Everyone should try to build something in their lifetime. I’m here to tell you why.
This past Saturday, Shawn and I did something really amazing. I don’t know about the scale of amazingness on cosmic terms, but in terms of achieving something that was difficult and doing it both safely and successfully, we really felt great by evening on Saturday. What we did was raise our ridge beam, all by ourselves. We’ve raised a couple of other ridge beams on our own, but they were for outbuildings. The ridge beam we hoisted on Saturday is basically the backbone of our home under construction. It’s called a LVL which stands for Laminated Veneer Lumber. It’s not a product we originally wanted to use, but the county wanted it in there so we complied. We had intended to raise two separate beams and sister them together, but instead we had to use the LVL which is 1 ¾” thick, 32 feet long, and nearly 12 inches high. It’s a big ol’ beam. It’s painted bright orange, which is a special touch and adds a further element of ridiculous to the already somewhat silly situation of two quite small but very independent builders preparing to raise this monster beam from the ground to the very tip top of our house.
Here’s what we did. We had a bit of help. When the beam was delivered, Shawn and Chris, the driver for the delivery, carried the beam into the house and laid it in the front door. So it wasn’t directly on the ground. Good move number one. The next morning, we prepared to slide it up onto the second floor. We planned to have me push the beam and Shawn slowly walk it up the ladder to the second floor where we could sort of lay it and push it into place across the second floor of the house. From that point, we would need to take it up about 10 more feet till it spanned the entire length of the house. That was going to be the real trick. We got a second nice break when our neighbor Mike saw us trying to push the beam up into the house and lent a helping hand. With his help, we were able to very quickly slide the beam up onto the second floor. After that, the work was up to us. We wanted the challenge, and frankly were afraid that if the beam fell on someone it could kill them. This was really our challenge.
The project took about 5 hours for us altogether. We spent a lot of time examining the situation before moving to the following step. We first measured and cut the beam to the exact 32 feet we needed for spanning our home. Then Shawn did the layout on the beam, both sides, marking for rafters to be placed every 24 inches. After this we took a break for a vitamin packed lunch and some time to gather our senses for the raising of the beam. We decided that the lift should be done in stages, using site built cleats along the way to progressively lift the beam higher and higher till it could ultimately sit fully atop the highest point on the pitch walls (aka rake wall or gable end wall). Along the way, we’d have to make sure we kept the beam relatively level so we planned to move from one end of the house to the other raising sides by the turn to keep things in good standing. It’s a funny thing to deal with a monstrous beam that is so long and heavy – and bends in the middle! You really have to slow down and take your time. You also have to overcome anxiety. I say you have to overcome anxiety, but more what I mean is that you have to consider it carefully. Too little anxiety and you might not be appreciating the serious thought that should be going in to something like raising a really long and heavy beam over your head and into its appropriate place. But too much thought, and you could become paralyzed. It’s a fine line. Something that came to me a couple of times during the process was advice that a friend in the tree business once gave us. He mentioned that you have to really learn to trust your safety equipment. In our case, our safety equipment consisted of a lot of careful thought and consideration followed by belief that the temporary cleats that we were placing along the way would hold up properly and keep the beam in a good place while we prepared to move to the next height. I should mention here that the stepped cleats were attached to two site built jigs, themselves attached vertically to the rake walls, that prevented the beam from rolling, which it was prone to do – especially in a warm, convective summery breeze.
Slowly and carefully we continued to plan and place cleats and slowly and carefully we continued to raise our monster LVL higher and higher up the rake walls till finally one end was placed, safely anchored in place by 2 x 4 cleats keeping it standing upright (the beam stands on its narrow end and really had a propensity to tip over, which would have been disastrous. So we really had to keep it cleated properly to prevent this). It was time to lift the other side of the beam well above our heads and into place. The last lift required us to raise the beam much higher than before and the overhead work was nerve wracking at this point, though we could keep ourselves calm and ready by taking our time and talking each move through with each other at least twice before undertaking it. We took a deep breath and prepared to lift the beam the last part of the way into its permanent home. It slid into place nicely and we anchored it with screws till we could put up some rafters the next day. After that process, we were definitely ready for dinner.
But I have to tell you, I have rarely felt the wonderful sense of accomplishment that I did that evening. Relief, accomplishment and ravenous appetite all came over me like a wash. Very welcome senses all! The sense of accomplishment was tremendous, though. We had done something that seemed nearly impossible at the start and amazed both ourselves and everyone passing by. At the end of our work for the day, our house was tied together with a ridge beam running through it.
So why do I say that everyone should build something? Maybe it’s not a building you need to do, maybe that’s a good metaphor, though. And since this is a building website and so many of our readers want to build (but perhaps haven’t yet), it seems like the most appropriate suggestion to make. We all really amaze ourselves by trying something difficult on for size. This experience stands out for me since it was so recent and so incredibly gratifying. I’m a pretty modest person, actually, but after this day of work, standing in the street and staring at that beam we moved into place, I really think I could have sincerely shouted out that I was just amazed at myself. Because I was! No arrogance involved. Just sheer joy!
Here is a recipe for accomplishing things that you think might be outside your ability. Work slowly, think a lot, read a lot, study your situation. Believe you can do it. Don’t give up or walk away or never try at all. Trust your safety equipment, whatever form it takes. Check it on the way. Use extra screws, they are cheap and they come out after you’re done. Use your brain. Press yourself a bit. Stress yourself a bit. Try something totally difficult and challenging. Take breaks along the way and reassess your situation. Get help when you need to. Don’t be afraid to ask for help but give it your all before you do. The sense of reward of achieving something very difficult is just so wonderfully gratifying.