Monday 15 December 2014

Silly Gone To Seed...Cartoon #1: "The Broken Invoicing Machine"

Having committed herself to celebrating the absurd rather than indulging the long loud wail of the self-employed, the Log-Builder's Wife plans to cartoon our "Tales From the Field" from time to time under the banner of "Silly Gone to Seed".  Here is Cartoon #1. We hope you get a laugh too! 

Invoicing Machine!?

Contracts. Signed. Sealed. Witnessed.

The question is...are the 5lb, 3" thick documents (5" once you add the addendums and strike-throughs), worth the paper that they are written on)?
Time to look into the Prompt Payment Act that got us motivated to blog in the first place. Has anybody heard whether that passed into legislation in Ontario yet?

Tuesday 30 September 2014

They Could have Dropped off the Face of the Earth...

By "The Log-Builder's Wife"
With John and half our fantastic team of Heavy Timber Specialists working on a CLT and Glu-Lam build in the Gulag and with Andreas Fricke with the rest of the crew on a Glu-Lam install in Saskatoon, I thought I should undertake a blog post while they are away.

The Gulag – you ask? That’s just what I am calling it since communications are extremely difficult and for a period of time they were cut off completely. They could have dropped off the face of the earth – or have been banished to Siberia.
In any case they may as well be east of the sun and west of the moon, or to be slightly more accurate: South of Fort MacMurray and North of Lac La Biche.

By the way – any opinions put forth in this post are entirely my own and I plan not to rant as it’s becoming extremely boring and predictable. Most of my rants are set off by paper-work anyway and I hate to admit it –some of the paper-work and compliance docs that I rail against are inspired by sincere concern and motivation to keep workers alive, in good health and coming home to their families. As an employer and spouse I can relate to that! (That is actually a point that John made from favourable observation of the Owners on the project that he is currently working on).

Circa '94. Not a practice we'd do today. Even if had our own TV Show!

Where compliance and procedure get legitimately frustrating is when those who are “in charge” seem to have lost sight of the intent of the rules and guidelines and use their authority more as an opportunity to throw their weight and will around. Personal ego impeding progress or even supporting un-safe practices while hiding being the rock-solid skirts of “just going by the book”.
Unfortunately “the book” does not always apply to what is expedient and safe in heavy timber. Ideally strategies should be developed in cooperation – but in the situation I am thinking about it appears that control and adversity are the motivators. This could be crazy-making – but sometimes you just gotta laugh because it is all so patently obvious and absurd as to what is really going down.

I’ve often wondered about the type of people that different jobs attract. Border guards for example… and I know one cannot (should not) generalize – but I have at times been very grateful knowing when crossing the US/Canadian border, that if that big dame packin’ and swaggering about like John Wane actually used her weapons rather than just verbally intimidating me, there would be some layer of accountability. (Not like some places in the world where people of that propensity are not reigned in).

Or how about those guys who work for collections? It’s been decades since we (through relying on a poorly informed bookkeeper – not me!) fell on the wrong side of WCB (OSHA) as regards remittance. “Mr Smith” was an extremely scary man and I did not want to get hurt. I wonder – did the “hector-the-collector” job suit his personality? A natural bully? Or maybe he just put on his “bully suit” when he got to the office in the morning and took it off before going home with a stop for yoga and a vegan take-out.

"Show me your tools...and I'll tell you if you are a log-builder".
Or the PST (that is provincial sales tax) auditor who examined our books a couple of years ago to see if we had been remitting. (We had). I’m happy to say that I stopped him short in his tracks – when in the course of backing up the legitimacy of our non-pst-able transactions I came across one where we should have remitted and that he had missed.
“Why are you telling me this”, he asked after a long silence. “We try to operate with integrity”, I responded, “and expect others to do the same”. 
I really felt bad for this fellow – working in a hair-splitting job like that could really injure the soul. But hey – just because I hate paper-work does not mean its evil….right? Maybe that was his happy-place.

I could go on…and I bet you have stories you could add. But much better shared around a camp fire where complaints become jokes to laugh at rather than the long loud wail of the self-employed!

Actually what got me thinking about the careers and jobs and the type of people who choose them was a run in with an acquaintance yesterday. She introduced me to her companion as the wife of a local log builder – “you know like in the reality TV show “The Timber Kings”. Hmmmm. “Don’t worry”, she added, “John will get his turn one day”. HMMMMM. I don’t think she believed me when I said that it was not our goal to ‘go and do likewise’.

I am so very grateful for our log-building colleagues, many of whom credit our roots to Allan Mackie and his School of Log Building. Particularly I am grateful to those who I have come to know as family through our mutual membership and involvement within the ILBA (International Log Builder’s Association). I look forward to our AGM’s where we get caught up on the latest tool, jig, and procedure. Where we share, show, and show off our innovations and discoveries with each other.

85-86? The B.Alan Mackie School of Log Building in Prince George BC, where many of the well-known names of today's log building industry began an adventure and learning curve that contributed to the "popularizing" of log homes. B. Allan Mackie Photo
It feels like a family gathering every time. And so it is. And here is what we really share; the common ground that transcends us from being merely industry colleagues or competitors. The log builders that I am thinking of are all innovators, problem-solvers and are fascinated and engaged by procedure. Those traits supersede our common craft and trade. I believe it is unusual that so many like-minded, inquisitive and enthusiastic people were drawn to this method of construction. I wonder about that.

As one of our colleagues said about our group…”it doesn’t matter who you vote for – or what flavour your religion. What ties us together is that we agree on which tool is the best”.

That concludes my somewhat aimless ramble and blog post. Thanks for reading!

“The Log-Builder’s Wife” 

(Oh – credit where credit is due: The Gulag Team: John Boys, Frederic Provost, Christian Bur, Dexter Devorkin and Graig Goodman. The Saskatoon Team: Andreas Fricke leading (thank you so much!) – Jay McKimm, Daryle Shackelly and on the crane (drum roll) Jochen Wagenblast and Owen Gregory!

Thursday 14 August 2014

Air Tight Log Homes

The intent of the New Energy Code is all about building green, healthy homes and reducing carbon foot-print and yet one of the oldest and time tested green building systems is struggling to survive in North America.
Log building is the original green building system requiring very little energy required to transform materials into a finished home while producing very little waste and boasting huge carbon sequestration.
It's hard to get more "Green" than that!
So why are log builders and their customers having a hard time pulling permits for log homes these days?

In BC, the new energy codes go into effect December 17th 2014. You can find out when and to what extent the jurisdiction(s) that you are building in will be affected by cruising the site of your local, state or provincial building authority.

To learn more about gasketing scribed log homes - go to (You can also see the original cartoons of Gasket Girl by Joe Ratushniak - or better still visit his web pages ( to enjoy his primary talent of wood carving and sculpture.

A well sealed log home will have no problem passing the blower door test. We highly recommend the FP Publications book: The Illustrated Guide to Log Home Construction by Dalibor Houdek. 

And finally, to find some of the best log home builders on the planet (yes the planet)....visit the International Log Builder's Association (ILBA), and learn about Best Practices in Log Construction.

Happy Building!

Monday 30 June 2014


There are strange things done in the midnight sun;
Where men go seeking oil,
Where the blackflies bite, and the tar sands ooze
Where sniffer-dogs seek drugs and booze.

But stranger still are the contracts made,
When construction crews are needed,
For their expertise and common sense,
(which is rarely ever heeded)!

But the strangest thing we’ve ever seen,
(And verbatim we have quoted),
Is this sentence in a document,
Where safety rules were noted.

“…do not urinate or defecate in the stairwells, electrical rooms or bottles” , and ” Do not wipe fecal matter on washroom walls…”

Full Stop!
Got Our Attention!

(We are either going to be working with degenerate Neanderthals, or the people we will be working for are so horrible it drives good people to insanity – or is that unsanitary!?)

Funny in a tragic sort of way.

Written by John Boys and "The Log Builder's Wife" 
(inspired by the poem; The Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert W. Service)

...and funny in a lovely sort of way; Sacha the dog welcomes Jean home from his work on the Wood Innovation Design Centre (WDIC) in Prince George, BC.

Friday 9 May 2014


" I Love to Burn!....I was BORN to Burn!"... 
...A quote from one of the fine fellows helping us meet our delivery schedule of the charred wood panels which will be featured on the exterior of WDIC (The Wood Innovation Design Centre) in Prince George.

John had a great time researching this ancient art and the traditional methods of wood burning, as well as a range of other methods.

This video shows how Nicola LogWorks is approaching the burn (which has it's own unique twist, as the cedar material is pre-treated with an intumescent solution)...

By "The Log Builder's Wife"

Wednesday 2 April 2014

If Fish is Good for the Brain - then Fishing must be Better!

Our last holiday...was that late 1990's or early 2000's?
Contributed by "The Log Builder's Wife"

It's been too long, I think, since Mr Boys and I have had a holiday...

...most of you who know us have seen this picture a couple of times - and you have to admit for bragging rights - it's worth a second look. (We caught this salmon in our double-ocean-going-kayak which I bought John for his birthday because I wanted it).

...But I think it may be a bit pathetic to keep dragging this picture out because we don't have anything recent to share!

Over 20 years ago, John decided that we should cut ourselves off from TV, in order to use that time for recreation - walk the dogs, go mountain biking and so on...

So we have not had TV since 1994, but rather than using those hours for recreation - we, and particularly John, found it easy to fill those hours with work and more work. Easy to do when you enjoy the challenges of your work like John does - and hard to tear oneself away from it for that same reason!

Never the less, I'm thinking that all work and no play could make John a dull boy which is why I've decided to take up fishing, and I'm going to take Johnny with me! (A lot!)  

So when you phone Nicola LogWorks and you get the message telling you that we are on another call - I hope we are out answering the call of the wild, following the the lure of the lure and testing the old adage: Work fills the time allotted!

Will keep you posted on the success of this experiment! 
Gone Fishing! (The Log Builder's Wife)

Sunday 23 February 2014


(Written Feb 5th 2014)
 But Oh Thank GOD, they were not!

...WIDC - early days...early snow.
For those of you who have been following this blog, you may have noticed there is a “logbuilder” thread woven through most of our postings that focuses (some would say whines), on how alien we find the culture of commercial construction compared to the business-by-a-handshake and devil-may-care-anti-establishment roots by which we have defined ourselves.

The paper-work and formalized procedures have been particularly hard for us to adapt to and accept; QC, Safety Manuals, LEEDS documentation, chain of custody, Stat decs (seriously….even stat decs piss us off!). 

Don't get me wrong - we are not cavalier about safety and procedures – far from it; we are very pro-active in improving our hands-on procedures and upgrading our practical skills such as the advanced rigging course we took last April from ITI (IndustrialTraining International). It’s all a part of being on top of our game. 

But - Oh the PAPER WORK!!!! It is a challenge to get any work done and to get it done in a timely and cost effective fashion. Are we builders or are we pen pushers?

A view that did not exist before - and we got to see it first!

But yesterday we had good reason to better appreciate the intent and function of the procedures and processes that are required of us after a CLT panel that we were craning onto the sixth floor of the Wood Innovations DesignCentre began to oscillate as it cleared the sixth floor, stressing the lifting eyes to the breaking point. 

Experience, extensive training and quick thinking by crane operator Jesse Bird and crew-boss Christian Bur averted what could have been a fatal accident or a costly incident.

An unusually heavy snow load early in the year.
Immediately after the wreck was averted, our crew and PCL initiated the post-incident procedures together and it gave us the opportunity to experience how smoothly these processes are implemented at a well-run job site and to better appreciate the intent of these documents. They are intended to make one think, anticipate and if necessary analyse. 

Don’t get us wrong – we have not had a Damascene epiphany about paper work and admin! It stalls progress, adds costs and too often is imposed for compliance sake only. (Some Contractors walk the walk and others talk the talk - and PCL walks their talk.)

To conclude – we have always been proud that some of the most talented, interesting and nicest people on the planet are a part of the Nicola LogWorks crew. Today we are proud of how they averted a crisis and grateful that we can say, “no-one was hurt – not a hair on their heads was touched”. Well done guys!

This is what PCL said about our crew:


Thanks for your immediate focus on this incident and the prompt preliminary report. I agree that your team should be commended for the, quick, calm and controlled manner in which they handled this incident, another example of the professional tradesman you have employed. 

Thanks again

The Parking Lot is Empty!Just three more pieces to install. ( Feb 22nd 2014) From left to right back row: Daryle Shackelly, Robin Meyer, Dylan Sparshu, John Henry Ramsey, Jesse Bird, Dexter Devorkin. Front row: Glen Sparshu, Owen Gregory, Jean Belleau, Jochen Wagenblast, Daniel Meiselbach and Andreas Fricke (team leader and principle of Big Horn Timber Frames). Not in the picture; Christian Bur - (photographer), Fred Provost  and Jay McKimm

 Contributed by "The Log Builder's Wife"

Saturday 18 January 2014

The Problem with Cross Laminated Timber is...

ESB UBC - Great Fun: Great Contractor, Engineer and Architect.

By John Boys

The new Wunderkind and current trend-darling in commercial construction is cross laminated timber (CLT) panels. Paired with glue-lam timbers and other engineered wood products it is making possible the construction of tall wood buildings. CLT is being touted as the green alternative to concrete, the building material that makes for speedy and efficient assembly, allows for flexible and innovative design, and all at a competitive cost to conventional materials such as tilt-up concrete.

And they are all of that – or rather they could be.

UBC O - Great Design/Build Team
Our team has had more experience in the installation of CLT in North America than most, and as heavy timber specialists (with roots in log-building and timber framing) we are excited by its potential and the possibilities it affords, but concerned that if the bottom-line expectations are not realized, that this revolutionary shift in how we build may disappear before it has proved it’s potential.

On projects where we have been given sufficient time to trouble-shoot, communicate, pre-plan and sequence our part of the work we can achieve the “just-like-lego-time-lapse-look-at-em-go scenario” that we are all anticipating.  Our team thrives on the well-coordinated dance of carefully rehearsed steps, meeting or exceeding our planned schedule when we finally “go live”. Who doesn’t like to look good!
UBC-O; interesting design

But it could be even better (and not only for us), if we and some of the other key trades and/or material suppliers were allowed both information and input much earlier in the design stage. Pre-planning in isolation and extrapolating information from incomplete final plans makes it awkward to contribute any solutions other than those which address absolutely un-workable details and/or connections.

While most trades people are not engineers, nor do all of us have a flair for design, cost effective, safe and even elegant solutions at material interfaces can be achieved if we are included (as appropriate) to define logical breaks in scope of work and to consider possible challenges long before these issues come up at the construction site.

UBC-O; connections +more connections
And it is on the job site, where the success of the design and planning can be gauged and measured. Assuming that the prime contractor, heavy timber specialists and material suppliers are competent, and that the plans and specifications are well thought out, a wonderful and choreographed dance begins to take place. If any of the above fall short, there are a lot of steel toed shoes getting stepped on…

So how is any of the above a “Problem with Cross-Laminated Timber”? In reviewing my words, it reads more like a rant about not being included!

In part, it is. I believe there are two things that threaten the future use of CLT in commercial structures, the first that we are often treating a new material as a substitute to the well understood materials (such as tilt-up concrete) to which we are accustomed.

3 D modelling. Not just for architects any more! (UBC-O)
Do we anticipate the challenging characteristics of this organic material (UV, rain, snow…shrinkage, expansion, iron staining…) and the associated costs? And are we taking full advantage of the benefits (precision CNC prefabrication, light weight, high strength to weight, visual qualities, insulation...)?

What tolerances are achievable and how does that affect specifications? Do the connection methods allow us to efficiently bridge the differing tolerances? Concrete+/- 30mm, steel +/- 3 mm, wood +/- 3mm, engineered connectors +/- 1mm, glazing systems....?

Using this new material effectively, in my opinion, requires a mind-shift that addresses its individual properties as well as a re-think of how we connect with the other components of the structure, and goes back to my pre-amble on pre-planning and brings me to the second point:

Pre-planning resolves breaks in scope, discovers solutions, arrives at efficient procedures and defines what is expected of the trades and helps them to submit well considered and inclusive bids resulting in fewer change orders and realistic budgeting.  In short, pre-planning can save money and my money is on the bottom line when determining the future of CLT.

UBC O CLT: as Espressed Structure; the talents ofMcFarland-Marceau
A great deal of our inspiration for CLT in North America is derived from the success stories in Europe and the common factor in all of these examples is that all the projects were built on a foundation that incorporated sophisticated 3D modelling and that a great deal of time (and money) was spent in pre-fabrication and sequencing strategies.
3D modelling and pre-planning means a significant up-front investment. 

It also involves a radical shift in how we approach design, engineering and the bid process and it allows all of us to be accountable. I wonder if that is possible…However it seems logical and expedient, that a revolutionary new type of structure should also generate a radical change in how we work together.

In closing, the “Log Builder’s Wife” tells me she could have made the point a bit more succinctly; her quote on the topic: “We can sing Green till we are Blue in the face, but if Green equals Red, then Black will trump Green!”).

I could go on at length and in more detail on this topic, but perhaps that is better saved for another day. In the meantime, I would be interested to know if I am alone in my concerns for the future of CLT in North America. Your comments welcomed.
"I'd like to harp on 3D modeling a little more..."