Saturday, September 22, 2012

At long last...

I know that most of you have been waiting patiently for the tiny home to be finished.  Which is awesome because 1) it took a really long time, and 2) we are slacker bloggers and haven't updated you for a year.

It is worth the wait.

Isn't that amazing?  You can see the solar lumber kiln in the background.  How about this one...

(Cute dog not included)

In case you don't remember, this a truly handcrafted home.  All of the wood, including the wood shingles for the roof, was harvested locally and milled here.  It is very energy efficient, not just from its small size but also its good windows and insulation.

At home in the new location.  The smaller structure is a bathhouse.

Stay tuned for more pictures.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Wheel Deal

 Well, we're finally getting started building the tiny house.  The homeowner has been involved with all stages of the house, so we only work on it when he can travel here.  You can see how it is starting to come together, and the way that it sits on the trailer.  The dimensions of the trailer are 8' by 18', so minus the tiny porch the house will have a footprint of about 130 square feet, and two lofts that will add about 60 square feet. 

All of the framing lumber, siding and shingles were milled by us with local trees, some picked out by the homeowner.  The base of the house on the trailer required pressure-treated lumber (because it can get wet when the trailer is moved), but we re-used the planks that made the original bed of the trailer.  

Stay tuned for more! 

Sunday, June 5, 2011


We've been making wood shingles for the roof of our Tumbleweed house. 
We have several red oak trees that were blown down in a storm, about 24 inches in diameter.  The first step is to cut the trunks into rounds that are 20 inches long.  Each round is then split into pieces, half first, then half again, then half that you end up with a pie-shaped chunk of wood about 1/8 of the round.  The center is split out of that (about 2 inches), leaving a slightly pie-shaped "bolt", approximately 3-4 inches thick. 

The bolt is taken to the board or shingle "brake", which clamps the bolt in and gives you a structure to leverage against.  With a wooden mallet, you drive in the shingle froe, the tool you see in this picture.  It splits each bolt into half, then half again...leaving you with shingles approximately 1/2 inch thick.  The shingle blank is then cleaned up--sapwood removed (because it rots faster) and edges evened. 

This picture shows the froe in action, with the homeowner doing the pounding and shingle making.  He has been involved in all stages of the project.  This froe was hand-forged by our friend Elmer Rousch, a local blacksmith.  If you want to see some amazing work, check out his website
Here are several split shingles, ready to be edged. 

So why go through all of this?  Historically, wood shingles were used when there were no alternatives.  However, they make an excellent roof that lasts a surprisingly long time.  A wood shingle roof can last 20-50 years, comparable or better than an asphalt shingle roof.  A metal roof has a long life-span, but involves mining and processing.  And a wood shingle roof looks super cool also!  On the down side, they are time-consuming to make by hand, although there are commercial products available. 
The result is just as good for you as a gym membership, but a lot prettier view, and more productive than the treadmill.

Friday, April 22, 2011


No, not that kind of tumbleweed.

This kind:


The Tumbleweed Tiny Home company has plans for, as you might guess, tiny homes.  The sizes really are small, from 65 to ~850 square feet, but less can be more.  Check out their website--there are some beautiful examples of their homes. 

We are building a tiny home, using Tumbleweed plans that the homeowner chose.  Starting with whole, living trees, we felled and sawed the trees, and the lumber is drying in the solar kiln. 
Stay tuned for more pictures of this really interesting project.  We plan to mill all the wood needed for the little house, including hand-split wood shakes for the roof!

Friday, April 8, 2011

the spring picture

I'll blame a squirming, blabbering three-year old "helping" on my lap for deleting this picture from the previous post.

up with kale

So we try to grow our own here at Barred Owl Builders.  Kale, that is.  And a lot of other stuff.  We experimented this year with some tiny hoop houses for our greens.  It only took about an hour to make these covers, and they lasted through a pretty cold and snowy winter.

They were an unqualified success.  Not only did we harvest all of our greens, all winter long, but it is mid-April and they are healthy and flowering.  We saved seed last year, and will do that again.  And we have the new spring sowing of kale starting to come up.  Have I mentioned we like kale?  Kale for us is like spinach for Popeye.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What is that thing??

This is a fairly common sight where we live:
But this one has generated a lot of questions.

Most people are familiar with drying clothes using the sun and warm air moving.  But you can also dry lumber using the same principles.  This small building is our solar kiln, for drying lumber.  All the glass is south facing to collect heat from the sun.  It is painted black for the same reason.  It was designed by the Wood Technologies department at Virginia Tech, and we attended a short class there on the subject (which was great and we recommend it to anyone interested not just in kilns but wood/woodworking in general).   The solar panel on the left runs two 12 volt attic exhaust fans that circulate the warm air.  We can dry 1200 board feet of lumber in about 5 weeks, give or take.  This wood will be ready for cabinet-grade work, about 8% moisture content.

So why is this important?  Commercially dried lumber uses huge amounts of energy in the drying process.  In fact, 80% of the embodied energy in the average piece of lumber bought at a lumber yard is in the drying.  Also, most commercially available wood travels a long way to get to your local home improvement store.  Oftentimes, this is literally half-way around the world.  We live in an area with wonderful wood available, but it can't be used for interior work without being dried first (or finished products will shrink and warp when brought into climate-controlled space). 

Having the ability to dry lumber has allowed us to custom cut trees for people with the portable sawmill, dry it and build cabinets, trim, mantles, furniture, etc, often with trees from their own property.  These trees frequently become waste at a job site so this is an added benefit.  In addition, we are able to use tree species that are normally quite expensive to buy but are common in our forests such as black walnut, figured maple, cherry, quarter-sawn oak, etc. 

If you are interested, there are more pictures on the Flickr page.