Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Oh, hello. Sorry for my absence the past few weeks. Can I blame it on the Olympics? I mean, the Olympics come but once every four years (well, two if we’re being technical), and I just can’t help but get sucked into the wonder of curling, biathlon, speed skating . . . or ski cross! Man, ski cross looks like fun! If I had any kind of sports skills and could be any kind of winter Olympian, I think I’d do ski cross. Unfortunately, John thinks I have a better chance of mining a gold medal than winning one, so I don’t think I’ll be standing on the podium ever in my life.

Stairs in progress
But anyway. we’ve made some progress after a brief hiatus. We have stairs! No more taking a ladder up to the second floor carrying a saw (sharp), a sledge hammer (heavy), and a crow bar (pointy and heavy and kind of sharp).

Up to the second floor
We wound up having the contractor who is doing our roof do the stairs. This wasn’t in the original plan, but to keep things moving and to not spend weeks trying to lay out and construct them, we opted to have him do it. The layout is kind of complicated since there is a landing and then a bale wall on one side but a stud wall on the other and an opening all the way to the basement. And there are gaps in certain spots and, well, we weren’t confident. So, instead of struggling for a week or longer, he did the stairs in two days. You’d think we’d be better at framing by now, but alas, we are still novices in some aspects. We’ll probably do the stairs out of the basement hatch, but the ones that matter, we left up to an expert.

With treads!
While he was working, we started wrapping the first floor in house wrap to prep for the bales. There’s still a little framing left to be done, but since the weather was so amazing this weekend, there was no sense in wasting a gorgeous day working on something that we could do on a less-than-great day. Next time we won’t try to put it up in the wind because we basically had a giant sail on our hands, but it’s only temporary and therefore doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to keep snow out of the house so we can install the bales. Thankfully, Sunday wasn’t nearly as windy. There's just one more side on the downstairs to do and then the whole upstairs, but the good news is that the wrap kept the downstairs clear of snow despite the four inches we got overnight.

All wrapped up, and almost ready for bales (pardon the mess)
So bales! We’re almost ready for bales! I’m so excited to get started on this. I bet the whole town’s wishing we hadn’t put the house wrap up, though. I hear they’re very confused about this straw business.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Timber Framing, Part 1

baesment posts

Remember those giant posts I mentioned? Those ones up there? Well, before we could stand them up, we had to do a little prep work, which brings me to the first part of our timber frame journey! Immense detail goes into building a home, but even more so when you are timber framing. Cuts and measurements need to be precise so that everything fits together like a giant puzzle.

timber frame - squaring

Each timber must first be squared. You sort of size up the timber. Meaning, you take some measurements, look at where the knots in the wood are based on what you're cutting (knots are much harder to chisel), and find the most square corner that will be your reference face. The reference face is the "truest" and most square face from which all of your lines are drawn. You mark the ends of the timber on the reference face and carry your marks around all four sides, always using the reference face as the guide. Once you have both ends marked, you can then mark the tenons or mortises . . . or both, depending. Or a scarf joint if you're being really fancy.

A mortise is a pocket. A tenon is what goes in the pocket. A scarf is both in one, kind of.
Once you've checked and double checked and had a friend check you marks, you start cutting. Generally, we started by squaring off the bottom of the ends of the timber. We went old school and used a hand saw because we found we were able to make the most accurate cuts this way. It's tiring, though, let me tell you!

timber frame - squaring
Squaring a mighty post
timber frame - squaring
Dueling saws
We did use skill saws to cut parts of the joints to speed up the process, but squaring was one thing we didn't have too much success with using the skill saw because you have to be very accurate with your cuts to get all four sides to line up properly. Using a hand saw allows you to cut down two sides at once and see two lines at once, which helps with accuracy.

timber frame - squaring
Squaring the end of the post, cutting two sides at once
The basement posts have huge tenons on top to hold the main girders in place, and we chiseled those by hand. Once these were cut, the posts were lowered into the basement. A friend helped us stand them up one evening, but unfortunately, we realized after they were up that they were two inches too tall. Better too tall than two short, but this meant they had be be taken down, re-cut on the bottom, and then stood back up again. It all worked out in the end, but it was seriously frustrating.

timber frame - tenon

timber frame - tenon
Giant tenon

This is how we lowered the posts. Very OSHA-approved.

So! That was a super quick and broad explanation of timber framing. If you're interested in reading more, we followed the method in this book (as taught to us by our designer, Sarah). Once I get to the first floor timber frame, there will be a lot more to explain!