Category Archives: Timber Framing

My Favorite Use for a Transitional Plane

Transitional planes are the pariahs of the woodworking world. The tool collectors don’t want them. Patrick Leach burns them in a funeral pyre.  I’ve had a few over the years I got for a song and kept in the shop mostly for decoration.

Cleaned up timber frame post
Cleaned up timber frame post

As I got more into timber framing and working with green timbers it dawned on me that these transitional planes — at least in the jack and jointer sizes might be useful for cleaning up timbers. The large wooden sole doesn’t rust the way a metal plane would when exposed to wet wood for long periods of time and you have a more or less modern Bailey style mechanism. The one annoying thing about the mechanism on a transitional plane is the blade advancement wheel spins the opposite way a metal plane works, but after a few minutes you get used to it.

 Bill using a traditional jack plane to clean up timber
Bill using a traditional jack plane to clean up timber

For some timber frames I need to clean up and remove all the large circular saw or bandsaw marks. In a workshop or outbuilding being fresh from the mill is fine, but in a house all those rough surfaces can be a dust magnet or source of splinters.

With a nice camber it makes quick work of dressing a green eastern white pine timber
With a nice camber it makes quick work of dressing a green eastern white pine timber

On my jack plane I’ve ground a camber appropriate to a jack plane and take a reasonably heavy shaving. The work goes fast and I admit its fun to make a 25′ foot long shaving on some of the largest timbers.

At first I felt bad about using a plane from the 1870s for this sort of work, but if properly maintained it will have a surprisingly long life and I’d rather see this plane get used as opposed to being  in a pyre or on a shelf.

At the end of the day I make sure to remove the iron and wipe it down with oil so it does not rust and I’ll usually give the sole a little more wax.

Transitional Jack Plane in its new habitat
Transitional Jack Plane in its new habitat

I can usually find these planes in surprisingly good shape for $10-35. If you’re willing to take one with more rust on the mechanism or a replacement sole you can likely get it for even less or even free from some dealers if you buy a few other items. The next time you are at a tool swap you may want to take a second look at a transitional plane and score yourself a good deal on a solid workhorse for your own timber framing or green woodworking projects.

-Bill
@TheRainford

26 Horses and 2 Ponies

The best saw horses cannot be bought in a store, you have to build them.  I’ve seen plastic saw horses bend and buckle under < 200 pounds of load.  I’ve seen 2×4 saw horses with sheet metal couplers deform and crush.

When I was a student at NBSS one of the first projects we completed was building a pair of solid wood saw horses that could meet the heavy demands of a preservation carpenter. The school would load them up with more material than I ever thought a simple horse could hold. I was so impressed with how well they turned out I built 10 more while I was there and they have served me well over the years.

28 horses out on parade
28 horses out on parade

Right now as I build a 24’x30′ timber framed barn out in the yard I built another 28 horses to hold all the timber off the ground for sorting and working through the piles. The post below covers how I built these heavy duty horses.

For a large run of horses like this it is important to run through each operation like a small assembly line, though at times it can feel like a slog — after cutting 112 legs you become a master at optimizing all of your operations.

Large pile of green eastern white pine ready to go.
Large pile of green eastern white pine ready to go.

The wood of choice is green eastern white pine we buy from a local sawyer/lumber company. (Copeland And Sons Lumber).  The beams (the work surface of a horse) is cut from a 4x4x12′, the legs are made from 1x6x12′ boards and the gussets are made from 1/2″ CDX plywood.  Buying rough green stock like this from a sawyer helps keep the price per horse reasonable and the wood is full size, not nominal, so my 4×4 is 4″x4″ when I get it.  I estimate that they cost me < $10 each in terms of materials.

You can see how much moisture is still in the 4x4s
You can see how much moisture is still in the 4x4s

A note on working with green lumber, for horses or timber frames or similar projects — this wood was a tree possibly only a day or two before I get it, so if you use a power tool you may get some water spray on you. Be warned. Also make sure you wipe down and oil your tools appropriately so they do not rust. In the photo above you can see the outer 1/4″ or so that has dried a bit vs the wet center on this fresh cut off piece.

Stack of cut beams
Stack of cut beams

I start by cutting the beams to 36″ long. I then cut a 12 degree bevel on two sides. If your table saw cannot cut a full 4″ on an angle you can cut as much as you can, snap off most of the waste and then use a jointer or portable power planer (like 3-1/4″ Makita Door planer) to even out the side.

I also stamped my name into the end grain of each beam with my name stamp. It makes it easy to tell my horses apart from say another friend from the school.

Beam and gusset with dimensions. I also used my namespace on the beam end grain.
Beam and gusset with dimensions. I also used my namespace on the beam end grain.

Next up I ripped my 4×8 sheet of 1/2″ CDX plywood into ~4″ wide strips. I then took a second pass on each strip with the blade set to a 5 degree angle. This allows the gussets to nestle up tightly against the beam during final assembly.

Cutting compound angles for the legs. 5 degrees and 12 degrees.
Cutting compound angles for the legs. 5 degrees and 12 degrees.

Next up I cut all the legs. I set the compound miter saw to cut at a left tilt of 5 degrees and a right rotation of 12 degrees. (See image above). The long side of each leg was cut to be 34.75″ long.

Ripping the legs to a consistent width
Ripping the legs to a consistent width

With all the legs cut I ripped the rough edge off of each board, then ripped the other side so all the boards landed at a consistent 5.5″ width.

Stacks of cut legs
Stacks of cut legs

You don’t have to plane the boards to thickness if you don’t want to. Leaving them as thick as possible added to the strength and I am not thrilled about passing green wood though my cast iron tools and into my dust collection system.  My site chop saw and portable table saw both have aluminum tops which deal better with the wet wood.

112 legs ready to go
112 legs ready to go

All the legs are the same, though above I stacked them to make sure I had a correct number for all the horses I planned to build.  I also used a low angle block plane to break all the edges on the boards since they will be handled many times over the years and you don’t want any splinters.

Stacks of cut legs and beams back in the shop
Stacks of cut legs and beams back in the shop

I then brought my wood into the heated shop as we were getting some snow and stacked them as you see above. This was a big mistake as I’ll describe later. I planned to be out there the next day but with snow and a baby in the house they sat out there for a week. If you bring sopping wet/green wood into a heated shop, make sure you sticker them so air can flow around all the edges and the wood can dry evenly.

Layout for the 2" ceramic star drive deck screws.
Layout for the 2″ ceramic star drive deck screws.

With all the legs cut I started to layout for the screws. I grab two combination squares and set one to be 1″ and set the other to 2″. This allows for fast/efficient layout. (see above image). Each of the screws is either 1″ or 2″ from the edge or top of the board. The screws are staggered to help avoid splitting the wood. I used DeckMate 2″ ceramic coated deck screws that have a nice thick shaft and are rated for outdoor structural use and do not rust. Do NOT use drywall screws on this sort of project, they are far too weak and not meant for the outdoors. One 5lb box of #8 2″ screws was enough to attach all the legs. After layout I pre-drill each of the holes and start the screws into the boards — this makes it a lot easier to assemble the horse later on.

Laying out the beam. 5 degree angle is set in 2.5" from the end. The top of the legs should be 1/4" below the top of the beam.
Laying out the beam. 5 degree angle is set in 2.5″ from the end. The top of the legs should be 1/4″ below the top of the beam.

For the beams I make a tick mark 2.5″ in from each end on the top edge of the beam. Using a protractor I make a 5 degree line down the side of the beam — this splays the legs and gives use  nice stable horse. Having two protractors on hand is nice as I have one set for the right and one set for the left. I then set a combination square to 1/4″ and make a line along the top edge of the beam — this allows me to line up the legs during assembly. I also broke all the edges with a block plane.

Another horse ready to be assembled
Another horse ready to be assembled

Early on I made a few pairs of saw horses to work from and did the majority of the horses as a large run.

Attaching the legs — I added one leg at a time, usually only sinking 2 or 3 of the pre-started screws into the beam. I add one leg, then add the second leg on the same side of the beam. This makes it easier to stand the horse on those two legs and add the third leg. When adding the 4th leg you’ll want to make sure all 4 legs are properly resting on the ground. If your horse wobbles this is your chance to adjust the legs. When the horse is standing the way you want you can sink the rest of the screws on the legs. When using an impact gun you don’t want to sink the screws any further into the wood than you absolutely have to. Ideally the screw heads should come to rest in the same plane as the surface of the wood, but green pine can be a bit soft so some of them may go deeper before they have enough grip to pull the leg tight to the beam.

Mass producing gusset plates.
Mass producing gusset plates.

With a beam and set of legs ready to go and standing nicely you can take a plywood gusset blank, bring it over to the partially assembled horse and trace where it meets the legs. Ideally the gussets should not stick out farther than the legs, otherwise they might catch on things. Making them say 1/32″ inside of the surface of the legs is what I shoot for. Using that traced piece I cut it and label it as a the template and use that for laying out each of the subsequent gussets

Important Notes About Gussets:

1.) When cutting the gusset the beveled end is always ‘up’ on the installed gusset — it mates nicely to the underside of the beam.

2.) When installing a gusset make sure the 5 degree bevel is facing the correct way so that it rest tightly up against the beam.

 

Impromptu work table
Impromptu work table

With a few horses pressed into early service I was able to make a makeshift table that allowed me to layout/mark all the of the gussets. Each one is secured with 4 screws. I made a mark for each screw to be 1″ down from the top or the bottom of the gusset and centered on the thickness of the leg, so for most that would be ~3/8″ in from the mitered edge. I turn a horse on its side and place the marked gusset where it is going to go. I then pre-drill the gusset in place and drive the screws. I used #8 1-5/8″ Deckmate Ceramic Star-drive screws and again a 5lb box was enough for this project.

Each horse required 16 2″ screws and 16 1-5/8″ screws.

Saw horse with dimensions.
Saw horse with dimensions.

And now we have a completed horse! The image above has some more dimensional information for quick reference.

Lunchbox planer getting a workout
Lunchbox planer getting a workout

Now back to that mistake I mentioned earlier. By leaving the cut wet boards tightly stacked a mold/fungus quickly bloomed on half of the boards. I have a lot of allergies so I didn’t want to handle those boards any more than I’d have to, and it was unsightly, so I suited up and with my dust mask and fed them through my lunchbox planer. I also didn’t use my dust collector as I don’t want that wet fungus living in my filter. I planed the rough boards smooth and stickered them up to dry in the sun as I worked on other horses.

Letting the legs air dry a bit
Letting the legs air dry a bit

That little mistake accidentally created ‘Denim Pine’ — pine boards with a blue tint that results from that fungus blooming and is desirable to some folks, presumably non-workers that like the look of it. (See above and below). With the mold/spores/fungus/grossness removed and stickered the legs will dry and be fine to use. As I completed each horse it will live out side where it can dry at a steady rate until the barn gets finished.

Some 'Denim Pine' Legs
Some ‘Denim Pine’ Legs

How do you store all of these horses? 

Mass producing gusset plates.
Stacked horses.

The horses stack nicely and even when stacked all the wood can dry nicely.

Wide angle view of the horses
Wide angle view of the horses

This was the largest run of horses I’ve made to date so I set them all up out in the driveway just to see them all in one place.

2 ponies in the foreground 26 horses in the background
2 ponies in the foreground 26 horses in the background

Two of the horses, my ponies,  had a 24″ beam as two of the 4x4s were a little short and I thought it would be nice to have a set that can fit into a tight place.

It looks like a TON of horses, but these 12, plus the 12 I already had will just barely be enough for the barn build.
It looks like a TON of horses, but these 12, plus the 12 I already had will just barely be enough for the barn build.

What do you plan to do with all these horses?

A LOT of shiplap siding on horses. 10-12" wide 16' long pieces
A LOT of shiplap siding on horses. 10-12″ wide 16′ long pieces

Above and below you can see a couple thousand linear feet of 16′  shiplapped pine sheathing held with ease by these horses.

A LOT of shiplap siding on horses
A LOT of shiplap siding on horses

In the photo below are 24 2″ thick 12″ wide green pine planks that will be used in the barn loft. I estimated this wood to weigh 1800lbs and the 4 horses below seem to hold it with ease.

4 horses holding over 1850+lbs of green pine planking
4 horses holding over 1850+lbs of green pine planking

And below are some 6×9 25′ long timbers.

Horses holding 6"x9"x25' timbers
Horses holding 6″x9″x25′ timbers

As you can see these versatile horses are at home in the shop or out on a worksite and I hope that you’ll build a few pairs for yourself. If you do, please let me know in the comments.

Take care,
-Bill

Balloon Framing

Between Timber Framing and modern Platform Framing was an intermediate style of framing a building called ‘Balloon Framing’.

Balloon Frame 3D Model
Figure 1: Balloon Frame 3D Model

This method of framing was radical for its time. Started around the 1830s and steadily gaining in popularity through the end of the 19th century Balloon framing ushered in a new generation of building supplies and builders who benefited from and drove the advent of ever cheaper machine made nails, consistent milled lumber, and more efficient transportation methods (Rail box-cars etc). Beyond the technological advancements in the materials production and transportation this building method caught on quickly as buildings framed in this manner could be built cheaply with non-skilled labor and common nails and tools, thus farmers and do-it-yourselfers could build what they needed with a far shallower learning curve when compared to all the advanced joinery traditional timber framing required. This was invaluable to frontier areas where traditional carpenters and joiners were in short supply.

Bell's Carpentry Made Easy Plate 4
Figure 2: Bell’s Carpentry Made Easy Plate 4

In the mid-west and plains states in particular you see a lot of balloon framed houses during this period as they had good access to the mills producing these building materials, a desire to quickly build and expand existing buildings and in some areas a dearth of heavy timber needed to build in the older styles. Even in more populated areas back east you’ll see many of the Shingle Style and Victorian homes and Triple-Deckers were framed this way, though certainly some more austere farm houses of this period were also framed in this manner as it was an economical way to build. If you look carefully at some of the design details you can see how tastes and designs changed to make use of the dominant building supplies of the time. You’ll see higher ceiling heights, various bump outs, towers etc that were more easily executed with this style of framing and in keeping with the prevailing styles of the day. (See Figure 3)

Mansard Victorian in Manchester NH
Figure 3: Mansard Victorian in Manchester NH

Balloon framing made use of common sized lumber coming from mills — the first real large scale use of 2x4s, 2x8s, 1x10s etc in framing a building and marked a transition from the heavy timbered buildings of the east coast of America and the ‘Old World’ that preceded it. In the earlier part of this period a 2×4 was actually 2″x4″ in some areas as opposed to the ‘nominal’ sizes we have today wherein a 2×4 is 1.5″x3.5″ by the time it makes it to a modern lumberyard, but that is a post for another day. The weight of the building was dispersed across a series of smaller consistent studs as opposed to a few heavy posts. Also notable was the fact that the studs ran from sill to plate, thus requiring the 2nd and 3rd floors to be ‘hung’ from the studs via ledger or ‘ribbon’ boards. (See Figures 2 and 4)

Bell's Carpentry Made Easy Plate 5
Figure 4: Bell’s Carpentry Made Easy Plate 5

A great period resource for information about Balloon Framing is William Bell’s “Carpentry Made Easy: The Science and Art of Framing”. While Bell was not the first author to extol the virtues of Balloon Framing he may have been one of the most prolific. His ‘Carpentry Made Easy’ book was published continuously from 1858-1904. 46 years is quiet a testament to the information he provided. The book’s longevity is largely due to how the information is provided. Bell starts with a detailed section on basic math and geometry for carpenters and the moves into framing. He covers Balloon Framing for homes and modest sized buildings and moves on to heavy timber framing for industrial buildings, bridges, spires and the like. Bell was a trained carpenter and joiner and speaks the reader in a clear and concise way that was agreeable to most carpenters. Bell goes into technical detail but did so in such a way that any reasonably skilled carpenter could take this information and apply it to the project at hand. His words still resonate well today — in fact using his descriptions I was able to build a detailed 3D model in Sketch-Up based on his instructions for how to build a Balloon Framed structure. (See Figures 1 and 5). I’m sure that many a house carpenter had a dog-eared copy of this book in their toolbox and regularly referred to it over the years.

How fast did this transition happen?

Like most major shifts in an industry the transition from Heavy Timber Framing to Balloon Framing did not happen over night. The word had to get out, it had to be evaluated, the supplies had to be ready and a host of macro-economic pressures had to come together in order to facilitate this change — a strong need to build economical housing for an exploding population etc. Like most things, some isolated or rural areas clung to the old ways for longer periods and some areas were more willing to try out these new techniques. Even cutting over in terms of technique was an evolutionary change. If you look closely at Figure 4 above you’ll see that the house shown there has Balloon Framed walls with a heavy timbered sill, which the author notes as the preferred way to go if heavy timber is available, as opposed to Figure 2 which shows a more traditional balloon framed sill made from 2x framing elements.

In broad terms this building method started in the 1830s, crescendo-ed during the 1880s-1930s giving way to modern Platform Framing which was an evolutionary advancement that built upon the strengths and lessons of this movement. Balloon Framing and it’s relative efficiencies greatly improved the living conditions of many Americans and others of modest means and the burgeoning middle class.

Balloon Frame Cutaway 3D Model
Figure 5: Balloon Frame Cutaway 3D Model To Show Joinery

Why did Balloon Framing disappear? Disadvantages and Demise

With Balloon Framing, you framed an entire wall at once from sill to top plate, thus requiring longer framing members. Once the wall was standing you needed to have ladders and scaffolding in order to ‘hang’ the upper floors from the ledger plates and studs. This required more labor compared to modern platform framing where each level builds upon the lower level, thus requiring less labor, scaffolding and smaller framing members.

In some larger Balloon Framed buildings you’d see some sagging towards central walls due to differential shrinking of the framing members — joists resting on ledger boards will move a different amount when compared to joists nailed into the side of as stud. This kind of differential can add up in a larger building and took time to manifest itself. (See Wikipedia here for a more detailed explanation)

While the above items are negatives for this system of framing the final nail in it’s coffin was how it performs in a fire. The inter-stud wall cavities that run from sill to plate worked like a chimney flue and helped to rapidly spread fire throughout a Balloon Framed building. To counter this, fire blocking can be installed between each floor, but this was labor consuming to install and not quite as good as the fire resistance you’ll see in a Platform Framed building. Even today when filling out an application for homeowners insurance you’ll often see questions related to this kind of framing.

What replaced Balloon Framing?

Around the 1930s the death toll and property loss data was starting to add up and folks looked to rectify the situation. The solution was Platform Framing. In a nutshell you’d build a platform of sill, joists, rim joists and sub-flooring, use this as a platform to build the walls for one floor, you’d tilt up and nail off the walls, then build another platform on top of that until you top out your building. This method required less labor, shorter framing members and by breaking up the wall cavities at each floor provided better fire resistance.  After World War II the post war building boom accelerated the need for even more housing and faster build completion times. At this time we started to see the introduction of studs 16″ to accommodate sheet goods (Plywood and later OSB) in regular sizes as a replacement for more labor and material intensive traditional sheathing. And in a similar manner vinyl siting replaced genuine clapboards etc etc until you get to present day building materials and practices.

Conclusion

We don’t often see or hear much about Balloon Framing today as it has fallen out of favor in the building community, but it’s impact can be felt today in any Platform Framed structure that benefited from all the lessons learned by this earlier incarnation of efficient home building. I hope that the next time you are examining the framing of a Balloon Framed structure you’ll take a look and see what lessons it can teach you.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. If you’d like to read William Bell’s “Carpentry Made Easy: The Science and Art of Framing” (1858) you can get a copy from the Toolemera Press here. It was a great read with interesting sections on timber framing, compound roof joinery, bridge-building, spire making and other interesting building topics above and beyond the Balloon Framing and carpenter’s geometry I mention in this article.

** Plates 4 and 5 of from Bell’s Book are provided via Gary Roberts of the Toolemera Press and used with his permission.

Treenails, Trunnels, Pins and Pegs

Treenails, Trunnels, Pins and Pegs — all terms used to describe the wooden nail-like fastener used in timber frame construction. I needed to make a large number of them for an upcoming project and thought you might also enjoy seeing what it takes to make these deceptively simple looking pins.

White Oak and Hard Maple stock ripped, thickness planed and jointed
(1) White Oak and Hard Maple stock ripped, thickness planed and jointed

Where did all those names come from?

Like most things that predate modern recorded history I’ve read many conflicting theories on where these terms came from, so what I relay here is based on my own experiences in this field; your mileage may vary. Timber framing dates back thousands of years and can be found in early civilizations around the world in many different forms. What all these structures had in common was the joining of heavy timbers using traditional joinery and large mortise an tenon joints that were pinned together using large wood fasteners.

These fasteners are known by a lot of colloquial names, the most common of which I describe in this post. Most literally treenails (or trenails in some places) is the term for nails made from a tree. Trunnels is derived from the pronunciation of treenails and at times reserved for larger treenails used in very large buildings or ships, sometimes even wedged so they do not back out. Pegs tends to be a more modern term for treenails and pins tends to be used for smaller scale work though many timber framers I know today use it regularly. Having said all this I’ve heard all of these terms used inter-changeably at times by both novices and seasoned professionals, so feel free to use the term(s) that best suit your work and locale.

The bottom line is ‘a pin by any other name will hold your building together just as well.‘ (provided you heed my tips below 😉 )

Stock ripped down into square blanks
(2) Stock ripped down into square blanks

How do you go about making these pins?

Traditionally pins were split out of green wood, shaved down with a draw knife and shave horse and allowed to season. Then touched up again when dry. Since I have to make a few hundred of these, being a practical modern joiner I will make use of my table saw and some high quality kiln dried lumber. Most of the stresses in a timber frame are carried by the joints and not the pins, and white oak is very resistant to shearing forces so I am not worried about the wood not being split out for this usage. (I’m building a square rule, late 19th century style frame from milled eastern white pine, so by that point the pins likely were made the same way I go about it)

For the scale of timber framed buildings I generally work on — homes, barns and sheds, I’m usually using a 7/8″ ships auger bit to drill holes for pins. Most tenons I work with are generally 1.5″-2″ thick eastern white pine and based on experience and reference tables I’ve found this size to work well for me.

I learned to timber frame while at NBSS and with that my framing has a proclivity for historic precedents. The historic buildings I work on all had octagoned pegs which worked well for hundreds of years and can be made more easily when compared to the expensive turned pegs you see some modern supply houses offer for upwards of $2 each. For a draw bored joint, I feel the octagon pegs look better and hold better compared to the CNC turned pins. (More on that later)

Making octagons out of the square blanks
(3) Making octagons out of the square blanks

1.) I start off by milling down my rough 4/4 white oak stock to be 7/8″ thick, then I joint an edge on each board (See photo 1). I then crosscut each board to be about 30-3/8″ long. (Each of these boards should yield 3 sets of 10″ long pegs)

2.) Next I rip each of those boards into 7/8″ square sticks (See photo 2)

3.) Tilt the blade on your table to 45″ and turn each of those square blanks into an octagon. The use of feather-boards will help you be consistent. (See photo 3)

Chopping several blanks at a time on the chop saw using a stop block
(4) Chopping several blanks at a time on the chop saw using a stop block

4.) I set a stop block on the chop saw at 10″ and gang chop (cut several at a time) for the sake of efficiency (See photo 4)

248 Oak Treenails and 166 Hard Maple Try Pins
(5) 248 Oak Treenails and 166 Hard Maple Try Pins

5.) At this point you’ll quickly see how many pin blanks it takes to make even a modest building. (In this case a 12’x24′ large shed/small barn) (See photo 5)

Using the hewing bench, carpenter's axe and timber framing chisel to taper the ends of each pin
(6) Using the hewing bench, carpenter’s axe and timber framing chisel to taper the ends of each pin

6.) Now it’s over to the hewing bench to taper the leading ends of the pin blanks. I usually rough off the wood with my capenter’s axe and touch things up with a timber framing chisel. I find it helps to get the cut started with the tool and bang them both (peg and tool) in unison on the hewing bench. The downward momentum drives the tool through the wood with a minimal expenditure of energy — important when you have a few hundred of these to complete.

Completed pins
(7) Completed pins

7.) I usually taper the first 2″ or so of the pin. You do not need to be overly concerned with trying to make the pins look like a sharpened pencil. You just need to knock off the corners to help guide the pin through the draw-bored joint.  Anything beyond that is to suit the design aesthetic you are going for. (Some folks will want to cut the ends off a pin in the house, so all the more reason to only do what you need to do with them)

Foreground -- 3/4" Hard Maple Try Pins; Background 7/8" White Oak Treenails
(8) Foreground — 3/4″ Hard Maple Try Pins; Background 7/8″ White Oak Treenails

8.) Sit back and enjoy your work. Take a deep breath and repeat steps 1-7 all over again to make try pins. Try pins are slightly thinner pins used when test fitting your timber frame. I make them from hard maple for two reasons — I can visually differentiate them from the oak and the smooth hard maple is easily removed when the test fitting is complete. For this frame using 7/8″ Oak pins I make the try pins from 3/4″ hard maple stock. They are made the same way as their larger brethren.

Full buckets of pins
Full buckets of pins

Why are they octagons?

By making a 7/8″ octagon pin and driving it into a 7/8″ round hole the corners will bite into the wood and keep the the pin securely seated.  (The diagonals across the 7/8″ octagon are slightly longer than 7/8″.) This is why you want to use smaller try-pins during test fitting, this way you are not deforming/stretching the holes before the frame is raised.

Driving in the pegs
Driving in the pegs

Tips for a high quality timber framing pin:

  • Use kiln dried pins with a green wood frame. Use green pins with a dried frame
  • I use most often use White Oak pins with green Eastern White Pine frames
  • I use Hard Maple Try Pins during test fittings (try pins should be 1/8″ smaller than your final pins)
  • Octagon your pin stock so that it properly bites into the joint
  • Taper the ends of your pins so they will easily enter the draw bored joints
  • Don’t stress too much about the tapering
  • Avoid the machine turned pins — I dislike the look, the cost (~$2 each), holding power, fact that they are not historical etc
Many pegs in a timber frame
Many pegs in a timber frame

Where can I learn more about timber framing?

  • Join the Timber Framer’s Guild (www.tfguild.org) and read the many good publications they have
  • Read any of the books by Jack Sobon, Ted Benson or Ed Levin on the topic of Timber Framing
  • Take a class in timber framing at The North Bennet Street School (with Rich Friberg or me), or at the Heartwood School in Western MA

The next time you are in a barn or timber framed building I hope that you will take a moment to examine the pins holding the joinery together.

-Bill

The thoughts one thinks while sawing a tree…

“The Oriental philosophy of contemplation involves forsaking all work; the European does his meditating while relaxing from work, but the American seems to think things out best while working. So the stone walls of New England may be thought of as monuments to the thoughts that occurred while they were being built, for those were the days of great decisions and profound planning. The thoughts one thinks while sawing a tree or making a stone wall are surprising. It is almost as if the mind becomes ashamed of the work the body is doing and starts doing a little “showing off” by itself. Lincoln said he did some of his deepest thinking while splitting rails. The plain farmer of two hundred years ago was weaving the fabric of a new nation and although there are no marble statues to his patriotism now, there are still his stone walls.” — Eric Sloane American Barns and Covered Bridges, 1954

Oak trees in the way of my barn...
Oak trees in the way of my barn…

I live on a heavily wooded street in New Hampshire that is lined with stone walls. As I pass them each day I think about what it took to clear all this land and build those walls. While most of the neighborhood is covered with second and third growth trees that were not actively managed, and new housing developments,  there are still a few pockets of small family farms with cleared farmland that looks like an idealistic painting of yesteryear and reminds us how this was all farmland about 100 years ago.  As the leaves changed this season I found it amusing to see tourists snapping pictures in front of some of these farms with their stone walls and weathered barns. In the book referenced above Sloane encouraged his readers to keep an eye out for early barns also made several interesting observations about stone walls. They were designed to keep animals in and not to keep humans out. When a wall fell over you had all the stones needed to rebuild it as opposed to a wooden fence that could have rotted away. I like the sense of inviting simplicity, using what you had on hand and building for the long term.

I recently set out to clear some trees out of my backyard and make room for a 12’x24′ timber framed shed/small barn to store extra wood and yard equipment. I’ve cleared about 35 trees so far, knocked off a bucket list item — taking down a full size tree with a felling axe, and still have a few more to go.

Felling oak trees
Felling oak trees

Safety Tip:

When working with large trees and high powered saw, make sure to ALWAYS wear the appropriate safety gear. Above you can see me wearing my steel toe boots, Kevlar chaps, eye protection, helmet with hearing protection and face shield and Kevlar reinforced gloves.  The chaps are like wearing an insulating blanket and rough to wear in the summer, but in cooler months they help you stay warm.

Limbing the tree
Limbing the tree

How do I cut down a larger tree?

I start by walking around the tree from all sides, sighting up at it to see what way it leans and were the mass is held by the limbs. I then mentally think about what direction I have enough space to drop to the tree without hitting houses, other trees, people or fences. With a plan in place I set about felling the tree. The process is much the same whether I use an axe or a chainsaw. I cut in at an angle on the side of the tree facing the way I want it to fall. I then make a horizontal cut to remove that wedge of wood. It should only be about 1/3 of the way through the tree. You want the intersection of those two cuts to land right on each other so you have a smooth hinging surface and a controlled drop.

90 Foot tall oak trees take a LOT of work to break down
90 Foot tall oak trees take a LOT of work to break down

I then come from behind the tree and make a horizontal cut until I leave about a 1.5″” wide hinge of wood that will help control the fall. This cut should be about 2″ above the bottom of the wedge cut (As seen in the photo below).  If done properly the tree should slowly start to fall over exactly where you want it. The tree shown here was a 90 foot tall oak, so when it hit the ground it shook the ground with an incredible thud — anything in it’s path will get crushed. When cutting a tree like this make sure you have a clear retreat path, usually 45 degree from the way you expected the tree to fall, that way you are not in the path of a falling or splitting tree or anything it kicks up.

Notch cut and hinge used for a controlled drop
Notch cut and hinge used for a controlled drop

Once on the ground I start removing all the limbs from the tree. I start with all the limbs that are not holding the trunk up off the ground to make room to better access the trunk. Any limbs or branches that are holding up the trunk are likely going to bind on your chainsaw if you are not careful. Being mindful of where the tree may move as you release that tension you can use a sharp axe to remove these limbs or careful wedge cuts that will not bind the saw. When doing this sort of work you need to be thinking about where the trunk is likely to fall after removing this limb, so you’ll want to mind your legs and feet.

Breaking down the de-limbed tree into firewood
Breaking down the de-limbed tree into firewood

Once the limbs are removed I break the tree trunk down into either firewood or whatever I am looking to use the wood for. These trees will be processed down into several projects — a few bowl blanks, a new base for my anvil, a few chopping benches for the shop, a stump to split firewood on and of course firewood. The incredible amount of brush and branches will be ground up into chips and distributed elsewhere on the property.

More Tips on cutting trees:

  • Try to cut tree during the colder months or winter as there will be less sap and thus less weight and cleaner cuts
  • Use plastic wedges when cutting a larger stump so that it does not bind on your saw’s bar and the wedge will not damage the chain
  • Use plastic or even larger metal wedges to help a cut tree (notched and ready to hinge) that is not falling. You can use a large mallet or beetle to drive in a wedge and help give it that little push it needs to start going over.
The result of a weekend of hard work
The result of a weekend of hard work

Even with all of the above information running through my head, and the sometimes backbreaking labor to break down these trees, there was still a lot of time to think. As I was doing the above work I was building the timber framed barn over and over again in my head, so by the time I actually get around to cutting the frame it will be like second nature. Unfortunately the snowy weather is creeping up on me fast, so it will be a race to see if I can get the shed put up this fall/winter or if it will get delayed until spring.

I’ll keep you posted.

Take care,
-Bill Rainford

2013 BAC Traditional Building Intensive

Most people relax on their summer vacation. After a day on a beach I get antsy and need to keep moving, exploring and building. For the second year in a row I spent my vacation last week sharing my passion for the craft by teaching the 8 day intensive that is part of the semester long ‘Traditional Building’ class I teach at the Boston Architectural College (BAC) in association with the North Bennett Street School.

The Paul Revere House, Boston, MA
The Paul Revere House, Boston, MA

The class is part of the low residency Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation at the BAC. In this 8 week long class, 7 weeks are online with a series of interactive lectures/discussions and traditional coursework and one 8 day week is spent with the entire class in Boston participating in a hands on format. This works great for students who need to juggle work, family and other obligations while also seeking a quality degree on the way to a new or expanded career path.

Touring historic homes and buildings with Steve O'Shaughnessy
Touring historic homes and buildings with Steve O’Shaughnessy

On the first full day of class we took a walking tour of the city with Steve O’Shaughnessy (NBSS Preservation Carpentry Instructor) visiting several historic house museums and notable structures in Boston. Having worked for Historic New England, Steve is an excellent tour guide with a lot of great information to share.

Traditional Woodworking with Bill Rainford
Traditional Woodworking with Bill Rainford

The second day I spent the morning teaching the basics of traditional woodworking — using a smoothing plane, molding planes, drilling, chiseling and other basic bench work.

Field Work at Fenway Studios
Field Work at Fenway Studios

In the afternoon I taught the class about window restoration, window reproduction and condition assessment reports. We then went out to do some field work at the historic Fenway Studios.

The Saugus Ironworks
The Saugus Ironworks

Next up we visited the Saugus Ironworks which is a National Historic Park. Senior Park Ranger Curtis White was on hand to guide us through this landmark site and enthusiastically share with us his latest research about historic ironwork. (He’s a great resource and if you ever visit the park and run into him, tell him I sent you. )

Ranger Curtis White explaining how the ironworks produced iron
Ranger Curtis White explaining how the ironworks produced iron

Robert Adam (Who started the Preservation Carpentry program at NBSS and is a noted preservation consultant) lectured about historic hardware and fasteners.

Robert Adam talking about historic hardware and fasteners
Robert Adam talking about historic hardware and fasteners

Robert’s brings a portion of his comprehensive collection of historic hardware and fasteners allowing students to closely examine these items up close and differentiate fine details.

Historic Hardware by Edward Guy
Historic Hardware by Edward Guy

Sara Chase, a nationally known paint analysis expert and preservation consultant (+ advisor to the NBSS Preservation Carpentry Program) taught a session on traditional paints and their manufacture.

Making paint with Sara Chase
Making paint with Sara Chase

During this hands on session students not only learned how to identify various kinds of historic paints they also had the chance to mix their own paints in a traditional way and try their hand at applying them.

Mulling historic paint with Sara Chase
Mulling historic paint with Sara Chase

After a visit to the MFA in Boston, next up was NBSS Preservation Carpentry Instructor Rich Friberg to teach the basics of Timber Framing.

Rich Friberg Timber Framing Lesson
Rich Friberg Timber Framing Lesson

Rich brings with him a deep well of knowledge and a passion for teaching this craft.

Jennifer wielding the 'Beetle' mallet
Jennifer wielding the ‘Beetle’ mallet

Students had a chance to layout and cut mortise and tenon joints….

Joey with the 'Commander' mallet
Joey with the ‘Commander’ mallet

try out some joinery on the large scale with traditional timber framing tools…

Lisa mortising
Lisa mortising

and fit the joints they made.

Completed Timber Frame Sill
Completed Timber Frame Sill

The completed 8′ x 10′ sill shown above would be the first major element of a modest sized barn or outbuilding.

Matt Gillard teaching some basics of Masonry
Matt Gillard teaching some basics of Masonry

Preservation Mason Matt Gillard (owner of Colonial Brick Works) and Matt Blanchette gave a great lecture on traditional masonry tools, techniques and evolution.

Rachel cleaning off some recovered bricks
Rachel cleaning off some recovered bricks

This hands on session allowed students to mix traditional mortar, clean bricks, re-point, repair, lay brick and joint mortar.

Masonry group shot
Masonry group shot

At the end of the week the students also shared their presentations and research proposals. To celebrate the end of this very intensive week the Director of the Historic Preservation (HP) program Robert Ogle presented each student with an ‘I survived the HP intensive week 2013 @ the BAC’ Tee Shirt to commemorate the occasion. This well earned reward is one of three major intensives they will need to survive in order to complete the program.

'I survived the BAC Historic Preservation Intensive 2013' Tee Shirts
‘I survived the BAC Historic Preservation Intensive 2013’ Tee Shirts

Given that we all survived this very intensive week and you survived reading this marathon blog post, I think it’s time for all of us to rest up and prep for next year. 🙂

You can learn more about this class and the program here or go direct to the video here.

-Bill

Highlights from the 2012 Timber Framer’s Guild Conference in Leesburg VA

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 2012 Timber Framer’s Guild Conference at the National Conference Center in Leesburg VA.

From meeting a lot of the top timber framer’s in the country, to great talks, joint busting and axe throwing there was a lot to take in.  Below is a quick recap of some of the more memorable events from this year.

Conference T-Shirt, Wood Bookmark, Swag from the show
Conference T-Shirt, Wood Bookmark, Swag from the show

I was excited to meet a lot of the guys who helped to found the Timber Framer’s Guild and wrote many of the books I often reference in my work and teaching: Jack Sobon, Ted Benson, Will Beemer, and many others. It was also great to see lots of friends from the field and make new connections.

Keynote Presentation by Ted Benson
Keynote Presentation by Ted Benson
Hard, Slow Learning: We Weren't Very Good Yet, but at Least We Were Skinny -- from Ted Benson's Talk
Hard, Slow Learning: We Weren’t Very Good Yet, but at Least We Were Skinny — from Ted Benson’s Talk

Rich Friberg, my good friend and the second year instructor at the North Bennet Street School gave an interesting talk on Preservation Principles and Methods and showed off some of the great work the school is doing.

Rich Friberg Talking About Historic Preservation Topics
Rich Friberg Talking About Historic Preservation Topics

We also got the chance to meet Thomas C. Hubka author of “Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England” and learn about his current research as well as the other projects he’s been involved with including the Timber Framed Synagogue in Europe.

Thomas C. Hubka author of "Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England"
Thomas C. Hubka author of “Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England”

I was excited to get up on stage Friday night and talk about some of the timber framing work I did with NBSS.  Shown below I was discussing the new square rule barn and also the historic ~1791 two bay English Style Barn we restored at Brookwood Farm in Canton MA.

Bill Rainford (Me) talking about some work I did with NBSS at Brookwood Farm
Bill Rainford (Me) talking about some work I did with NBSS at Brookwood Farm
Bill Rainford (Me) talking about some work I did with NBSS at Brookwood Farm on Friday Night
Bill Rainford (Me) talking about some work I did with NBSS at Brookwood Farm on Friday Night

BANG — CRACK — SNAP — JOINT BUSTING! In a corner of  the trade show portion of the conference during the inter-session breaks we got to see a lot of the joint busting competition.  Basically you build a timber framed joint meeting some specific size specifications and it is placed into a hydraulic or pneumatic press that will apply an incredible amount of pressure to see what it would take to cause the joint to fail. This info is projected on the screen and also logged by computer sensor for research purposes. When the joint fails it often makes quite the sound.

Joint busting competition at the trade show
Joint busting competition at the trade show
Some of the many and varied joints that were busted this year
Some of the many and varied joints that were busted this year
Great looking joint with carved embellishments
Great looking joint with carved embellishments

Look out for flying axes at the AXE THROWING COMPETITION!
Outside the guild setup some targets and allowed us to practice our axe throwing before the big competition. I had never thrown an axe before, but after a quick lesson, it was a lot of fun and with a little practice we made some good shots.

Kim Catlin (NBSS Graduate) Throwing an Axe
Kim Catlin (NBSS Graduate) Throwing an Axe
Bill Rainford (NBSS) Throwing an Axe
Bill Rainford (NBSS) Throwing an Axe
Axe in flight
Axe in flight
Bill Rainford (Me) standing next to my bullseye shot
Bill Rainford (Me) standing next to my bullseye shot

I had a great time at the show, I’m all fired up to get out in the yard and start hewing and framing some more outbuildings and I can’t wait to go back next year!

Let There Be Light — Installing New Hand Built Windows

In many posts we’ve talked about why old windows are worth saving and how to build or restore  sash for them, but not much on what it would take to build a new window complete with jamb and trim and install it.

Completed window installed in the side of the barn
Completed window installed in the side of the barn

A while back I had just such an opportunity when working on the timber framed barn workshop of my friend Rich. Much of the work for these windows took place in the shop — building traditional single hung (one moving sash) true divided light windows. A hand built window can offer a VERY long service life, be easily repaired and often look much better than anything you can buy commercially. The ability to build a new jamb to go along with your sashes will allow you to really fine tune the movement of the windows, the exact choice of hardware — if any and allow you to create a distinctive look for your home.

Bill cutting through the wall to install my window.
Bill cutting through the wall to install my window.

Once the shop work was completed, the jamb is complete, the sash are fitted, glazed and the paint has dried it was time to install the completed window unit into the barn.  When working on a timber framed barn you’ll want to make sure you’ve carefully laid out where you want the windows to go — you generally do not want your window obstructed by braces or other framing members. You’ll also want to make sure that you have added in sufficient nailers and/or studs so that your window can be firmly attached to the building.

These hand built windows, complete with jamb, sills, casing and leaded flashing install much the same way you would install an Anderson or Pella new construction drop in window. You’ll want to take the same time and effort to level the window, add insulation if needed, and flash out the window. Once installed you can trim out the interior of the window to blend with the interior surfaces.

Me posing with the newly installed window
Me posing with the newly installed window

If you’ve invested the time to learn how to build a traditional window sash, building an entire window as described here can be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience — plus with these new found skills you can go off and build a window of any size and shape.

Below is a quick slideshow of the above windows being installed into a timber framed barn.

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2 Bay English Style Barn Raising at Brookwood Farm

On Friday 5/18/12 I was able to participate in an unusual barn raising at the Brookwood Farm in Canton MA. It was the culmination of several years of work by North Bennet Street School students and instructors. The barn is unusual in that it is one of, if not the oldest known surviving 2 bay English style timber framed barns in New England. (I documented some of the history in earlier posts on this topic if you are interested) The barn is also interesting in how it was framed — with 2 bays being asymmetric and an interesting use of rafters and purlins.

Rich overseeing construction
Rich overseeing construction

As a student I worked on the floor system (joists and sills) along with hewing some of the replacement gunstock posts from solid oak along with milling LOTs of material that will be used to side and otherwise finish this barn. The class year before my class they worked on documenting the barn, labeling and  dissembling the barn and working on the floor system. The class years to follow worked on restoring other members of the frame, laying up the foundation and now the raising.

School van in front of the barn frame
School van in front of the barn frame

The completed frame contains a mixture of original materials and new oak which was hand hewn and carefully cut to replace rotted materials. The result is a piece of local history that is now preserved for future generations (as it will likely be the focal point for many events at Bookwood Farm — known for its Maple Sugar Days)

Below you can see a series of photos capturing the raising and some other interesting sights from the big day:

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Indoor Barn Raising?!?

You’re raising a barn inside?! Yep, it’s not every day you get to raise a barn indoors, but back in the fall of 2009 the NBSS PC2 class of 2010 raised Matt’s timber frame barn inside of the class room. The frame is a 1.5 story barn/workshop cut using square rule joinery. The frame is eastern white pine.

Completed frame
Completed frame

If I recall correctly the weather at that time was not playing well and we had the space and height in the building so they move all the workbenches and went for it.  Below is a time lapse slideshow showing the frame being raised. I had a great vantage point from up in the loft to capture the action.  This barn will eventually be a workshop for Matt who was a PC2 student at the time.

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