Sunday, July 24, 2016

Raising Timbers

Timber framing is a great spectator sport... but the ticket price is pretty steep.—Doug

Doug and I spent three days last week watching timber fly and agile men walk
balance beams as 14,000 board feet of beautifully cut, planed, and oiled Douglas fir
came into place on our mountainside home site. Other than a quick lunch break
we watched with intensity for 10 hours a day as the house Doug first saw in his
head and them put onto paper and revised and revised over the course of two
years became hard wood reality. What we saw on the mountainside—from our friends
at the Timber-Frame Workshop in Alstead, New Hampshire—was talent and skill,
absolute dedication and commitment to their craft.

The first timber partial wall goes up. Flying timbers and other acrobatics.
(All photos by author.)

The team of six men have worked together for decades and range in age from mid-40s to mid-60s. Matt, who runs the 200-foot boom crane, gets direction from the ground where timbers are in piles. He “picks” a timber that Chris or Jim have prepared with “chokes” or strong fabric-wrapped loops that are placed precisely on the beams so that when lifted, the crane can dangle the wood in the air, and move it over and up at the proper angle to the awaiting crew.
Some whole walls were assembled by the crew on the first floor “deck” then hoisted into square slots cut in the floor, later to be secured with Simpson metal straps to the carrying beams in the basement. After some of the 24 vertical posts were placed, the receiving crew of Tom. Dave, and Bill might be standing on a 29-foot high beam with hammers and pegs waiting to guide, nudge, or cajole the next timber into place. One horizontal beam got a jump assist at 20 feet from Dave and popped perfectly into position.

The frame beginning to take shape. Fortunately the weather cooperated. 
This went on for three days. They moved gracefully around each other, swapping responsibilities or handing off tools. The intensity of the work is exhausting—even to watch.
Timber framing has no room for error—in cutting the intricate joinery of a 20-foot beam or fitting it into the giant wood puzzle taking shape high above the ground.
Good timber frames do not go up with ease, but with the work of our mountain crew we are very pleased.

“Good timber does not grow with ease.
The stronger the wind, the stronger trees.”
―American Poet
Douglas Malloch (1877–1938)


  1. How very exciting, Trish. I wish you'd post the plans they are working from. I'd love to see them. Molly

    1. The timber frame lends itself to an open floor plan. We've designed it to be able to grow old in--first floor bedroom suite and no steps to get into the house from one entrance. We hope to be able to move in before Thanksgiving.

  2. Just beautiful! Having acrophobia (fear of heights), just looking at the pictures of your crew made my stomach uneasy. I couldn't imagine watching them in person, much less being up there on those beams myself! Exciting - if not scary - stuff!