Thanks to the Christmas holidays, it has been awhile between posts! I was writing about a day spent with David and Nancy Birdsall, and their house raising party.
David is making a timber framed house, which means that it will be posts and beams that are joined by pegs and visible from inside the house. In this kind of house the whole frame structure stands by itself. David made all of the pieces long before the house raising party. Working under cover in a barn, he cut and shaped all of the beams, notches, braces, joints – everything cut out into an intricate puzzle, tested for fit and labeled in a way that when it came to the house raising they could all be put up systematically and fairly fast.
Once the pieces were delivered to the house site on the day of the party, we laid them out on a level plane (we had them on the floor, and sawhorses) and built them into a bent, which is a full framed cross section of the house. A crane that had arrived that morning raised the bents, then they were conjoulied (conjoined and cajoled) into place. We’d slide the mortised and tennons into place with the aid of a big hammer and lock them together with oak pegs.
The timbers were a mixture of pine and cherry and ash, which will all be exposed when the house is complete. Each species brings a different color, the gold of the pine, the white of the ash, and the deep richness of cherry. David kept the natural grain and shape of the individual tree as he structured each timber. One of the upright posts used this natural “Y” shape (called gunstock) instead of using an additional brace. There is even a bullet in one of the joists – it was sawn clean in half!
As the bents were raised and put into place, each of house raising party guests had a role to play.
One friend of David’s was the construction manager for the actual building and another coordinated the working crews so that everything was done efficiently. Then there was a whole subset of builders, or friends with a particular skill, and they could take charge of what they had particular skills in. There was one guy who was cutting just notches on the floor joists and another guy cutting just stress skin panels (4’x10 panels that have plywood on the outsides and foam sandwiched on the inside). And of course there was someone coordinating all of the food back at the garage that had been the Birdsalls’ home, that crew kept a constant stream of coffee and sweets and bison chili, vegetarian chili, and something they called a chili medley with all sorts of ingredients. The remaining party of 30 or so volunteers was on hand to fill in where needed.
I had already used up my particular skill making 2×4’s first thing in the morning (see Part II post), so the rest of the day I was a gofer. About two thirds of the big crew did the same, so whenever there was something that needed to be done, there would be an army of workers there ready. If there was a stack of lumber that needed to be moved, the person in charge would just look over and say “Will, can you get these people together to move the lumber from here to there?” Or if someone needed a different tool, we would all go and search for it. Armies of workers were spread out on the beams as rafters were raised and attached. The staccato of hammer blows, and the whine of circular saws filled the air. It was really neat to see a huge group of people who just worked together and were able to do whatever needed to be done.
As the daylight ended, the race was on to try and get as much plywood on the roof as possible to protect the sheetrock on the stress skin panels, before the predicted foul weather arrived on Sunday. By the end of the day the plywood was on one side of the roof with the stress skin panels protected and tarps were in place to protect everything from the weather. On Sunday wind, rain, and snow reminded us of how late in the fall the project had started and the pressure of time, of short daylight hours and the more and more frequent days when weather would not be right for building. This army of friends had given David and Nancy a fast start so they could get a closed in house in time for the new year
What a great day, to watch a couple’s dream, and a gathering of friends, in a single day, create the beginnings of a magnificent piece of art. This was a fantastic house party!