The 57 acres that comprise Cedar Ridge Farm are located in the beautiful rolling hills of South Central Kentucky. My wife, our four children, and I are on a homesteading adventure as we work toward increased self-sufficiency. We grow much of our own food and enjoy being in touch with the agrarian roots of our lives.

One of the major projects we have undertaken is the building of our own home. The house we're building has three major distinguishing features: 1. we're building it without incurring any debt; 2. it is a timber frame structure; and 3. the exterior walls will be plastered straw bales. We live debt and mortgage free, and building our house with that approach makes perfect sense. Large timbers in a home possess a beauty and project a sense of strength, stability, and warmth that we want in our home. Straw bale walls provide insulation and make ecological sense. This blog is a record of our home-building project.

Friday, January 28, 2011


019Anne and I spent some time in the house this morning before I milked the cows. She wanted to see what I got done yesterday. Her appreciation of my work is a wonderful thing. She loves the house and is excited about the progress. The children are also excited, and we’re all looking forward to living in it.

Today’s task was stair-building. I started by laying out the steps on a 14 foot 2x12. The main tool for laying out stairs is a framing square. I put one leg on the edge of the 2x12 at 7.25” and the other leg at 11” and then drew lines along the edge of the square. I repeated this eleven times. Then, it was time to cut out the triangles, creating a stringer for the stairway. I cut with my circular saw up to the point the two lines met and finished the cuts with a hand saw. I used the first stringer to mark the second one and then cut it out the same way.

I attached the top of the stringers to the landing at the top and to the floor at the bottom end. The stairs are to be 36 inches wide from the post at the bottom to the wall that will be on the other side of them. However, there will be a wall below the stairs on the living room side, and this wall is at the midpoint of the post. 005So, the stairs are actually 41.5 inches wide up to the landing. The 5.5 inches extra on the living room side isn’t really usable except for being a place to put a railing, but it leaves a full 36 inches of usable stair width.

By lunch time, I had the stringers up and secured and put on the risers. Because the rise of the stairs is 7.25 inches, a standard 2x8 was a perfect width for the risers (a 2x8 is 1.5” x 7.25”).

After lunch I worked for a couple of more hours and was able to cut and install the treads. I used 2x12s. I did have to rip about 1/4 of an inch off of each of them so that they would be the right width. 008One of the treads had to be notched to fit around the post at the bottom of the stairs. I cut the lines with my circular saw, finishing them with a hand saw.

I went ahead and installed seven 2x4s under the edge of the living room side of the stairs to frame the wall that is to be there. These help to support the 016stairs just as the wall on the other side between the stairs and the bathroom will do.

With the walls I framed yesterday and the stairs today, it’s easier to visualize some of the spaces in the house. One of these is the closet in the master bedroom. 022It will be quite nice, nicer than we previously imagined. The photo on the right looks into the closet area. There will be a hanging rod on the right side and a shorter one straight back beneath the stairs.

It’s nice to be able to get back to work on the house and see it coming together as it is.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Some interior walls framed

Last week I sketched out a wiring plan for our house on a copy of the floor plan I printed out. We aren’t concerned about inspections since our electricity will be completely off-grid, powered by our solar electric system. Not that inspections are a horrible thing, mind you, it’s just that I don’t feel the need to conform to unnecessary regulation and interference. I’ll be doing the wiring myself and will assure that it’s safe, of course.

With the wiring plan laid out, I calculated the number of electrical boxes, outlets, and switches we’ll need and purchased those late in the week. Early this week, I bought some 2x4s for framing interior walls. I also bought some 2x12s for building stairs.

I refigured my stair design and began laying it out on the floor in the house. In order to optimally use the space in the house, we’ve planned the closet in the master bedroom to be underneath the stairs. The stairs will rise 12 steps to a landing where they will turn to the left and continue up four more steps to the second floor. The main part of the closet is to be under the landing. It’s high enough that I won’t bump my head.

With my plans refigured and physically sketched out on the floor, I started framing some interior walls. The first wall I tackled is the one between the master bedroom and the living room. With a couple of hours before chore time yesterday afternoon, I designed the wall, drew it out on paper, figured the lengths of 2x4 I needed, cut the 2x4s to the specified lengths, and nailed it all together.

Having gotten the 2x4s from the local salvage guy, they were in various lengths. I had three 20 footers, several 16 footers, 14 footers, 12 footers, 10 footers, and some 8 footers. With a list of the specific lengths I needed for the wall, I was able to figure out the best way to use the material for the least amount of waste. I don’t like wasting material.

Once the wall was assembled on the floor, I stood it up into place. The top of this particular wall had to fit 008between two of the 4x6 floor joists which necessitated putting the top of the wall in place first. Once I had the top close to where it needed to be, I was able to drive the bottom into place. After getting it plumb, I nailed the wall into place.

This morning, I started on the other interior wall of the master bedroom. Anne and I discussed 011the location of the doors for the closet and the bathroom which are to be on this wall. Once we had these finalized, I could layout the wall and put it together. Perhaps the most challenging thing about this wall was the two angle braces of the timber frame that it had to fit against, although it really wasn’t a problem.

This afternoon I framed a couple of short walls for the closet. These walls are necessary to 014support the landing for the stairs. I also framed the stair landing and put it in place.  This will make it possible to begin framing the stairs soon. There are a few other walls in the stair area that also need to be framed. They’ll create the other bathroom, enclose the space under the stairs, and support some additional floor upstairs at the top of the stairs.

021I mentioned in a previous post that I intended to cut a door in the pantry floor to allow access to the crawl space from inside the house. 023Since I wanted to put a brace under a couple of floor joists in the area under the bathrooms (the floor wasn’t quite level in this area because of variation in the 4x6 floor joists in the timber frame), I decided it was a good time to cut the access. The alternative would’ve involved getting muddy to go through the other access door in the block wall.

I’m quite pleased with the door I cut in the floor. I think it will work quite well. There is enough space between the floor joists for accessing the crawl space easily. I’ll make a couple of steps down into the crawl space later on.