Timber framing is an ancient art, a sturdy, practical method of building long-lasting structures.
Some would say timber framers are crazy masochists, who want to spend forever making very little headway on a single project.
They're right! Timber framing, in reality, is for people with lots of time and little in the way of power equipment. Right now, that description fits my partner, Tim and me perfectly! We are slightly unemployed, living rent-free house sitting for some very generous folks who need help taking care of their animals for the winter. They also happen to have a barn with a wood stove inside. Although there are large gaps in the doors and no insulation in the walls of this building, it is enough to let us capture a little of the heat before it escapes to the snowy cold outside.
It all started when I said I wanted a pole barn or structure of some sort near my future garden. This structure would serve as a place to wash produce, dry herbs, store tools, and get out of the sun. Then, Tim starts talking about timber frame structures, how sturdy they are, how if properly built and sheltered from rot, they can last for centuries. He goes off to take a week-long course in Colorado to learn the craft, and I have a super fun vacation hiking about the rockies and seeing old friends. I thought he'd gotten enough experience to know that we probably weren't skilled or dedicated enough to do something bigger than a mailbox post ourselves. Next thing I know, it's a year later and we are recruiting our friends to unload a massive trailer full of timbers, some so heavy that it takes six people to lift them!
That was midsummer 2017, and we've been slowly working over all these timbers into rafters, posts, knee braces, joists, and girts. I've learned how not to hold a mallet and a chisel -- things can go terribly wrong with sharp hand tools when your wrist is too tired to hammer straight! But I've also been impressed with Tim's ability after only one week of instruction to interpret plans and attempt to teach me what to do. I'm a kinesthetic and impatient learner. I need to literally hold the tools and the pencil to understand what's going to happen with this big chunk of wood that somehow we are turning into a post with mortises for two different knee braces. We've both made several mistakes, placing cuts in the wrong place, or overdoing it moving those heavy timbers around, but it's all fixable so far.
The above pictures show a bird's mouth cut on a rafter, which enables the rafter to sit on the tie beam securely and is usually reinforced by a big screw called a log hog. The trick here is to make a very level surface, and not to cut below your line! Easier said than done; one of these cuts now takes me less than an hour, however it takes just as long to lay out properly and double-check that all the marks are in the right place.
Although it seems like this one project is taking a ridiculous amount of time, it's been peaceful, challenging, and so pleasurable to only work with hand tools that are quiet, exacting, and rewarding. We're no experts, and the true test will be when we start putting it together. If it doesn't fit together, we'll have to cajole our tribe of friends for round two of barn raising! That's a risky ask, because they may get tired of our particular brand of beer, music and potluck food if we need their help too many times in the same year!
This picture (courtesy of Timber Frame HQ) is much fancier and bigger than our 12x20 structure, but the general idea and layout is the same. I'm imagining sinks for washing freshly harvested produce, an enclosed room with drying racks for herbs that will be used in tea blends and salves, and a simple loft above for storage. It's possible we could have it up by mid-spring if we spend many full days down in the barn listening to music and sawing away. In the meantime, I'll drink more tea.