Day 14 Complete on the Cottage Build

14 working days in, and I’ve got a lovely stack of roof trusses, but I’m far from finished.

Did I ever mention on here why I’m calling this a cottage? Just in case, this is my reasoning, love it hate it, I’m not trying to hurt feelings, this is only what I think. I absolutely detest the phrase “tiny house.” There are many reasons for this, but my main beef comes from the stigma that I might be trying to save the environment or that my house will be on wheels. There’s another stigma too, the stench of self-build failures that has become the tiny house market, not to mention all the mind-changers that decide, sometimes before officially moving in, that tiny living isn’t for them after all, even if they just dropped $80,000 USD on a 200 square foot trailer house (in every possible definition of the phrase).

On the first note, “I’m not trying to save the environment,” I feel I need to clarify a bit. Nature is going to save herself, and the evil bitch will kill us all once she’s had enough of our shit. I’m not planning on covering my hill in toxic chemicals or anything, and I am being thrifty with my future energy budget. But this isn’t so that I can run around telling folks how I’m “living in line with nature” or “saving the planet.” It’s all totally selfish, I assure you 😛 Lower spending, making things myself instead of buying a bunch of plastic-wrapped stuff from the supermarket, and sustainable living for ME, not for everyone else or to some narrow-minded environmentalist scope. I’m not doing it FOR the planet, or anything of the sort, even if my goals are in-line with most conservation practices and ideals at the moment. I’m not on their side.

Anyway, back to business.

Day 14 was split in two.

Afternoon rain both Sunday and Today washed out the prospect of swinging a hammer all day. Sunday, I worked until it rained me out. I got in about 4 hours and called it a half day. Swinging a hammer in the rain is no fun. Today was similar, but I wore myself out before a late lunch, at which time it started raining. My arms are grateful for the rain believe me. I’ll try to storyboard this into one work-day rather than two separate half-days.

Here goes…

With the pattern ready to go, I started making bottom chords. They are also known as tie beams. Roof parts have lots of clever names from a number of cultures and time periods which found their way into the English language over the years. I put them all into a stack before making myself a template for what is known as the king post, which I’ve been referring to incorrectly as a king stud. The local guys know what I’m talking about, so once again language is a supplement to expressing an idea, the idea is the important part.

Cutting those little widgets is tricky. You can measure all you like and screw up, or you can make a test piece. In this case, my cut-off saw was still set to the rafter (top chord, or the part you nail the roof plywood to) angle. If you look at the truss puzzle geometrically, the angles should be the same. This is one of my dirty little secrets to building smartly instead of spending a ton of time measuring. I marked off the height I needed them to be after laying everything out on a flat surface, and made some cuts.

The result?

The king post goes in the middle to support the triangle shape. Just need to cut a piece the right length and shape.

The first one was too short by the width of my saw blade (can you guess what I did wrong there? I can) So I cut another one. It snapped right into place. I made a few more and then did a test fitting with everything, and assembled my first truss.

The little metal mending plates might look like flimsy shits when you hold them in your hand, or some kind of sick torture device (muahaha), but once they are hammered in place, they’re quite strong and hold really well. One of them goes on either side of the truss, everywhere the individual pieces mate together.

Now, getting these little metal monster teeth in place is quite the trick, let me tell you. The best way to fit them is with a press of some sort, but that simply isn’t going to work for me out here. I’d have to build one and attach it to the floor or go buy some overpriced gadget merely to construct 19 trusses.

At first, I was using a wood block to get them started, thus transferring my sledge hammer blows over the entire surface to keep them flat, at least until they were in far enough to drive them home with hammer blows. This took forever and I busted up three or four blocks of wood in the process.

Next, I started using the flat top of my sledge as a butt, smashing it down on the plates. This worked better, actually quite well. It still took a while to get them in, and required tap finishing. If you’re familiar with a “bed of nails,” and how it supports the weight of a person without puncturing them, that’s basically what you are up against with these little guys. Tiny metal shards act as a bed of nails, and you’re driving that into solid wood. That’s why they’re so tough. Once they’re in there, they shouldn’t be coming out.

Another benefit to me was the experience of learning some blacksmithing from a farrier in Louisiana many years ago. I’m pretty good with a hammer, and know how to let it do the work for me instead of wasting extra energy delivering blows “out of pace.” If you follow the natural rhythm of the hammer, you can “bounce” it off the blow, and then drop it back down. The hammer does the work, and all you do is control where it’s going to fall. I could go into more detail, but it’s a bit beyond my scope here.

To put it briefly, these bloody things are a lot of hammering and a lot of sweat, but in the end, the trusses felt sturdy, and I started stacking them up.

The first truss was outlined in pencil on the floor, and I used that trace-out to lay the others out before sticking them together. This will ensure that they are pretty close to the same dimensions. At some point today, I even emptied a box of the menders.

I have another full box, and by the time I was ready to quit today, I had stacked 15 trusses, and my arm felt like it was going to fall off. I could barely lift the last of them onto the stack. They are kind of heavy, but nothing a 200 lb human like myself cannot manage.

I have a few other little tricks to bolster the strength of my trusses once they are up in the air, but I’m holding off a bit for that, but they are pretty strong. The top chords extend about an inch past the bottom of the span piece, and when stood up, I can stand on that bottom chord without anything flexing even the tiniest bit.

Of course, it isn’t the job of the thing to hold a direct load, but to transfer the roof load to the walls, and eventually the foundation. Still, the “me standing on it” test is my regular method of sampling the strength of anything I build. Bouncing and jumping when something needs to be extra strong.

14 work days, almost 3 work weeks, totaling an estimated 112 hours of work to get this far. Hopefully I can finish the other four and get them up-top on my next work-day, but we’ll see. Then of course I need to lay plywood (actually OSB) sheathing, tar-paper them, and cover them up with some house-wrap for safe-keeping until I can get up there with some tin.


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Author: spottedgeckgo

Writer. Making my living on my pen, and working to turn a raw chunk of land into a future homestead.

2 thoughts

  1. Looks good from here! You are doing well, and good for you to learn the rhythm of the hammer. I have done a lot of hammering as a tinner and know how much that rhythm can save an arm! Ialmost wish I could be there also, almost. 😉

    1. Yep, the conception of a blacksmith slamming a hammer all day is a fiction that most of us assume out of ignorance. Soft blows are needed on red-hot iron. Aim and control are essential, along with fire maintenance. I learned to control my flame much as anyone with a fire-bug does, by burning a piece I cared about.

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