Dirty Little Secrets

There are, actually, quite a few DLS's involved in timber framed homes. Many of them are revealed while trimming and outfitting the building. Others, during the timber seasoning phase. A few only crop up with usage. One of my favorites, though, is The Huge Budget Bump for Christmas Trees. Timber framed homes, of course, are not the only homes with tall great rooms. But a tall great room with celebrated timbers seems somehow to accentuate the primordial lust for a wicked big tree. This example was sent by a favorite client, John McRae, showing the 2009 edition installed in his beloved NH home - The Beeches.

Based on my own decades of installing significant trees in a lovely timber framed great room, I offer the following advice and tips:

  • I have had luck, going to funky cut-em-yourself places and offering to harvest one of their left over monsters. Some tree growers are happy to have a tree removed that has already outgrown their more standard market. Make em an offer, see what they say.
  • I love hanging trees from their upper limbs or trunk, rather than relying on nearly inevitably overwhelmed tree stands on the floor. You can use a noose or a pair of sticks, wired together under convenient branches. The sticks, then, bridged between two handy timbers in the frame (and I would carve the date, height, and price of each tree in the reused sticks) This also allows for bigger green-sustaining water buckets. Speaking of which, look for those siphon fed buckets - much tidier than crawling under low hanging branches with a ewer.
  • I have enjoyed plugging lights into a specifically wired outlet, one with a rheostat on it. This can tie the tree lights into the same plugs that handle the rope lights backlighting timbers. This makes for easy ambiance adjusting.
  • I cannot overstate the convenience of having an extra wide, even double, door into the great room. I had to protect my soft redwood door jambs with cardboard, during insertion. Taking a dried and stiffened tree out is even harder, and done without the festive attitude that accompanied the prior passage. I usually limb the tree out, prior to removal. I have, even, used a chain saw to do this; fun. I often killed two birds by having the tree leave the room as smoke and tinsel enhanced ashes.
Happy Holidays

Franklin Pierce College Pavilion (now gone)

The pavilion at Franklin Pierce College; built by The Timber Framers Guild, as part of their annual conference. This structure has as rich as reflected ceiling plan as any I have ever built; heavy rafters, slender purlins, light rafters, and strapping for the cedar shingles – all overlaid and visible from within. Chains hold the open structure down at the post feet. My fine friend, the amazingly nimble Dave Carter, and I ended up shingling the 4:12 roof by full moon and with full tummies. He was determined to keep shingling, but concerned about falling off, so he had me nail his shirt to the roof. When I retrieved him in the morning, we peeled off the circular pattern of shingles he had installed. Among the many tales I might tell of the inaugural party, I will only mention that our beloved Mark Witter played blues and my toe was crushed by a tipping beer keg, but I danced on. I loved this building.

Delaminating Beams

Ben has been known to contend that: “The worst clients are desperate friends – you can’t even, really, take advantage of them on the fee.” So, what to say about a job that has “hit a glitch” and involves good friends on three sides? I got a call from one old friend one evening, and was on a ferry two days later. These spectacular curved beams were intended for some lovely trusses, designed by another friend, for inclusion in a home being built by yet a third friend. All parties agreed something was awry, but were unclear on what best to do about this. I showed up with a bag of tricks that included a bunch of sophisticated, new lag bolts. We were able to salvage the beams, the schedule, and a variety of friendships; through application of nimble engineering and good site help.

Spline and block floor support

Peter came to me with a design challenge/opportunity for the joist end connections that would point in toward the huge tree in the middle of the octagonal room. We needed to support some circumferential floor boards, inside the innermost ring of floor beams. A likely method was some form of joinery for the radial joists that would extend beyond the inner surface of the joist. We could make a horizontal spline with a clunky block atop it, or? We came up with a yoke spline into which a dadoed block slides against the inner face. The floor boards sit on this block. The block is, in turn, held in place by horizontal pegs through the spline. We drew a version that had vertical keys on either side that pulled the block along the spline into the joist, but calmer heads prevailed.

Chain Shopping

One thing led to another, and the projector balcony in this Nantucket "Home Performing Arts Center" ended up looking like a scallop shell from below. The radial joists penetrate the curved rim band and are wedged. When it came time to hang the entire thing from the arches above, we wanted something special. Randall and I ended up in the back room of a local machine supply store, sizing chains for the job. Even their lightest one would have carried the design load. We went by feel and look. This was such a fun mission that we celebrated by buying donuts for the entire shop and office. A great morning, in detailing timber and design/build construction. And in shopping.

Random/Whimsical Timbers

A timber framer’s wedding can be a lot of fun, in my experience. One of the treats lies in watching the assembled, during the service. The attending framers will spend much of their time looking up, studying the timbers supporting the roof overhead, occasionally looking down to check on the service and gauge the remaining time until the reception. One consistent aspect of all the great church roof framing is regularity and consistency – until we framed the new Madison Church.

Duo Dickinson was, again, the architect behind this opportunity to have fun with timbers. We were adding a larger chapel to an existing church along the Connecticut coast. The room is, basically, supported by fairly standard rigid frames of heavy timbers. In a quest, however, for a “forest feeling,” we shifted many of the secondary timbers so that they are not identical. We even added some timbers that are simply there “because we could,” running from random timber to random timber, and contributing virtually nothing to the structural performance. These are, strictly, sculptural timbers – ones likely to rock the world of any student of timber structure who happens to have a few moments to spare during some lull in the proceedings for the duration of this chapel’s function.

Installing this frame was not without incident. In fact, it may have included the sole occurrence of a timber being installed that proved to be one inch too LONG – ever. That timber being a main post, however, meant we had to lift a very large hunk of timber over our heads, in order to perform that too rare inchectomy. As fun as this project was, we only barely missed making it truly spectacular with a ceiling of deliberately, particularly, and efficiently randomized roof boards. Another sweet project; thank you, Duo.

Built in Mantles with Hidden Hooks

Two major plates, running the length of a great room and supporting light common rafters is a classic framing scheme. Among the advantages of this layout is the framing celebrating and cooperating with masonry at one end of the room. The posts that support the heavy plates can frame the masonry; and, if they are brought to the inner masonry face, can also support a mantle across the masonry. The great room on my Keene, NH home is an example (built in 1994, but carved with 1991 for the palindromic symmetry and being “close enough”). I also added backlighting and my favored “recessed stocking hooks,” The simple cup hooks, set into rounded shallow holes drilled into the mantle underside, provide convenient and discreet stocking support, while subtly celebrating Christmas morning year-round.