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high desert. small house.

Days 49-55: String, Dust & Effort

It isn’t clear anymore but for some reason Tuesday was a truncated work day.  The only thing we finished before it was dark was running string across the width of the house to see where boards were high/low.  After tying off the string and squirming around on our bellies to see underneath it, we marked the high/low zones.  The last step before laying the roofing felt (for low spots) and sanding (for high spots) is to run the 4′ level perpendicular to the strings and mark any other questionable areas.

You can see in the featured image above that the string is closer to the ground on the left-hand side.  That part of the subfloor has a big hump where both the seam and the area surrounding it is higher.


You can see the string in this image is fairly consistent in its height above the subfloor.  You can also see our cute new low-amperage vacuum in the background.

After work, we had another surprise rain shower.  It wasn’t so strong that we couldn’t work on the house.  Something else, however, prevented us from working on the house….other life maintenance stuff.  Several tasks to be done coincided on Wednesday, so we didn’t get to the house at all.  We had to grocery shop, chop up 10 lbs of chicken quarters for the dogs, make our chicken curry for lunch for the rest of the week and cook 3 lbs of burgers for the next few days’ dinners.  We finished everything around 7:45 and hit the sack around 8:30 so we could be up for the gym in the morning.

We are at a point in the house project where we really Really REALLY want to work on it.  We want to see it come together and we want to live in it.  We want our home!  But other areas of life (running the shack) can’t be compromised to accelerate the rate of house project, so we just keep at it, at whatever pace we can.  “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”

To start, Brian investigated a couple remaining squishy spots in the floor and assessed the need for blocking support beneath them.  He then determined that the issue is not lack of blocking but that there are still some areas with insufficient nailing.  The crew seems to have thought that gluing the subfloor meant they could use half the nails, but really the glue is just for bonus strength in helping distribute a load’s deflection across multiple joists.  Anyhow, after spot-nailing a little bit, he realized that following the existing Arched Cabin crew’s nail lines resulted in hitting air too much of the time – especially where they’d nailed at steep angles to hit joists.

To locate the studs for proper nailing, Brian used his superhero X-ray vision power to see through the subfloor.  Actually he went under the house and and screwed a screw through the subfloor right next to the end of each joist.  With the screws protruding through the surface of the floor, he then went into the house and marked those spots with a sharpie.  We then worked together to snap chalk lines across the width of the floor.  Between the chalk and the string lines, it was a real visual mess in there, but nailing into joists would be a treat.

Also, we made the decision to close the shack for Labor Day and spend the day off working on the house.  That means two days off in a row to make continuous progress.  Woohoo!

Our car team! The Fit is the main power source and we use it to power the vacuum and sander. The Smart car is used t power the lights.

Our car team! The Fit is the main power source and we use it to power the vacuum and belt sander. The Smart car is used to power the lights.

The rains are wonderful.  Really great and exciting.  I genuinely look forward to the amazing clouds and incredible rain showers.  That being said, they’ll be more enjoyable next year when the house project isn’t frequently interrupted by them.

Before going to the house, we went to the hardware store for their ‘Labor Day Get 25% off everything you can fit in this bag’ sale.  We picked up plenty of things we don’t need just yet (i.e. spray foam for around the windows and door, string for lining up the fence, etc) because we wanted to take advantage of the sale.

Back to the house – Having snapped the chalk lines along the joists a few days prior, we were now able to walk along them to find the squishy zones and areas with inadequate nailing.  The discovery that more nails were needed meant that it was actually too soon to do leveling work.  Driving nails in at the joists would alter what areas were high, so nailing had to happen first.

Ensemble, we drove in two and a half boxes of nails; that’s about 350-400 nails.  The subfloor feels MUCH more solid now and having the chalk lines made this task a breeze.  It was a nice break to have a task that did not require too much thought during execution.  Drive in 5 nails per joist per plywood.  Next joist line.  Continue.

This is not an advertisement for the store. Who gets this excited about string anyway?

This is not an advertisement for the store. Who gets this excited about string anyway?

Earliest Sunday wake-up time yet – 8:00am!  We were at the property by 9:00am.  Now that the floor was secured to the joists, we discovered an unfortunate example of wasted effort.  All that seam sanding we did awhile back – not all of it was necessary.  Yes, often times the seams were the most bowed up from the water damage, but it wasn’t the case across the board (no pun intended).

Similar to how we assumed the crew had nailed in the appropriate amount of nails into the studs on the end caps and therefore went to the next step of caulking the lines (just to have to recaulk after we added more nails); we discovered that we should have double-checked their nails first and will now have to fill in some areas that shouldn’t have been sanded.

Brian worked on scraping down a high spot with the circular saw while I went around and noted how high the string was above the floor at 3 spots per piece of plywood.  With this floor map, we hoped to be able to see zones of highness and lowness.

We came across a real mental puzzle when our long metal beam (that we use to see flatness over a span of 8′; and with the level atop it, we use it to see how level an 8′ span is) disagreed with our string lines.  So after a fair amount of work using the strings as our guide, we pulled the strings and started over.

This time, we aligned the metal beam with the center of the floor and pivoted it in a circle, marking where each number on a clock face would be (12, 1, 2, etc).  Then, starting at 12, we used our 8′ beam to see which areas were high and which were low.  For the first trip around the clock, we indicated high zones.  Then we called it a night and went home to watch Mad Max: Fury Road – it was awesome, by the way.

Marking the string height along the joists. Thankfully, we did not do this on every joists since it turned out not to be accurate near the middle of the house.

Marking the string height along the joists. Thankfully, we did not do this on every joist since it turned out not to be accurate near the middle of the house.

We did not work at the shack today and instead spent nearly the whole day at the house.  As soon as we arrived (~8:00am), we recommenced our clock attack.  We hit two big zones (one around 1:30 and one around 10:00) that were very high.  It probably took us an hour per area to knock them down.  It went something like this – measure and mark area to sand, use sander, vacuum, check with level, mark area, sand again, vacuum, check with level, decide it’s time to use the circular saw, cut it down, recheck with level, smooth out with sander, vacuum, recheck……finally determine it is ‘good enough’ (i.e within an 1/8 inch of flat across a span of 10 feet).

After doing this arduous and repetitive routine, we decided that future high spots would be hit first with the circular saw and then smoothed out with the sander.  The saw is much better at removing material and saves us a lot of time.

Some discoveries and thoughts –

  1. Brian must have a second layer of eyelids that are transparent and armored.  While scraping the floor with the circular saw, chunks of plywood and plenty of sawdust hits me in the face and ricochets off my glasses.  Brian doesn’t wear glasses and doesn’t wear safety glasses while working on the floor and he has yet to have an eyeball injury.  So the only explanation I can think of is some sort of nictitating membrane.
  2. This subfloor work is physically challenging and mentally draining.  Unlike pounding nails along a line (fun, satisfying, immediate gratification, simple to understand), leveling and flatting the subflloor requires planning, conscious actions, accurate measurements and the ability to hone in on a specific area as well as keep the entire picture in mind.  Physically, it is tough work to scoot, squat, kneel, bend over and shuffle.
    1. At one point yesterday, I had sawed out several points in the subfloor without taking a break.  I was bent over at the waist, essentially doing a hamstring stretch, and shuffling sideways with the saw.  When I stood up, dizziness and fatigue came all at once and my thought was, “I don’t know if I can do that again.  Boy, was that hard!”  I gave the saw to Brian and began to sweep up the sawdust mess so we could continue.  Surprisingly, after 2 minutes of sweeping I felt as good as new.  The key, therefore, is to rest tired body parts by changing up your task; preferably to something that doesn’t require thinking so your brain can rest too.

We finished digging out the high spots on the clock-face inner circle and then called it a night.  Next, we’ll extend our clock lines to the edges of the house, find the high spots in this outer circle, level out all the trenches and then fill in the low spots.

This is what our clock face looked like at the end of Monday. That black paper is the roofing felt that we are using to fill in the low spaces. We did one spot as an experiment before we decided to do all high spots first and then felt second.

This is what our clock face looked like at the end of Monday. That black paper is the roofing felt that we are using to fill in the low spaces. We did one spot as an experiment before we decided to do all high spots first and then roof felt second.

For a full summary of our experience with Arched Cabins, please read Arched Cabin Summary.


  1. Yada yada yarn downtown if it is still open makes wool slippers that you would probably like. I bought my daughters each a pair while I was there and they love them.

  2. I spent a week in silver city last summer. If you haven’t been yet I recommend the buckhorn saloon in pinos altos, the little toad brewery out by lake Roberts, there are some cool rock art and cliff dwelling at little scorpion campground at Gila cliff dwellings called trail to the past, little walnut picnic area has several trails and Gomez peak has excellent views. Cool little town

    • We LOVE the Buckhorn. Haven’t been out to the Lake Roberts Little Toad yet but we’ve tried the second location downtown a few times. The Cliff Dwellings are on our list as are the hot springs. Little Walnut and the hiking trails off it are close to us so we’ve been there quite a few times. Glad to hear someone else appreciates the same aspects of this neat town. Thanks for the comment!

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