by Neil Godden & Michael Cuba

Two perspectives on the Timber Framers Guild’s Community Building Workshop that took place in Schuylerville, NY, a few weeks before our annual conference. Neil Godden served as project manager; Michael Cuba, a former Guild director, served as a volunteer.

What Neil saw

Dedicated volunteers came from near and far to support the TFGuild and participate in the Champlain Canal Region Gateway Visitors Center community building project. New and old Guild participants from Arizona, Ohio, California, Massachusetts, Vermont, British Columbia, Quebec, and Denmark joined in to make this workshop a success. Participants from all over New York State signed on to be part of the community building event in their home state—even some folks from the Big Apple sharpened their chisels in anticipation. Most days, we had about 45 volunteers. Experience levels ranged from true novices to well-oiled timber frame pros, all looking to gain an opportunity to share in the mission of community building and eager to get to work on the main frame of the Gateway Visitors Center. (Phase one, the walk out level, was completed as a smaller scale TFGuild community building project in the grueling summer heat, just a few weeks earlier.)

The Guild leadership team was well prepared. They had spent many hours in the months before the event collaborating to make this workshop an important one for the TFGuild, the Historic Hudson Hoosic Rivers Partnership, and everyone who came to participate. The leadership team was led by me, Neil Godden, of Massachusetts. The eight instructors were a diverse group of highly experienced timber framers: Will Beemer, Dave Bowman, and Jeremy Topitzer from Massachusetts; Shannon McIntyre, Seth Kelly, and Evan Taubes of Vermont; Tom Haanen from Oklahoma; and Michael Jones from New York.

Part of the project T-shirt image, and a look at the N.Y. Canal waterway system that the visitors center supports. Blue lines indicate all of the linked waterways. Design developed by Rich Rossignol; consultation from Mack Magee.

On Monday morning, many of us gathered at the Fort Hardy worksite in Schuylerville. The leadership team was ready to get started, and we were met by some volunteers who were eager to get the worksite set up for the busy days ahead. After setup was complete, the group trickled over to the Christ the King Spiritual Life Center for check-in. This was going to be home for the next 10 days of the workshop. The Spiritual Life Center, in the neighboring town of Greenwich, is nestled among the hills and dales of beautiful Washington County. The beauty of the grounds made it an easy place for our hardworking team to relax and unwind together in the
off hours. Volunteers and instructors were billeted in two bunk-style houses for the duration of the workshop. The breakfast and dinner meals were a short walk up the hill to the Welcome Center cafeteria. Food was good and plentiful, with seating indoors or outside under a covered porch facing a lovely view.

Over the remaining days, everything fell into place. The local community supported and fed us as we worked. The leadership team was focused on teaching layout and cutting techniques, answering questions, and giving demonstrations. For this workshop, participants had the opportunity to learn and use traditional hand tools as well as power tools for all joinery.

Demonstrations were provided periodically throughout the workshop. Will Beemer instructed the group on sharpening, Dave Bowman discussed the intricacies of hand riven peg making, Tom Haanen explained adhesive anchor sealing, and I demonstrated the French snap and how to cut an anchor beam tenon using hand tools. Evening sessions rounded off the educational aspects of this workshop with a welcome to the project by Joe Finan and me; properties of wood by Jeremy Topitzer; restorations by Seth Kelley; a sharing of project photos by all willing participants; basic beam sizing, engineering, and dating old barns by Will Beemer; and New World Dutch barns by guest speaker Jack Sobon.

As with any Guild event, the time spent relaxing after a hard day’s work is what bonds us the most. We had plenty of hang time in the evenings as we kicked back together in the common lounges, listened to homegrown tunes by the campfire, or toasted each other at the local cidery, Saratoga Apple. By the end, in true community fashion, we completed all of the layout and joinery for the 30 ft.-8-in. x 60-ft. 8-in. Dutch-barn future visitors center. Since the permanent site is not yet ready for the frame, some adjustments were made. The group happily assembled (and disassembled) Bent 3, the front porch truss, giving us a feel for the impeccable workshop joinery. Due to site work and foundation delays, the frame has been properly stored and put to rest for a long winter’s nap.

Not knowing what to expect as a first-time Guild community building project manager, I can honestly say that I am grateful for the experience. The outpouring of support from Guild members, the timber framing knowledge that we all shared, and the camaraderie that makes the Guild what it is, came together to create a truly amazing community experience for everyone. Whether you are a novice or a pro, I hope that you will consider joining us in June 2017 for Schuylerville Phase 3: the raising!

What Michael saw

This summer, I spent a vacation making wood chips and sawdust at the TFG community building project in Schuylerville. Having read about TFG projects for years, I wanted to learn more about what has been an integral part of the Guild for over two decades.

Michael Cuba on the boring machine

This was my first Guild project, and I can say that its effects on the community are a complex and nuanced expression of our values as an organization. As many of you know, a lot of planning and communication goes into the building of any new structure. In the case of the New York project, there were many state and local agencies coordinating with architects, engineers, and subcontractors. For most of us, this would be enough of a juggling act, but for the dedicated project leaders at the Guild, the structure is only part of the goal. The educational and community outreach aspects are equally important.

In the first phase of the project, I camped on the banks of the Hudson with about a dozen volunteers. Campfires were lit and stories were shared. In contrast to the relative intimacy of the first phase, the second part had well over 50 volunteers. I stayed with the instructors at a nearby retreat center, so I was able to observe just how much effort goes into planning these events. The work of the instructors did not end at the jobsite: there was a regular evening routine of debriefing to discuss strategies, interpret layout, and scratch heads.

Adam Watters and Megan Starr marvel at what a calculator can do.

The job site was something to see. A large parking lot nearby was converted into a tent city. This may have been the most unusual experience for me. For most of my career, I have only worked with one or two other people, a rhythm that many of us know well: a quiet worksite where little needs to be said, whether working together or zoned out by oneself. In Schuylerville, there were 40 people working and instructing at any given time.

Over the course of ten days, I watched people make first cuts with saws and chisels and unravel the mysteries of hand planes and spoke shaves. Perhaps it’s just something about wood, and our attraction to it, that creates such familiar rhythm. I observed a transition from individuals acquiring specific skills to a team of timber framers with great focus and determination.

It is easy to see how a group engaged like this creates community. The effect of their efforts on the people of Schuylerville and the surrounding towns might be a little less obvious, though. It goes far beyond the gratitude of those who are left with an enduring structure. Several local residents participated in the project, and many others visited regularly. I spoke with curious passersby about the Guild and the project. People are drawn in by what we do. It was clear that the Visitors Center means far more to them because of how it was built than it would if it were simply put out to bid. Our process is inclusive.

At the conclusion of the conference that followed the building project, the board of directors met for a strategic planning session. A phrase that came up when considering our strengths and assets was “Guild magic.” It’s a hard thing to quantify, but I know that I had just witnessed it in Schuylerville.  My congratulations go out to Neil Godden, who went over and above to make this an outstanding experience for all. Thanks to all who volunteered for their time and effort.

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