Do you want to build a tiny house? Can you lift 30lbs over your head? Are you capable of deciphering the names and knowing the use of obscure construction materials? Have you reckon’d a thousand 2×4’s much? Have you reckon’d a lumberyard much? (Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?) Stop this day an night with me and you shall possess the origin of all tiny houses: do your research!
If you’ll excuse me riffing off of Whitman, let me make that final point clear by saying that shopping for your building materials is probably the best way to test your knowledge of tiny house construction before you’ve even picked up a hammer.
The reason I bring this up is because Sierra and I just went shopping for our materials! (Woo-hoo!) Well, more like 75% of our materials. And even then, it’s just for framing the house. We’ve not even thought about the interior, or plumbing, or electrical yet. Our goal is to get the house “in the dry” (construction-speak for “able to withstand rain and wind without leaking”). That way, we can slow down, change gears, and focus on making the space habitable.
We still need to purchase plywood sheathing, tar-paper for the roof and as a house-wrap, some aluminum flashing for the undercarriage, and our HDU-4 and HDU-5 heavy duty hurricane tie downs. Interestingly, no one in town seemed to have the HDU-4 or HDU-5 tie downs. My guess is this: because we live in the mountains where there is often very little threat of high winds, tornadoes, or hurricanes, no one stocks the tie downs because there are likely few, if any codes, regulating their usage in our area. That or the builders use something else I’ve never heard of before. Either way, we will need to buy them off of the internet because no one knew what I was talking about when I asked for them.
Shopping for materials was probably the most work Sierra and I have done for the house yet (most physical work, at least. The remainder of our time so far has been spent researching how different products are used in a tiny house, where they go, what they’re used for, if we need an oven, our favorite type of siding etc.). We decided to buy most of our materials from the two big box stores in our area simply because they carried the most of what we needed at one stop. After that, we planned to buy the remainder of our materials from lumberyards or specialty manufacturers as needed. For instance, none of the local chains we looked at carried a 4-inch steel flange that we would need as a cantilever support for our subfloor, so we plan to support the local economy and check out the steel fabricators near my dad’s shop for any cast-off’s that may do the trick.
We arrived at the store pretty early riding in my dad’s huge yellow box van and carrying a grocery list of everything we knew we needed to pick up. We started in the hardware section comparing the prices of nails and screws, then moved over a few aisles to find all-thread-rods, log screws, lag screws, nuts, washers, and self-drilling screws. Finally we went to the lumber and plywood section to pick out some Zip-boards and zip-tape for our undercarriage, tie downs and hurricane clips for our roof, and then we set ourselves to the longest task of hand-selecting every 2×4, log, beam, and stick that we were going to put into our house. This final part took the longest as we had to select well over 100 pieces of lumber from the stacks and determine if there were any obvious or potential defects in each piece: this was going to be our house after all: might as well make every bit that goes into it is what you want (or, at least what you can control).
After we had loaded up 3 carts full of goods, we pulled our caravan of merchandise to the nearest register to check out. Then, with the help of an employee we loaded up everything into my dad’s van, and then drove to the next store where we did the whole thing over again. This is because we couldn’t buy everything we wanted from just one store, and in fact, we still needed quite a bit after just the first stop.
It was a pretty long day of hauling, stacking, moving, deliberating, deciding we have no idea what that product is and waiting to do more research on it, driving, and then unloading. It can really work up a sweat! That being said, I am really proud of ourselves for pulling the whole thing off. That, and I feel like we got some really awesome materials out of it! Our cedar loft beams smell amazing, I love how straight most of our studs are, and I’m anxious to try out our new little toy: a Ridgid Palm Nailer.
What is a palm nailer you ask? It’s our response to our fear of 15lb. pneumatic air guns that can fire a 3 ½ inch nail at over 200 feet per second at whatever you happen to be aiming at, whether it is a 2×4, a tire, a foot, your eye. To be fair, you have press down on the safety tip, but I’ve read reviews of some faulty guns where the owner saw no fault with the product as they pulled it out of the box and the very first time they hooked the tool up to the compressor it suddenly fired a nail clear across the room where it plunged into the drywall. Ouch!
Suffice it to say, we were kinda freaked out by the whole idea of using an actual gun to build our house (the zombie apocalypse is a different question).
Besides, buying a framing nailer from a trusted name brand is super expensive for our one-time purposes. So, after doing some research and finding out about palm nailers, a class of tools I had never heard of before, Sierra and I decided to play it safe and buy a palm nailer that could drive nails with significantly less effort than swinging a hammer and with less danger than firing a nail gun.
How does it work? Wonderfully! At 100psi, the nailer drives a nail accurately into a double stud in a little less than 2 seconds. It’s kind of like a hand-held pneumatic hammer. You pick out one nail at a time and stick it into the magnetic head. Then you press the nail tip onto a surface, and a little hammer in the head starts pounding the nail into the material. What makes it safer than a framing nailer is that it can’t fire a nail across the room, and the palm nailer stops hammering as soon as you stop pushing down on it.
As you can see in our pictures, some of the nails we tried driving at a lower pressure bent, or didn’t go in straight, but at a higher pressure, the nails went in straighter, smoother, and faster. For a comparison, it took us about 30 seconds and about 15 swings to drive a 3.25in nail into the stud using a hammer, and it took about 2 seconds to accomplish the same task using the palm nailer. We don’t expect this to completely replace a framing nailer, or for that matter, a hammer in some situations, and we know it won’t be quite as fast, but being new at construction we thought this might be a safe alternative that will still save us time and effort, and it may even be a first in tiny house building: an entire house built by a palm nailer! Who knows? We might just decide that we were completely mistaken and turn around and buy a framing nailer, but in the mean time, I’m excited for the challenge.
All of our lumber is now stacked up in my dad’s shop, and next we have plans beginning next week to purchase our plywood sheathing, our HDU-4 and HDU-5 hurricane tie downs, a piece of angled steel, and some other odds and ends so we can (hopefully) begin building by the middle of next week! Excitement!