Posts Tagged ‘cypress’

Front Porch

December 19, 2009

Lewis and the crew built the front porch this week and finished putting the poplar bark siding on the front of the timber frame. Bunny Vista is so different now–it begins to feel like home. From the road that runs along the ridge just west of us, the house is so intriguing. The porch roof and cedar posts somehow tie the house to the ground so that it looks as if it’s part of the landscape. As Erin said, “it looks so snug.”

So here are some photos from the building of the porch and from the second snowfall of December.

Aaron and Braxton scamper along on the rafters. Kelley says they were like Tigger bouncing up there. The rafters are hemlock, which Kelley bought several years ago and stored at John Boody's sawmill. The beam that supports the rafters is cypress, left over from the timber frame.

The bark shingles await.

It is such fun to stand on the porch and look at the log section--there is snow on the windows and logs and stone and even on the poplar bark siding.

Standing on the front porch watching the snow. I hear that the light fixtures are done, and I'm anxious to see how they will look beside the French doors. The porch rafters and roof are hemlock, which Kelley says is resistant to boring bees. Thank goodness for that.

From the top--hemlock roof, hemlock rafters, red cedar posts from Aaron Tammi's property, cypress rafter-bearing beam, Atlantic white cedar decking, cypress deck frame, hemlock deck joists

Let's see. . . from the top: hemlock porch roof, hemlock porch rafters, cypress rafter-bearing beam, red cedar posts from Aaron Tammi's family property, red cedar posts, Atlantic white cedar decking, cypress deck framing, hemlock deck joists.

Kelley says there is enough poplar bark to finish the work on the front--the basement entrance and the little porch between the two log rooms. The door for the basement is here, and Kelley is going to make a door for the little porch. Someday we will say goodbye to all the Tyvek.


Cypress Paneling and Poplar Bark

December 13, 2009

Kelley and the crew made cypress paneling for the hallway and the small office nook, which, along with the master bathroom and the kitchen, are in the shed addition at the back of the house. The paneling runs horizontally and is an amazing complement to the logs. Kelley took the photos of the paneled walls November 14.

On November 24, Lewis, Braxton, and Aaron started siding the timber frame with the poplar shingles. They had stripped the bark from poplar trees in the spring, and John Boody dried it in his kiln in the early fall. Once the bark was dried, the workers sawed it into shingles. The bark itself is very rough in texture, and some parts are covered with lichens. The rough vertical lines of the bark make an interesting contrast with the very regular horizontal lines of the siding. I think it is perfect with the stone foundation and the log walls.

At the left, the doorway in the log wall leads to the guest bathroom and laundry area. The doorway in the paneled wall nearer the camera leads to a closet, and the third doorway is the main entrance to the house.

I love this shot of what will be my office, which was taken from the dining area near the top of the stairwell. There will be lots of room for books and a great window above my desk. And there will be lots of electrical outlets. Just count 'em.

The crew began to put the poplar bark siding onto the timber frame section of the house on Nov. 24. Here's how it looked after a couple of shingles went on. Other shingles are in the foreground.

Here are the first few shingles, juxtaposed with the limestone at the bottom, the sandstone at the right, and the Tyvek at the top.

Aaron Tammi, Lewis Wright, and Braxton Wood

Once the porch is completed, the crew will continue siding the house with the poplar bark shingles.

Snow at Bunny Vista

December 11, 2009

The stone and log section of the house--see the retaining wall at the left and the remains of the Pufferbellies Christmas float in the foreground.

The work on Bunny Vista continues, and I’m excited that Lewis and the crew have put some of the poplar bark siding on the timber frame section of the house. They finished the deck of the front porch today, complete with posts made from cedar trees cut from Aaron Tammi’s family’s property. The joists for the porch deck are hemlock, which Kelley bought a long time ago and stored at John Boody’s sawmill. The decking is Atlantic white cedar. On the interior, the heating and cooling systems are complete, the drywall is nearly all installed, there is beautiful cypress paneling on the back hallway, and the ceiling is almost done.

Kelley walked around the house while it snowed and took these photos, so here’s a virtual visual tour of Bunny Vista as it looked last weekend. Just pretend you’re walking in the snow all the way around the house. Then come inside for a cup of coffee.

The cedar posts for the front porch with their little snow caps. The crew was able to put the decking on the porch after the snow melted this week.

At the right, under the porch, you can see the poplar bark siding. It transforms the house.

The gable at the bedroom end of the house has a temporary siding, which will be replaced with poplar bark.

The main entrance, at the right, will also have poplar bark siding. The kitchen is at the left. I love its big windows, which give such a clear view of the wooded area behind the house--also of what seems to be miles of mud, when the ground is not covered with snow.

Poplar bark siding is under the porch. The entire timber frame section will have poplar bark. The white doors, which lead to Kelley's workshop, will be painted red to match the other doors and windows. The porch will have a roof, and the crew put the porch deck on this week after the snow melted. The cedar posts supporting the porch are set on big stones.

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.


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

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.