Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt

When most people hear the word “yurt,” they think of one of these.

Nomadic tents known as Yurt at the Issyk Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan

Or maybe one of these.

Yaks in the plains of Mongolia

While it’s true that most yurts are constructed with wood framing (or sticks) and covered with animal skins (like yak) and/or canvas, a more solidly built yurt is also a traditional building design, such as this one.

Wooden Mongolian yurt

I built and/or consulted on several wood-panelized yurts of various sizes in the years before I retired in 2011. I decided that a fun retirement project would be to build my own version of a wood-framed panelized yurt on our property. Here’s one of the yurts I built in recent years, with help from a team of strong arms. Mine is a similar design.

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Yurt under construction near Eugene, Oregon

For my yurt, I began by building a foundation.

CompleteFoundationYurt

Then I built 12 floor panels.

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Then I built 12 wall panels.

WallAss-done

Then I built 12 roof panels.

roofpanelplywood

I cut and finished 12 rafters.

raftertops

I constructed a huge wooden ring, which houses the skylight dome. All of this work spanned many months, between other projects. But with all the pieces done, it was time to put it all together.

ring

This week, our neighbor came over to help install the floor panels. It took us about an hour.

yurt2

The walls are next, and then the wall cable, and then the tower….well, there are a few steps to get to completion, and it will take however long it takes. I will keep you posted.

And FYI, we are writing a book about the entire process so we can share how to build this yurt with anyone who is interested! Stay tuned as we progress, and be sure to watch for news on the book. Here is the tentative cover, designed by Robin Koontz. That’s a yurt that I built in Florence, Oregon.

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Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt
by Marvin Denmark and Robin Koontz
ISBN-13: 978-0692957370
ISBN-10: 0692957375

Thanks for stopping by! The first three photos are owned by istock.com, the rest were taken by Robin Koontz. Cover design by Robin Koontz, copyright 2017.

 

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Making a Quick and Simple “Stop” for Multiple Cuts

When I’m cutting a lot of boards the same length and angle, it doesn’t make sense to measure each time, or mark multiple cuts along a single board. Employing a block stop system is not only efficient, it also allows the boss to set up a cut and turn someone loose on the task who knows how to safely run the saw and won’t have to worry about careful measuring.

quickstop1Use scrap wood – 2 pieces of 2x material + a piece of 3/4” material (plus whatever needed) to create a support base that is at the same level as the cutoff saw’s base. In this photo a layer of cardboard was used under the 3/4” material to obtain the right level.

quickstop5Check that the base of the saw is at the same level as the support base.

quickstop2Secure the cutoff saw to the worktable. Then square up one end of a board and mark it for your proper length to be cut multiple times, creating your set-up board.

Lay the set-up board so the length mark is directly under the blade. Center the support base under the other end. Fasten both 2x scraps down securely to the work table. Leave the 3/4” scrap loose for now.

quickstop3Nick the set-up board with the blade at the length mark. No need to cut it to length, you might have a use for it elsewhere.

quickstop4Keeping the set-up board held securely, flush edges with the 3/4” scrap. Pencil mark the 2x support base.

quickstop9Fasten the 3/4” scrap to the 2x support base at your pencil mark: the end of this board is your stop length.

quickstop8Use a straight cut scrap to flush the 3/4” stop board edge with the board to be cut. Start cutting! If you are cutting angles, just make sure the top of the angle hits the stop block. Otherwise you risk undermining.

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Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our suspension bridge book. Here is the link:

Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2013-2017 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

Floating Mantel Shelf

cherry treesOur house has posts, beams, and siding made from Douglas fir milled on our property. I decided to employ another kind of wood for a fireplace mantel. Bitter cherry, also called Oregon cherry (Prunus emarginata) is a native tree that popped up in our woods when it was replanted in 1988. I wondered what the grain and color would look like when it was milled. It has an interesting bark, that much I knew.

So I picked a tree I liked and thinned the woods by one cherry tree. I parked it in the barn to dry for about five months, then had it milled to about a five foot 5-1/2″x7″ with bark edge on the 7″ width. mantle-sawmill

As control against splitting, I scored slices on one side in varying depths, the deepest being the middle cut over the tree center at about 1-1/2″ deep. Then I primed the sawn sides and left it to dry, standing up, for about 3 more months.

frontgrain-joint
I was hoping to preserve the bark, so cutting and fitting the corners was tricky. I sanded down the precautionary slices (which were on the bottom) and cut the pieces. I sanded, splined and glued it all together, then applied a clear finish. The bark is threatening to peel, but underneath looks pretty cool so I really don’t care.

barkless

de-barked Oregon cherry

I used a bracket system to install the 35+ pound mantel. I hollowed out two slot holes at 9/16″ depth on the backside that corresponded with metal brackets that screwed to the wall studs.
wallbrackets

Metal straps, which were recessed so that the mantel would fit flush with the wall, were screwed across the hole slots. Taping their location on the mantel top,  I could line them up with the marked brackets.

backconnection

finetune
hammer

A bit of hammering with someone else holding on, and the mantel was up.

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I have 3″ metal posts that I had intended to install on either side, not for support just for looks, but for now we’re seeing if we like just having a floating mantel. Eventually there will be a wall sculpture underneath. I’m just waiting for my spousal unit to come up with something…
finish

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our bridge book if you’re thinking about a DIY suspension bridge. Here is the link: Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2016 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

DIY Radiant Floor Heating System

This is about installing radiant floor heating in a slab floor system. While it was done as a new house was being built, in my last house I poured a concrete floor on top of a wood framed floor system and could have put radiant heat in that as well.

Pex-Plan

I obtained a design for the entire system from Supply House where I bought all the parts. They will provide, free, a layout according to your specs and also give you a list of parts you’ll need for the heating system. You can also download a free program from Uponor and also read more information than I will include here.

I opted for a single pump, single zone system for our 980 square foot little house, but opted to have each room a separate system zone that could be controlled by shutting down the water supply. For larger spaces, they would recommend more than one zone with a pump and thermostat for each.

First step was to install a vapor barrier and then insulate. I used extra (rigid) insulation – R15 – to encourage the heat to go up, not down into the dirt.

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Next I added 6×6 welded wire fabric (WWF) aka concrete reinforcement wire and used that to tie down the pipe. I bought a 1,000 foot roll of 1/2” pex pipe. You can get smaller rolls, but no way did I want any connections under the concrete floor. The pipe is very unwieldy especially in a coil that long, so I built a big spool for it and added dolly wheels so it could follow me around as I unwound pipe. The same contraption came in handy later when I wired the house.

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I used zip-ties to tie down the pex pipe. Here are a few photos of the process. We took a lot more photos so we could remember exactly where all those pipes fell. I did not want to be nailing down a plate for a closet and poking a hole in my heating system.

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Then I installed concrete doobies and tied down rebar, just standard practice for a concrete floor.

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Pex-1

I also tied all the pipes together and pressurized them. I wanted to make sure there were no leaks before that 4 inch thick concrete was poured on top of them.

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After the floor was poured, I moved on to building the house. Since I worked pretty much alone and at my own pace, it was a couple of years before it was time to set up the heating system. I built a large utility core with plenty of room for two water heaters as the one designated for the floor would be set low, and space for me to get in and make adjustments. The option for an instant-flow water heater was there, but I didn’t want to spend that kind of money. I just got a standard 40 gallon hot water heater for a couple hundred dollars.

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The heating system consists of a thermostat which is wired into a relay transfer switch. I located the thermostat in the living room, which in our house is a central location. Since I was building the house from scratch, I could easily run the wire in the walls and over to the utility core. The relay tells the system when to start up. A pump kicks on and water runs from the water heater and into the floors. Water from the floors runs back into the water heater. If you can see the numbers on the gauges in the photo, the water going out is about 100 degrees and the water coming back is about 80 degrees.

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The first issue once everything is connected up is getting the air out. If you troubleshoot a radiant floor system by googling, “air in the lines” comes up as the #1 issue. I futzed with it until the air was gone. The second issue was the size of the pump. I trusted the supply house to provide me with a pump adequate for the system they designed, but that didn’t happen. The pump has to be strong enough to deal with the resistance in over 900 feet of 1/2” pipe. You can determine the needs by calculating the feet of head, which I did and the pump came up short. I ordered two sizes up and the system is now working beautifully. The pump doesn’t kick on very often and the house stays evenly heated, ranging from 69-72. I use a Cen-Tech infrared thermometer to see what’s going on.

Pex13

Meanwhile, the pets have figured out where the supply pipes are and love to lay down on the nice warm floor.

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With me doing all the work, the total cost including everything involved was about $1,700. We haven’t got an electric bill yet, but considering that the house is so warm and the water heater is well insulated, plus the water going back in is almost as hot as it needs to be anyway, we suspect we’re not using very much energy for this system. It is a wonder that at least in Oregon, there are no Energy Credits for putting in this efficient system. I hope to change their minds about that.

Happy winter!

 

 

Lichen and Moss, Green but not always Mean

What’s that green stuff? People, including house inspectors, don’t like to see anything green on house siding, decking or roofing. As we learned last year, even the FHA has a hissy fit over the color green, and will demand eradication, cleaning and painting, even if the green stuff is not damaging anything.
lichen-HouseIn our case, our 35-year-old house’s cedar siding had a few areas with tiny little hairy lichens happily blowing in the breeze along with a few patches of algae. There were no signs of damage after three and a half decades.

But even though the FHA regulations clearly stated that cedar siding was exempt from the rules regarding wood siding, we still had to provide the funds to pressure-wash and stain the house before we could sell it.

The deed was done and the sale went through. We just hope they were careful, as pressure-washing can be much harder on cedar siding than any amount of lichen.

Lichens are a “plantlike” hybrid of fungus and algae that grow all over the world. The self-sufficient stuff can flourish anywhere as long as it gets a little bit of moisture on occasion. It doesn’t retain much of that moisture and it doesn’t take root, making it easy to remove and control. Lichens don’t bother trees and shrubs unless their growth blocks light to the leaves. But people freak out about lichens anyway.

Moss, on the other hand, is a real plant, and even though anything green growing on a roof is often called moss, this is the real bad guy. Mosses are generally found in shady, wet places. That’s why we see mosses in the woods, especially in wetter climates such as western Oregon. We also see them on roofs, decks, and other structures where debris and water can collect and provide a foothold for it to grow and spread. Mosses break down whatever they attach to, providing a surface cover and moist soil environment for other plants. It’s great stuff, but not if it’s chomping on your house or your bridge!
MossyBridge

This is one of our small trail bridges, in sad need of a good cleaning. It is obviously located deep in the woods, and is victim to leaves, fir needles, vines, sticks, and of course, moss.

My spousal unit came up with an easy way to clean the leaves and other debris that collect on all our bridges. A long-handled squeegee for washing windows makes quick work of the task. But alas, this bridge decking has been adopted by moss mostly because of our neglect. For now, we plan to carefully chip the rest of the green stuff away with a knife, as the decking appears to be secure enough for another year or two anyway.

The under-structure is pressure-treated and so far oblivious to the spongy, green, wood sucking plant. Lichen would have been welcome!

MossyBridge2MossyBridge3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our bridge book. It includes some cool ideas that apply to other projects, like how to put a really tall post into a deep hole when you aren’t that tall. Amazon has the book on sale for about $13.00 right now. Here is the link: Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System
Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2015 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

Photographic Journaling

I’m not exactly someone who keeps a formal journal, but I keep a lot of records. They are for reference or just as a way to look back and remember what I did that day, that month, that year.

One of the many helpful advantages of digital photography is the ability to take and store photographic records. It’s easy and virtually free, once you have the device, to document and store the process for any project. Publishing the book Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge was an afterthought after I finished building my bridge, but luckily my spousal unit had recorded most of the steps, using our first digital camera. That old beast used 3-1/2 inch floppy disks (remember those?) and the photos were low resolution. But with some computer magic, we had enough photos to chronicle the steps I used to construct the bridge. Many photos were taken just for fun and our own life journal, but others were for reference.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince my first bridge was a “Golden Gate” style suspension bridge, the stringers were of varying lengths with obvious repeats on each side. I installed the connection “eyes” to the stringers and organized them using a numbering system. That way, when I attached them to the two main cables, it was an easy chore to sort and install, using cable clamps.

I assembled everything on dry land. Then I just attached the two cables (with stringers attached) to the four posts. I could then easily install the cable locking system components and the decking.
StringersPasture
My more recent project is our house. I put in a lot of blocking so that there were plenty of places to connect cabinets, towel racks, grab bars, whatever. Then I photographed all the walls before covering them. That way, when it was time to hang cabinets, I referred back to the photos to recall just where I put the blocking.

This photo shows the backside of the kitchen wall with blocking for the cabinets. My only regret was that I didn’t write exactly how far the blocks were from the ceiling or floor – large lettering would be easy to read in a photo – but I was able to locate them pretty accurately using my electrical boxes for reference.

blocking

Thanks for stopping by! If you want more information about my bridge, you can view a video and also read through the archives of this blog. If that’s not enough, be sure to buy my book! Here is the link:

Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2013-2014 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.