Sunday, October 18, 2015

Getting Really Into the Wood—Part 1

The name for this blog came to me in a flash. We were going to be building a timber frame house on a wooded mountainside in New Hampshire—wood timbers, wooded site. We were going to be getting into the wood in a big way. (As a side benefit, there is no possible copyright infringement with any Hollywood mouse movie with woods in the name.)

April 2015, after some logging, before excavating. (All photos by author.)

From the beginning we knew we wanted a house that had a significant open space—no walls between kitchen, dining, living areas (note, not rooms). This concept lends itself well to post and beam construction with square posts held together by metal screws, bolts, and brackets. We discovered New Hampshire, however, is a land where post and beam has a niche category all its own: timber framing.

Etna, N.H., library addition designed by Andrea Warchaizer.
Timber frame construction was very prominent in the Northeast, especially for barns, up until the late 1800s, but was abandoned in the industrial age as too time-consuming a building method. Timber frames are the more authentic, close ancestor of wood post construction with the complete framework of hand-crafted (with power tools) timber posts and beams of various wood species secured with oak pegs and mortise-and-tenon joinery.

We were fortunate (after one brief architect mis-step) to find Andrea Warchaizer (Springpoint Design), a fantastic architect who works almost exclusively with timber frames and is an active member of the Timber Framers Guild of North America, which was formed in 1984 as an educational nonprofit. Andrea earned her chops as a designer at Benson Woodworking Company, working with many talented framers; and her architecture degree at Yale. Tedd Benson is credited by some with reviving the “ancient” craft of timber frame in the United States with the founding of his company in the mid-1970s.

Here’s the skinny on timber frame versus conventional stick frame construction from
“Whereas light frame construction includes many slender sticks of wood simply cut to length and nailed together, a timber frame structure uses fewer, much larger members, shaped at their connections to lock together. . . . Today’s timber-framed house combines the best of the old techniques with the advantages of the new for structural integrity and energy efficiency.”
N.H. Timber frame home: Andrea Warchaizer;
 Timber-Frame Workshop.
Andrea did an expert job of taking Doug’s design to its next architectural dimension. What was worked out on graph paper worked in CADCAM. Armed with drawings for the timber frame and stick frame adjuncts, we sought out the craftsman who would make the timber frame happen, interviewing numerous throughout New Hampshire. When we conducted site visits and met with the timber framers’ clients we found them all most gracious in opening up their homes. They seemed to have formed deep ties with their framers, having gone through a long creative process together to achieve a common goal.  After a competitive bidding process and some soul-searching, we chose Tom Page's Timber-Frame Workshop of Alstead, N.H., to be our partners.

Tom and Doug with cut timbers for barn.

We nailed down a few more details with Tom and last week he ordered 250 pieces of Douglas fir from a company near Port Orford, Oregon. Major milestone! Lots is going to be happening—in Oregon and New Hampshire—over the next several months.

Fine grain  and warm color of Douglas fir.
Douglas fir (named after Scottish botanist and explorer David Douglas) is a beautiful and strong large conifer (up to 250 feet tall) grown in a small area of the American northwest. We are going to be getting really into the Doug fir!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Grass: The Down and Dirty

Last fall, before the logging. (All photos by author.) 
In our vision of a dream home, there is no lawn, but native trees, shrubs, moss, and wildflowers, au naturel. Having lived in New Jersey for decades and being busy professional folk, we paid plenty to landscapers to weekly whack away at grass and weed with multiple loud machines. The pleasure of a newly mown lawn is fleeting; the impact on the checkbook is not. Our no-lawn goal seemed like a no brainer, its New Hampshire and we have lots of trees. Well, maybe too many trees. Trees block views and a few had to go.

Painting by Canadian artist Emily Carr.

The first time that logger Steve came to cut we
were very conservative—leave this tree, this tree, this one, don’t even think of cutting over there (color-coded surveyors’ tape came in handy). As we got to see the lay of the land we discovered a surveyor’s map (scale 1” to 100’) can’t reveal the undulating micro slopes. To clear a swath for the barn that didn’t entail a walk-out basement, the logger was called back, plans were changed, more trees cut. Result: the barn is on level land and now we also have lots of beautiful bare earth we need to protect from erosion. Excavator Dave says to throw a little conservation mix seed on it; it’s excellent for erosion control and attracting deer to graze. Again, no problem. It’s fall; we’ll just go to the local hardware store and pick some up. Easier said than done.

Home site will be in front of trees in foreground and a little to left. 
Canaan Hardware is sold out; West Lebanon Tractor Supply Company (TSC) on the phone says they are sold out. We head out on a quest. It’s like we are seeking rare tickets for a Josh Grobin concert; we want it! And yet there is no conservation mix to be had. Resourceful New Englanders that we are (albeit recent ones, my stock is Pennsylvanian, Doug hails from Canada) we will make our own—a cuvee of grass seeds to approximate conservation blend (35% red fescue, 25% tall fescue, 15% annual ryegrass, 12% perennial ryegrass, 10% Kentucky bluegrass, and 3% white clover). For comparison, the formula  of the more easily procured contractor’s mix is 30% red fescue, 30% annual ryegrass, 30% perennial ryegrass, and 10% tall fescue.

There seems to be a lot of hype in grass seed these days. High-end seed sold in Home Depot (HD) as high-performance is 95% NOT seeds but enhancements (fluff?) that hold moisture and supposedly help the seed take hold. Yet another seed package on an adjacent shelf for a similarly expensive variety touts there are no additives. Confused? I am.

Meadow seeded. 
Here is what we end up with from available offerings at TSC and HD. Two parts HD Contractors Mix (perennial and annual rye grass, no clover, no bluegrass), one part TSC Farm & Ranch Pasture Mix (fescue, rye grass, Kentucky bluegrass, clover), and one part TSC straight clover. There is not a Cabela’s within 100 miles but online I find Imperial Whitetail Clover brand seed, which sells for $44 for four pounds, which is way more than we pay for good steak.

P.S. Bear evidence. Recent photo from night camera nearby.
We sow and wait, which shouldn’t be too long; some of the seeds germinate in as few as three days. With warm weather and gentle rain, we hope Mother Nature is hanging out in our corner of New Hampshire and will smile on our patch of mountainside.