Archive for the ‘Building Techniques’ Category

Acid Etching, Tin Lighting, Loft Railing and Floor, and, Of Course, More Snow–Feb, 2010

February 8, 2010

We are pulling together loose ends and finishing projects at Bunny Vista. Erin has been a frequent worker and has painted, cleaned, and helped push us forward as we try to make practical decisions to get the house ready to pass the occupancy inspection. Nick worked to clean and prep the basement floor for acid etching. The radiant floor heating is operational and is finally using the geothermal system instead of the on-demand hot water heater. The electrical work is also nearing completion. Here are a few photos of recent work.

John Boody gave us some amazing spalted sycamore for the loft floor, which also forms the ceiling for the dining area. Kelley is putting finish on the prepared floor boards.

John Boody kindly gave Kelley some spalted sycamore for the loft floor, which adds another unusual element to the timber frame room.  Spalted wood has been discolored by fungi or rot. The discoloration can form amazing patterns. Kelley says that the spalting of this sycamore looks like an oil painting. It is particularly wonderful looking up at the loft floor from the dining area, where it forms the ceiling.

The basement floor during acid etching

Kelley, Nick, and Erin painstakingly acid etched the basement floor, using muriatic acid to change the color of the concrete floor to this leathery brown color. Kelley decided to acid etch the floor for several reasons. First, it is a permanent finish with little upkeep. The lime in the concrete reacts with the acid when it is applied, changing the color of the concrete, so it never chips or wears, although it will need to be waxed once or twice a year. More important to Kelley, finishing the concrete rather than applying another layer of flooring on top of the concrete allows the radiant floor heating to work most efficiently.

Acid etching the floor required many hours of research and consultation, followed by countless hours of hard work. Nick and Erin spent several days scrubbing the floor to remove every trace of paint, dry wall mud, and dirt. After Kelley, Erin, and Nick tested a couple of different acids and a couple of different application methods, they felt at least a little confident that they had achieved the best color they could. They began applying the acid to the floor. Kelley sprayed two applications of acid onto the surface and Nick brushed it with a long-handled brush. Erin removed all of the residue, another process that sounded easier than it actually was. Kelley and Erin sprayed on three coats of sealer and spread the sealer with paint rollers and a lambswool mop. Finally Kelley applied two coats of wax. There are apparently a number of YouTube videos showing the ease of this process. None of them are to be trusted. It was a labor-intensive chore, but the results are beautiful. Thanks, Nick and Erin. You are invited to watch TV in the TV room and spend the night in the guest room. But you may not store any items in the storage room. Sorry.

Yes, the floor is beautiful and shiny with the lovely color and leathery look the Internet sites promised.

We ordered some tin lighting fixtures from Michael Walsh, who is the person behind Early American Tin Lighting. We have ceiling fixtures for the dining area and the hallway between the log rooms. We also have three pierced tin pendants for the kitchen, some sconces for the log rooms, and three exterior lights. Mike’s work is beautiful, and I was really happy to find a local craftsman. Mike lives and has his workshop and gallery in a wonderful log home west of Dayton.

This fixture hangs in the hallway between the two log rooms.

The ceiling fixture at night.

The master bedroom has two sconces and the office has one.

Master bedroom sconce

The second master bedroom sconce

Kelley is working now to complete the loft railing. He is using Atlantic white cedar boards left from building the deck.

Kelley set the boards for the railing in place to check for size and placement. The center board will be wider, and our plan is for Kelley to saw a decorative cutout in it. Kelley has taken the boards out, and today he worked on putting finish on them.

And, of course, we have had more snow. About a foot of snow fell this weekend. Kelley and Erin spent much of the afternoon today getting the truck unstuck and shoveling the driveway. I am trying to remember that the snow is beautiful. Here are some snowy views from the front porch.

Standing on the front porch and looking toward the southwest.

Icicles on the log section

Turning the Timber Frame into a Room

June 22, 2009

Today the first wall went onto the timber frame. Now I begin to see how the room will look and how it will feel. Kelley has been working hard to balance our desire to have big windows with our need for space for furniture and storage–not an easy problem to solve. But today when I came home from Pufferbellies, Bunny Vista had yet another new look.

A new view of Bunny Vista, featuring a wall on the timber frame.

A new view of Bunny Vista, featuring a wall on the timber frame. When the long covered porch goes on, it will look terrific. What a place to sit and watch the sun set!

Lewis, Aaron and Braxton framed the walls, nailed OSB to the frames, and lifted the walls up to the timber frame.

Lewis is on the ladder.

Lewis is on the ladder.

Braxton and Aaron

Braxton and Aaron

Braxton works on the first section of the frame.

Braxton works on the second section of the frame. He is standing inside the space for the window.

Lewis, Aaron, and Braxton hoisted the wall into place with a heavy chain attached to scaffolding inside the timber frame.

Lewis, Aaron, and Braxton hoisted the wall into place with a heavy chain attached to scaffolding inside the timber frame. You can just see Lewis through the window.

The second section of the wall is in place. Brilliant! The wall section with the door goes in next.

The second section of the wall is in place. Brilliant! The wall section with the door goes in next.

And from the inside looking out–still wonderful. I think the windows are exactly the right size–they look terrific framed by the cherry braces. The proportions are exactly right.

The glorious timber frame is becoming a glorious room. I am imagining looking out that window every evening as the sun sets and stepping out onto that porch through the French doors.

The glorious timber frame is becoming a glorious room. I am imagining looking out that window every evening as the sun sets and stepping out onto that porch through the French doors.

Topping Off the Timber Frame

June 17, 2009

Last Thursday was the start of an intense week of building at Bunny Vista. With the arrival of Jordan Finch and his crew, the number of workers at the house doubled. Lewis, Braxton, and Aaron worked alongside Jordan, Justin, and Mike to add another beautiful element to our new house. Jordan’s crew had been working on the timber frame at Jordan’s workshop in Mount Jackson for many months.

All Thursday afternoon, the crew unloaded the frame and laid it out on the house decking. They joined the wall posts to the top plate and added cherry braces while the walls lay flat on the deck. On Friday, they raised the timber frame, beginning with the west wall. They attached the floor beams for the loft, laid the loft floor joists, and raised the east wall. They maneuvered the giant cherry sling braces into place and added the four principal rafters. On those two days the men worked very hard and very long, and at the end of the day on Friday, we stood on the deck with the amazing timber frame structure surrounding us. It was very emotional for all of us.

Jordan used three woods in the timber frame. Most of the timber frame is made of cypress, which Jordan bought from a sawmill in South Carolina; it is very clear and has a lovely soft color. Kelley tells me cypress was Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite wood. Cypress is widely used in Japan, where builders often bury it for years to deepen the color. The cherry for the braces came from a sawmill here in the Valley; the sling braces on two of the bents are about twelve feet long, eighteen inches or so wide, and six inches thick. Kelley and Jordan sawed them at the Taylor and Boody sawmill so that they retain what Kelley calls “live edges”–the edges are not sawed but follow the natural outline of the tree. They will make a stunning frame for the stone fireplace at the south end of the house. Kelley really admires the handplaning job that Mike did on the cherry, not the easiest wood to plane. The top plates run the full thirty-five foot length of the frame and are made of very dense yellow pine; Kelley and Jordan chose this wood because they were able to use one timber for the entire length of the room.

At the top is the yellow pine top plate

The top plate is yellow pine. The post is cypress, as are the beam running perpendicular to the top plate and the girt directly above Kelley's head. The braces are cherry, which is my favorite wood. In this photo, the crew is preparing to join the first sling brace to the frame.

The posts flare at the top and are narrower at the bottom. Jordan specified that the lumber be milled so that the bottom of the tree (the famous butt swell) would at the top of the post to support all of the joints in that area.

The sling braces have "live edges," which are not sawed but follow the natural line of the curved tree trunk.

The sling braces have "live edges," which are not sawed but follow the natural line of the curved tree trunk. The heartwood of the cherry tree is the reddish color we always associate with cherry. It's really interesting to see the contrast between the heartwood and the sapwood on these braces.

Kelley recruited Nick and Erin to help him put finish on the cypress ceiling boards. Although they spent several hours on this project Sunday afternoon, they were not able to finish. There were a lot of boards.

Cypress ceiling boards

Cypress ceiling boards

On Monday morning, the timber frame crew returned to Bunny Vista to add the common rafters and the cypress tongue-and-groove ceiling.

Jordan and Lewis consult about rafters at the fireplace end of the timber frame.

Jordan and Lewis consult about the rafters at the fireplace end of the timber frame.

Rafters

The larger rafters, visible at the right and the left, are called principal rafters. The common rafters (there are four in this photo) are the smaller rafters between the bents.

After putting the rafters in place on Monday, the builders were able to apply finish to the rest of the ceiling boards, saw them to length, and nail half of them to the rafters.

Justin saws a ceiling board.

Justin saws a ceiling board.

Almost finished with half of the ceiling.

Almost finished with half of the ceiling.

At the end of the day, we had a “topping off” ceremony, which is a traditional centuries-old ceremony among timber frame builders. It marks and commemorates the completion of the timber frame; it recognizes and honors the builders. One important component of the ceremony is the nailing of the “whetting bush” , an evergreen bough, to the highest point of the frame. The origin of this tradition is obscure, but it is probably Scandinavian. Possibly, nailing the evergreen bough to the timber frame once offered appeasement to the gods for using the wood of the forest to build a structure. It may also serve to give thanks to the forest for providing wood for a new home. Kelley climbed onto the roof of the log house and nailed the whetting bush to a principal rafter of the timber frame. Jordan read a traditional German topping off toast and a house blessing which our friend Emily brought to us on Friday. Then he smashed a wine glass against the foundation of the house, and we served our first meal from what will soon be our kitchen.

The whetting bush

The whetting bush

Today, the rest of the ceiling boards went up. Tomorrow, Kelley and Aaron will drive to Winchester to pick up the panels that will insulate the ceiling. Thursday, the builders will add the panels to the ceiling, and we will be on our way to the next house-building adventure.

The final ceiling boards and the whetting bush

The final ceiling boards and the whetting bush

Timber Frame Raising

June 14, 2009

The timber frame arrived at Bunny Vista on Thursday. Aaron Tammi drove to Jordan Finch’s workshop in Mountain Jackson early in the morning and came back to Swoope at midday with a trailer full of house wood, shaped and ready to be made into a timber frame room. Jordan and his assistants Justin and Mike arrived at about the same time.

At last--the timber frame arrives at Bunny Vista

At last--the timber frame arrives at Bunny Vista.

Jordan’s crew and Lewis’s crew spent the rest of Thursday assembling the frame and all day Friday raising it. Kelley’s brother Garry worked with them on Thursday, and our neighbor Emerson Willard worked all day Friday. Kelley and Erin and I took hundreds of photos of these two dramatic days. The photos tell the story much better than I can. I hope they give you a sense of how dramatic, exciting, and moving these two days have been.

The crane lowers the very first part of the frame onto the deck--the pine top plate for Wall A. It is about 35 feet long.

Kelley helps position the very first part of the frame onto the deck--the pine top plate for Wall A. It is about 35 feet long.

The crane lowers a post onto the deck. The top of the post is at the left of the photo.

The crane lowers one of the posts onto the deck.

The crew joins the posts to the top plate and the braces to both top plate and posts while the wall lies flat on the deck.

The crew has joined the posts to the top plate and the braces to both top plate and posts while the wall lies flat on the deck. Wall B is on the left, Wall A, which will be raised first, is on the right.

Amel Blanton, Kelley's father, oils the white oak pegs that will be used in the mortise and tenon joints.

Amel Blanton, Kelley's father, oils the white oak pegs that will be used in the mortise and tenon joints.

Timber Frame joinery

This is an example of the precise and perfect joinery. Jordan, Mike, and Justin cut all the joints at Jordan's workshop in Mount Jackson.

Mark drives some of the many pegs that draw the joints together and hold them tight.

Mike drives some of the many pegs that draw the joints together and hold them tight. He is working on Wall A.

The crew drilled a steel plate into the bottom of each post. When the walls are raised, they will screw the plates into the decking.

The crew drilled a steel plate into the bottom of each post. When the walls are raised, they will screw the plates into the decking.

On Friday morning, the crew began to raise the timber frame. The first part to go up was Wall A, lifted and lowered into place by the crane. Jordan directed the men as they positioned the posts onto the marks they had made earlier.

On Friday morning, the crew began to raise the timber frame. The first part to go up was Wall A, lifted and lowered into place by the crane. Jordan directed the men as they positioned the posts onto the marks they had made earlier. Jordan is partly visible at far left, directing the crane operator and the crew.

Wall A is up, temporarily braced by two x fours

Wall A is up, temporarily braced by two x fours

After Wall A, the floor beams for the loft went up. Slots are cut in the beams for the joists.

After Wall A, the floor beams for the loft went up. They are braced by "dead men" until Wall B goes up.

The crane lifted Wall B, turned it around in the air, and lowered it into place.

The crane lifted Wall B, turned it around in the air, and lowered it into place.

Once the walls were raised, the work of joining the loft floor beams and the sling braces began.

Once the walls were raised, the work of joining the loft floor beams and the sling braces to the wall posts began.

These four massive braces are called sling braces. They were cut from a curved cherry tree.

These four massive braces are called sling braces. They were cut from a curved cherry tree.

After much maneuvering, the first sling brace slid into place.

After much maneuvering, the first sling brace slides into place.

With the first set of sling braces in place, Braxton, Aaron, Mike, and Justin position a principal rafter. Jordan directs the crew and the crane operator.

With the first set of sling braces in place, Braxton, Aaron, Mike, and Justin position a principal rafter. Jordan directs the crew and the crane operator.

One more bent to go.

The view from under the loft. Too beautiful. Too beautiful.

The timber frame is almost complete, with the remaining rafters to be added Monday.

The timber frame is almost complete, with the remaining rafters to be added Monday.

Bunny Vista has a fancy new look.

Bunny Vista has a fancy new look.

Watching the raising of the timber frame was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Jordan’s craftsmanship, selection and use of materials, design, planning, and execution of this project have been nothing short of brilliant. Like the stonework and the log house, the timber frame is a work of art that we will always treasure. It will be a pleasure to live in this house and a pleasure to remember the building of the house.

The Timber Frame Is on the Way

June 2, 2009
On Monday, Jordan Finch, who has been working on our timber frame room since January, will raise the frame at Bunny Vista! Picture the famous barn raising scene from the movie, “Witness.” Leave out the Amish farmers. Add a crane and a bunch of builders. You get the picture. I can hardly wait.
This drawing gives an idea of the scale of the timber frame room. At left will be the fireplace.

This drawing gives an idea of the scale of the timber frame room. At left will be the fireplace.

From the time we began planning our house, Kelley has been determined to include a timber frame section.  The timber frame at Bunny Vista will be one large room, 30′ x 20′, which will share a wall with the log house. It will have posts and beams of cypress and braces of cherry. Two sets of long braces, called sling braces, are sawed from curved cherry trees. The ceiling will be about 20 feet high, and the beautiful wood framework will be visible throughout the room. The end of the room opposite the log house will have a stone fireplace, which will be framed by the cherry sling braces. As in the log rooms, where we will enjoy seeing and touching the wood, with its axe marks made two hundred years ago, in this timber frame room, we will be able to see and touch the wood and stone that frame our house. We will be able to enjoy, in large scale, the kind of beautiful joinery Kelley has used in building furniture and organs for the past thirty years.
The famously beautiful curved cherry forms the sling brace attached to the collar. The sling brace will enter into the living space of the room more than a shorter, higher brace might.

The famously beautiful curved cherry forms the sling braces attached to the collar of this bent. The sling braces will enter into the living space of the room more than a shorter, higher brace might.

Before we began building Bunny Vista, I had only a nodding acquaintance with timber frame structures. I have been reading some of Kelley’s books in hopes of not embarrassing myself when I actually have a timber frame room as part of my house. (Kelley points out to everyone that I have recently read several non-fiction books–somehow he thinks that is unusual.) I have found out a little more than I once knew about this traditional method of building. I supplemented the non-fiction books that Kelley left in my path with this helpful Wikipedia article.

Timber framing was the primary building technique for residences, churches, barns, and other structures  in many parts of the world for centuries.  In the middle of the nineteenth century builders began to use the “stick-framing” construction we are most familiar with today, and timber frame construction almost ceased, because stick-framing was quicker and less expensive. In this country, timber framing began a renaissance in the 1960s.

In early times, timber framers hewed and shaped timbers with felling axes and broadaxes and joined them together in a system of upright (posts) and horizontal (beams)  timbers with the same kind of joinery found in fine furniture. To ensure the rigidity of the frame, they used trusses and braces in various configurations. When European settlers arrived on this continent, they built timber frame houses, barns, and churches. Now, as timber framing regains popularity, many timber frame companies build houses off-site with the aid of computer numerical control machines and other modern equipment. Although Jordan uses machines in his work, every piece of wood in our timber frame will bear the mark of his own handiwork. He will use traditional joints, such as mortises and tenons. He will use wooden pegs to secure the joints, which Kelley will adjust as the wood shrinks and moves.

Jordan is making all of the parts for the timber frame at his shop in Mount Jackson.

Jordan is making all of the parts for the timber frame at his shop in Mount Jackson. Jordan also built this timber frame workshop.

Jordan sent Kelley some labeled drawings of the timber frame room. Our room will have four bents and three bays, as seen in the drawing below. Now, if you don’t know what bents and bays are, I will explain as Kelley explained to me: if you imagine the side view of the room as the side view of a sliced loaf of bread, each of the four slices coming up from the bottom of the loaf represents the side view of a post rising from the floor. Between each post is an open area called a bay. At the left will be the fireplace. At the right will be stairs leading up to a loft and down to the basement.

Jordan's labeled the elements of this wall elevation of our timber frame room.

This is a view of the 30' wall. Imagine this as the side view of a sliced loaf of bread.

The photo below is a labeled view of one of the four bents. Imagining the loaf of bread again,  think of the bent as a slice of that bread. The main parts of the bent are the posts rising from the floor, the beam, and the braces which form triangles between posts and the beam. (These braces keep the bent rigid. Triangles are rigid forms, but squares are not. Structures built without triangular bracing are going to fall right down in a strong wind.) There are also rafters. The drawing below combines elements from a couple of the bents. The sling braces will be only on the two bents near the fireplace. The floor beam will be on the two posts nearest the log house and will support the loft floor. The railing for the loft is also pictured here.

This is a labeled elevation of one of the bents.

This is a labeled elevation of one of the bents.Imagine this as one of the slices from the loaf of bread in the first elevation.

Many of the terms Kelley, Jordan, Lewis, and our architect Peter use with such authority and gusto are completely foreign to me. I found this useful glossary of timber frame terms on the beautiful Dreaming Creek Architectural Timbering Website. I sneak peeks at it rather often.

These are some of the almost-ready cypress timbers at Jordan's workshop.

These are some of the almost-ready cypress timbers at Jordan's workshop. Jordan and one of his assistants are in the background. Also, there seems to be a yellow boot in this photo. It has been a rainy spring.

The joinery is amazing.

The joinery is amazing.

Kelley met Jordan when Jordan was doing a demonstration at a conference on traditional crafts at the Frontier Culture Museum near Staunton. Kelley visited the timber frame house that Jordan built for his wife’s parents near his own home in Mount Jackson. He is doing splendid work on the timber frame.

Of roofs and ceilings

May 21, 2009

Bunny Vista got a petticoat for its roof yesterday. From Monday through Wednesday the crew worked hard to put up all the rafters and the rest of the underpinnings for the new roof. Now the basement will stay dry–no more mudslides for Kelley, Erin, and Nick to shovel out.

With the addition of a roof, the house looks like a house rather than an assemblage of logs and two by fours. I love the proportions and the the look of the cabin section–set solid on a stone foundation with massive logs and a no-nonsense roofline.

From the bottom up: Limestone, logs, roof sheathing!

From the bottom up: Limestone, logs, roof sheathing! At the right is the decking where the timber frame will be. Kitchen will be at the back of the timber frame section.

Immediately after the roof went on, we had an extended discussion of ceilings. Finally we decided that the master bath will have a sloped ceiling that follows the roofline, which will make it easy to put a skylight over the shower. The dog trot will also have a ceiling that partially follows the roofline. The back hall will have 8 foot ceilings, perhaps made of cypress. The ceiling of the timberframe will soar to the peak of the roof, so that when we walk down the back hallway to the timber frame, that room will be even more dramatic because of the contrast with the low hallway ceiling. At least, that is what I think.

The ceilings in the office and master bedroom are of poplar, painted white. Joists are white pine, hand planed with beaded edges.

The ceilings in the office and master bedroom are of poplar, painted white. Joists are white pine, hand planed with beaded edges.

Aaron and Braxton build the roof.

Aaron and Braxton build the roof.

The view from up there

The view from up there