Finishing up the Timberframe on our Alaska Lake Cabin

Submitted by Ana White on Fri, 07/24/2015 - 12:33

We've been done building our cabin for a month now, and are finally back to full rested.  That was quite an experience, and a whirlwind of long hours and back breaking work.

Why, then, could I be itching for another project after seeing all these photos???

Hey, we are all a little bit crazy, right?

In this post, I will show you how we put up the main rafters for the cabin, and finished up all the timber work.  This was my absolute favorite part (besides the furniture, but that's a given) of building this cabin, because this was the step where the cabin took it's final shape.

We filmed this step for DIY Network, so I won't be giving away all the fun in this post.  I don't want to ruin the show for you!  You'll have to tune in sometime this fall to watch how we managed by hand to get these giant beams up the hill and upstairs into the cabin.  I'll give you a hint - there was no crane or boom truck.

The first of the main ridge beams extends from the front of the cabin and sits on the upright post in the middle of the cabin.  

It's a scarf joint.  I still can't believe that Jacob cut this scarf joint as his first ever scarf cut on his first ever timberframe project.  We don't give the guy enough credit here.  He's pretty awesome. I'm always learning new techniques and tricks from him.

So one half of the scarf joint is in place.  We've of course dry fit everything when we handcut the timberframe back home.  But over the course of a couple of weeks, and bringing the beams in and out of the garage, we are a little concerned that the beams may have warped, twisted, or behaved as wood generally does.  I love working with wood because it is a natural material that is beautiful and easy to work with.  But that said, it doesn't always stay put or do what you say.

I guess we will find out. 

Think of this as a giant 3D wood puzzle - and the pieces weigh hundreds of pounds, and you have to stand on a balance beam or the top of a ladder while you put it together.

It better fit.


Sometimes everything is a battle.  But every once in a while, everything works out perfectly.  This was one of those rare moments.  The scarf joint fit perfectly together.

This is a huge sign of relief because this joint will be very obvious inside the cabin.  


On top of the scarf joint goes the valley rafters.  It is difficult to see in this photo but the valley rafters were incredibly complicated and time consuming to cut.  Anyone ever cut a valley rafter?  Tell us that taking an entire day to cut them is not unreasonable.  Think of it like the most complicated compound miter that you could ever imagine, with mortise and tenons on the bottom and sides for connecting to the other beams, and then you have to V groove out the top for the roof system ... and notch at angles for all the jack rafters, and then chisel down the tails to match the other rafters.  

That's the reason for the big smile.


You all are carpenters.  You understand and appreciate this.


The ridge beams were the beasts.  They took the time to cut.  They broke our backs hauling them into place and setting them.  

There were only a handful of ridge beams.  The main portion of the roof is rafters.


Those are just cut at angles at the top and bottom, with birdsmouths cut where they sit on top of the walls and ridges.  They are just screwed from the top into the beams and walls.



Even the jack rafters that tie into the valley rafters were pretty simple.


We did have to do some fudging to get the rafters all to line up.  Here at the top, the sum of all your errors will show up.  If your walls were a little high or low, or out of square, if your ridge beams were a little twisted or off - you'll know here when you go to tie in your rafters.  Some of our rafters fit perfect.  Some were off as much as 3/8".  We did have to custom fit a few of the rafters to make it all look good on the inside.



But all in all, the rafters went up better than expected, and faster than anticipated.  


The last step is the rafters for the overhangs on the great room gables.



We have to add the decorative supports that are screwed directly to the exterior walls.  So we prepped the walls by adding a moisture barrier where the beams will tie in.  You'll also notice we've built temporary scaffolding on the upper window so we can work off a platform instead of ladders.



The supports were put together on the ground.  We've gotten smarter at this point and started not only predrilling holes but starting our screws on the ground.



These supports are very heavy but that's not the big issue.  It's that the weight is at the top, so they are very top heavy and difficult to manuever.



Once the supports are put in place, timber screws are used to tie into the walls. These supports were a major pain to craft and install.



And then the rafters can go on top.



The rafters are screwed to the beams with timber screws.



This is the very last rafter!



And it doesn't fit quite right .....



Nothing a little hand saw can't fix though.



And that's it!  The rafters are done!  The cabin has taken shape, and we are that much closer to having the roof shedding water.


Thanks so much for following along on our cabin build!  It's been fun to share with you!


XO Ana + Crew