Tag Archive: timber frame

Here in Ithaca, NY winter feels as though it has definitely arrived. We have snow on the ground and temperatures stayed below freezing sometimes dropping into the single digits for most of last week. With that being the case I have only gone out to check on my tiny house but have not done any work on the windy, exposed site. But my hoop house seems to be working well, sheltering my floor from the snow and keeping things protected until it warms up again.

Last weekend I did start drawing out to scale framing plans for the walls and hope to do a lot more planning through the winter months. Already some things have shifted, like the placement of my fridge, which changes the placement of my sink and my window… And it is making me think it might be worth taking the time to teach myself google sketch-up rather than drawing the plans by hand, where things are much harder to change without starting over.

I also completed my third week working as an employee of Hammerstone School, which is a lot of fun and is definitely keeping me busy! We had a basic carpentry class on November 14th and 15th with ten awesome women and each one built a pair of saw horses to take home with them. It was really cool to step into the role of teacher and share some of what I have learned. And to hear the students enthusiasm and appreciation for all the knowledge!

Beware, women at work

Beware, women at work.

Then this week a timber frame apprentice from Hawk Circle named Emma Appleton joined us and we just about finished cutting the frame for a small barn!

As you can see, we are working in an unheated barn so it is a bit chilly! Best to keep moving to stay warm! But at least we have some shelter from the wind and snow.

As you can see, we are working in an unheated barn so it is a bit chilly! Best to keep moving to stay warm! But at least we have some shelter from the wind and snow.

Emma hard at work. Must have been a bit warmer that day :-)

Emma hard at work. Must have been a bit warmer that day 🙂

Emma was a lot of fun and taught us some brilliant new words (she is from England) my favorite of which was ear defenders!

We are hoping to have an all women’s timber frame raising sometime in the first half of December (date TBD). This could very well be a historical event as Maria, Emma, or myself have never been at a raising of only women! It is not that we are anti men but more that we want to give women the chance to fully participate. We are thinking men will be allowed to come and support by providing food and childcare, as truth be told this is often what the women end up getting sucked into, whether they want to or not!

So, not too much progress on the tiny house, other than drawing out some plans and having a fridge buying adventure at home depot (I bought a cute high efficiency 10 cubic foot fridge only to find out it required 5″ of clearance on both sides and in back for ventilation! So we returned it today and a different, slightly larger 14 cubic foot energy star fridge will be being delivered on december 8th), but definitely been keeping busy with other things building related!


“why such philosophical talk about something as worldly as homebuilding? Because what is worldly about homebuilding is that it happens on this earth, it uses natural and man made materials and it requires money. The rest of homebuilding has to do with beliefs, feelings, spirit and passion. Certainly shelters can be made without these, but they probably will not be the kind of structures that speak positively and warmly to future generations of occupants. For most people, homebuilding is full of the most sensitive emotions. It seperates them from their life’s earnings, either to a good or ill end. It can bring families together or it can tear them apart, for homebuilding can be a dark and dangerous sea full of shoals and turbulant currents. I believe a well designed and well constructed timber frame house is worth the voyage, and I offer this book to help chart the course”

This is the last paragraph of the introduction to The Timber-Frame Home: Design, Construction, Finishing written by Tedd Benson. And for me it captures much of why I build. Building, to me, perfectly matches my inclinations as an artist and person who strongly identifies with place and fulfills my desire to walk a “mystical path with practical feet” (a phrase taken from Bill Plotkins, Nature and The Human Soul). Building is a worldly endeavor with tangible, real outcomes. But is also so much more then that. It can build community, make a statement, create a sense of place, give pride, provide an anchor, a home. Who are we without a home?

It has been a little while since I have written about building but that is not because I have stopped exploring it. Quite the contrary, I think I have become even more committed to it. Almost six months ago I was given the honor of acceptance as a Heartwood School Apprentice. I will be one of four apprentices who will stay at the school through this summer taking courses and also being offered many fantastic opportunities outside of the courses to participate in raising’s, go to timber frame guild meetings, and visit historical timber frame structures in the northeast. And to add to this honor I also received the very first Berkshire Woodworkers Guild scholarship to help with the cost of this summer. This was an exciting and unexpected gift that reassured me that I must be doing something right.

Almost a month ago now I went to Heartwood for our first course, Fundamentals of Woodworking. It felt great to be there. I felt at home almost immediately. And although I am sure their will be many times during the apprenticeship where I will be challenged, get frustrated, and perhaps even doubt my abilities, this first week I felt strong and confident, which felt like a good way to start. In this first course I learned a lot about tools in the shop; their function, safety, and maintenance. And we also built a toolbox as well as a beautiful little shaker stool. I was quite pleased with how mine came out and will hopefully get a picture up here of it soon. I also met one of the other apprentices, Jack, who at 17 years old is the youngest apprentice Heartwood has ever had. We got along fantastically and I am excited to meet the other two apprentices, one of whom is coming from Argentina!

When I returned to Ithaca I was almost immediately presented with an opportunity to put my new knowledge to use. It was quite amazing actually. I had just pulled into the parking lot of Ecovillage at Ithaca (where I am renting a room until I fully move into heartwood on June 13th) when I saw Dave, a fellow ecovillage resident, struggling to carry a bunch of wood and tools from the shared shop back to his house. I offered him a hand and by the time we had reached his house he had enlisted my help in his projects. Dave is an amazing man. A professor of neurobiology at Cornell University, he built his own timber frame home in Song, designing everything, including his own ingenious windows and doors and enlisting a local blacksmith to help give his house a unique and beautiful look. He also tinkers with electric bikes in his spare time, using them to commute back  and forth to Cornell when the weather is nice (the hills in Ithaca make doing this commute on a regular bike only for the the most ambitious) and driving his small hybrid car that gets 70 miles to the gallon in poor weather. Now we are almost done building 4 storm windows that will match his interior window design and have a plan for a screen door that we are both pretty excited about and hope we can pull off.

In the little spare time I have between these projects and my work at the amazing local food coop, Greenstar, I have been reading some books on Timber framing. The first was Build a Classic Timber Frame House by Jack A. Sobon, a fantastic how to book that walks you through exactly how to build a classic hall and parlor house. And, having just finished that one I am starting in on The Timber Frame Home by Tedd Benson. Already I like his writing style which seems to intertwine the philosophy with the practicalities, because lets be real, yes, I like that building is practical, but if it doesn’t also fit into my belief systems and worldview then I would not be interested. The philosophies, beliefs, and ethics of building are of just as much interest to me as the practicalities of it, and I hope I never lose site of that as I delve deeper into learning all the practical skills to create a delivery system to manifest those more abstract parts of who I am. After I finish this book I hope to read The Company We Keep: Reinventing small business for people, community, and place by John Abrams, a book about a timber frame business on Martha’s Vineyard, and what it takes to run a responsible and ethical business. I like what one of the reviews on the back of the book says; “the company we keep is a soulful and refreshing reminder that businesses are no different from families, communities, or any other human organization– without mission or purpose they can be lifeless, even destructive, but infused with intention, they can sow the seeds for a hopeful future.” -Gary Hirshburg

Here we go! Pictures are worth a thousand words….

Now that the timber frame is up we are starting to attach purlins. We used round poles of 2 to 3 inch diameter. Photo taken by Ed Trager

A little bit of stick framing around the doors and windows. Here are some window buck frames. These are for the loft so they will be hung from the rafter rather than attached to the toe ups. Window details are perhaps some of the most complex and crucial parts of a building as they are weak spots for potential water leaks and air drafts. Photo taken by Ed Trager

Bundles of phragmite reeds being stored until we are ready to put them on the roof! Photo taken by Ed Trager

Bundles of phragmite reeds being stored until we are ready to put them on the roof. Also, you can see slip straw put out on tarps to dry a little before being stuffed into the cracks between bales and gables. This will shorten the overall drying time which can be as slow as an inch a week. This means if you have a 14 inch thick bale wall and are using slip straw to fill in odd shaped gaps it could take 14 weeks for the wall to be dry all the way through in these spots! Letting the slip covered straw dry a bit before putting in the wall will shorten this time period. Photo taken by Ed Trager

Unloading the bales! Photo taken by Ed Trager

Before the bales are put on the toe ups drainage gravel was laid to create a level surface between the wooden ladders and nails were hammered into the toe ups to give the bales something to grab onto and help hold them in place. Photo taken by Ed Trager

And the first bales go in! Sarah shows us how it is best to start from the corners and work in, tying, staking and pinning your bales together as you go. Photo taken by Ed Trager

A bale stake about to be put in. These wooden (not metal!) bale stakes pin one row to the next. The stakes used to pin the second row to the first are particularly long (~24 inches) but the stakes used for the the rows above the 2nd row are generally just a little longer than the bale is tall, so about 18 or 20 inches. Stakes are only really necessary in the corners but can be used along the whole length of the wall. Sarah told us to think about the stakes and other bale fasteners as temporary bracing until the plaster goes on. Once the plaser is on the bales this is what will really be doing the structural work of keeping the bale wall in place. Photo taken by Ed Trager

A bale pin, which acts like a toe nail, pinning the bale to the adjacent post, or in this case a window buck. Photo taken by Ed Trager

Notice the air fins attached to the posts, beams, and braces before bales goes up. The material used for these is called screened hardboard. The use of these air fins are particularly crucial around the windows. They will keep air from being able to enter where the bales meet the wood and will also allow for a smooth plaster transition and prevent any cracking in the plaster that could occur as the wood shrinks and expands. Photo taken by Ed Trager

Baling needles are about 19 inches long and are used for retying bales to custom sizes, which is particularly handy around windows and doors. Photo taken by Ed Trager

A shave horse came in handy for making bale stakes as well as for pins and needles for thatching. Photo taken by Ed Trager

A beautiful diagram of thatching drawn by Deanne Bednar. Photo taken by Ed Trager

And Deanne helps up put the first bundle of reeds on the roof! Photo taken by Ed Trager

Tying down the reed bundles with a wire threaded under the purlin and around the sway. Photo taken by Ed Trager

Me! feeling good, hanging out on the roof, and happy to be a part of this fantastic project. Photo taken by Ed Trager

Deanne inspecting the drip edge of the thatch roof. Photo taken by Ed Trager

The gable “hat” in the kids cottage gave us some ideas for the retreat cabin. Photo taken by Ed Trager

The cob garden wall is coming along great! Notice the wooden form in the archway that will later be removed and the anchors along the wall that the mini living roof will attach to. Photo taken by Ed Trager

Some details on the cob wall. Cob is great because of its sculptural nature; you can carve niches out and sculpt just about any design you can imagine! Photo taken by Ed Trager

Heather working inside in the loft, passing thatch needles back to those on the outside. Soon the whole structure will be enclosed! Photo taken by Ed Trager

The second coat of plaster is beginning to go up! Photo taken by Ed Trager

Here is the house, with the north side just about completed. There is still work to be done but not bad for a two week workshop! Deanne will continue to work on the structure with whomever is able to stick around. Photo taken by Ed Trager

I can’t wait to see a picture of the cottage completely finished!

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Creating "new" from old has been a preoccupation of mine for a long time, but turned into a full-time adventure in building and living in a tiny "reclaimed" house. Beginning in 2012, I will live in this 120 square foot space for the length of my PhD studies in Literature and the Environment, and perhaps beyond. In this way, I hope to live a little smaller, leave a little lighter, and learn in what ways formal study can be acted in the every day.

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