Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Building a House of Railway Sleepers – Part 5

On the last article we were adding walls and windows, and the house started to look like a house. Now it’s the time to add a final row of sleepers above the windows to make a final wooden belt all around the house, and have a tall and firm support for the roof beams.

To be very honest I thought originally of making more solid walls than what we have right now, but some things have changed my point of view:
- Sleepers are heavy and they look heavy. A lot of windows and glass are welcome so that you don’t feel on a wood prison.
- In a lake house, one of the reasons for building it a the lakeshore is having nice views of the lake, so a lot of windows make sense (Plus the weather in Chile is not too extreme so you can have houses that provide wide open views).
- We are running out of sleepers. This is not a joke, we have discovered that a house of this size uses roughly about 100 sleepers between pillars, walls and beams above the windows, and that’s what we had after discounting the 20 damaged sleepers of my lot (tower).

So we are doing two things: adding more fixed windows towards the lake and getting 10 more sleepers or so to finish some fully wooded walls that were on the original project and that I’m not willing to forget about.
I’ll keep full sleeper walls in the back of the kids room, so it’s more cozy and warm, in the bath room for privacy reasons and because I tend to daydream when I’m taking a bathtub, and I want a nice thick sleeper wall to look at, and in the living room as a focal point of the roughness and solidness of the house, and I intend to put either a bar or a LCD TV on that wall.

On the other hand I’ll have to build 3 interior walls using other hard wood, but not as thick as sleepers, but equally rustic and nice on the eyes. This in turn will save some space – a sleeper wall take up 20 cm - and being interior wall it won’t sacrifice insulation.

The last row of sleepers

One thing that we discovered when adding the top row of sleepers is that we had extensions to cover that were longer than 2.8 mts which is the length of my sleepers. So we had to cut them diagonally and assemble using timberlock bolts. The result is in the picture, If you want to have a very precise cut and assembly I recommend using a disc saw on both sides of the sleepers instead of the chainsaw.

To fasten the top row of sleeper beams to the sleeper pillar you will need very long screws, even the 10 inch (25 cm) Timberlocks won’t show even more than one inch at the other side of most sleepers, so it’s better to pre-drill a 2 inch recess for the screw and socket to fit in, so that you have the full 2 inches of thread on the timberlock doing it’s intended work.

Remember that sleepers are irregular in width, but you don’t want your house to be irregular (it tends to show on doors, windows and rooftops). So take the time to measure the widths of each room, and level the heights (using a carpenter level a laser level or the old transparent garden hose with water level). Cut any bits that help you get a perfect level on every room.
The final row of sleepers is your final chance to achieve right angles, and horizontal surfaces where you’ll start building the roof structure, which is already complex when things are square and parallel, you don’t need any synthetic complexity in it.

Building the Roof

I had long 17 – 20 ft (5 - 6 mts) oak beams for the roof structure. These go over the center beam atop the center pillar and are fastened using metal plates and bolts with nuts on each end. I had 60 metal plates custom made in a local shop, and they are 10 x 2 inches (25 x 5 cms) and 5 millimeters thick. They were very nice and shiny when I got them, and I had the doubt of applying clear lacquer of flat black paint to protect them from rust. I finally went with the flat black paint. I also made 6 longer 18 inch plates (45 cms) to finish the fastening of sleepers on each side of a center beam.

The lower roof sections are easier to assemble, but we played it safe and when working at heights we wore a harness and safety ropes just in case. In the higher roof structure in the living room center pillars at 20 feet this is both common sense and a necessity, since you nee the person in the top to handle heavy beams with both hands, bolt them and even drill. Even though I would recommend assembling everything on the floor and then raising the whole structure either lifting it vertically or pivoting a la amish-barn-building as you can see we did on the back of the living room roof.

Assembling the structure on the floor demands placing the beams up on their intended position, marking the cuts and then lowering everything in order to cut, drill and bolt together. It is more work but the results are better and is less dangerous than trying to assemble everything on the spot.

After finishing the structure we have to secure it to the upper row of sleepers of the house either with the iron plates if they are in the perimeter or with 10 inch Timberlocks inserted from the top if they are central, beams. Now we have to put on a layer of struts so that the roof boards wont bend under their own weight and of the asphalt shingles. I used a layer of 2x2 inch struts spaced at 20 inches (50 cms) according to some construction manual my roof boards won’t bend with that spacing. Time will tell…

Then we just have to add the roof boards, these are about 1 cm thick and 5 inches wide in case you were wondering. I’m sure that’s as relevant to you all as the year of the Carmenere wine that’s fueling this writing.

Here are some pictures of the roof of the bedrooms with the roof boards installed. And some more of the rook structures of living room and kitchen.

What’s next ?

Let me repeat that it’s looking more and more like a house, but there’s still a long way to go, I have to install a few more glass panes, and solid sleeper walls, and then closing all the gaps between the roof and walls, wiring the electric circuits and adding the floor boards. And then the bed room doors. Then my first goal of the four of us spending this new year’s eve at the house will be achievable..

Then to finish the house, I have to wire the other electric circuits, install some other glass panes including a large bow window… close the very tall front and back of the living room roof, and add all the floor boards, add walls and window and door to the bathroom, install all the bathroom appliances.
The living room is lowered and has Oregon pine steps that lead to the rooms and the kitchen, and match the Oregon pine bow window frame (match in my mind, the steps are in my house in Santiago and the bow window frame is not even cut and I'm just beggining to sand the whole interior with an angle grinder... a pretty dirty job I must add).

In the kitchen we have to add the floor boards after the plumbing and electrical piping is done, add a couple of doors a small (2 ft tall) separation from the living room and then the center table, which will have a marble top thanks to my sister Pamela. Then we have to add all the kitchen appliances.
And let’s not forget the septic tank or will be up to … well you know what happens.

Still a long way to go, but I believe we can have the whole house closed before the end of the summer (in late march). By Early May we should add a couple of chimneys and a wood furnace in the kitchen…

Future Stages

Sounds like a lot? Not really if you look at it in perspective, this is only Stage 1… for next year we have the Stage 2: stone and grass terrace by the lake, with built in bar in the water, and then Stage 3: the 10 feet wide wooden terrace surrounding the front of the house, and later on Stage 4: the second floor so my almost 13 yr. Old son Pablo has his own space, and then Stage 5: Caroline & me will have a large (400 sq ft) stone room in the terrace by the lake with hot tub, chimney and breakfast table.

Even later on will come Stage 6: a separate stone room for playing pool and having drinks by the sunset on top of it, and even later Stage on 7: a 4-car and 6-motorcycle garage on the top of the hill to move all my toys when we finally are able to start living by the lake.

It’s a looong plan and a fun one, we are at the first half of Stage 1 of the project. Meanwhile the water level in the lake is up again so we have sailing and kayaking between work hours.

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