Roof Rafters - The cabin takes shape

When we disassembled the Hollister chicken coop, we got a bunch of beautiful old 1x12 redwood siding, a shitton of corrugated metal, a handful of old dimensional redwood 2x4s, and finally, a dozen or so roof rafters, complete with birdsmouths.

True they were old and some were a little worse for wear, rotted at the ends or showing signs of termites, but most were quite usable.

This is an awesome diagram with much of what you need to know about roofs in general. Terms you'll need for our shantyboat roof are common rafter, ridgeboard, birdsmouth, eave, gable end and gable end stud, ladder, collar tie, and rafter tie (also called a ceiling joist).

I sorted the good rafters from the marginal. The usable but marginal ones I treated with CopperGreen Clear and cut off the bad parts.

Since our shantyboat is smaller than the original chicken coop, I cut the rafters down to size, decreasing the overall length as well as the length of the eaves. I carefully cut the angle where they met in the center and re-cut the angle of the birdsmouth.

I laid them out on the floor of the barn, and used a temporary plywood collar tie (leaving a slot at the top for the ridgeboard) to keep everything from going wonky while I struggled to secure them into place.

With some ridiculously awkward effort, I got the two end rafters up supporting the ridgeboard.

Then one by one, I installed each of the rafter pairs.

Finally, I added a permanent collar tie to each of the inside rafter.  I suppose soon I will have to add a ladder to support the gable overhang and a fly rafter.

At the end of the day, for the first time, I was able to see the shape and size and height of this crazy boat.

Cabin Framing, More Mistakes Were Made

If there's one thing I'm good at, it's not being good as things.  But given my delightfully blinding optimism, I plunge on ahead anyway, learning a ton with each monumental goof.

You remember the cabin framing looked like this. That's more or less an eight foot wall, with maybe 1 foot 8 inches below the deck of the hull.  The height was chosen more or less arbitrarily, based I think on having 8 foot two-by stock to work with for the framing.

At this point I'm thinking all the great and rare 1x12 redwood we pulled from the decommissioned chicken coop was not going to be enough wood, and was gong to be too brittle, too bug eaten or rotten, and too heavy.  So I was pricing new redwood, though this was not my ideal.

When I got down to thinking about (and pricing) the redwood siding, I realized I'd made a small but critical blunder. About 2-1/2 inches of blunder.

Had I made the walls a tiny tiny bit shorter, I could have used 6 foot long boards for the siding. This made a huge difference in the pricing since 1x12 or 1x10 redwood is already expensive, but longer lengths are even more so. With 6 foot lengths, I could easily cut 12' lumber in half, but the next common step up is 16' lengths, which were much more spendy and wasteful.

Well, the cabin already looked ridiculously tall, and I wasn't yet committed to the height, so I decided to do something crazy...

I cut the walls down 2-1/2 inches. I clamped my carpenter's square to each stud to serve as a guide for my skillsaw and cut a few inches off of each stud.

Considering that everything was glued and screwed (or nailed), it wasn't easy. I had to remove the little stud nubs and glue and nail the top plate to the new tops of the studs.

It only took most of a morning to fix the height of the cabin.  Now the walls measure exactly six foot from the deck to the top of the walls.

As a consolation for my troubles (and perhaps reward for conscientiously correcting my mistake), I had a beautiful visitor that day.

Cabin Wall Framing. Finally.

Whew, finally. We get to constructing the cabin walls. This is the fun part for me. As a former carpenter, framing construction is well-within my comfort zone.

Initially, it looked like it would be easy as pie. I planned to simplify the standard stud construction to reduce weight: (single) sole plate + studs + (single) top plate + simplified door and window openings.

But as I started planning out the end walls, I realized I needed access to the space under the decks, and so the end walls had to work around that.

The side walls were a little simpler and more conventional.

I was using all recycled Doug Fir 2x4s from the salvage pile at the dump, ripped from 3-1/2 inches to 3 inches.

Looking one more time at my wall detail, you see that the coaming (labeled "edgeboard") is cut into the wall studs.  So I had to dado a sizable groove into each of my studs to accept the coaming.

Real woodworkers have tools for this, but I had to resort to some deft skillsaw work. And without a working wood chisel, I was sadly using a flat head screwdriver.  Embarrassing. But it worked reasonably well.

Next, I assembled the walls on the floor of the barn, and then awkwardly personhandled them solo into place in the boat.  Every connection was adhered with construction adhesive and nailed.

In the boat, the wall framing was glued and screwed.

Two walls.


With window framing and blocking added.

And finally four finished walls. In this last photo, you can see the doorframe to the head on the right.

A big day, for sure. Time for a cigar.  Next up, more mistakes were made.

New Boat Vocabulary Word: Coaming

One of the smarter things I've done on the shantyboat, was to add a coaming around the edge of the cabin. A new vocab word for me as I slowly get all nautical during the one plus year shantyboat build:


  1. A raised border around a ship's hatch serving to support the hatch covers and to keep out water.
  2. A similar structure around the cockpit of a boat.
The Glen-L Waterlodge plans didn't call for a coaming, since Glen's cabin design was significantly different, and he wasn't nutty enough to consider board and batten as a cabin exterior material.

Take a look again at my wall cutaway diagram:

The coaming is the board labeled "edgeboard" against the inside edge of the side framing member.  My goal was to make sure that if water splashed up on the exterior board and batten, that it would not easily get into the boat, more so because I plan to fiberglass right up to and over the coaming.

Here's what it looked like without the coaming.

I had the lumberyard rip a few 2x6s edgewise to create the coaming. 

Of course, I epoxied and screwed it into place.

Later when we fiberglass the decks, we will create a curved filet at the inside corner and curve the fiberglass up over the coaming.

For some reason it strikes me as unusually handsome and boaty.

A Collection of Photos from a Non-Shantyboat River Float

I took a two-week break from building the shantyboat to float the Sacramento River. I post this here, because floating on these big rivers is where I got the craving for living on a shantyboat.

Some of my favorite times are from drifting aimlessly in our DIY raft during hot summer days. These rafts were themselves kind of shantyboats, equipped as they were with a comfy couch, a driftwood and canvas cabin, a library, a shisha pipe, houseplants, all the comforts of home. But I remember moving this giant craft with no keel around on the river with canoe paddles.  Totally exhausting after a while.

This time down the river, Kai and I went a lot lighter, opting for a simple canoe and a kayak. And because I just don't know how to leave well enough alone, I was going to experiment with a DIY outrigger on the canoe for stability.

We were bringing Hazel Dog along, so (thanks to Bonnie) we had a doggy life vest for her.

Here's our mountain of stuff, including the kayak borrowed from cousin Brian and Hazel Dog in the background.

It all finds its way into the truck.

A five hour drive to Redding from where we were going to launch. Google maps shows it as just over four hours, but when you don't dare go much over 60 mph, it takes longer. Kai looks placid in this photo, but her expression belies the fact that she is terrified of my truck with good reason.

Readying our stuff at the boat launch at Turtle Bay in Redding. This was the first summer that the gianormous diversion dam at Red Bluff had been left open to allow the river to flow freely (Yay, salmon!). So unlike previous trips where we had started in Red Bluff below the dam, we could start 50 miles further upriver and see the gorgeous section of river between Redding and Red Bluff.

Kai proudly shows off her ingenious DIY shade structure she constructed out of PVC and bamboo for the kayak. It probably saved her life since she is a pale redhead that shrivels up and dies under the heat of the sun. It also made me envious and self-recriminatory that I had not spent a little time constructing a similar shade for my canoe.

The outrigger worked beautifully.  An eight inch sealed PVC tube crossed with timber bamboo and secured with bike innertubes.  The normally-tippy canoe was solid as a rock.

The doggy life vest did not make Hazel happy. But she only had to wear it during our initial first few scary moments on the river and later when we encountered anything gnarly.

She's normally pretty spry, but the tight vest left her unable to sit or curl up of jump or frolic. She just kind of stood there looking at us pleadingly. She looked a bit like the Michelin Man.

It was a simple life of reading and floating and occasionally paddling out of the way of snags and other hazards.

Camping along the river's edge on sandy verges.

Fishing.  We caught two little trouts.  One on a treble spoon and one with creepy little helgamites. We returned them to the river.

The helgamites came out at night and crawled over us as we were trying to enjoy our campfire. They are like hyper earwigs that were bitten by a radioactive millipede.

They do not normally calmly perch on your finger for a picture as in this photo.  Normally they would be running balls-out either under a rock or up your leg into your shorts to hide.

For three nights, a storm kept us at a sweet improved DIY campsite we found along the river. We pciked lots of blackberries and ate them for dessert and breakfast.

As always, going down the river, various fisherpeople, boaters, and well-meaning fools, filled us with dread and dire misinformation about all the hazards we had yet to encounter.  As it turned out, in retrospect, some of the first whitewater we encountered up near Redding was the most difficult.  Whether that was because of the intensity of the river or our relative inexperience, is hard to know. But going down river, people -- and our maps -- concurred that the terror of the Chinese Rapids was the most dangerous stretch of the river.

Now true, the river was running high, and so some dangerous sections of the river were little more than riffles, and other mellow sections were dramatic, but still. I'd say the section of the river around the Chinese Rapids required us to remain alert, but did not offer us the Seven Shades of Death Served Up Cold and Wet we were promised.

It was however, intensely beautiful. A volcanic lava rock canyon, twisted into a dramatic S-bend, with harrowing jagged boulders erupting out of the stream. We were too busy to take photos of the most scenic part of the trip.

Red Bluff has always been kind to us when we've rafted the Sacramento. We camped near the I-5 bridge at the north end of town near a disc golf range.

We took a little vacation from our vacation, stocking up on used books, fishing tackle, and cafe breakfast, all of which were superb in Red Bluff.

The town rekindled my fantasy of a month- or more-long writer's retreat in some obscure little town, Red Bluff a definite candidate.

After Red Bluff we tackled another one of our feared hazards: the decommissioned Red Bluff diversion dam.  In summers past, the gates of the dam were down, making it easy to draw water from the river for agricultural projects and forming a lake for Red Bluff summer recreation.

We only had a vague notion that it was save to pass under the dam, with some vague conflicting information from people whose job we believed was to know, park employees, river outfitters, and so on.  It turned out to be less hazardous than passing under standard bridge pylons. But more dramatic, as you can see.

As we've done almost every year, we brought way too much food. But we cooked up amazing and delicious grub. There really is nothing else like the smell of bacon and onions and garlic frying outside.

Sometimes the wind would mess with my little camp stove and I'd have to improvise. I called this Stove Henge.

Rocking the River Amish look.

After our few days of stormy rain, the heat wave began. I love sun. I love hot. But anything that "feels like 119 degrees" is a bit much for me. 

I had a little shade umbrella that I'd found at the last minute, not imagining I'd need it. It wasn't nearly enough. With Hazel panting like a freight train, I felt bad and gave her the shade of the little umbrella.

Our camp spots became strategic opportunities to hide in the shade of scant willows from the searing ball of fire in the sky.

One midday afternoon, we hid in the riverside jungle from the sun.

We camped on little islands and enjoyed the cool of the evenings.

When we stopped at Scotty's Landing near Chico for a lingering lunch, unexcited to go back into the heat, we started considering alternatives. Kai the fog-loving sun-hater was reasonably comfortable under her clever shade structure.  I was lethargic and dehydrated and sunburned.  The projection was for many more days of even hotter weather.

This was transportation alternative number one.

This is alternative number two. I caught a ride into Chico and waited around for the Grey Dog to take me back to Redding. Meanwhile, Kai lolled around with Hazel at the swimming hole before breaking down the boats and schlepping all our shit from the boat launch to the side of the road.  I got back down to Scotty's with the truck and was able to pick up her and our mountain of stuff. It was still 98 degrees at one in the morning.

That night we stayed in the ridiculous cushy comfort of a cheap Chico hotel. Air conditioning and a cool shower and soft beds made a pretty sharp contrast to the previous week on the river, though not nearly as scenic.

Mission accomplished.  We didn't drown and we didn't roast.