Sunday, February 7, 2016

January progress.....a bit, anyways.


Perhaps it's my Midwestern blood, but wintertime is still a period of hibernation for me. This, despite our now living in Hawaii with its tropical climate and long(er) day length. At least that's what I'm telling myself.....surely that's a good excuse for my lack of progress on the home-building front?



"So.....what have you guys been up to, anyways?"




When buying salvaged roofing material, try not to choose the stuff that has 20-odd layers of old paint on it, no matter how cheap it may be. Remember and acknowledge how obsessive you can get when picking old chips of peeling paint from a surface.



The wire wheel/grinder combo might be faster than going it all by hand power, but not by too much.



"But wait......I thought that you guys didn't have electricity?!?"


Please bear witness to our emergency generator. Not only is it huge and inefficient, it's also one of the most expensive ways to create watts, haha.



The jumper cables run into a tote, inside of which is a deep cycle battery that acts as a buffer for heavy surge loads, and from that, to moderately cheap 2000 watt sine wave inverter.



The inverter is mounted to a piece of plywood, keeping both the inverter and battery from shifting around, and elevating everything from any acid spills or inadvertently accumulated rainwater. In the picture, you are looking at the side of the inverter, that silver thing under my multi-meter. The silver box looks pretty boring, but that's where the magic happens, Direct current (DC @12 volts) being altered into its Alternating (AC @120 volts) wave form.


The whole setup is pretty ghetto, but that's how we roll. It works, though I try to use it as little as possible, it being a severe impediment to my being able to brag about how we don't need their stinking electricity anyhow, thank you very much....haha.



There's more fun where that came from.




The beautiful Renee has been doing the real work for the last month, finding the perfect place to put all of the lava she digs up.






The Okinawan sweet potatoes love it here.



Paths and terraces.




It's a little hard to discern, but she has been weaving the guava whips into a sort of living fence. Soon the thin shoots will be sending out new vertical growth, turning this surface into a wall of solid green.



The walls surround an area of dappled sunlight, perfect for growing some of the more shade tolerant plants.



She weaves the stiff Aluhe fern stems, wrapping ever more of the thin Guava shoots, around and around......



.....hangs them in the trees, then tucks in an Orchid (actually vice-versa, but you get the gist).



Homemade planters for epiphytes, pretty cool.



I've been incrementally cutting my way through the tangles of Guava, swinging the chainsaw in an arc roughly 6" above the ground.



It doesn't look like much, but this area, only 20' to a side, created a stack of Guava nearly the height of my head.



We separate the shoots by size, smallest to large, then cutting off the branched top, to be composted. I see an army of stick chairs here....


...or maybe a stick house?




We are roofing the structure with clear polycarbonate sheets in the interest of keeping the weight as low as possible.



It's also cool, because when you lie on your back and look to the sky, it's as near a thing as having no roof at all.


Initially, I have screwed the intersecting pieces together. Then, after the branches have had a bit of time to shrink some, I lash things tight, using lengths of nylon seine twine. Screws alone won't suffice for long, the forces of the bending and shrinking sticks being enough to snap the stiff deck screws here and there. The twine square lashing stiffened things up remarkably, tying the structure into a springy and resilient whole. I like that.


What maybe doesn't show in the photo, is that there are approximately 10 bazillion intersecting branches in this glorified 12' x 23' gazebo, and many of the lashing are stacked one atop the other. Access gets awfully tight in spots, so progress is slow. I try to tie each lashing perfectly, and despite having already done this *many* times already, I still occasionally take one apart that just doesn't look right.


Aside from the time involved in doing a good job, there is also the concern over UV degradation, bring roofed with clear panels and all. The lashing need to be coated with something, paint most likely, but I can already see that as another one of those projects that gets delayed too long. The proper time to coat the lash is...immediately!


You also might notice that I'm using unpeeled logs. Initially, this was to be just a quick way to get a roof over my head, a dry spot to work. Famous last words, right? I started out peeling the sticks, stripping them of their bark, but being in somewhat of a hurry (ie: lazy), I swiftly transitioned into using the stock just as it came, bark and all. Within just days, I noticed something interesting though. The sticks that had been peeled were immediately lunched by the ferocious powder post beetles that we've got here, whereas the unpeeled stuff remains untouched to this day. The bark and leaves of this Guava contain so many tannins, nobody wants to eat it. Working the stuff instantly turns steel tools black, and makes your clothing look as though you've been crawling around under your car, dropping the transmission or something. This stuff will make a great ebonizing, purple/black dye....That's for another day though.



So what have I *really* been doing?



Mostly sitting on my ass, filling page upon page in my "Book of bad ideas".


See, the real problem here is that I've got too many options. I'm extremely adept at making the most of little, but now that most of the typical restraints have been lifted, I'm at a loss for direction. We have money, and we have space, but no map. Each route has its attractions, particularly so, as our standards are very low, haha...... Or are they?


To be honest, I'm finding that building with sticks and branches is....unfulfilling. Renee has forbidden me from tearing the "stickhaus" down and starting anew, but I swear....given half a chance....


I'm spoiled, I admit it, but working on a project that doesn't fully resonate within, it's draining. Why don't I build what I REALLY want to build? Well, what I've been obsessing about, apparently it hasn't been done before, at least according to Google. I consider myself fairly adept at sifting through multiple search term queries, and I know that the truth is out there, but I'm not finding much inspiration.


What I want to build is a system, something that I've touched on before, a modular format, prefab, portable when need be, type of small structure design. Individual components must be portable by one strong individual or two, if your hermit has a friend. The standard size of sheet goods is 4'x8', too big a fit for most cars, so smaller multiples are required. I want it to look nice too, so I'm intending to use as much "real" wood as possible, only resorting to plywood and it's like if it's worth enduring its unfriendly working qualities.


A small and efficient shelter, low cost, and not too difficult for the average person to build. Let it be nice to look at as well, and you might be seeing them tucked into cozy secret corners, without drawing too much fuss by the neighbors (and authorities). Not a "tiny" treasure McMansion, nor a 1970's Swedish erector set house. Legos color scheme is too bright, so no love there either.


There is no way that I am the first here, but really.....


  1. all what you REALLY want to build! You are in a very unique set of circumstances where it is actually a possibility. While compromises are always required in the implementation of the details, don't give up on your overall vision.

    Could you describe the type of queries you have performed in search of some inspiration? How would you summarize what you are looking for?


    1. Hi Jeff!

      All my whining aside, my searching for design particulars of, let's call it "micro-housing", although that term has already been extensively used in describing the "tiny house" thing.....Maybe my problem is defining the concept? I don't think that's it's a particularly novel line of inquiry.

      I tend to do the vast majority of my conceptual searches using Google "images", which often drags me into the churn of Pintrest. Here are a few terms, which I combine in various orders and such.

      Micro house, Modular, prefab, tiny, portable construction design, wooden, Modular shed design, collapsible building detail, knock down building design concept, temp, temporary building design, transportable structure, wedged tenon, dovetailed, sliding panel walls, tent house, tilt up wall, house-in-a-box......and TONS of Japanese joinery images, you get the idea, haha.

      The global concept would be a minimal structure that can be disassembled quickly and with relative ease, but built using materials of a more appealing tactile sensibility. I'm thinking construction grade wood, but beautifully planed. I love the elaborate Japanese joinery that we have been studying, but for this I want something more simple, such that you could easily knock it out using a handsaw and a chisel.

      Screws are OK, but I'd prefer the bulk of the joinery to be more of a pin/wedge design. If I need to move the structure to a different location, the individual components should be small enough to carry, so while a floor platform can be quickly knocked out using 2x4's and plywood, it's too large and awkward to carry. Built with screws, sure, you could build a small shed type structure, then take the darn thing apart when you want to relocate, but that's not intelligent design. Individual floorboards of (salvaged?) 2x6's or 2x12's are stiffer longitudinally, allowing a longer span with less framing and are easy to move. Wedged in place perhaps? Squeaky, but I could live with it.

      Insulation isn't a concern here, unlike many other areas, so thin wall thickness is OK. I'm thinking of a simple, small building, 4 corner posts, horizontal beams wedged and locked together, then individual wall panels of a variety of different infill materials. You could have panels, say 2'x7' that would slide into place. You could use thin, solid wood panels, transparent polycarbonate, translucent fiberglass panels made to look and act as shoji doors required. Orient the various materials to suit the conditions, solid, clear, thicker or thin. Roofing structure and materials are my primary hang-up at the moment, but I'm accumulating a big ol' pile of materials and I'm eagerly receptive to some new ideas!

      I'm going on at too great a length here, obviously I need to develope this into another post, haha. I REALLY appreciate your interest and involvement here, Jeff. You never know what might be hidden in another person's memory or personal experience.

  2.'s great to see greenery. We don't even have snow this year to distract us from the grey. It must be nice to not have to buy stone, or hire people to put in an expensive driveway!

    How's the wind on your side of the island? Perhaps you can make a windmill one day, like this woodshop in the Netherlands:
    As much as I like the stickenhaus so far (It looks so organic and open and free!!) I can relate to the drain of working on something that doesn't resonate. Nothing like spending hours on busywork...Ha...I miss sleep.

    I might look through some of the architecture textbooks, and maybe ask my CEA teacher if he knows something like what your describing!

    I have February break coming up...Maybe I can see how much a ticket to Hawaii is and come visit, ha... That would give my mom a heart attack, I'm sure of it.

    1. It's funny thing Steven, both Renee and I have had property in the past, but you never have the proper kind of rock on site, so you drag home whatever you can find and carry. We both always wanted to just get truckloads of stone delivered, but it's just right there! It's as ideal as you could imagine. You start with an area full of Aluhe fern, yank it out by hand (not hard to do), and what is left is a pile of incredibly loose and fertile soil, with individual chunks of loose lava jumbled around in the pile. The lava is easy to pull up, and it's light weight too! Originally it was deposited in rather thin sheets that fractured as the lava cooled, so when you yank out a piece, there's a perfect mate to it somewhere close by. Hard corners, flat planes, regular thicknesses, and easy to's "masonry for dummies"!

      The forest is so thick here that wind is almost nonexistent. The topography is such, that the whole area is sheltered. Building code dictates the wind resistance standards that must be adhered to, based on a 100 years historic occurrence of Hurricane events. This particular area has something like a 100 mph standard, but a nearby zone has a 130 mph standard, another 10 miles away has 150, etc. Where we lived on the Oregon coast, we had 2-3 winter storms annually that would top 100 mph, so that would be a bare minimum to build to. When I built the roof on that house, EVERYTHING got screwed, anchor-tied, and glued down. I used 2+ cases of roof cement to glue down each and every shingle, never lost a one. Best investment ever, but it sure made future installations (skylights, venting) a PITA. This place is mild in so many ways, I just love it.

      For some strange reason, this place seems to be calling for a sort of community structure(s) where people could come stay for a while and explore their individual creative ideals. Whatever you are interested in.....if you want to bang metal, we'll build a forge. Want to explore "green woodworking" and make a ton of wooden spoon, bowls, whatever....? We'll make a pole lathe, forge some turning hooks and carving knives, haha. There's tons of wood here, free if you look. Heaps of people are immersing themselves in permaculture farms and holistic living, too. This place attracts curious folks, some with stranger ideas than others.

      Maybe you can work some kind of "clean air" angle on your mom? Soon....soon....soon we will be talking more seriously about these possibilities. That's my feeling. What would YOU build with a forest of an amazingly tenacious, invasive weed tree? What kind of house would you build, really.....I'm looking for ideas!

    2. I think I'll have to take a picture of one of my Grandparent's garden beds. My godfather went into the woods, and rolled/carries a lot of rocks (not boulders, but not riverstones!) and stacked a drywall. Simply beautiful. From what I can tell, the rocks are igneous, possibly left behind by the glaciers that carved out the finger lakes?

      Are you getting paid to advertise Hawaii!? Every post is convincing me more and more to go there! Clean air WOULD help, this winter has been horrid for asthmatics. Was on a type of steroid for a while a week ago or so that had me incredibly angry, then sad, then hungry, repeat x3.

      My mom reminds me Hawaii has too much light for me to live there happily, most likely. If I moved to Hawaii I'd need very, very strong sunglasses and might have to work at night- which I kinda already do. I might have to stay North, or move even more North.

      I wonder how a cordwood structure with sticks would look like...The lesson I learned from Architecture explorers is that the biggest part in homebuilding is the client. I love open spaces, air- my favorite room to do homework is the porch. I would have at least one closed in room, to wait out migraines in. A place to play music, definitely- I love jamming, pretty mediocre in band though. I'm still working on another kantele, and I love the tin whistle. I like bread and grilling. I love apples (can those grow in Hawaii?).

      So, for me... A single totally enclosed room, with maybe one window. The rest of the house has mosquito nets, perhaps hanging on a shoji-inspired framework of branches- a very, very rustic thing. This lets in light, establishes an orderly pattern, but not too sterile- and also allowing me to put up shelves, hang up instruments, utensils, etc. I would need electricity somehow, for internet, I admit, I'm an internet addict like most of my generation. I literally can't remember a time without Internet.
      The kitchen would most likely be outside the house, underneath an overhang, to prevent heating up the house. Perhaps it'd be warm enough to make sun tea.

      I don't know if you've been to an Iroquois village (There's a model one at the NYS State Fair, along with stunning beadwork and usually canoes recently made), but a longhouse is made mainly out of saplings...Those guavas look like the right diameter. The outer covering is bark- that can help protect your guava sticks from buggies. There are elevated sleeping platforms, fires in the aisle, and rafters to hang stuff from.

      Oh, speaking of turning- found this video on Reddit, an amazing turner and very motivational: Very wise words.

    3. Thank you for sharing your ideas here, Steven, because I'm REALLY liking your ideal structure! We are thinking along very similar only need the bare minimum of enclosed space, because most of you actual "living" is on the porch, that transition zone between inside and out. The treatment of light transmission is SO very important, as you point out, and I hope to remain cognizant of patterns of shadows and light when it comes time for me to be building the shoji wall panels. When Renee and I were looking for property to buy....Do you remember that kind of scary looking house in the woods that I posted about? of the things that we most liked about that place, was the way that they had built some of the walls out of translucent materials that highlighted the bracing structure. The vertical and diagonal aspects created a play of shadow, very akin to what you see with shoji. They had obviously (to me at least) done that for its specific intent, a very thoughtful structure. I would've loved to meet the person who built it.

      Cordwood masonry would look completely awesome in this application, but I'm concerned about the high humidity and termite situation here in Hawaii. Otherwise, I'd be on that in a heartbeat! I am also trying to wean myself from the use of concrete and cement masonry, and I've yet to find a source for anything approximating clay here. There is some further north of Hilo, up the Hamakua coast, but I haven't found anything on site yet. In a perfect world, we are using the site itself as a guide, using what is provided, but it's hard to deny the convenience of just going to the lumberyard to buy materials. It's a fight that I have with myself daily.

      It's my sincere hope that in a few more years, you will be able to wander a bit of the world. I believe that when you find the right place, you might find some lessening of certain physical complaints. Our bodies are amazing creations, generally fixing themselves, if only we can stay out of the way. I'm far from holistic personally, as it was the extreme slice and dice that the surgeons performed that gave my body more time to heal itself. Eyes, hard to say, but the asthma.....I would bet that you find respite somewhere. You are downwind of some nasty stuff where you are.

      I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV.....haha.

  3. Jason,

    Now I understand why you can't find many references. A house that can be disassembled into pieces that can be loaded in the back of a small pickup….and have the warmth and touch of the craftsman. your favor is the fact that you do not need a highly insulated structure.

    Most modular approaches to building are permanent...or...if they can be disassembled, the modules are normally entire rooms.

    Some quick thoughts.

    I would start with a light timberframe structure. Design the frame to meet your portability requirements.

    The exterior is the challenge in terms of small modules that can be disassembled. I hate to say it but metal roofing used as siding is about as light, modular, and easily disassembled as you will find. Most metal roofing is supplied in 3 ft widths….a bit wider than your stated 2 ft. I fear it may fail in the aesthetic department….who likes the looks of pole barns?.. but perhaps you could cover or accent the metal with guava timbers and/or include creative covered porches that will add depth.

    On the interior of the metal siding...between the timber frame structure... you could glue rigid foam panels. The foam panels could be covered in burlap, thin grass matting, or a skim coat of some sort of plaster. The key would be to maintain the seams which line up with the roofing panel widths so that when the metal is removed from the timberframe structure...the interior surfaces stay with the metal siding panels. The interior seams could be left to break up the surface of the walls or small guava poles could be used to cover them. I don't think that you would find a lighter weight approach that can be easily disassembled. The question is whether the metal exterior is something that you could either augment or live with. In addition, the same approach could be used on the roof in concert with the timber frame roof structure.

    Alternatively, I had thought about using 1X10's or 1X12's vertically on the inside of the metal panels in lieu of the covered foam. They would likely need to be screwed from the outside and probably need to removed if disassembled due to weight….though I can see a 3X8 metal panel with 1X interior board panels being carried by two adults.

    Anyway...those are some ideas that came to mind.


  4. I'm rather selfishly hoping that you continue to relax and dream up cool Ideas, mill lumber and get it stickered and drying. By the time that I'm back from Marks and save up some money I'll come out and help! I love the idea of using rigid polycarbonate glazing as panel infill for sliding doors, really solves the issue of weight and breakage that sliding glass doors have, with better insulative value to boot. Renee has a talent for stone, not everyone can see where the stone wants to fit, your daughter is going to grow up delighting in all of this and also create great things, no doubt.

    1. Amen brother!

      I'm going to check out some Koa logs this morning, matter of fact. I've got a line on some 3' diameter pine, macadamia nut and lychee trees also. There are so many free/cheap logs to be had, but the milled lumber is ridiculously expensive. It's ironic, having access to such bounty of cabinet grade wood, but here I sit, pulling stumps and building with little sticks.

      We need you here! I hope you are comfortable sleeping in a hammock.....under a tarp, haha.

    2. I second that, just rest, enjoy the weather and wait for us to arrive to cut all the joinery. Julia already authorized the trip.

  5. Check out the $20k house projects coming out of rural studio in Alabama. Lots of poly glazing, corrugated siding, and termite proof piered foundations. Small and functional in mixed got humid climates. I think with some planed beans instead of trusses your have something suitable.

    1. And your stickhaus reminds me of some arch roofed boat houses I've built.

  6. First off, let me say that I’m a Midwestern as well and can definitely relate to your wintertime hibernation. Secondly, I think you’ve made a wonderful amount of progress on this project and you should be proud of what has been accomplished thus far. Although I’ve only just stumbled upon this post, I really do enjoy your material choices for this project and the decisions for making them. Keep us updated!

    Pleasance Faast @ Shelton Roof

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Pleasance!

      I REALLY meant to thank you sooner and I'm pushing an update on our building progress, just waiting for the rain to stop so that I can take some decent pictures. That is...if it ever stops, haha. At least it's warm-ish here on the wet side of the big island.

  7. My wife and I bought salvaged roofing materials last year when we attempted to build a greenhouse. This was a mistake as there were tons of layers of old paint on the metal and we spent most of our building time sanding this off. We ended up getting frustrated and buying new material. We definitely learned our lesson about salvaged roofing materials.

    1. And….I swear, I'm still peeling paint, haha. The time /effort/ money thing would be a real concern for most people, that's for sure.


Like all of us, I am figuring this out as I go, so when you see something that is incorrect or flat out wrong (and you will!), let me know. This is a learning process. Real people and names, please. Constructive comments and questions are very welcome, but hate speak/politics are not! Life (get one!) is too short.

Thanks, Jason