My First WWOOFers!

It’s been a whirlwind of adventures at Hillside Homestead this fall! I arrived back on November 6th after spending more than six months away, working and playing in Minnesota. I have a short list of projects and goals to complete before winter hits, and am lucky enough this time around to have two WWOOFers staying with me to help out. Hallie and Mario found my homestead on the WWOOF-USA homepage and we quickly made plans for their stay. They arrived in a little Ford truck, loaded with all of their camping gear and a very energetic chocolate lab named Bailey the day after I arrived. We’ve gotten to know each other well in the few short weeks they’ve been here, and have had many unforgettable experiences together.

I asked both Hallie and Mario to write up a short reflection on their time here so far. The day I asked them to write was the day after our first snow fall.

Here’s Hallie:

I woke up yesterday morning, November 17th, after a mildly windy night. Mario and I have been camping outside since we got here while working to finish our first set of goals- wrapping the house in tar paper, insulating the roof, sealing off the windows, and building an outhouse/sauna. We had heard that there was a winter storm approaching us and we were going to spend the entire day prepping for it by focusing on finishing the roof and sealing the windows to better wind proof the cabin.

Being a southern, but more importantly, North Carolina, girl, I did not grow up with much exposure to large snowstorms or blizzards. I have always thought snow to have a magical quality and was getting excited to see my first South Dakota “blizzard”. Jenna and I were working quickly to finish the windows and roof while Mario cut firewood when the wind started picking up… We needed to hurry up everything we were doing.

Mario and I had moved inside the cabin for the night of the blizzard. I don’t think any of us got much sleep. We all stoked the wood burning stove at some point to keep it warm, and tossed and turned as we listened to all the sounds of what could be going wrong with the outside of the cabin. The wind was howling and in my mind I was prepping to reenact the childhood game of fire drill- where everyone runs around the car at a red light to switch seats, only this time we would all run outside in slippers and pajamas to staple ripped tar paper back to the house in the snow and freezing wind.

When the sun rose we all gathered downstairs to assess the damage. It was amazing to find that all our hard work was preserved and withstood the first blizzard of the winter season! This was a great feeling of accomplishment. We still have a lot of work to do and a hot tub to finish but this was a good sign that after our first week and a half here the work we were doing was benefitting all of us.

And Mario:

It all started in 1989…. just kidding.  Yesterday, November 17th, 2016, I woke up inside of our tent. For the first time in over a week, I was so tired and sore that I lay awake on our half deflated air mattress stretching and getting ready for a long, cold, and windy day of hard hard work. Everyone around town kept saying how we were going to get bad weather. There was a blizzard approaching and we had so much work to do. I had already prepped the firewood the day before, and now we were onto weather proofing all the windows. It got colder and the wind grew stronger as the day progressed. I had been in many blizzards, but never one in a shelter that wasn’t completely weather proofed or by choice. I was incredibly excited to reap the benefits of our hard work from the entire time that we had been here. All of the hard work, time, and effort was paying off. Never in my life have I worked so hard and put so much passion and love into just living and making it more comfortable to survive. We were putting everything we had into something that only we were going to benefit from. How sweet the feeling of working as a little family to create a home. Anyways, back to the blizzard. It is incredibly funny and peculiar how the cold wind makes you feel so alive. I say that merely because I stood outside while Jenna and Hallie finished up the windows in the dark as the wind blew me sideways against my will.  We managed to finish the windows just in time as the first drops of rain started to come down and were able to enjoy a nice warm dinner inside of our little cabin on the beautiful hills in South Dakota. We played a game of cards and enjoyed some homemade hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps. After all was said and done, we went to bed for the first time inside of the cabin. I have never honestly felt like I had a place to call home until I laid my head down to rest last night. When I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I stepped outside for the first time and to my surprise, there was snow! Snow everywhere! I nearly froze to death going to the bathroom outside. I stepped inside and laid back in bed next to Hallie as I gently whispered “it’s snowing!” I quickly put some more logs into the stove and went right back to bed as I listened to a loose window pane rattle all night long. I woke up a few more times to go to the bathroom and each time the blizzard seemed to have gotten a little bit stronger. Bailey was a little scared as well as she barked at the wind, but she wanted to play at 3 am outside in the blizzard. I was scared she was going to wake Jenna so I asked her politely to stop barking. She didn’t. Jenna came down to the kitchen area where we were sleeping at 7 am, but it felt like it was 4 am! The winds were going and the snow was flying in every direction. We had survived! It felt so great. It is now our 11th day here and it feels like we have lived here for a year. We are so thankful to have the opportunity to live out a dream. It is the greatest gift to have so many wonderful memories in only 10 days. Many more to come!

Hallie, Mario and I have been finding incredible balance and energy in the simple life we’re leading out here. Our days begin with the sunrise. We gather around the coffee pot as one of us stokes the fire and another sets a cast iron on the stove to warm up some toast or eggs from the neighbor’s coop. We soak up the early morning sun’s warmth through the south-facing windows and talk about our goals for the day. Lately it’s been a hodge podge of tasks, getting ready for colder weather and bigger projects. Since their arrival, we’ve succeeded in wrapping the entire cabin in tar paper, insulating the roof, pouring the foundation for the outhouse, laying and cutting most of the timbers for the outhouse frame and stock piling enough firewood for the next few weeks. Outside of winter-focused projects, we’ve shot and butchered a deer, stripped trim from an old farmhouse that is going to be burned soon, retrieved 30+ large windows for a future greenhouse, and hosted several gatherings to share the space with friends and locals. There’s an incredible community of homestead enthusiasts here that have been supporting us with tools, materials, showers, laundry and encouragement. It’s been a dream of mine ever since I interned at DreamAcres Farm in southeastern Minnesota to host volunteers at my own homestead, and now that dream is being realized. Hallie and Mario are setting a very high standard for any future volunteers I have. They are the most generous, easy-going, positive and motivated people I could have asked to share this experience with. It will be a sad day when they choose to pursue their next adventure. Until then, we have much more hard work to do and fun to be had!

img_5286Our first project was to begin insulating the cabin. We removed the first layer of siding, called “battens” in this style and stapled a layer of tar paper over the entire structure. The tar paper acts as a wind and precipitation barrier and also ensures that the gaps between the boards will look black when seen from the inside.

img_5291 img_5292 img_5309 img_5296This is one of my most memorable moments. Hallie took her first “prairie shower” and Mario shot his first pheasant.

img_5299 img_5304 img_5308We prepared the fresh pheasant with onions and mushrooms and lemon pepper seasoning over the wood stove that night. It was beyond delicious.

img_5295We spent two days gathering a stock pile of firewood from dead and downed trees on the neighbor’s land.

img_5324It was exhausting work…

img_5326Enough firewood for a couple of weeks!

img_5328Our first snow! Only a few inches accumulated, but the wind blew hard and tested all of our work tar papering and insulating the roof.

img_5334Mario was going to help shovel the road so we could drive out. Turns out we didn’t need any help.

img_5358The second day of deer hunting season Mario and I worked together to bring this large doe home. Mario spotted it while we were hiking on the land around 8am and I took the shot. We let the meat hang and season for about five days before processing it into jerky and canned venison.

img_5361It took about four hours one evening to butcher the entire deer and cut it into chunks for pressure canning and strips for drying into jerky.

img_5377We dried the jerky above the wood stove. It took about a day and a half, and was simple because we were constantly firing the wood stove to keep the cabin warm. It was an efficient way to use the excess heat from the stove for drying the meat.

img_5365A special visit from my thirteen-year-old cousin Gabe included setting off experimental explosives. No rockets were successfully launched, but we generated an impressive volume of smoke.

img_5368 img_5350Hallie and Mario have been bold and adventurous in their food preparation. Here they’ve made homemade pizzas on the wood stove. Dehydrated kale, sun-dried tomatoes, dried honey mushrooms and cheese top this one.

img_5386One of our more unexpected visits came from the band Condor who played at the Back 40 last Saturday night. It was a treat to have them out for a night, and they graciously split all of our firewood the following morning!

img_5337 img_5338The land is constantly changing around us as the wind blows, the snow falls and the weather grows colder. We are gearing up to finish the insulation and siding next week. Our focus may shift soon to staying warm, entertained and occupied in the area by outsourcing our work. Winter is a time for creativity. We welcome all visitors, as long as they have 4WD and a good sense of humor!


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Spring: the Season for Falling in Love

After a couple of months away, Hillside Homestead felt like an entirely new place. It had been a year since I’d experienced the Spring winds, rain and late-season snow. Last year I experienced them from inside the thin walls of a tent with a 24,000lb pile of Ponderosa Pine lying nearby. Now, I feel the rumbles of the wind from within the strong walls of my cabin. It took a few days for me to readjust to the intensity of life on the open grassland, but slowly, as windy days gave way to warm sunny days with a slight spring breeze, I felt the tell-tale tingles in my toes: I’m falling in love with South Dakota again.

The biggest difference between living in my cabin now and building it last summer is that I’ve changed. Last summer there was a heavy note of defiance and rebelliousness in my work, and every nail hammered felt like a statement to the world: “I can do this!” I don’t feel that way anymore. Maybe too much time in a hammock in Thailand made me soft, but I feel much more inclined now to share the joys of working on my cabin with others. I have many ideas for continuing projects, but am not motivated to complete them on my own. I’ve created a WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) webpage to attract volunteers to Hillside Homestead. I’m also planning a work weekend for Fall 2016, to bring together family and friends in completing a large project together. For the time being, I’m enjoying living in the cabin, working on small projects like food composting, installing gutters and planting trees while working and enjoying life as a resident of Brule County. It’s a beautiful place to live.

South Dakota is full of surprises, like a few inches of wet, heavy snow on my first day back (March 31st):

Building a proper table is at the top of the list for soon-to-be-completed projects. I recently learned that wood stained by Blue-Stain Fungus (like the wood in my cabin) is popular now as an attractive building material and is being called “Denim Wood”. I’ll build my table out of this wood and sand it to bring out the color in the grain. 
It’s time to move the wood stove! I’m not sure if I’ll just move it a corner of the cabin to get it out of the way for summer or if I’ll store it in the lean-to until cooler temperatures call for it to be fired up again. A big thank you to Barry Titterington for lending me this powerful little stove! (It’s a Fisher “Baby Bear” wood-burning stove):
The addition of some shelves from locally-salvaged cedar siding is helping to make the cabin feel more like home:
My drawbridge-style steps to the loft, though very pirate-like and cool, are in need of revision. I’m thinking a ladder is a better idea.

My first evening home – an unforgettable sunset seen from the front porch:


Your love and energy are always welcome! I encourage you to stop by.

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New Perspectives on the New Hillside Farm

I recently discovered while pouring over old plat maps that the land originally acquired by my great-great grandfather Patrick Powers was referred to as “Hillside Farm”, which has inspired me to refer to the land my cabin rests on as “Hillside Homestead”.

I never would have imagined myself astride the peak of my roof, installing a chimney in mid-November, barefoot and wearing shorts, but it happened just two weeks ago. It’s been an amazing fall for working on finishing up the cabin.

It’s difficult to recount all of the small projects that have led up to the cabin being complete. The frame was such a large accomplishment that windows, siding, flooring, a front door and the porch seem small in comparison. For a few weeks I enjoyed sleeping in the loft of my cabin, covered by my roof, but open to the elements without any siding in place. I was hesitant with each piece of siding I added, knowing that I would miss the beauty of the timber frame visible from the outside. Now that nighttime temperatures are dropping, though, I’m thankful for my siding, and my windows, and my front door. I know that soon I’ll be especially thankful for my wood stove.

Rather than list off all of the aspects of the cabin that I’ve completed in the past two months, I’ll list what’s left to accomplish:

  1. Building a kitchen table and accompanying benches to line the walls in the “dining/reclining” room
  2. Fill in all of the gaps in the siding where wind sneaks through on gusty days with crumpled newspaper (so that in 100 years when the siding is being replaced, whoever is doing the work can enjoy reading the 2015 paper)
  3. Building the outhouse (which I anticipate saving for a Spring 2016 project and advertising as an “Intro to Timber-framing” class and sharing the work with a few students)
  4. Plant more trees
  5. Install gutters and a cistern for rainwater collection

At this point, the cabin feels like home. I have most of my belongings there, I got a dog, and I know I have a place to come back to whenever I’m in-between adventures in other places. My goal is to live in the cabin for the remainder of this year, and then leave for the winter and return next spring. When snow falls, my unmaintained access roads will be impassable by car, and I’m excited to park at the neighbors’ house 1/2 mile away and ski or snowshoe the rest of the way home.

I’m eager to host visitors and share this beautiful place with others, but I think the season for visiting is quickly coming to a close. I hope that you can make it out for a visit next year. The most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the brightest stars, the most vibrant wildflowers, and the friendliest dog are waiting for you!

My cabin was quietly waiting for my return in September after a couple of months away:
While I was away, the frame began to settle into itself and my un-pegged floor joists underwent some serious warping. I ended up have to shave them down before laying the floor boards:
I began by laying the loft floor. My neighbor Chris lent me an incredibly handy tool for keeping floor boards tight to each other: the Bow-Jack.
My mom came to help lay the loft floor. We used square nails to secure the 1″ floor boards to the 4″ x 4″ joists below:
The main floor is comprised of a layer of 2″ sub-floor boards topped with 1″ finish floor boards. Next summer I plan to sand the floor and apply a layer of tung oil to finish it.

Before nailing the siding on I had to build my window and door framing, which tied into the main frame with mortise and tenon joinery:

I was kept company by my neighbor’s sweet lab Oakley, who was grateful to have a floor to nap on after spending most of the summer with me in my tent:
With the first layer of siding boards in place and the windows framed, I nailed used burlap coffee sacks over the wall openings to protect against wind and rain:IMG_1726
The second layer of siding boards (the battens), were nailed over the the gaps in the first layer of boards. The windows went in soon after, hinging at the top and swinging in to the cabin when opened:
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A visit from a good friend and great timber framing partner helped me get my porch framing completed. Later that same week my parents came out and helped me put the steel roof on:
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The beginning of the outhouse:
I only intended for the cabin to suffice as a summer home, but my love for it has inclined me to spend a bit more time here, even as the weather grows cooler. For only $250 I installed a wood stove and chimney system into the cabin to help take the edge off on the chilliest mornings:
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With winter rolling in fast, it couldn’t be a better time to acquire a cuddly companion. Meet Jack:
My amazingly motivated and talented neighbor Lori has been finding creative ways to utilize some of my timber framing scraps. She sells her work at local craft fairs and shows:

More pictures to come soon! Snow has officially blanketed the world around the cabin. My cross country skis are eager to be tuned up and put to use. Work on the cabin has come to a close for this season. Next spring will see the resumption of my final building projects with the return of warmer weather.


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Raising the Roof; Literally.

After completing the raising of the roof I took two months off from cabin building to beat the South Dakota summer heat and spend some time closer to my favorite lake. I’m back now, and have made quite a bit of progress towards finishing the cabin before winter. To catch you up on all that’s happened, I’ll start with the day we put the roof on:

July 17th, 2015

With the frame up, I felt more motivated than ever to complete the rafters and get the roof on.

I had all of the rafters prepared, but couldn’t quite manage lifting them into place on my own. A couple of wonderful neighbors came over and helped me lift the rafters onto the top of the frame, peg them together, and tip them into place. Once upright, I used my first screws in the frame. On the advice of a much-trusted timber framing friend, I lag-screwed the rafters into the plates. The lean-to rafters are separate pieces, joined at the plate with an over-lapping joint to the main structure.

With the rafters in place, I nailed on the sheathing; 1″ x 6″ x 10′ pine planks. This was my first opportunity to utilize nails in my cabin. I splurged and ordered cut square nails, which are a traditional style of nail. The shape of the shaft of the nail is rectangular, allowing the nail to part the grain of the wood rather than tear or compress it.

I had completed about half of the sheathing when the day for installing the steel roofing arrived. My parents and a few neighbors came to lend a hand. We started off by finishing up the sheathing.

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With the sheathing nailed in place, we snapped chalk lines to ensure we had a straight edge from peak to eave. I dipped into my secret power tool reserve to quickly cut a clean line along the edge of the sheathing. Worried about the steep slope of the roof, I used a set of rock climbing harnesses and climbing rope to make my time on the roof a bit safer. My dad belayed for me as I worked my way up to the peak. It wasn’t a fool-proof system, but it worked well enough and no one got hurt.

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With the sheathing completed, we began installing the steel roofing. I had no prior experience with metal roofing, so the process went slow as I over-analyzed every step. My dad and I used cordless electric drills to secure the roofing screws, equipped with rubber washers to waterproof the point at which they pierced the metal. I quickly realized that my roof was more of a trapezoid than a rectangle, and that installing all of the 36″ wide sheets of roofing at a slight angle would be necessary to keep them in line with the roof.

In addition to the sheets of roofing, we simultaneously installed a piece of trim called a gutter apron, which acts to direct water into the gutter and not back onto the wood under your roofing. I haven’t installed gutters before, so when the time comes I will have a lot of research to do.

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The north-facing roof, designed to protect against strong north winds and winter precipitation, looks much more expansive than I had imagined. It’s going to be a great surface for collecting rain water.

The last step of the process was to put the roof cap on. My dad handed the 10′ pieces up to me from the loft. It was the end of a long, hot day, and the steel was sticking to my feet and legs. I was glad when it was finally over.

With the roof on I felt confident letting the cabin rest for a bit. I celebrated the end of the first stage of the project with a bonfire and grill-out with friends.

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Raising Day

It seemed like destiny – Father’s Day, the Summer Solstice and Raising Day all coinciding to make for one great party on June 21st.

I had been working incessantly to finish laying out and cutting all of the joinery for the cabin. I didn’t quite get it all done…

A traditional timber frame raising involves raising an entire structure in one day – from the sills and floor joists to the rafters. I had already assembled the sill, and didn’t have enough time to complete the rafters, so this raising day focused on assembling and raising the three bents (walls) that comprise the cabin.

IMG_2432 With the sill beams pegged together, the 2″ deep mortises on each corner were ready to receive the stub tenons of the cabin’s posts.

IMG_2423My parents were a huge help in preparing for raising day. I was so busy working in Chamberlain the week prior that I didn’t have time to finish making pegs and chiseling out all of the joinery. Mom and Dad brought their camper and stayed over Friday night (braving 90+mph winds) in preparation for a big work day on Saturday.

Dad worked on chiseling joints while Mom made pegs.

IMG_2670All of the pegs for the cabin (~100) were made by hand. My neighbor Chris had a surplus of green Mulberry that he split into chunks for me to use for pegging material. From the chunks he gave me (firewood size), I used a special tool called a froe to divide the wood into 1″x1″ peg blanks. From there, the blanks were rounded on a shave horse by using a draw knife.



For all aspects of this project I’ve made templates to use as a guide to make sure things will fit prior to assembly. Pictured below is a 1″ hole drilled into a piece of plywood, which we used to check the size of the pegs so we know they’ll fit when it comes time to use them.

IMG_2668While Mom and Dad worked on pegs and chiseling, I double-checked the layout of the mortises and tenons and drilled peg holes using a 1″ auger-style drill bit. I taped levels on the top and side of the drill to help keep the holes as straight and level as possible. This was extremely important because all of the mortises and tenons were pre-drilled and needed to line up perfectly during assembly.

IMG_2692We were tired after a long hard day of work on Saturday, but lost no steam as we woke up and prepared for raising day on Sunday. We were up in time for the Summer Solstice sunrise at 5:55am. Not only was the sunrise beautiful, but an early-morning rain made for a double rainbow to the Southwest. I’m sure it was a good omen.

IMG_2725IMG_2724Mom, Dad and I worked to finish up a few last mortises and peg holes before our crew arrived – a hard-working group of 12 friends, family and neighbors. Assembly began at 10:00am. I was nervous, excited and a little bit overwhelmed. We got started right away and put the first bent together. I was so anxious that we had to disassemble and re-assemble it twice because I forgot the wind braces and put a piece in backwards. But my crew powered on, apparently still trusting in my proficiency. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to raise with.

We assembled the bents on top of the sill to make raising easier. This way, they could be raised right on top of the sill mortises that they would fall into.

IMG_2779Although we had tested all of our tenons and mortises with templates, some joints were still tight. Warping of the posts and beams is the likely cause but small discrepancies throughout a piece can lead to larger challenges when you start putting it all together. I made a “commander” to help with those more challenging joints. I made it by taking a 14″ long chunk of scrap 8″x8″ pine and drilling a 2″ hole through it. I picked up a mattock handle at the local hardware store and fed it backwards through the hole. It made a heavy and effective wooden sledge hammer. The handle became more and more tightly wedged into the chunk of pine every time we used it.

IMG_2771 We drove all of the pegs in with an antique bowling pin (solid Maple core); a trick I learned while studying timber framing at DreamAcres Farm in Wykoff, MN.

IMG_2775 IMG_2783When all of the bents were assembled, we took a break to eat and get out of the sun while preparing ourselves mentally for the raising.



That’s what I was taught to say when preparing to lift a bent. But with an eager crew and a frazzled leader it just kind of happened. The wall began rising and we gave it our all. Even with an entire crew lifting, those bents were heavy. My dad and Uncle Dick guided the post tenons into their respective mortises while the rest of us lifted.

IMG_2802 IMG_2803 IMG_2805 When the bent was nearly vertical, we used lassos we had affixed to the cross beams to keep the bent from tipping. The lassos worked really well, and allowed the bent to be held in place while I nailed a 2″x6″ temporary brace onto the post and sill beam.

IMG_2810 IMG_2830The second bent went up much like the first, with the addition of four wall girts, which needed to be guided into their respective tenons as the wall was being raised. My mom took on that responsibility and did an excellent job. It was tricky, but everything lined up with a loud and satisfying “click” (more like “clunk!”) as the bent fell into place.

IMG_2838 IMG_2840The third bent was a bit more of a challenge because we had to stand on the ground, putting us about two feet lower than the bent. We used pike poles to make up for the difference in height.

IMG_2854With the bents raised, we placed the loft floor joists in their pockets and were able to walk around “upstairs”.

The only remaining part of the assembly process was placing the 16′ long plates on top of all of the posts – tying the entire frame together. We used Chris’s tractor to lift the heavy plates up to height. My dad and I slid the plates along the tractor’s bucket tines and onto the top of posts.

The plates needed quite a bit of persuading with the commander to get them into place for pegging. 

IMG_2906 IMG_2915We also used ratcheting tie-down straps to help the post tenons line up with the plate mortises.

IMG_2914At 4:00pm we had finished putting the plates on top of the bents and were satisfied with the work we’d completed.

My biggest thanks go to the raising crew, and to everyone who came out to cheer us on, take pictures, and make sure we were hydrated. It was a beautiful day, and a wonderful experience. 


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It’s Just the Beginning: Assembling the Sill

Once the lumber had arrived and was neatly organized around the future cabin site, the weight of work to be done began to settle on my shoulders. 21,000lb of Ponderosa Pine looks like a lot of wood…

My mom loves asking: “How do you eat an elephant?”
…and answering: “One bite at a time.”

So I got started.

I’d like to take a moment to appreciate timber framing tools. Someday I’ll go into greater detail on all of the tools I’m using for this project. It’s amazing how they become an extension of your body after you spend so many hours utilizing them. There are tools I couldn’t live without and others that I look at every day and wonder: “Why did I think I needed that?” To not delve too deeply into tool talk, I’ll just share that 90% of the work I’m doing is completed with three tools: a hand saw, a 1 1/2″ chisel and a mallet. For layout I use my speed square, a 100′ measuring tape and a pencil that needs to be sharpened about every 5 minutes.


In addition to hand tools, I’ve also incorporated a skill saw and a drill with a 1″ and 2″ bit attached for doing some of the large-scale wood removal. I use the skill saw to cut the 8″x8″ timbers to length, and the drill to remove wood from the mortises. I’m utilizing a portable generator when I use the power tools. I try to lay out as many timbers as possible before firing up the generator, to minimize the frequency that I’m using it. So far, I’ve been using the power tools about once a week.


The base of the cabin is the sill. It is comprised of four sill beams, which are joined and pegged in the corners and rest on the foundation piers. The floor joists rest in pockets cut into the sill beams, and shallow mortises on top of the sill beams provide a resting place for the posts that will make up the walls.

It took me about a week of working in my free time to complete the joinery for the sill.

Here’s what one of the mortises looks like after I’ve used the 2″ drill bit:


And after I’ve cleaned the mortise out with the chisel:

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This is a mortise for a post tenon and a joist pocket:


On Sunday, May 31st, my parents drove out to Kimball, and neighbors came over to help assemble the sill. We ran into plenty of complications, but no one got hurt, and we completed the sill. The day was a great success, and plenty of fun.

Mom and dad showed up early enough to help complete a bit of chiseling I had left on one of the sill beams. I picked up a couple of extra mallets at the antique store I’m working at in Chamberlain.


To assemble the sill, we first worked together to lift all of the heavy 8″x8″ beams into place on the foundation. We hadn’t anticipated the difficulty of working around the Simpson Strongties I had imbedded into the piers. We ended up having to  bend them down to get them out of the way.

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Our next complication arose in getting the joints to fit together. I hadn’t used a template to test-fit all of the mortises and tenons, so we had to do a bit of extra chiseling as we went along. I thought it would be simple, but it ended up being pretty tricky because the sill is about two feet off the ground and we had to find a way to balance the beams while I was working on them. By this time, Bonnie and Raymond had arrived and were immediately put to work helping to line up the sill beams as we pounded them into place.

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With the sill beams assembled, we dropped the floor joists into place. Patty and Mike arrived just in time to help with this part of the process, and their grandson Gage was eager to help as well.

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I didn’t have pegs ready yet to complete the assembly of the sill, so it will rest as it is until the day we raise the remainder of the frame:  June 20th!

Once again, I’m amazed by the generosity of my family and amazing neighbors! Without them, this project would not be possible.


After completing the sill we celebrated with a picnic. My neighbors Lori and Chris came with a crockpot birthday cake for my dad (his birthday was the next day) and we enjoyed grilled pork chops and a classic midwestern variety of salads. Having kids around makes everything more fun. We were lucky to have Gage and Daylee join us. They had plenty of fun exploring the site, and quickly found my partially-complete outhouse hole. It took a while to convince them that it wasn’t finished so we shouldn’t use it yet…


I can’t wait until June 20th when we raise the rest of the frame! Until then, I’m working on laying out and cutting timbers every moment that I’m not working in Chamberlain. It’s starting to get hot here, so I’m eager to finish the frame and start working inside. While I’m chiseling away on the timbers my parents are removing paint from windows and driving out here to help when they can. Their dedication inspires me every day.

Thank you!


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This is what 21,000lb of pine looks like.

Last Friday (May 22nd), my dad picked me up after work and we headed West. We were driving a borrowed truck (from my dad’s workplace) and a borrowed trailer (from my uncle’s workplace). With a one ton truck and a tandem axle dually trailer, we felt confident we were prepared to pick up a 12’x16′ cabin’s worth of timbers…

We arrived in Custer, SD in the evening, careening on the tight curves of the black hills with our 36′ trailer hanging on for dear life behind us. My dad is a very (hear “overly”) confident driver, so I was a bit worried for our drive the next day – when our trailer would be loaded high with wet lumber.

The next morning we drove 5 miles South of downtown Custer to Newberg Sawmill. It’s been in operation since 1924 (making it the oldest operating sawmill in the Black Hills). The owner, Dennis, met us there and showed us around. All of the equipment they use was built in the 1970’s. None of it is pre-fabricated, it was all built by a very creative man who utilized all kinds of different parts and materials to piece the sawmill together. It’s fascinating. The downside, Dennis shared with us, is that when something breaks, there aren’t any ready-made parts to fix it with, so they have to make the repairs and replacement parts themselves.

The lumber is 100% Black Hills Ponderosa Pine. Much of it has been cut down due to infestation of the Mountain Pine Beetle, which travels from tree to tree in dense stands of pine (which comprises most of the Black Hills) laying eggs and killing the trees (by cutting off nutrient flow below the bark) as it moves. Mountain Pine Beetle infestation is a huge issue here and further West. Landowners in the Black Hills are being paid $17.00 per tree to have their Ponderosa Pine harvested to prevent the spread of the beetle. Dead standing trees pose a threat for wildfires as well, and are being harvested in masse to protect the forest and area residents. The beetle carries with it a blue stain fungus which also infects the tree, and stains the wood a grayish blue. The strength and quality of the wood is unaffected if the trees are harvested before they begin to decay. Most of the lumber from Newberg Sawmill was heavily stained. I think it’s beautiful. It’s going to look really unique when it’s all up and the siding is put on.

Dennis raised his eyebrows when he looked at the truck and trailer and said: “We’ll try to get it all on there.” To which my dad replied: “We are getting it all on there.”

…and with some creative stacking and weight balancing we did get all 21,000lb of lumber loaded onto the trailer. The axles were definitely weighted down, but everything was operational, and my dad was confident that we’d be just fine making the ~300 miles back to Kimball that day. Dennis wished us the best.

With only a couple of stops for food and fuel, we made it back to Kimball around 6:00pm. Upon arrival we learned of a 1/2″ of rain that had fallen over night and made the unmaintained road to the cabin site impassable for the large, heavy truck and trailer. We parked the truck in my aunt and uncle’s driveway one mile to the south, and had Chris, my neighbor 1/2 mile to the east, bring his tractor over. With a new set of tines on his bucket, we made about nine trips back and forth between the trailer and the cabin site, moving the lumber load by load down the muddy road. It took us until 11:30pm, when the tractor’s headlights became very handy, to finish unloading the trailer. We all breathed a great sigh of relief at having all the lumber stacked and ready to go right at the site.

Now the real work begins!


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