Editor's note: For more information about the House by Hand project, click here.
Oh my goodness. Where do I even begin? Saturday was the big raising day in which we had 20 or 30 people lined up to help assemble and lift our house timbers into place. As I mentioned last week, Mike, Julia, and I had been obsessively monitoring the weather forecast developments the whole week before and we all were starting to feel nervous as we saw loads of rain encroaching on the day. Ironically, the end of last week in which the final prep work happened was swelteringly hot – so much so that we were starting to take precautions for heat stroke. And then on Friday evening, as soon as the work ended, the rain clouds rolled in, and we got pummeled with buckets of rain. All the timbers were carefully staged on the deck by this point, fastidiously covered with tarps so as to avoid joinery swelling from the moisture. We had debated canceling Saturday, but the more optimistic forecasts predicted a possibility of a decent break from the rain during part of the day. We decided that it was worth trying to get as much possible done before the deluge arrived.
It rained hard all Friday night, and when I woke up early Saturday morning, it had just begun to slow down. The skies were still dark and I saw no promise of sunshine anywhere. But by 8:30, when our helpers started arriving, the mist had vanished, and we were ready to roll. We started assembly by standing up the four middle posts (front and back) to receive the two long ties. Mike and I have gotten so used to manhandling these timbers ourselves, that we were preparing ourselves for more backbreaking work. But many hands make light work, and each lift seemed effortless. It was like the old Ouija board commercial from the 90s – “You’re moving it! No, I’m not – you’re moving it!” Mike and I were elated at how easy it came together with this crew. After the tie was in place, we rocked the whole bent over to be able to slide the plate’s tenons into their mortises in the sides of the ties and the braces that join into the plate one by one. We then raised the third tie and connected the plates in exactly the same way.
The fourth tie (the last wall) was the gable wall and had a center post and a few tenoned studs, so we assembled it horizontally on the deck and raised it as an assembly (the way you think of the “good-old-fashioned barn raising” happening). The big crowd made it look easy. The wall came up plumb without any bursted blood vessels. We accomplished all of this before lunch and without any rain whatsoever. We were hearing reports of showers in all the surrounding towns, but we saw nary a drop.
A bit chilled to the bone but buzzing with excitement, we gobbled Julia’s chili and drained the coffee pot. It was exhilarating to be able to eat lunch inside the frame we’ve been working on for months. A surreal moment for sure. After lunch, Mike led the crew to install the last two plates that connect the third and fourth bents, while I led a crew who installed the second-floor joists and laid temporary plywood decking for rafter raising.
Everything went so smooth to this point and enthusiasm was high. And then we came to addressing the first ridge and its rafters and everything came to a crawl. The X-shaped cradle system Mike and I designed to hold the ridge during rafter installation turned out to cause more headaches than we anticipated. We had several folks down at the rafter feet and several up on staging trying to seat the tenons, and there was way too much to resistance and opposing force from the cradle. We struggled for probably an hour and a half or so and finally took a coffee break to mull it all over. After lots of ideas bouncing around, we decided that trying to predetermine the exact height of the cradle support was counterproductive and we just needed to lift it into place and then fasten supports in place. We tried that and the method worked like a charm and took only a few minutes. Lesson learned: reduce the points of contact so that everything can come together without additional points of resistance.
By the time we got that first ridge’s rafters in place, it was 5:30 and time to call it a day. We made our way up to the warm shop and feasted on pork tacos, bread, cookies, and beer. We sang together, told stories, and had many laughs around the campfire late into the evening. The day was a glorious success. Despite the stall in the ridge assembly, we raised nearly the entire house in one day. So cool. It wasn’t until the next morning that the rain finally picked up again. Despite all the trepidation about the dismal forecast, in the end, we were gifted an entire rain-free day to accomplish what we needed to accomplish and then to celebrate into the evening. What an unexpected (and undeserved) blessing!
After a hard crash on the day of rest, Julia, Mike, and I started Monday scratching our heads. Now what? How should we go about the second ridge and set of rafters, especially since our crew is gone? Mike explained the plan our friend Kenneth proposed to him on Saturday evening, in which we’d assemble the ridge and outermost rafters down low and use a block and tackle to raise it all up into place. Because today seemed like our clearest weather day for a good long while, we decided to go for it while we had the opportunity.
Mike, Eden, Julia, and I spent the better part of today, rigging up a staging system that incorporated a block and tackle and was much more adaptable than the first system. We were not exactly sure how feasible the work would be with only the four of us, but with a little straining and groaning, we got it hoisted up into place. With additional supports in place, we slid the other rafters in.
We stood back overjoyed and a perhaps in a bit of disbelief that the ridges both were raised. For good. By cleanup time, the rain started up again, and we chuckled to ourselves at the favorable providence at work in our project. In the next rain-free window, we’ll install the last few rafters, but those will be easy. Then, we’ll shift to framing the shed dormer in the back. When all of that is complete, can remove the temporary cradles and send Eden up to the top to fasten the whetting bush.
But I think we could legitimately say that the house is now officially raised. This was seven years in the making, and in the very beginning, we truly had no idea what kind of path it would take to get here. It was long and circuitous, but here we are. This evening, at dusk, Julia called us all to the cottage window and said, “Hey guys, come look at our house!”
It’s long from done, but this was such a momentous step. And we couldn’t have done it without friends. Nor would we want to. A few friends balked when they heard we would not be renting machinery for the raising, but in our minds, that would have taken away most of the fun. Who needs a crane when you have 30 friends you want to party with?