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Thursday, November 27, 2014


Hang in there!

After the carpenter removed the trim pieces, this is what was left. Scary! He was right when he said, “Those logs are for decoration. I can replace them with 4x4’s with no problems.” He will be replacing the sill plate with hinoki. He uses hinoki wherever there is a threat of rot and insects.  The logs will be replaced with 8x8 timbers.
Humm...something doesn't look right. It's no wonder this hasn't fallen over. The gas pipe will be removed after we switch to all electrical appliances.
I can’t wait to see this eyesore go away.    George

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wood is wood

The cement has cured and the forms have been removed.
The plan was to build the exterior walls first to support the roof and create a shield from the weather. The interior walls would then be removed. However, to proceed with the roof, one of the interior walls will require removal. This will allow access to a rotted foundation log. The foundation log rests under a major structural member supporting the entire house. This is the most difficult part of the remodel…and the most dangerous. I’m not exactly sure how this will be accomplished, but it should be very interesting. The logs are 12 to 18 inches in diameter. A few hydraulic floor jacks will be used to support the load while the lumber is installed. More on this later... 

The master carpenter, Inagakisan is the person in charge. We are very lucky to have him.

This is how to make a round log...flat. A wall of windows will be installed here.

The power planer is difficult enough to operate right side up. It's extremely difficult to use upside down. It's painful for the neck and shoulders. Amazing work for someone who has reached retirement age. Ganbatte!

The carpenter's assistant (Konosan) is marking lumber for mortise and tennons. Each carpenter has 40+ years of carpentry experience. Their skills are amazing to watch. They make it look easy.

Each mortise and tennon is cut or chiseled by hand

I’m anxious to see Inagakisan use a chainsaw to remove the logs. There is nothing more nerve wracking than to see your home being dismantled by a chainsaw. This is where 40+ years of experience comes in. He’s never worked on a log home, but for him, wood is wood. I agree with that philosophy and that’s one of the reasons why I chose him.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lumber has arrived

The wooden forms are in and the concrete has been poured.

Master bedroom

Bath and utility room

The first shipment of lumber has arrived. Yeah!! The 8”x 8” vertical supports are made of cedar. It’s a good choice because it’s strong and insect resistant.

First shipment of lumber. Lots more to come.

The berm is ready for plants. The concrete Erika placed will be covered in gravel. She worked very hard to create her work of art.
I wanted to mention that the contractors went out of their way to give us great service. They moved a huge mound of dirt and built a berm to prevent erosion on the backside of the garage. They used some of the extra concrete to make two piers for a bench that will be constructed later.

Concrete piers for a future bench. The leaky water pump has been temporarily fixed.
They crushed the rest of the extra concrete to make road base. How much did all of this cost? Nothing! I think they like Erika...

Crushed concrete makes an excellent road base. Prevents weeds too!

Jobsite cleaned and leveled. Fantastic job!
Up next: finishing the foundation              George


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Concrete Pour Part 1

The foundation will require two separate applications. First the slab is poured and then the sides are constructed.
The concrete is poured into the scoop. The scoop is moved and the workers shovel the concrete into the forms.
This area is lower because of the bath. In Japan, the entire bath (shower and bathtub) share one drain opening. This allows the bathtub to be filled to the top without the worry of spilling water onto the floor.
The next step is to build the forms for the sides. The final application of concrete will be applied in a couple of days.   George

Up next: forming the sides

Monday, November 17, 2014

That's it for this year

How’s the observatory coming along? Observatory? Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The framing for the floor has been started. I needed to make room for building cabinets, so the treated lumber I had set aside for the floor had to go.
The observatory dimensions are 8’ x 10’. The plans for the building are modeled after Wayne Parker’s “Skyshed”. I plan on incorporating a few extra ideas of my own.

Thanks to the kind and informative folks at the Cloudy Nights Forum, I have compiled enough ideas to keep me busy for a long time.
Framing the floor will probably be as far as I get on this project this year. I really need to get started on the kitchen remodel.    George

Update: The leftover concrete from the remodeled foundation was crushed and added to the top of the weed barrier. The rest will be added to the private road leading to our home.

Leveled and squared. Weed barrier and crushed concrete added.
That's about it for this year

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Building Cabinets


Wow! Each board comes individually wrapped.

Somewhere in that stack of wood is our future kitchen cabinets
I will begin building the kitchen cabinets next week? Well, that’s the plan anyway. Our carpenter delivered the wood (19mm, pine) I’ll be using for the cabinet carcasses. I originally planned to use 15mm plywood for the carcasses, but our carpenter suggested using pine. When Erika heard the price difference between the pine and the plywood, she wasn’t happy. "It’s twice as expensive! We’re not going to live longer than 20 years,” Erika commented. “Why do we need our cabinets to be so good?” Our carpenter quickly defended the high cost by saying, "15mm plywood won’t last very long. If you want to have quality cabinets that will last, use pine." “Great answer!” I thought to myself. Honestly, pine will provide a nicer finish than the plywood after it’s sealed. Besides a quality set of custom kitchen cabinets would cost a small fortune in Japan. Shhh…the real reason is that I prefer real wood over plywood.


A whole bunch of woodworking tools will be required to build these cabinets. Fortunately, all of the tools are in the shop and ready to go. Two of the jigs I recently purchased will help with installing the hinges and the shelf pins. Another jig (Pocket Hole Jig) will be used for assembling the cabinets and face frames. I have a few surprise features I will discuss as the project progresses. Let’s get started!          George

Pocket Hole Jig

This should speed up assembly time and create very strong joints

Friday, November 14, 2014


Installation of the rebar has begun. Holes were drilled in the foundation and rebar was used to attach the new foundation to the original structure.
The contractor was able to accurately mark the positioning of the rebar thanks to the application of “trash concrete” (see previous post). Clever engineering as the rebar never rests on the soil. Up next: Completion of the rebar installation in preparation for concrete.   George


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Trash Concrete

The contractors mixed-by-hand a batch of “trash concrete” and applied it to the area receiving the foundation concrete. The purpose of the trash concrete is to provide a hard and level surface for the rebar. Polyethylene plastic was placed over the drain lines and the exposed soil. The concrete was then applied over the plastic sheet. I had never heard of this technique before. Thank you, Erika, for the translation. Up next: Installation of rebar and foundation supports.    George

Update: This morning, Tsukahara received its first light snowfall for the season. Time is running out to get the concrete poured.

BTW...the original foundation is a cement slab (no dirt under the house). The contractor commented that the original foundation is in great shape with no signs of settling after 18 years. I wish the foundation logs were in as good of shape.

The concrete slab will be at least 8 inches thick.

I'm not sure how the existing and new foundations will be joined. It should make sense after the rebar is installed.

Area ready for rebar

These cement contractors specialize in foundations. That's all they do.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Plumbing and Concrete Preparation

Some of the heavy equipment was brought in to dig the foundation. Erika asked the contractor if she could use the hydraulic shovel to move some dirt from a small slope in the yard. The contractor agreed as long as she practiced away from the house. When I heard the news, my first response was, “Umm, no...I don’t think so.”
They make it look easy

Water pump for the well
Drains installed
The drains for the utility room, unit bath, two toilets, and one guest bathroom have been installed.       George

Surveying for the new addition

The contractors were careful not to disturb one of Erika's gardens.

This area is where the new addition will go. A section of roof will be removed and another section will be extended. This view gives a good idea of where the master bedroom (left), toilets (center), utility room and unit bath (right) will go. The window facing forward is where the guest bathroom will go.
The window and logs will be removed to allow room for a pocket door to the utility/bathroom.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

We're under construction!

Delicate work that requires digging by hand

The water and air pump has been moved to make room for the cement contractors. The cool thing about Japan is that contractors work on Saturday and Sunday. In the U.S., to get a plumber to work on Sunday would cost an arm and a leg. In Japan, working on the weekends is not given a second thought. It’s part of the job.

The carpenter is checking for a rotted sill plate
No surprise. The sill plate has areas of rot that will require replacement. Actually, the entire log will be removed. How will he do that? Stay tuned...

Our carpenter is orchestrating the entire show. He’s in charge of all of the various trades required to complete this job. He places the orders, manages schedules, and keeps us informed. I chose him because he has been doing this for over 40 years. The problem is that he officially retired in July. We begged for him to do our home remodel soon after he finished building our garage. He promised he would do what he could before he died. Died! He can’t die! He has to finish our home. Not only is he working on our home, he has two other construction projects keeping him occupied. Moral to the story: Skilled and experienced craftsmen are not allowed to retire.

Now that the remodel is under way, it’s time for Erika to purchase snacks to feed the workers. It’s important to give the contractors food breaks throughout the day. Add this chore to the mountain of things Erika has to do each day and I wonder how she can manage. I often don’t appreciate her as much as I should. She is a hell of a hard worker and I’m lucky to be with her. Thank you, Erichan. One day we can eat out to celebrate. Maybe…Hotto Motto?

Up next, the plumbing and concrete pour.     George