the wall and support the deck. We also have to lay the logs up to, but not quite, touching the deck. Looking up from the ground, it looks like this:

Inbetween days

Fortunately, we got some more helpers – our friends Gail and Jeff came out for a day of muddin’. They caught on right away:

Tray Chic!

Another thing that’s tougher about cordwooding on the second story is that we have to bring all the logs and mortar upstairs to use it. After hanging a pulley on a beam that cantilevers out over the deck, we toyed with  the idea of using mechanical assistance to bring up the loads, i.e., a winch or truck. Ultimately we realized the fastest way to do it would be to convert food into the energy needed to lift the goods to the deck. Here’s Clare’s view:

Clare's-eye view

And here’s me hoisting up a tray of mortar:

Look out below!

As an aside, see all those buckets of lime putty in the Clare’s-eye view? Here’s what they look like from the side:

Mu shu mortar?

Our friend JJ heard we needed lots of 5-gal. buckets to mix and store lime putty in. JJ runs a Chinese restaurant in Houghton and set us up with a stack of empty soy sauce and duck sauce buckets (with lids!) at no cost. Thanks, JJ! This is what cordwood guru Rob Roy calls “cultivating coincidence,” the idea that somebody is probably trying to get rid of what you could use, and by talking about what you are doing to everyone who will listen, your chances of meeting this person greatly increase.

Remember, if you’re around Houghton Michigan and are looking for great Chinese food, stop in at JJ’s Wok & Grill in the Pearl Street Market across from Jim’s Finer Foods. He really does make excellent food. Food that you can then turn into mortar-lifting energy. I’ll bet he won’t use that in his ads, though.

Back to the house, Dave S. asks for more explanation about what we see from various angles in these pictures. Here’s a picture of a wall in what will be the recording studio:

Another Green World

This window will be one of the views from the studio, the view to the west looking at the woods. Nothing more inspiring to the recording artist than the sight of hungry bears massing. Or maybe just chickadees.

It was an incredibly cool summer, but now that it’s September, we’re having a bit of a heat wave! The basil has bolted, the coneflowers are finch-feeders, but the blanketflowers are happy as can be:

Red, gold and green...Red, gold and green...


One of the (few) benefits of taking so long to build this house is that we’re able to save up a bit of cash along the way. We can use this to hire out some of the things that would take us forever to do ourselves, like the roof. It became clear that another one of these things would be the wraparound deck and porch. The deck is very important in that it will keep the rain off the first-floor cordwood walls. The large roof overhangs protect the walls higher up, but it’s a long way from the roof to the first floor.

We contacted our builder pal John Hamilton (he of roof-putting-up fame) and asked him to quote out the job. The quote looked good to us, so we asked when he could start. He had some time at the end of April; this was also a good time because he could beat the biting bugs (who deserve a good beating).

So, while we continued prepping logs and getting the house site cleaned up after winter, John and his merry men got to work. Their first task was to extend the interior floor joists to the outside using treated lumber, and nail a board (rim joist) across the ends:

Can I get a rim shot!?

Next, they laid down deck boards, fixed posts at the edge of the deck, and installed rails:

Yarrrh, matey, best not be goin' overboard

Here’s the nearly completed deck. Note that there are no posts holding it up, it’s all cantilevered out from the inside floor joists. Because of this, using synthetic decking was out of the question; it’s much heavier than the treated lumber we used, and the engineering gods said no way to that kind of extra weight:

I'm always railing against something...

The final (extensive) task was to build a screened-in porch under one of the rear roof overhangs. Clare had the idea to raise it a few feet off the ground and have one set of stairs going from the back of the house to the porch, then from the porch to the deck. John and his crew did a great job helping us figure out the details, then making it happen:

Try and get us now, ya wee flyin' vampires!

Now we have a really sharp-looking place to eat lunch and get out of the sun and bugs, and it won’t always be blowing over like last year’s tent.

We anticipate spending a lot of time here

Woohoo! Here come some early (for us in the frozen wastes) spring flowers. Marsh marigold in the vernal streams:

Your rich uncle died - and left you all his marsh marigolds

And wild strawberries everywhere else:

Strawberry surprise? Or The Apples in Stereo?

The strawberries they produce are tasty, but no bigger than a blueberry.