Saturday, 7 December 2013

New Douglas Fir Timber Frame raised in North Cornwall

This free standing barn/workshop was raised between the raging gales of late September early October, a team of 3 and a small manual hoist saw it all go up smoothly in the course of a day. Once the weather had settled and the skies had cleared, I managed to get back to take some photos; in fact you couldn't have asked for better conditions for capturing a newly raised timber frame. It's in a beautiful location at the top of a valley, all helping to give me what a fellow framer called "website gold"!

 I designed this frame according to the client's requirements, and within the restrictions of the Planning Permission that had been granted. I'm well used to designing frames that fit into architectural drawings, but I'm equally happy to design and specify a building from the ground up. Despite its traditional mortice and tenon pegged assembly, it's essentially a modern frame designed to take light-weight pre-insulated roofing sheets. By using interrupted tie beam trusses over a lowered floor beam, we've created a single story barn/workshop that still offers useful storage space in the roof void. A local team are on site now fitting the roof and Western Red Cedar cladding; within a year it will look very different to this, and I'll be back to capture it in finished form.

Douglas Fir is a great timber to work with in this application...strong, durable, stable, and readily available from plantations in the South West; this batch came from Menheniot in south-east Cornwall, via Truro Sawmills. The Western Red Cedar cladding has come from East Devon, via Anton Coakers's sawmill on Dartmoor. While neither timber maybe quite as dense, tight grained and slow grown as the material available from Scandinavia, Canada or other more northern forests, it's perfectly good for these requirements, and I strongly believe in supporting the South West forestry industry and using locally grown timber wherever possible.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Back online

I hope nobody's noticed that this site has been down for the last week; if you have you'll know what I mean. If not, ignorance is bliss.  After major issues with techie things I don't really understand, we're back on track, and long overdue a re-cap of fresh produce from the workshop.

First up, an update of the 'Tale of the Tie Beam' green oak roof on the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall. Its been a while since we were there glazing and finishing off, and these pictures are the most recent I have, but they give you an impression of the (not quite) finished result. I'll get back there soon, now it's all fully finished and get more photos...the view from here over Gerrans Bay is pretty special. Better camera, better photography skills needed.

We've finished and raised the big Douglas Fir barn in North Cornwall, and that'll get it's own post in a day or two. At 10m x 6m, that represents one of the bigger free standing timber framed buildings we've built in Cornwall; in contrast, the next is one of the smaller projects. This little porch was for a new build in Probus. It's great to be able to fit the smaller jobs into the workshop diary, and be able to efficiently take on projects in a wide range of sizes and styles. Again, finished photos to follow.

Finally, sneaky look at what we're currently working on at the yard. New techniques, new skills, new tools, new people to learn from...but still building nice things out of locally grown timber. More on that one in due course, and news on the other projects for the winter...plenty coming through the workshop right through the colder months.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Raised Decking and Stairs completed

This property near Truro has undergone extensive renovation, and part of the works included this raised oak decking and staircase, as seen in CAD form in a previous entry. We've used air-dried oak as much as possible here, along with some thoughtful joinery techniques to minimise the potential problems associated with the movement of green oak as it seasons. Hopefully there will still be a few warm days and mild evenings for the customer to enjoy on this; once the landscaping is finished and the re-seeding is completed it'll make a fine platform for a glass of something refreshing (or warming...this is Cornwall after all!)

The glazing clamps that hold the glass balustrades in place allow for movement of the oak posts as they slowly shrink. The oak decking boards have been orientated "heart up", and have grooves cut in the underside of them to minimise their tendency to cupping, and elsewhere, slip tenons and housings hide the effects of further timber shrinkage. The staircase was a particularly enjoyable part of the project, and is assembled using extensive traditional pegged joinery and a very bare minimum of stainless steel fixings.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Summer season in full swing

For once mid summer really feels like mid summer this year, but like most years, the workshop diary is full for sometime ahead and we've got a nice selection of green oak framing and structural joinery work all over Cornwall, keeping us busy through the warmer months.
Soon to be completed is this raised decking and staircase on a the back of a property near Truro.

I've used oak that's been slowly seasoning outside for a couple of years for much of this project, in the hope that the worst of the shrinkage and movement has already happened. But it can take 8-10 years for posts and beams of this size to fully season, and clearly it's impractical to plan that far ahead. So in addition to the standard mortice and tenon joinery, we also use housings, slip tenons and squinted shoulders to minimise the effects of shrinkage. But it's all timber based joinery with cleft oak pegs and time-proven design instead of steel pins and metal brackets.

August sees us getting stuck into this nice full frame with interrupted tie beam; this allows for a lower floor beam and so more headroom on the mezzanine above. This is in fact a Douglas Fir frame, the timber has come from a plantation near Menheniot in south-east Cornwall, and after 6 weeks of cutting in our Falmouth workshop, the finished frame will be erected near Bude in north-east Cornwall. A bit of a roundtrip for this batch of timber, but nothing compared to the lengths that many building materials travel.

The timber has just been delivered to our yard. If you half close your eyes and focus on a point a few inches benind the picture, you should be able to see a beautiful finished frame standing tall against a blue sky. No? There'll be several weeks of toil and labour before we get to that, but it's always nice to see fresh sawn timber in such raw form, ready for conversion into a building with longevity, integrity and character.

Friday, 28 June 2013

The latest project...the tale of the tie beam

This recently raised pyramid roof is one of the biggest hipped roofs we've built, with an 8m span and 6m hips seated down on dragon ties. Despite a few challenges along the way, the whole project went really well, and its now sitting 'ansomely on an east facing cliff top overlooking Gerrans Bay. Raising day was long and gloomy, and the frame was quickly shrouded in scaffolding, felt and battens, so photos of it in place will have to wait 'til a later date.

From an early stage we designed in a large kingpost truss to support the long purlins that would be framed around the roof lights. This truss was built off an 8m x 200mm x 200mm tie beam that, in a change to our normal 'West of England' timber sourcing policy, came from Normandy. When we planed and orientated this beam in the workshop, we found a large ominous looking fault...a significant knot, surrounded by very short, swirling grain and worrying lateral cracks. After much cursing, consulting and head-scratching, I remembered an article by Lui Rocca in the Mortice and Tenon, the quarterly journal of the Carpenter's Fellowship, of which I'm a member.

The article described a similar dilemma, where a long tie beam was needed but not available with the time frame. After very careful assesment of the forces involved, and the approval of structural engineers, a tabled scarf joint was used under the kingpost to join 2 shorter lengths.

So, reassured by Lui's experiences, I got out the chainsaw, took a deep breath and cut my long, expensive tie beam in half. The half with the knotty fault was replaced with another clean piece from the stock pile, and the two shorter pieces scarfed together. The outcome proved excellent, even fortuitous; easier transportation to site, easier raising and craning, and a nice joinery feature in the heart of this fine roof. It'll be featured here in photo form as soon as I can, but in the meantime I hope Lui won't mind me using two of his images below to illustrate what we did...full credits and thanks to him.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

St Joseph's Day Tour

Tuesday, March 19th was St. Joseph's Day, and he, I recently learned, is the patron saint of carpenters. The following weekend, to celebrate this, and as an excuse for a Timber Framer's get-together, good friend Joel Hendry organised a tour of All Things Timber in Exeter. In all there were about 22 of us, from all corners of the South West, many with far greater knowledge and experience than I could ever dream of, but all with a shared interest in structural timber work and green oak timber framing. Joel's reputation and hard work gained us access to some little seen parts of the city.

 Cornwall and the far south-west of England may not have the heritage in timber buildings that other more sheltered parts of the country have, but by the time you move east to Devon and Exeter, there are enough tall, straight trees and historical wealth to have left a significant legacy, as well as a recognised style of oak framing...perhaps most famously the Devon Cruck. Our St Joesph's Day tour of the city took in The Guild Hall, The Law Library, The Old Mint, and perhaps most spectacularly The Cathedral, with the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England. Above this, its huge hidden oak framed roof is massively braced with steel and wires because it came near to collapsing in the late 19th century after intended remedial work caused the huge trusses to slump up to 2 metres out of vertical. It's difficult to get photos that effectively show this, and you'd never know it from the tranquility of the cathedral below, but it is well worth seeing.


 These creations may bear little resemblance to the green oak timber frames coming out of our workshop in Cornwall, but in fact most of what we do is derived directly from work such as this. The laying out and marking process is the same, the jointing techniques and pegged assembly are unchanged, and the raw material, west-country grown green oak, is consistant. Nothing I've built will ever match these beautiful roofs, but it's a great source of inspiration to see what others have done hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

The day finished with a drink under the vaulted roof of Tucker's Hall, the Guild Chapel of Cloth Workers. Many thanks to Joel and his friends and colleagues... a grand day for a bunch of timber framing geeks, and a fine way to reconnect with the grand history of what we do on a daily basis.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

New Year Resolution - fail

Self made promises to keep the website better updated have evaporated and it probably looks like I have (again) been hibernating down a mineshaft for several seasons. Wintertime is always a good time to slow down, take stock and catch up, but we've still had plenty of interesting jobs moving through the workshop, and there's lots in the pipeline for the coming spring and summer.

It looks a bit out of season now, but this little frame was completed just before Christmas, and makes a nice light sun room out of a seldom used courtyard behind a Victorian townhouse. Green oak timber framing doesn't always have to involve huge timbers in freestanding frames, and it's satisfying to be able to scale things down, modernize the aesthetic, and adapt our skills to a wide range of applications. In heavily glazed projects like this I prefer to use drier, more stable oak then the fresh sawn green oak that typifies most of our work. But the joinery and assembly techniques are the same, and I hope the finished result is just as pleasing.

Here's another interesting departure from our usual green oak framing work. I'd previously helped an old friend renovate a railway carriage into living quarters, but when that proved to be too small, he embarked on this log cabin build. I've had a little involvement from early on, but most recently have been there helping fit floors, doors and windows. Its evolved into a fine structure and will make a beautiful living space; his unrelenting eye for simple authenticity really shows through the materials used and the approach to the detailing. It's been a good exercise for me too, as we're building a small log cabin sauna for a customer later this year, built along similar design principals.