Tuesday, April 21, 2009

We finished the North bent!

In a couple marathon work sessions, we finished the north bent of the PCEI Artist Studio frame!

I think it turned out much better than either of us ever expected.

The northern bent was originally designed as a really simple bent consisting of three posts, two girts and a couple knee braces with simple, unhoused, unshouldered joinery. However, after re-evaluating how much of the center Englemann Spruce post was going to be removed, we decided to include a hardwood spline passing entirely through the Spruce post and directly tying both girts together in a much stronger joint. In addition, we decided to shoulder all girt-to-post joinery, matching the shouldered joints on the southern bent.

Below, we are tensioning the north bent using rachet straps. At this point, we have not yet placed the knee braces.

And here is the completed bent, with knee braces, and test-fitted with drilled peg holes. This single bent consists of 7 species of wood! Ponderosa Pine post, douglas fir post, Englemann spruce center post, maple spline, two American elm girts, two American elm knee braces, a Grand fir sill plate, and black locust pegs!!

We will cut a nice curve on the bottoms of the knee braces prior to raising day.

Peter suggested a couple modifications to my basic brace design, and I think they turned out great. First, we cut the brace so that the tenon and brace are flush on the interior side. This makes great-looking joinery, especially in situations where the brace meets up with a wany surface.

Second, he cut a small piece off the far corners of the braces. The advantage of doing this is arguable since it can expose the brace mortise slightly, but I think it turned out very, very tight nonetheless.

Here is a closer look at that maple spline tying together the American elm girts through the spruce post.

That American elm, salvaged last Fall from East City Park in Moscow is WET and heavy. It is also exceedingly beautiful. The color difference between sapwood (light tan/yellow) and heartwood (like black walnut!) is stunning. And by placing wane and sapwood in the same orientation for both girts, we create the effect that the girts are continuous. In fact, they were cut from different parts of the same massive elm tree.

Here is the best look yet of the impressive joint. One of the best parts of this joint is invisible: that all three pieces of wood (elm, spruce, and maple) were salvaged by hand from city and street trees in Moscow. All three trees grew very near each other in Moscow for at least 75 years.

We've made major strides in the last week. The foundation is done, both bents are complete, all the braces have been cut, and we're almost done with the west wall! We've cut all of the tenons and most of the mortises. Without exception, the joinery has turned out fantastic.

The next big challenge prior to raising day will involve laying out the roof system and mocking it up.

We're almost done with this timber frame!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Finished the foundation in preparation for the raising!

We essentially finished the foundation preparation. Earlier, Peter welded together 6" wide, 1/4" thick steel plates. The plan is that these L-shaped steel plates will be welded to the angle iron protruding from the concrete piers and then the steel plates will be bolted to the massive sill plate timbers. This ties the timbers frame to the foundation.

The first order of business was to level all of the angle iron. We marked the level using a simple water level. We then used a circular saw with a metal-cutting blade to cut all of the angle iron at the level mark.

Here, Peter cuts the angle iron at the level mark.

Next, we used a metal grinder to grind the angle iron smooth and put a slight bevel on it to eventually make a better weld.

Isaak and Emmett, two local welders, came out to lend a hand with the welding. They brought a 120V arc welder and we strung over 300' of 10-gauge extension cables from the nearest power source up to the job site. After fighting with weak power problems due to the great distance, Isaak and Emmet were able to get their welder working satisfactorily.

All of the welding had to be done from the awkward position of lying down on the ground and working sort-of upside down. Here, Emmett is welding one of the plates to the angle iron:

After an afternoon of work, we got all of the steel plates leveled, squared, and welded. The foundation is essentially done!!

Its nearly time to start bringing out timbers to the job site, starting with the 4 sill timbers.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hooray! The south wall essentially finished.

1) Connect all timbers.
2) Tighten joints with ratchet straps.
3) Check that frame is square.
4) Look for any wood that can be removed to make joinery tighter.
5) Release ratchet straps.
6) Disassemble timbers.
7) Shave 1/16" here.
8) Plane 1/32" there.
9) Reconnect timbers.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

But at about 11 p.m. we finally got the joinery on the South wall to be as tight as we could.

Here is Peter cleaning out a strut mortise on the curved American elm beam.

Here is Peter shaving a fraction of an inch off the strut shoulder using his chisel:

Here is the finished South wall frame, pulled very tightly together with 5 large ratchet straps. These timbers are tight!

The next step is to carefully drill all of the peg holes, which will finalize the joinery on this part of the Artist studio.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Finished 14 rafters

The Artist Studio design calls for a total of 18 rafters. 14 of the rafters are 3"x7" and the gable end rafters are 3"x10". I finished cutting the rafter tails and cleaning up the rafters (cross-cutting, ripping, squaring, planing, sanding) for all 14 of the 3x7 rafters. I think they turned out very nicely. I used a powerful jigsaw to cut the curved rafter tails, and it worked well.

These rafters are all Douglas fir or Western Larch, species chosen for their strength. All but one of the rafters is completely free-of-heart, which will decrease warping and checking as the wood dries.

I had to reject a bunch of Douglas fir rafters that I had originally milled due to severe pitch pockets and shake. From my experience, Douglas fir is a tricky wood to use. If you get a good, straight and tight grained log with no large veins of pitch, it can be an excellent wood to work with.

However, I ended up rejecting tons of Douglas fir due to veins of pitch and the related shake that weakens the wood substantially (and makes a gooey mess). On average, Douglas fir is one of my least favorite woods to work with. That is odd, because Douglas fir is the wood of choice for so many Western US timber framers. They must all get hand-picked, kiln-dried large-diameter coastal firs from British Columbia.

In any event, I used only the best wood for these rafters and they turned out great! I can't wait to see them placed on top of the erected frame.