Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Timber Framing Adventure

A Timber Framing Adventure
Michael Hughes

Although this book is about the building of a timber framed home in Colorado, it’s also the story of a fellow who wanted to do something substantial with his life. I wanted to leave a little bit of me behind that would exist beyond my time. I also wanted to inspire someone else to do something with their life that would leave the world a little better off than it was when they got there. Some call this emotion a mid-life crisis. I called it a need to stop coasting through life and do something that made a difference in the world.
I looked about the world and into my past and found that I was inspired by structures built for a human purpose of quality materials and superior craftsmanship. Michelangelo saw to the building of structures that are magnificent to this day. In the course of my existence, I have lived in dozens of buildings, everything from a refurbished chicken coop to a 25-story concrete dormitory. What inspired my awe and respect were the buildings that were built for people that were designed to last forever. There had to be someone responsible for the building of those structures and I wanted to be one of those some ones. I spent six months in Europe during my college career and was overwhelmed by buildings that are still being used and occupied to this day and have been serving that purpose for hundreds of years. After college, I moved from Illinois to Pennsylvania into a home that was over one hundred years old. Not many people know the name of the man that built that house, but I do. Peter built a house designed to last for generations out of bricks and chestnut and slate. He obviously built it with great care and it is still being lived in long after people have lost track of his name. This was my idea of making a difference in the world and I decided that I wanted to follow in those footsteps. I wanted not only to build a lasting structure, but hopefully to inspire someone in the future to do something lasting that would make the world a better place to be.
I was very disappointed as a child to learn that Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin disintegrated and no longer exists. I was once naive enough to think that I wanted to build a stone castle on a hill. To this day, I still note hills where another castle could be built. Enough doses of reality have convinced me of the impracticability of this idea. I knew from direct experience that a stick house build with as little glue and as few nails as possible would surely fall apart. In Pennsylvania, I looked about me and saw sturdy barns made with timbers and pegs. One day I witnessed an attempt to demolish such a barn to make way for another housing development. A bulldozer operator, who was expecting to collapse this barn into its’ basement smashed into one corner of this barn. The entire barn frame slid off of its’ stone foundation into its basement remaining totally intact. Seeing this incredibly durable structure endure this brutal assault, I decided that this was the kind of building that I wanted to build. I went to the architecture section of the library and eventually found a book describing this type of building and learned that I wanted to build a timber-frame house. This is the kind of building that would last for 500 years and perhaps I could build just such a building.
The book that I found on that fate full day in the library was, Building the Timber Frame House. I took that book home and consumed it cover to cover. Since the library expected me to return it, I went to a book store and ordered a copy of my own. Mr. Benson’s book inspired me. It spoke of traditions, solidity, engineering, planning and beauty – exactly what I had in mind. It seemed to me that he had found the answer to his dreams and those dreams were the same as mine. It even began to dawn on me that not only would the building of a timber-framed home fulfil my dream, but that writing about it might be another way to inspire others to greatness. Mr. Benson not only inspired me to build a timber-framed home, but also planted the seed of this book.
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. An excellent author can evoke mind pictures with the use of words and needs not employ pictures. I am no such author. On the other hand, there are pictures that I don’t think can be put into words. Because of these two concepts, this book relies heavily on pictures. I took all of the photos with either a camera or a video recorder over the course of my timber framing experience. The drawings are also of my own creation, with occasional modifications of the drawings of others. Most or all of the things that I think of as my own inventions have no doubt already been invented. I apologize for any false assumptions, offensive terms or faulty statements; these too are of my own creation.
Timber framing and building construction in general is littered with terminology that probably is not familiar to everyone. Not being a life-long professional timber framer or building tradesman, some terminology is also foreign to me as well. I tried to describe things in terms that the average person can relate to and only resort to fancy terms (as I understand them) when necessary. Hopefully, the pictures and drawings also help to clarify what I am trying to describe. I have also included an index and a glossary at the end of this book to help explain some of this unavoidable terminology.
I hope that this book is both informative and entertaining. To gain the wisdom of others, I have read several of the countless books on the subject of house building and its many associated aspects. I have also read several books on the subject of timber framing specifically. I was once a Boy Scout, a gymnast, a student of science and education, a handyman, a professional engineer and a timber-framing apprentice. Frustrated with my own history of repairing the mistakes of other home builders, I decided that I would like to build and maintain a home composed of only my own inventions and mistakes. The practical application of this assortment of research, training and experience has led to what I think is the unique design and construction process of this timber-framed home. This book is an attempt to share this product of my imagination and whatever wisdom I may have acquired in the process with others.
One of the reasons that this timber-framed home is unique in today’s’ world of speedy assembly of manufactured components is that it was constructed from raw materials. If what was needed could be made from an oak timber or board, rather than buying a finished product, I built it myself. Although this book focuses on the three-year long solo creation of a timber-framed structure, it also covers the process of developing a finished timber framed structure into a beautiful home. I did however, at times surrender to practicality. I was fairly certain that commercial exterior doors and windows would be superior to anything that I might make. The same applies to interior and exterior sheathing materials and the typical plumbing and electrical fixtures. Whenever possible, I avoided acquiring help. With the exception of the crews that built the concrete foundation, the water and power utilities and the roof, all of the labour to build this timber-framed home was my own.
I also hope to share the emotional aspect of this home building experience. Beyond the practical information related to the building of a timber-framed home, I would like to include a sense of the adventure of this process. The events that I have included really did happen. These events have been included in the hope that others may learn from my euphoric successes as well as my disastrous mistakes.

1 comment:

  1. Hey I really appreciate you taking the time to put this all together and post it, really inspirational to me personally who is taking on a similar feat in the mountains of West Virginia, you did an amazing job on your frame and your hard work really shows!