Thursday 1 March 2018

'We' Won!

The Okanagan College Trades Renewal & Expansion Project  Awarded at BC Wood Awards Gala

John Boys on a recent informal inspection of the OK College Trades Building

We were  pleased to learn that  one of our recent projects was awarded for the BC Wood Design Awards 2018 in the category
'Institutional Wood Design: Large".

Scope of our work included survey of the as-built and installation of the glulam roof deck on glulam rafters with curved columns, the main atrium and connecting walkway consisting of gluelam columns and rafters. (all supplied by Structurlam).

Nice Work if you can get it...Our part of the work took place during the summer of 2015 in Kelowna BC. (Blue skies, lakes and nightlife on the weekends for the younger set, and a short hop over the hill back to Merritt for the family guys.) 

The final touch. Nice!
Our working agreement was with PCL (one of our preferred contractors) which made for a pleasant and productive work environment, and when the project was complete our rigging and lifting skills were requested to assist with the install of what we consider to be the "Piece de Resistance" - a beautifully restored vintage single wing aircraft. This task was undertaken by Chris Bur - who together with Andreas Fricke of Bighorn timber frame also led the glulam installation crew;  (Jesse Bird, Jochen Wagenblast, Francois Vienne, Jarett Radomski, Owen Gregory and several other much appreciated colleagues who lent their skills to the project).

Our Big Take Away? Meticulous pre-planning and site survey of the as-built has a huge payoff (as usual).
Lessons Learned: When bracing our work (level and plumb) at the end of our scope - make it difficult if not impossible for other trades to tamper with the bracing.

Engineer: Fast + Epp
The firm of  Diamond Schmitt collaborating with  David Nairne + Associates Ltd. of North Vancouver, designed the complex.

Sunday 5 November 2017

"ABBy" The Log Building Robot & the Eliptical Spiral Log Stairs

Dusko Ballmer and ABBy with John; Weekend Brain-Storming

We are excited!  - We have just finished and shipped our first completed project using Dusko's (Ballmer Systems Inc) patented robot technology.

The project is a set of eliptical spiral log stairs which John designed for Carolina Timberworks.
The video below showcases what "ABBy" is cabable of, with Dusko callibrating and programming the software and John defining the joinery.

With ABBy doing the heavy lifting and grunt-work, The Nicola LogWorks crew can focus their talents on the more complex hand-work.

Monday 3 July 2017

"Dear Abby"

So... A couple of guys walk into the bar. One of them is a Software Engineer and the other is a Log Builder. They pass a bit of small talk back and forth and discover they have quite a few interests in common. 

A couple of beers later the software guy says to the log builder... “I’d like you to meet "Abby".

The log builder looks around expecting to see the guy's girlfriend - instead he sees a big orange robot...

The Ultimate New Tool?

Dusko Ballmer with "Abby" at Nicola LogWorks
All of us at Nicola LogWorks have been riding a wave of anticipation as John and Dusko (the software guy), teach "Abby" (a big orange ABB robot how to log build).

Expanding Our Capabilities

We've dubbed this endeavour "TeknowLogia" (Log Homes Re-Imagined), and this venture will add a new product line to our custom handcrafted log and timber homes. 

Revolutionary Technology

This new and more affordable product line is made possible by incorporating the brain-child of Dusko Ballmer (Ballmer Systems Inc) who has single-mindedly spent the last decade developing a robot assisted system of log building that maintains the natural shape of the logs, and with John's input, faithfully replicates handcrafted joinery.

Thinking out of the Box: Cut by a Machine; Not Machine Cut 

Dusko has invented a process that can accommodate the unique characteristics of each log in every building - just like log builders do. This is the opposite approach to that of machine cut "log home" producers who must force natural logs to conform to their machines, thereby sacrificing the aesthetic value of natural logs, not to mention generating an enormous amount of wood waste.

A Patented Process
We Love Abby

When John met Dusko about 9 years ago, Dusko already had patented his scanning technology (the key part of the process), and was making significant progress towards proving a robotic production technique that would feature the organic, natural character of the logs. John thought that Dusko's concept was well suited to Piece en Piece log home construction, and was intrigued by the possibilities.
As he worked towards his final iteration, Dusko would, from time to time confer with John for a log builder's input on joinery technique and best practices before going back to the "drawing board".

A Collaboration is Born...

About 8 months ago, John sought Dusko's expertise on an upgrade that John was planning for our
Piece-en-Piece Log Work; Nicola LogWorks
own production equipment. As it happened, Dusko was ready to move from development to production. All he needed was log building know-how to implement it...and  the idea of a collaboration was born.

Five weeks ago, while John poured concrete and upgraded the electrical, Dusko with his two dogs and Brandon (his very talented apprentice), as well as "Abby" and the various parts and pieces that comprise The Ballmer System, crossed the country to Merritt, where Nicola LogWorks is now the proud owner of "Abby" and all of her accessories. 
Currently Dusko is setting up his system and implementing his robotic technology while John and team implement the building procedures and establish the quality levels that "Abby" must live up to. 

Teaching a Machine to think like a Log Builder

Since we have made this investment our team has grown by 3 and this revolutionary new tool will actually be assisting our team of talented builders. Incorporating the new technology is pretty disruptive, but it is also very stimulating. John says it is forcing all of us to look at everything we do and ask; "Does this add value to the customer? Does it make sense? Does it achieve or can it surpass the quality levels that we aim for?

Transferable Skills  

Can Abby meet our Standards?
Our log building team has a wealth of accumulated knowledge and practical skills, and now instead of spending all day running a chainsaw, they can apply their know-how towards further developing and improving the new system while leaving the heavy repetitive work to "Abby".
And that's not a bad thing!

What's Next?

Now on the Canada Day Long Weekend - we are about a week away from cutting our first contract; a piece-en-piece home and garage destined for the UK

There is lots more to tell you - particularly the joint and separate plans that Dusko and John have for Teknowlogia.

Thanks for reading - I'll keep you posted very soon, hopefully with a video showing Abby in action!

 The Log Builder's Wife


Monday 7 November 2016

Choosing House Logs is a Serious Business

Many considerations go into choosing the right wood for a log home....or choosing the right home plan for the wood that is available to you...

Kanga-Doodle picks house logs: click for video
Choosing house logs is a serious business; it goes without saying that the wood must be sound and of a suitable size for both the plan and the geographic location of the building (insulative value of the wood species and compliance with the new energy code as well as local building code.)
People often wonder which species of wood is preferable for timber and log homes - the answer to that varies;  locally available wood is often the best choice - for example - if building in North Carolina or Ontario using a local log builder, the home will likely be built using Eastern White Pine.
Lodge pole pine is also an option for many Northern log builders accross the continent.

Here in south central British Columbia we have a wider range of log species to work with including Engelman spruce, Western red cedar, Douglas fir and Alaska yellow cedar.

My personal preference for house logs are Western red cedar, Doug fir and Alaska yellow cedar, so a customer (local or from far afield) who has chosen a BC log builder to work with has quite a few more options.

Early on we favoured Engleman spruce - primarily because our Japanese market had a preference for it's pale sap wood. Spruce was also easy to access and easy to peel, but on the down-side, we struggled with how spruce checks (or cracks) as it dries (typically one LARGE check running the length of the log) and spiral grain twist is also more pronounced in spruce, thus narrowing the selection of wood that met our specifications.

Douglas fir, while a brute to peel, is a more stable wood. Checks tend to occur frequently around the circumference of the log, but barring radical spiral checks are quite regular and narrow. Douglas fir is stronger than spruce and is a better log for load bearing.

The insulative values of Western red cedar surpasses both fir and spruce, so is an ideal wall log. Cedar tends to be less mobile as it dries and also shrinks less. (One drawback with Western red cedar are it's load bearing qualities - in roof systems the required size of a cedar log would often be out of scale with the wall structure, which is why we generally use Doug fir for the roof system. The warm reddish tones of both are very similar, so the variation of species is vitually unnoticeable.

Alaska yellow cedar (also known as Cypress) can be difficult to source, given that the calibre of wood we require is highly prized by the Japansese temple market,  however we have been fortunate to secure a source of Alaska yellow cedar and offer it as an option to our customers.

Douglas fir is the most economical of the species that we build with, but some styles of structures - such as dovetail log homes -  I prefer to build using cedar. Round post and beam log homes require very large diameter wood - averaging 18 to inches in diameter for the posts. Any of the species that we build with are suitable for post and beam as long as the diameter is met. Square post and beam requires that we start with wood of at least 20 inches in average diameter, and our scribed log homes are built with a minimum diameter of  14 inches at the top of the log. Timber frame homes offer more latitude in wood size, as they are typically wrapped from the outside using either SIP's (Structural Insualted Panels) or conventional framing and insulation.

Wood shrinks as it dries and while log homes can be successfully built using green wood, we prefer to use drier material.  Regardless of the species we are building with, we insist or wood that is either air-dried (under 19% moisture content) or kiln dried.

So which species of wood should you choose for your log home? The above really just scratches the surface of house log selection - so please feel free to contact me for more in depth information on this topic - or watch our video featuring the Nicola LogWorks mascott: Kanga-Doodle as she demonsrates her log selection style...

Tuesday 23 August 2016

John thinks he has discovered the elusive Sky-Hook

A Cool New Tool! John thinks he has discovered the elusive Sky-Hook... this video tells the story of how the Ludwig Hook saved us time, reduced leading edge exposure for the crew and minimized the energy they required to re-set the new ATCO Headquarters Building in Calgary Alberta this summer.

(Engineered wood supplied by Western Archrib. Contractor: Cana Construction. Fabulous Crew of Heavy Timber Experts). See for yourself and decide if there is anything else out there that comes as close to the Sky-Hook as this innovative tool from Germany.

Monday 27 June 2016

Award Winning Log Post & Beam Home

It's all about governing design features.
We are (finally) making use of the many photos collected on projects over 26 years of log and timber building! (see link to video at the end of this article).
Every home is unique and each has it's own tale to tell; this most recent video tells the story of a post and beam project that captivated us right from the beginning and remains one of our favourite projects some 8 or 10 years later.

Here is some of what we liked (and still like) about this project:
  1. The governing design feature of the building was the vanishing edge pool  - so this feature dictated the layout and design of the home.
  2. The land was quite vertical - which also dictated what was possible. (We believe that constraints are where creativity is born).
  3. The wood specifications were very tight and highly defined. (Western red cedar with a mositure content of between 14-16%). This feature narrowed the wood to either kiln dried or dead standing wood. Dead standing was preferred for a smoother finish. Given that the builders who were being considered for the project were all of similar calibre it might have been a harder decision for the customer if it had not been for those tight wood specs - because in the end it pretty much came down to whoever came up with the wood first was likely going to land the contract....(obviously it was Nicola LogWorks who found the wood...and with a surface moisture content of 10 - 12 %!)
  4. The design was the work of Tom Hahney (Designing Change - out of Washington State). Tom is a talented designer with the bonus of also being a log builder and colleague. His specifications were informed and well purposed.
  5. Tom made sure that the log builders who were competing for the contract could build to the level of quality that the customer was expecting. He narrowed the field for the customer by communicating with local log builders and giving the customer a short-list of three builders to interview prior to narowing it to two candidates.  (A much appreciated courtesy to those of us bidding the building, and despite the competetive aspect of the bidding process - we much prefer to compete against colleagues who offer similar quality and services.)
  6. As a final bonus, the project was an hour and a half away from Merritt BC where our production site is located. (As much as we enjoy setting up our log homes all over the world - a job in one's own back yard is much appreciated.)
  7. Oh - and we liked the customer. But that pretty much goes without saying - because we try to only build for folks we like.
This post and beam log home won a Silver Tommie Award in the Kelowna Region. You can learn more about this project by following this link: "Okanagan Lake Post and Beam".

Tuesday 1 March 2016

A Small Dovetail Log Cabin - built with Massive Ponderosa Pine

A Homage to the Ponderosa

As the pine trees of British Columbia fell victim to the Mountain Pine Beetle we had the opportunity to pay tribute to the Ponderosa Pine - that iconic tree of the dry belt region.

Back in 2009 I wrote:
3 courses of logs bring the walls to plate height of 9'4

 "We are working on a very unusual little building using very large beetle killed Ponderosa.
These majestic trees - so iconic of the inter-mountain desert, are fast disappearing and we will never see their like again.
I hope to build one or two local structures that will remind generations to come of these beautiful giants."

 We hope you enjoy this video story of a Dovetail Log Home built with "Denim Pine"