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!

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