Viga Notes

We’ve done so much since my last blog post that it seems fitting to break up our activities into a few individual posts. This first post, as the title indicates, is all about vigas.

Vigas are the rounded pine beams that will be a major structural and aesthetic element of the ceilings in our house. These rough hewn beams will help the interior of the house retain a strong sense of the natural, minimally refined materials used in the construction of the building. Vigas are commonly used in traditional adobe homes, and although our house doesn’t conform to a fully traditional adobe aesthetic, it still felt essential to use them as a major feature of our house. They will span the ceilings of our house from end to end, in every room.

The trees were cut several months ago by Tucker Looney in the Gila National Forest, and the timber had been lying in repose at his sawmill in Riverside, NM ever since. It now felt like the time was right to get the beams up to our build site, so that we could begin the process of de-barking them.

Tucker called my phone on Friday, March 23rd while Daniel, Jared, and I were laying adobes up at the build site. Tucker had the vigas loaded on his trailer and was wondering if he could bring them out to us. Although I wasn’t expecting the delivery that day, I was ready to finally get the beams on site. Daniel and Jared said they’d stick around with me until he arrived, as it seemed like a good idea to have a couple extra people there to help offload the logs.

I met Tucker down at our first gate when he arrived about an hour and a half later. He hopped in my truck, and I took him up to our build site before we attempted to bring the logs up. I wanted to get his opinion on if we could realistically get the vigas up the two steep hills en route to our place. After seeing the route, Tucker wasn’t entirely confident about our prospects, but he was willing to give it a try!

We determined that the best method would be to chain his truck to mine, put both of our trucks in 4 wheel drive, and I’d slowly assist in getting his truck and trailer up the steep hills. I think we were both pretty nervous as we started the slow crawl up the first hill, but we made it – just barely! It was a slow grind getting up that hill, but we kept moving forward and eventually we were on top of it. The second hill was a bit easier to get up than the first. We unchained our trucks and drove up the rest of the way separately.

The logs arrive to the build site after the trek up!        Photo Credit: Jared

Now there was still the task of offloading the vigas from the trailer. I wanted to have the logs in the location where we’ll need them to be when we’re ready to hoist them up on the walls. With this thought in mind, we backed up the trailer alongside the west wall of the house. As you can see from the photo above, the logs were piled up pretty high on the flatbed trailer. Tucker’s offloading plan was to simply roll the logs off to either side of the trailer.

With the trailer in position along the west wall, Tucker removes the chains holding the vigas in place.        Photo Credit: Jared

When Tucker removed the last chain holding the vigas in place on the trailer, I think we were all expecting the logs to come rolling down. Instead, we ended up having to roll them off the pile one log at a time. We used a couple of 2×8 boards as ramps, and although the boards eventually broke under the weight of the rolling vigas, they mostly did their job. Daniel and I helped Tucker roll the logs off the trailer, and the logs were all on the ground in about 20 minutes.

Photo Credit: Jared
Photo Credit: Jared

The logs ended up in two fairly haphazard piles on either side of the trailer. Tucker had enough room to pull out, so we shook hands and he took off down the road. I thanked Daniel and Jared for sticking around to help, and we decided to call it a day.

Since the vigas were delivered while we still had a few adobe courses to put up, the logs have mostly stayed where they were dropped off. I did come out one afternoon to take care of a few things around the build site, and I decided to debark the first couple vigas. I was able to lift some of the shorter vigas myself – one end at a time onto each of the sawhorses. With my brand new German-made 10″ drawknife clenched tightly in both hands I started shaving.

Peeling the first viga

Using a drawknife is sweaty, sappy work. About 8 or 9 years ago I built a small yurt, and Megan and I skinned all the 2″ diameter pine poles for that project. An 8″ diameter log of pine is a much bigger task to de-bark, but using a drawknife is satisfying work for all the labor involved. Peeling bark is a wonderful feeling, and revealing the bright-white wood beneath the bark is a beautiful thing to behold. We’ll see, however, if my attitude changes after we peel all 42 logs!


6 thoughts on “Viga Notes

  1. I have loved working with wood myself (small sculptures) and can imagine how satisfying it must have been to peel the bark off the logs and reveal the beautiful wood beneath.


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