Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tool of the Month - November

The Tool of the Month award for November is presented to my Mastercraft alloy framing square. I bought it on sale on one of the Canadian Tire 50% off tool deals, and remember paying about $11 for it. In any event, anytime I want a nice 90 degree line across a big piece of lumber, out comes this tool, and presto! A perfect line all the time. As an added bonus, it comes marked with a whole bunch of numbers and angles for calculating rafter angles for roof building, which for the life of me make absolutely no sense whatsoever!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Winter Damage

Winter arrived with a fury, and unlike many over the past years, once the snow arrived, it stayed. A week after the first snow, we got dumped on with about 3 inches of wet sticky stuff, which is generally not good for my spruce trees, as it overloads the branches, and in some cases can snap them off

This time around, the only tree to suffer any damage just happened to be the larger of the two trees that I am building the treehouse in, which annoyed me because now there are some openings left in the canopy, making the tree look a bit like a vagrant with missing teeth. I think perhaps when the treehouse building is up in the spring, the missing branches will be less noticeable. Here are a two photos showing the main foundation, draped with a couple of large fallen branches from the spruce. Not a particularly pretty sight!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tool of the Month - October

Well, finally it happened, my Stanley Leverlock 26' tape measure finally gave out, losing it's spring and along with that it's ability to retract. How then, can I possibly award this pathetic little tool October's Tool of the Month? About five years ago I worked for 6 months with a framing crew, and for that job I used a bulky Stanley tape measure. For home use, I purchased a Stanley LeverLock tape measure, as it was smaller, lighter, and had an interesting release mechanism (the black lever on the length of the bottom of the tool). About four months into the framing job, having just bought my LeverLock about two weeks earlier, my boss was in a bit of a mood, having just lost two employees. In a bit of frustration, he started tossing out the few tools these guys had forgotten to take with them, including (you guessed it!) both of their tape measures, Stanley LeverLocks just like mine. "Useless people, just like the crap tools they used." he grumbled, and into the lightly ice-crusted pond on the lot across the road they went. Free tools, thought I, so I rescued them to provide a happy home. They had probably been used hard for a year or two, and being thrown 50 feet across the road, bouncing a couple of times on frozen gravel and dirt, and ending up underwater probably didn't help. Even then, they all get used regularly, the one I bought is pristine, and of the two I rescued, one still works fine, and as I mentioned, the other finally bought the biscuit, five years after it's rescue. Not bad all things considered!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Daddy and Rudi's Rainy Day Project

Friday was a PA day with crummy weather, so Rudi and I worked on a special little project together. A house of sorts, I will describe it's construction very simply, and the first persons to correctly guess what type of house it is will receive one (or more) nights free accommodation at the "Field House Bed and Breakfast".

Lets start with the raw materials, a couple of pieces of 3/8" ply, 3/4"x1-3/4" spacing strips, and some cedar bark (this will be five star luxury accommodation of course!)

Next the outside wall with spacers is built, and some of the cedar bark installed.

Now the inside wall with cedar bark lining is prepared, ready for mounting to the completed outside wall.

TA DA! The completed first unit of the house. This will now be duplexed (or even be triplexed, or more, for larger 'colonies' of guests) with another wall, spacers, and cedar lining to give more very narrow openings for its furry occupants!

Okay, time for the contest to begin! A last hint, the house will be painted dark and mounted on a south facing wall to keep it as warm as possible, especially through the winter. Can someone tell me what type of house this is, or what little critters will hopefully take up residence within?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bits and Pieces

A few photographs of various parts of the treehouse described in the previous post.

This is a shot of the cantileverd deck edge, with the new 2x8 end beam in place. This was the one that had to be cut at approx 65 degrees, and spans the three deck beams. Lots of fun chalking, guesstimating, cutting, and fitting to get this baby in!

A view from underneath, showing one of the pair of main beams bolted through the tree, two of the deck beams running perpendicular to the main beams (at the extreme left and right of the photograph), and some of the 2x6 floor joists which run in the same direction as the main beams. Note the joist hanger and crossjoist which had to be installed to support the floor close to the tree itself.

Finally, a close up of one of the two sheet metal sliders fastened under the main beams that rest on top of the wooden bracket on the smaller tree. The main beams will creep back and forth across the bracket when the wind picks up, and these metal strips will hopefully reduce the friction and wear on both the beams and the bracket.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dog Days of November

We had a beautiful nearly full week of weather here, Monday was wet and warming up, but Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (today) were glorious, highs of about 20 degrees each day, with sunny skies.

I finally cut and installed a 2x8 end beam which attaches to three of the four main deck beams (It doesn't span the four as I am leaving space for a suspension bridge to a third tree. Yes I am a bit crazy!) This end beam provides strength, alignment and proper spacing for the three deck beams. I decided that the deck of the treehouse would be irregular in shape, so this end beam is set at about a 65 degree angle to the deck beams, which made for an interesting couple of hours measuring, cutting, and installing. A bit of ingeneuity was required to singlehandedly install a 14ft long 2x8 (weighing about 40 lbs) seven feet above ground with no support!

More of the 2x6 floor joists have been raised and installed, and some brackets to prevent unwanted flex or movement have also been installed where necessary. The two steel sliders for the main support beams over the wooden bracket on the small tree have also been painted, drilled, and installed. It seems the weather is going to turn to more wintry conditions, so I am looking to finish the floor joists, and hopefully the main support for the platform on the smaller tree before the end of November.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tool of the Month - September

September's Tool of the Month Award goes to my Makita 7-1/4" circular saw. Completely dependable - just a power cord, comfortable handle, durable body and deck, trigger switch, and a blade and motor that will chew up 2x10 stock like a sow eating slop at a trough!

Amazingly enough, this tool has cut through hardwood logs, concrete patio stones, PVC, ABS, steel and copper pipe, tumbled aggregate pavers, asphalt, sheet steel roofing, and plate steel in addition to all the lumber I have thrown in it's path. 15 years old, and after about 4000 board feet cut, this baby looks and works like new!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Successful Scrounging!

Over the past month I have been busy locating specific materials, and have found some interesting sources. I have managed to find a nice supply of cedar log skins, a bit of sheet steel, and a fantastic supply of both 2x4 and 1x4 lumber...

The cedar is the outermost wood and bark from cedar logs, the waste from a small cutting and milling operation that friends of Katherine (Dave and Eileen, thanks!) on Carson Lake had done. I think they had about 25 or so cedars on their property felled, and then cut into lumber that they used for projects and sold to friends. The leftover scrap they donated will be cut down and used for feature siding and possibly window frames.

I will use the sheet steel (approx 1-1/2" x 6 ft) underneath the two main beams, to protect them where they slide over the bracket on the small tree. I found it at Golden Triangle Specialty metal in Cambridge, a company that I visited when working as a courier. The guys there were kind enough to donate it to the cause!

The lumber comes from Dan, my next door neighbour, who works as a flat metal roofer (I think). Apparently his materials are delivered in large crates about 3' x 4' and anywhere from 8' to 20' long! After they remove the materials, the crates are broken down into garbage - until now! Dan has volunteered to bring a reasonable supply home which I will then dissassemble. They provide 2x4" studs, as well as 1" thick lumber which I will use as sub floor under the finish floor deck of the treehouse.

I think using these (and other supplies like them) is is a great way to reduce construction costs, aid in reuse and recycling, and keep stuff out of the landfill. Win-Win all around, thanks to everyone who helped out!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

More Mulling

As the floor joists slowly go up over the four main beams, I have been thinking of what I want the actual treehouse to look like, or the style in which I want to build it. Sorry folks, but unpainted exterior grade plywood walls are unacceptable!
I want something that will look as much in place (as a house within a tree can look) as possible, so natural (or natural looking) materials, and a rustic appearance are required. Finances also dictate that the materials must be reasonably priced, so I will be looking at reclaimed, donated and/or discarded materials also. On the short list of possible materials are board and batten siding, cedar shakes or shingles, lapped board siding, and even waste skins from cedar logs.
I am planning on giving the treehouse a design and appearance based on the Craftsman (USA early 20th century) or Arts and Crafts (English and European, late 19th century) styles of architecture. I have included a link to one of my favorite websites, Robinson Residential Designs Inc., a Regina Saskatchewan based architectural firm specializing only in the Craftsman style. Check them out by clicking on the picture of the gorgeous house!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tool of the Month - August

I was actually thinking about having a "Treehouse Construction Beer of the Month" (rather than "Beer of the Season" - see previous post) but figured that some people may think I have nothing better to spend money on than beer. There are quite a number of things better to spend money on than beer, namely food, clothing, shelter, and tools! So I am introducing a "Tool of the Month" contest, during which my most hardworking and dependable little companions will each try to earn the recognition that they truly deserve! I will be posting the "Tool of the Month" the first week of the month following, but I will begin with the inaugural Tool of the Month winner now: Congratulations to my dependable little Sears Craftsman 14.4 Volt Cordless Impact Driver for winning August's Tool of the Month! I have had this tool for about five years now, and have to say it is very handy for going from drilling to driving screws and back again. It has a quick lock bit holder, and can easily drive 3" screws through two studs, spade bits up to 1" diameter, and countless pilot holes. It came with two batteries, and even after five years, they still hold a solid charge! The impact drive (hammer) comes up automatically as it detects increased torque, and will power through anything.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Treehouse Construction "Beer of the Season" for Autumn

After building the temporary support, dragging it into place, and raising the four floor deck beams, I figured it was time for a break and refreshment. Fortunately the beer fridge was reasonably well stocked, and had an unopened six of Unibroue La Fin Du Monde in the back. I hadn't had one of these in a while, so decided to crack one open. What a perfect drink for an early autumn afternoon (I don't subscribe to the illogical dating of seasons beginning at the solstices or equinoxes). La Fin Du Monde is a magnificent Belgian style triple fermented ale, and brings to mind pine needles, the subtle scent of a forest after rain, and the rich smell of a newly fired woodstove. Delicious! Unibroue was introduced to me about 8 years ago by Bryan, son of Judy and Dave, good friends of Katherine's parents Peter and Donnaleen. Wonderful people, evidenced at least in part by the fantastic beer they enjoy (and their hospitality in accommodating unannounced dinner guests!). Unibroue is a fairly large Quebec-based craft brewer now, with a great selection, many available at your local Beer Store. Check them out by clicking the picture of the label (will open a new window)!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Engineering or Art

Yes. Neither. Both. Hey, does it even matter? The following two photographs show the custom wooden bracket attachment to the smaller tree (note the spreader block installed to keep the longer clamp blocks from snapping as the bolts are tightened), and the simple 3/4 inch through-bolt attachment to the larger tree. Evidently the bolt will break at around 14000 lb under tension, so I am guessing there shouldn't be a big problem holding the treehouse up. The wooden bracket on the other hand...... In the spring, I will want about a dozen male volunteers to climb up and walk around the treehouse in a group, and if it doesn't fall down, I thnk it will be fine!

Slow and Steady (Wins the Race?)

Got back to construction after getting a few other home improvement projects started or finished as the case may be. The four floor deck beams that will support the floor joists under the main treehouse have been put in position, and fixed in place with metal framing flanges. It took quite a while to figure out how best to locate and fasten them, since the twin main beam supports will constantly move away from one another over time. The tall sawhorse support is temporary, and will be removed as soon as the permanent support fixed to the tree trunk is designed and installed. I am mulling over a few different design options, as this single brace will have to support a large portion of the treehouse deck frame, which will extend out approximately 10 feet from the main tree. I have finished the design of the staircase which will rise around the smaller tree to a landing platform there, and hope to begin building those, and the platform next week sometime.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Construction Begins!

I imagine there are some of you out there who, for one reason or another, think that I am all talk and no action. I won't claim that this is nowhere from the truth, but I would more realistically describe myself as all talk and a reasonable amount of action when required! On Saturday the 23rd of August, the main support frame went up, and on Sunday, the final adjusment and tightening was done, and it was stained. Have a look! I am very happy with the results, as the beams are completely level and edges upright, and the two main beams support easily my weight as I walked across from one tree to the other to test them out.

Research and Planning

I think I have had sufficient time to research treehouse design and construction. Over the last 6 years or so, I have read (and re-read) about six books completely dedicated to the subject, and more recently visited a number of websites as well. In general, the information I found was very useful, and has certainly cleared up any misconceptions I may have had about the best manner of construction.

It seems the two most basic rules of treehouse construction are to keep potential injury to the tree to a minimum, and to make sure your design accomodates future growth of the tree.

A treehouse should be attached to the tree with the least number of connections (threaded rods, lagbolts, brackets, or wooden clamps) as possible, and these connections should be large enough to easily support the load of the treehouse and its visitors.

With respect to future growth of the tree, any attachments must be designed in such a way that the year by year growth of the tree doesn't end up breaking the supports or "foundation" or pushing the frame away from the tree.

The design I finally decided on will use two trees, the first for a small platform, and the second around which the treehouse will be built, with a walkway between them. This means that the main support frame fixed to the trees could not have a rigid connection. If you look closely at the picture in the next post, you will see that the main support frame is bolted directly through the larger of the two trees, and then just rests on a wooden bracket on the smaller tree, and can slide back and forth as the trees move in the wind.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

In The Beginning

I really don't recall when my fascination with treehouses began, but certainly becoming, along with my wife Katherine, the 'owners' of a wonderful century home as well as a fine collection of what I think are truly magnificant trees may have helped. The property has over 30 trees, the majority of which are either Norway or White Spruce, the six Norways having a distinctly gothic, foreboding feel standing along the front of the property behind the sidewalk, the balance being White Spruce along the properties east and north sides. The remaining trees include a Jackpine, Blue Spruce, Black Walnut, Mountain or White Ash, and Birch.

Probably the largest single factor in my newfound interest in treehouses was the arrival of our first son Rudi just over six years ago. I think I had probably purchased one book on treehouses before his arrival, but my collection expanded within the first three or four years after he arrived (I think I have six books on the topic now). I know when he was three or four years old I let slip that we would build a treehouse together sometime, and it has taken until now, about three years after that, to begin to realize our little dream.

A lot of things like this come down to timing and opportunity. Our second son Alexander (affectionately known as 'number last' by me at least!) arrived october 2007, and with him almost a year old, Katherine returning to teaching in the fall, me deciding to quit all my jobs to concentrate on getting the house finished this winter (wiring, bathroom, and attic need doing), the opportunity presented itself to at least make a start in what has been an idea of mine for on about the last decade.

I think also the timing is perfect for both Rudi and Alex. Rudi is now the age he can do or help with a lot of the little jobs, to give him a sense of ownership, that he helped build the treehouse with daddy, and not that daddy built it for him. It also gives him at least four or five years of enjoyment, before he might grow away from it (but from what I have read, one never grows out of loving treehouses!) As for Alex, he simply gets to enjoy it from day one.

In any event, what follows is our story, or documentary, in real life, and as it happens, of building our little house in the trees. We hope you enjoy.