Monthly Archives: July 2014

Finished the basement studs, strap and lath


Posted on July 26, 2014 by

This week, my parents drove down 4 hours (from Canada) to help me out for a week.  We got in the remainder of the steel studs and finished the lath and strap.  Here is the timelapse video;

I had actually hoped to get to the shotcrete this week, but, as hard as we worked, we still have a few more days to go.  I also have not yet got ahold of my Shotcrete guy, which is not a good sign…

For the next few days, I will try to get the rest of the rebar and electrical in place.  I am still waiting on the N-12 pipe that I plan to use for the earth tubes and duct work.  It should arrive soon.  I am also getting a pair of tires and a few other parts to fix up my Skid Steer.  Meanwhile, I am a bit concerned about the budget and getting very concerned about the schedule.  It has been such a cool summer that I am guessing we will have an early and cold winter.

But at least the house is looking pretty cool.

SteelStuds Panorama




Many lessons were learned over the past few weeks that I will eventually write down.  One of the key lessons was that you have to brace and then strap before you add the lath…  I will write out more after I see how things turned out with the shotcrete.  I am concerned that the lath may bulge inward (like an overstuffed quilt) and make for a very difficult inner surface to plaster.  I am still pretty confident that the lath backing is superior to the rigid insulation backing that Formworks uses.



In the sourcing area, I had a few ups and downs.  One thing was that I bought another ton of #4 and 20 pieces of #3 rebar and found that I was billed almost double what I had paid for a ton in the past.  I should have haggled.  I won’t let that happen again.  I also bought several tools for working with rebar.  I had to buy them on because none of my local stores carry them.  Some worked very well, such as my (made in China) rebar hickey.  Others didn’t work well at all, such as my (also made in China) wire twisting pliers.  I also had some hiccups ordering the earth tube pipes, but those details are as boring as they were frustrating.

I spent a starry night out at the property with my father and two boys.  Of course, I checked out the North Star (Polaris) and confirmed that I was off true north by about 5 degrees (toward magnetic north instead).  Oh well, I probably should have set it up via the stars instead of the combination of a smartphone app, a compass and a map of magnetic declination.  Five degrees won’t effect performance much.

My bank swallows are feeding their chicks.  It turns out that hungry chicks are even noisier than mating swallows.  I got some pics and video here.

I asked my father to help me with an anti-theft device for my Skid Steer.  Apparently, they are very often stolen from building SkidSteer_AntiTheftsites and then used to steal other stuff.  This is made easier by the fact that one key fits most skid steers of the same brand.  This was my fathers solution.  ==>

Actually, as effective as removing the front wheels is, my father is an automotive electrician, so he came up with something much better than that, but it is top secret.  Taking off the tires was just to get new ones…  It turns out that I would need new tires to drive Over the Tire Tracks anyway, so lets see if they help me get around on the sand without the expensive tracks.

Earlier in the week, we did actually use the Skid steer to move some dirt around to level the port-o-potty.  The kids each drove it (sitting on my lap) and really enjoyed it.  Of course, their mother was not around for that, so there are no photos.

That’s it for now.  Later this week, I will be going out with friends to work on rebar and electrical. Actually, I think these are tasks I can also do on my own if I have to.

Erecting more steel studs…


Posted on July 19, 2014 by

My sister, Bonnie, arrived in town mid-day Tuesday (after driving for 4 hours) to give us a week of her vacation time. As a kid, Bonnie was a Lego Maniac, so she was pre-wired to be really into this building project, but I also assume she came to visit me ;^)

Bonnie is competitive and a hard worker, and, as siblings, we work well together.  She was eager to get started right away and things progressed quickly.

With my timelapse camera snapping a pic every 10 seconds and playing them back at 15 frames per second, an hour goes by in 24 seconds and an 8 hour day takes just over 3 minutes…  So this video ended up being over 9 minutes long… (half day, 2 full days and another half day)

For the time-lapse…


For the story.

Bon and I got out there early Tuesday afternoon and started on the steel stud prepwork…  marking stud locations, drilling extra holes and adding extra Tapcons to better secure the track in those locations.

MasonryBitMeanwhile, we hired a young guy, Robert.  This was my first “hired hand”.  He is planning to go into the military soon, but in the meantime, he needed some cash to fix up his car.  He was a friend of a friend and we found him by posting to our Facebook friends that we were looking for young muscles to move all the dirt around last week.  This was before I simply hired the excavator to do it in less than 45 minutes.  By the time we heard from Robert, it was mostly taken care of, but there was still a little dirt to level and I figured I could use him to drill pilot holes for the rebar after that.  These were fairly basic jobs that didn’t require too much skill or supervision and that I wasn’t looking forward to doing myself.  I showed Robert the business end of a masonry bit and told him that he should check it frequently and change the bit when the corners of the “spade” wear out.  I also got him to bring down some extra scaffolding and steel studs.

Bonnie and I quickly got up 5 of the 20ft studs, braced them, strapped them in and added the lath in a relatively short time.  We got a 6th one in and tied it in also, which is pretty good for just a few hours out there.

Sherri and Michael also arrived to help out.  After getting all his chores done, Michael really enjoyed building sand castles on top of each of the hills.  (You can see him in the top of the timelapse footage).

Wednesday morning, Bonnie and I got really aggressive with that outer curved wall on the north west side.  Robert started the day bringing us studs and then got back to drilling the pilot holes with the ¼ inch bit.  I checked his bit at the start of the day and it looked fine, but I handed him 5 more and reminded him to swap it out when it wore down… (Play suspenseful music here.)

I was busy working with my sister to get the studs in, and noticed that Robert was taking lots of breaks to let the drill cool down, but I thought he was handling it.  About an hour in, he wanted to switch to something else because the “drill had shut down”.   I thought maybe it had a thermal switch to prevent damage, so we had him do some other minor things, but after half an hour, the drill was cool and still wouldn’t start up.  I guess it is burnt out.  These things happen, but I also noticed that the drill bit tip was worn to a smooth ball bearing finish.  We sent Robert home with 1.5 hours pay for his second day.  I guess I am not ready to properly manage young help while also trying to break speed records on other tasks.

Bonnie and I continued working on the outer wall.  At one point, we did a check and realized that we had just run 20 ft studs the whole way and had missed a doorway in the second floor that called for us to put a 9 ft stud in that location.  We left the bracing in place and just swapped out the stud.  It just took 3 screws, and we were on our way again.  More studs, more strap, more lath.  It was our most productive day ever.  We got the whole outer wall done (up to the 9 ft mark).

That night, we discussed what to do with the remaining 2 days.  We decided to skip ahead and tackle the 26 ft tower so that we could have time to secure it properly.  We could then go back and do other simpler sections if we had time.

On Thursday morning, I brought a simplified install sheet that showed the angles and orientations for each stud.  But as we laid it out, it seemed like something might not be right.  Rather than proceed in a wrong direction, we switched to the more straight forward 21 ft section.  After that was complete, we decided to apply our improved lath skills and redo all the metal lath on the inner curved wall that I had done the previous week.  Having that smoother internal surface will save us lots of stucco time later.

Friday was going to be a short day because we were going to pick up my older son from camp and then go down to Toledo for a Mud Hens baseball game, so we decided to start early.  We had already rechecked and confirmed that the tower install sheet was actually correct.  On the way in, we bought a new hammer drill (for over 200$).

Dwalt_DHandle_SDS_HammerDrillThis time, I bought a Dwalt D-handle SDS hammer drill and several SDS bits.  These hammer drills don’t use regular bits.  One the one hand, I didn’t like the idea of paying to replace my bits with special SDS bits, but on the other hand, all the new drills are using SDS bits now because everyone prefers being able to click the new bits in without needing to find a drill chuck.

But the best part was actually using the drill.  It went in nice and smoothly (like butta’).  This drill also had much better shock absorption, etc.  Suddenly, I wished the previous drill had died sooner, perhaps I could have got that track in much quicker…

We decided to finish off the top layer of lath for the inner curved wall before starting on the tower.

The track marking and prep work went pretty smoothly (except I ran out of Tapcons again), and we soon got to work on the studs.  We got the first four 9ft studs in and strapped very quickly and then we took a break before tackling the 26ft studs.  I was really concerned about them, but it ended up being not much more difficult than the 20 or 21ft studs.

The studs pick up sand when we set the down, so after I got them up vertical, Bonnie would give them a good tap and let the reverberations dump the dirt on my head while I was struggling to maintain balance.  That is what sisters are for.  I eventually managed to get her back in similar fashion.

We didn’t want to start on another section of the tower with only a couple hours left, so we took down the strap and lath from the first wall.  We redid the strap and added additional straps to the 26 ft studs…

It was a pretty good week.




Bonnie left Saturday morning, my parents are coming out to help this next week…  I am still pushing towards shotcrete before the end of the month…  But I know I have a lot of work between now and then.


Custom Fabrication


Posted on July 8, 2014 by

bracing101_02I want the walls to be nice and plumb.  This is usually managed with diagonal bracing to position and keep the wall where you want it.  To add a bit of finer control over the wall, you will often see builders use a turnbuckle.  These allow the builder to make fine adjustments. Often these are needed both to plumb the formwork and to help brace against concrete blowouts, etc. so they need to be big strong expensive things… Sometimes you see whole systems of bracing…

In the system on the right, the yellow parts are threaded and can be turned to adjust plumb.  They also provide a nice working scaffold for the second half of the wall, brace against the concrete, etc.  These cost hundreds of dollars each, but would be totally worth it if I were an ICF contractor.

In my design, the steel studs are considerably lighter, so they will be much easier to push into plumb.  The walls are curved and the studs will be tied together with the metal lath, so they should be able to resist the shotcrete on their own.  This frees me to go for a much lighter design.

Turnbuckle_2I got some inspiration from this example (on the left).  You can see that the bottom is a piece of angle iron screwed into a 2×4.  They welded a nut to the angle iron with a threaded rod connected to another bracket that they attach to the vertical form work…  The end of the threaded rod is cut to take a screw driver. Adjustments turn the threaded rod and make it move thru the welded nut.  This allows for fine adjustments on the overall lengths of each support.  Adjusting the length provides the fine tuning needed to plumb the wall.  I can buy a turnbuckle like this from an ICF distributor.  The problem is this little piece of hardware costs $16.99, plus shipping, and I would need a bunch of them.

So I made my own.





I used my new welder to weld the nuts to the angle iron (less than a minute).  Then I used my grinder to make a hex end on each threaded bolt so that I can drive them with a socket on my drill (just over a minute).  I ended up making 3 different sizes, 1/4, 5/16ths and 3/8ths, just so I could compare them.

I could get 1/4 inch locknuts from Home Depot, but they don’t carry them in the other two sizes.  I could probably order them for 5/16th and 3/8ths, but I ended up just tightening two regular nuts together for a similar effect.  The rest is just a 6 inch bolt in one direction (for the length adjustment) and a 3 inch bolt in the other (for a pivot), plus washers…  I will screw the second wood block into the steel studs and the angle iron gets attached to an 8 ft piece of 2×2 wood which is staked into the ground.

Total cost is less than 2 dollars each for the big one and almost down to a dollar for the 1/4 inch version.  I would need to make about 40 of these before the savings would pay off my welder and related tools.  The 8′ piece of 2×2 costs and additional $1.50 each.

Here is a close up on the welded nut and ground hex end.



Tomorrow, I will try these out before making any more.