Archive for December, 2014

Well, it’s been a long road, starting from here:

And here:

And ending up here:

I wanted to use this final entry on this project to talk about some of the many things I’ve learned, in order to maybe help out other woodworkers who might attempt similar madness.



Read Full Post »

The Hobbit Door

At long last, the only thing remaining was the door. Now, as I have mentioned earlier, my daughter Eleanor (10 yrs old) has read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and she really wanted me to put a round door on the barn like a hobbit hole.

Well, as luck would have it, I found a free Craigslist posting for a company that had what appeared to be a side of a massive construction spool: it was a huge circle, 7-1/2 feet in diameter and 1-1/2” thick, made of of 1” x 6” pine boards in two layers set at 90 degrees to each other. In other words—it was exactly how I’d make a round door if I was building it myself!

The logistics of a round door are interesting, though. How do you hinge it? When you put a round door in (basically) square wall, how do you frame the empty corners? How do I latch it but keep with the central doorknob look that iis iconic of hobbit doors? How much strain would a nearly 8’ door put on the door post when the thing is swung open? And on and on…and remember, this is the main door of the barn, that I will be using several times a day, every single day!

The first realization I came to was that a single door nearly eight feet wide opens very slowly! I would have to back up nearly four feet in order to open it enough to get inside, and that would be a huge pain on a daily basis. I decided that functionality trumped form in this case, so I cut the door vertically into two unequal parts (sort of a 60/40 split), given me a 3’ wide left door and a 4-1/2’ wide right door. This would also really reduce the load on the hinges and doorposts, too.

The second challenge was hanging a door with a round hinge edge. Here I took advantage of an item of serendipity: a concentric circular groove cut into the face side for whatever need the original builder had. I stained the inner part of the circle to match with window I built (a Minwax Gunstock) and the outer part of the circle I stained much darker (a Jacobean stain, also from Minwax). This gave the illusion that the inner circle was the real hobbit door, while the outside was part of the coaming or frame. After that, I sheared off part of the door frame edges, giving me a straight, flat edge about four feet long on the wall edges. This would give me a easy place to attach my hinges.

Because I would be muscling this door into place either alone or with only the help of my wife (a lovely woman with a game soul, but I would not describe her as “burly”), I needed a way to hang them true and level as easily as possible. I solved this by hinging two four-foot 2×8s together with 3 heavy-duty door hinges. The post plate was then lag screwed into my maple wall posts, and the other plate would be attached to the door itself. Once the hinges plates were attached to the posts, Melissa and I muscled the doors into position, marked and drill bolt holes through the hinge plate and door, and bolted the door onto the 2×8 hinge plate with 4 strong bolts. Worked like a charm:

The next challenge was the surround—those awkward arc-shaped corners that the door didn’t fill. Conventional wisdom (and the Peter Jackson movies) would dictate that these should be part of the door frame, but I hated the idea of installing permanent foot-catching sills that I’d have to step over or negotiate every time. So, I simply cut them from 3/4 outdoor ply and screwed them to the back of the door! Again, this worked visually (I think) because I had stained the door to look like the entire outer part was a raised frame anyway. Now we had this:

The last piece was the doorknob/closure mechanism. Again, the central doorknob is the classic look for a hobbit door, but how to make it work? Luckily, smarter heads than mine—specifically Matthias from Woodworking for Engineers—had already figured this out! From his oh-so-cool site, I download an app that let me design a rack and pinion gear, which I cut from 5/8” birch plywood. When the spindle of the pinion gear turns, the bar shoots across the doors into a socket, locking the two doors together! I have a video of the action before I installed it, but unfortunately I can’t figure out how to upload it here. I finished off the mechanism with a “doorknob” cut from an alder branch. The finished product:

With that, the barn is nearly finished, though of course, a woodworker is never really done…I’m sure there’ll be plenty of internal improvements, external embellishments, etc, etc. etc!

Read Full Post »


My daughters wanted the barn to be “hobbit-style,” complete with a round door. So, for the wall on the “human side” that will be visible from most of the property, I wanted to find a round window to match. Again through a free find on Craigslist from a floor and door company, I managed to acquire 2 beveled half-round and two rectangular door lites, double -paned:

For the “goat-side” window, I was also able to get 6 15” double-paned squares from the same place.

While I was building the walls, I used rainy days and evenings to work on the windows to go in the rough opening. At last, it was back to “real” woodworking: mortises and tenons, plow planes, miter cuts, and all the fun stuff. I decided to build a frame to hold the windows in roughly the layout above, with the two rectangular pieces forming sidelights to the central round window. I built the sidelites first, capturing them in a fairly straightforward post and rail frame I made from some poplar pieces I had around:

When both of those were made, it was time for the centerpiece. I decided the best way to mount it was to make a birch plywood surround the same width as the window with molding on both sides to hold the glass in place. In order to facilitate glue up and fitting everything together, I cut the surround into top and bottom parts to allow me to attach the molding before I inserted the window pieces.

To make the molding, I turned to my trusty 1926 Stanley Mitre Box No. 460, with its Disston 30” x 6” saw. I had restored the piece after it had been badly corroded and salvaged from a flooded garage. Using some beech slats from an old futon frame, I cut two dodecagons (12-sided) to hold it in, and glued them in place. I stained everything using simple Minwax Gunstock stain.

I was happy with the finished product: it looked good, it was square…everything was working out. Then I went to install it, and discovered that my 2×6 framing in my rough opening had shifted out of square by about 3/8” of an inch! Somehow, even two diagonal braces didn’t stop the cordwood from altering the shape of the frame. Of course, I had sized the frame to fit the window with about a 1/16” tolerance, so I had to enlarge the 2×6 frame to make a truly square opening again. Once that was accomplished (though now I had about a 1/4” gap on each vertical side of the window, I fit the window in place:

I’m really happy with how it turned out. I’ve gotten a lot of grief from my buddies for making such a fancy window for a goat barn, but hey, the materials were free and the woodworking is the fun part!

Next (and perhaps the last challenge: hanging a round door!

Read Full Post »

New Residents

As you may have noticed in the last post, the barn is already occupied. True, the walls aren’t even done, but friends of our were thinning their herd and offered us a doe and a wether, so I asked for a couple of weeks and quickly built a 20’ x 25’ paddock and partioned the interior of the barn off to separate the goat lounging area, kidding stall, and sleeping platform from the human side that houses the hay crib, the feeder rack, and the access to nest boxes and feed/water station of the attached chicken coop.

Then we got our first three residents: Zeus, the livestock guardian dog; Leia, the Boer/Nubian doe, and Stormy, her 1-year old wether. As you can see from the pictures, they’re going to have a tough life!

Read Full Post »

My wife and I have been interested in building with cordwood for almost 5 years now. Initially, we planned to use the technique to build our Washington home ourselves but we found great home that was already built that saved us the work.

Cordwood masonry is a centuries-old technique that uses short, debarked logs (like you might use for firewood) set in mortar to form structural walls or else fill in a timber frame structure. It’s a great way to use woods that otherwise would not be structurally useful. I harvested and collected all the wood from our property last winter, debarked the logs, and left them to dry for nearly a year. Here are a few pictures of the walls in progress:

You may notice a few animals photobombing the pics: the dog is Zeus, our 6-moth old Akbash (a Turkish livestock guardian breed). And one of the goats, who’ll I’ll introduce in the next post…

Read Full Post »

Covering The Roof

If you’ve been following this blog series at all, you’ll know it’s been a lo-o-o-ong time since my last entry. Rest assured, I haven’t been idle—quite the contrary, I’ve been too busy to think about documenting and photographing a lot of the work. But, here’s a catch up of the roof.

Rafters and purlins make a great roof for a gazebo, but a lousy roof for a barn to keep out rain. The covering starts with burlap. While not strictly necessary, the first layer is the one that will be seen from the inside of the barn, so the burlap adds a more rustic look than simply the underside of the EPDM pond liner, which will follow.

We tacked down the ones around the edges and up near the cupola, but most will simply be held down by the weight of the roof atop them:

Once that was accomplished, we hauled up huge sheets of pond liner. Man, is that stuff heavy! I don’t have any pictures of this, because I was too busy overexerting myself…

After that, it was time for dirt. Because this will be a living roof, it needs dirt to grow. I rigged up a simple lever arm to lift 5-gallon buckets of dirt to roof level. and a couple of wonderful neighbors even came over to help. A few of us filled buckets on the ground, a couple of people operated the “crane,” and a roof person spread the dirt around. Eventually, it looked like this and we spread grass seed:

Then covered it with hay to keep the birds off:

After a good watering, the rest was up to nature, so we turned our attention to the walls.

Read Full Post »

Purlin Madness

After the rafters were raised and secured last Saturday, we moved on to attaching the purlins. These are the radial pieces between the rafters that will hold up the roofing material. In our case, these are fashioned from alder branches or saplings, with the bark left on, nailed to the rafters with about a 4-inch spaced between them so that there is room for the purlins on the adjacent sides to attach.

It was great to have a “ground crew” of people to hand up purlins of the rough size needed, but I learned that non-woodworkers may not have the same level of discernment about whether a purlin had enough girth to support the span or if the wood was unsound. My suggestion is to pre-select all your purlins so there’s not a question, but with everything else going on, I had merely collected a pile of straight branches and thin trunks to use and hadn’t had a chance to “edit” the stack.

With the family helping, we got three of the eight panels purlined, although I may go back and add more here and there where I am feeling more flex than I’d like. After everyone left, I continued the work alone. I quickly realized it’s tough by one’s self to nail both sides of a 9-foot purlin as well as go up and down to get materials. I dragooned—I mean, apprenticed—my oldest daughter to help. She was a little hesitant at first aobut the height, but soon got used to it. She had used a hammer a bit before, but never pounded so many 16d sinkers in her life. After a few dozen purlins, her accuracy and ergonomics got better, although she wore out pretty fast. We’ll work on her endurance…

I noticed as I went along that I gravitated to larger purlins, in the 2-12” – 3” diameter. These sizes required me to half lap them at the ends to allow a 2-1/2” nail to get some purchase. No fine woodworking here: just a quick crosscut to depth and then split the waste away with a hatchet tapped in from the end.

Ultimately, we got the whole roof purlined:

Next task: to add a cupola over the central hole. After all, it does no good to put on a roof but leave a big hole in the middle!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »