Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Time for a Barn Raisin'!

Yes, friends, I as of this past Saturday, I have officially participated in a barn-raising and also completed my first course at Yestermorrow: Timber framing. Timber frame structures are framed using large timbers held together through a mortise, tenon and wooden peg system, as opposed to, for example, 2X4 stick frame construction fastened with nails and screws. England and France have a rich history of timber frame structures, many of which were built hundreds of years and are still alive and well. In the States, timber framing has experienced a recent renewal as more and more folks are attracted to the beauty of visible timbers in their homes, to the structural soundness and longevity of the buildings, and to the creativity and craftsmanship that often flow from designing and building a timber frame structure.

A couple things surprised me during the course. First, the gratification of using hand tools. During the week, instead of opting modern electric timber framing tools, our mainstays were finely sharpened 1 1/2 and 2 inch chisels, well-kept rip and cross-cut saws, hundred-year-old boring (drilling) machines [see picture below], and a variety of planers (rabbet, spokeshave, scrub). A month ago as I built a deck for a neighbor, I wondered daily how much my hearing and respiratory system was being damaged by noise and fine sawdust. Cheesy as it sounds, hand tools gave the worksite an aura of peace, joy and satisfaction.

Second surprise: I figured that since both our timbers and our structure (a big 'ol barn) were large, accuracy wouldn't be as much of a priority. Wrong! Our instructors Skip and Josh insisted we go down to a sixteenth and sometimes to a thirty-second of an inch. As Dorothy said to Toto, “We’re not at Nazareth Farm anymore.” Why the need for accuracy? The tenons (protrusions chiseled out of the end of a member) must fit exactly into the mortise (hole chiseled where the member’s tenon needs to go), or else lengths and angles that are a sixteenth off at the junction will be magnified the further away you go.

Last surprise wasn’t really a surprise: a barn raisin’ is a helluva lot of fun. The last picture is me attaching the ceremonial "wedding bush" to the apex of the barn as a thanks to the land for giving us the structure's lumber (which, incidentally, was timbered and sawed on Yestermorrow's property). More to come from Vermont, folks. Thanks for being patient.