Chapter 1 - The Goal
I told many people that I was planning to build a timber-framed home alone, in the middle of nowhere Colorado. No one came right out and said that it could not be done, but scepticism could be seen in their eyes. Even my mentor, Ed, suggested that I would need a crane. This sort of response would discourage some people; to me it became an irresistible challenge. I said to my wife Linda, I’m a physicist and an engineer, I’m sure it can be done. Unlike these other sceptical folk, Linda’s response was “Let’s go for it, it’s time for an adventure!” Indeed, it can be done and has been the most enormously challenging and gratifying experience of my life.
In my mind, time, energy and motivation are the three elements that one needs, and with them, anyone can accomplish just about anything. Given these three elements, accomplishing something is simply a matter of the tools and materials that are available. With a given set of tools and materials, one can formulate a plan to reach ones goal. The materials available define the nature of the end result and the tools available define how the material is worked to achieve the goal.
This idea was hatched some time in 1992. Since my experience with both timber framing as well as house building was almost non-existent, I told Linda it would probably take me about two years to build our house. I would go to Colorado and build our house and when it was done we could move to Colorado and live in it. To keep her abreast of progress, I took photos at significant points in the project. When these snapshots did not prove to be adequate, I bought a video recorder and perched it on a timber to record some of the more exciting events. I also jotted cryptic notes on calendar pages for a while. As I finally begin to write this book late in 2003, I am finishing the last of the carpentering projects, the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.
At some point in this adventure, the notion of writing a book relating my experience in solo timber frame house building occurred to me. I confidently assumed that my ongoing documentation process would allow me the reconstruct the construction process. Unfortunately, once the video camera got boring, the film developing got expensive, and the calendar jotting got forgotten, the documentation of progress started to get sparse. Giant leaps occurred with only my ageing memory for documentation. As a result, some of the details of construction are a bit fuzzy. Having reviewed these cryptic documents, I realize that the critical details are simply locked up in my memory. I spoke with my daughter, Alyssa about this dilemma. Her recommendation was to provide information rather than historical accuracy since the idea of this book is to be instructive rather than leading the reader through my learning curve. With this advice in mind, I will attempt to narrate the construction process as accurately as my documentation and memory will allow. At the same time I’ll try to incorporate a bit of hindsight. In the light of several years of experience, there are always options that would probably have worked better. Hopefully, the blending of experience and hindsight might allow the reader to pursue the idea of building ones own timber frame house without necessarily following in my sometimes-dubious footsteps.
I kept several bits of wisdom pertaining to this sort of project in mind at all times. “Safety First”, “KISS – (Keep It Simple Stupid)” and “Work with what you have” are at the top of my list. Unfortunately, there is nothing safe about sharp tools, heavy timbers and working alone, so my wife added “Be Extremely Careful” to the list. Ed also added another key to the puzzle – always keep thinking, “What’s Next?” If you don’t always have the answer to “What’s next?” then it’s time to get a new plan. I soon learned to temper this “foresight” with my own “One Thing at a Time” philosophy. Last but not least, one must always recognize and respect nature and her forces, most relevantly, wind and gravity.
In my mind, every successful project must begin with a clear, safe, and simple plan. Though a drawing is necessary, being able to draw the plan does not guarantee that you can execute your beautiful drawing. I converted my drawings to a small-scale frame model and tried to envision how I was going to build the full-scale frame as I assembled the model. This process not only helped to provide a three-dimensional view of the project, but also provided an opportunity to think through all of the steps that would be necessary for assembly. It also helped to fine-tune the plan. The fact is that I had little idea what I was doing and learned along the way. At some point you just have to build the real thing!
Beyond the desire to build a timber-frame home, was the fact that this had to be a low-budget project. The creation of a simple plan eliminated the need for an expensive architect. The desire to build the frame myself eliminated the need for an expensive crew. Working with timbers and boards made with a portable sawmill, rather than dimensionally perfect lumber, reduced the cost of materials. Come alongs and a gin pole replaced the expense of a crane. The price of all of this economy was my time and effort. A huge amount of credit for the realization of this timber-framed home belongs to my wife Linda who provided the working funds, confidence and encouragement for me to have the time that was needed to build our dream. It has been about eight years now and I’m almost done.