by Randy Churchill
We unconsciously adopt habits from our parents. From my dad, I inherited a weird habit of grunting and making other funny noises for no apparent reason. This was hard for my wife until she realized it was just a habit and not passive attention-seeking behavior (I don’t even realize I do it).
From my mom, I inherited the gift of always looking for the positive. If it was raining, her response would be “oh, the grass will love that.” If a weirdo gets elected to important office, “well, that will bring people out to vote next time, won’t it?” She lived in a chaotic house with five silly boys (my dad included) so she never had the opportunity to wallow in sadness or shut the door and have a good cry; venting about something negative was always pushed to the back burner – and quickly tipped into the circular bin behind, as more pressing things took the fore.
So even though we didn’t get to fully raise the firepit shelter at Tribune Bay on Hornby Island (British Columbia) during the Timber Framer Guild’s Raising Rendezvous, with good friends at my side I think we had another amazing Guild event. I was especially heartened to see many new faces – there is every reason to believe our timber framing community will “live long and prosper” with the talented, dedicated, awesome members we have.
Ten experienced carpenters and timber framers gathered in my shop to wrestle with the concepts of compound roof joinery for a week. Another twenty Guild members joined us on-site to share the adventure, and together we shepherded a dozen local high school students through the maze of assembling and raising a complicated timber frame. They were given the secret TFG handshake and got to work beside craftspeople with integrity and a desire to continue learning. The young people had a great time and came out of the experience better than they went in.
The design for the firepit shelter was originally proposed by the Tribune Bay Outdoor Education Centre: we get a lot of inclement weather days here on the coast, and they wanted a place people could gather that was both protected and in touch with the surrounding woods. A fire is central to many groups enjoying fresh air and physical activities, as we know from many a Guild gathering. Its magical features – warmth and light – draw people together and lift spirits.
Compound Joinery Workshop
Building upon the developed drawings courses that the talented Curtis Milton has shared with us for years, the goal was to provide an opportunity to fabricate and produce components for a frame. I needn’t have worried if the workshop was of interest. Registrations came in quickly and we filled the roster with enthusiastic, professional, full-time craftspeople from near and far. We gathered in my shop, parked among the trees, set up tents in the yard, traded stories….and then started an intense math class the next morning.
We spent some time with basic developed drawings and eventually introduced the parallel method of Hawkindale worksheets to provide specific information. Late on the first day, it was time to burn off pent up energy so we spread out some sticks and put lead to wood, then cut up some samples to illustrate the mind games and hand waving we had been doing all day. In fine Guild tradition, even with beer in hand after dinner, we were still asking each other questions, and we all went to sleep dreaming of backing and jack clip cuts.
The gang of four from Oregon (Jim, Scott, Beth, and Ben) anchored the site work on faraway Hornby Island by arriving early, keeping a nurturing positive attitude throughout, and staying an extra day to put up more pieces. With our first wall assembly on the flat, we knew this wasn’t going to be fast or easy. Luckily, we had a couple of experienced log builders to clean up the posts and focus on missing fabrication. The rest of the crew had anchors to install, rafters to bevel, and time to share with new and old friends. Our Guild projects focus on education, and a dozen local high school students joined us to add their unique energy to the event. They made us laugh, asked lots of questions, and were generally a hoot to have around.
Our partner, the Tribune Bay Outdoor Education Centre, hosted us with warm sleeping huts and a lodge for mealtime. A walk on the beach here is worth the trip all by itself with its expanse of sand (uncommon around here) and south-facing exposure.
We didn’t get the structure raised over the long holiday weekend – only three of the eight sides, in fact. A few folks were able to return the next weekend, when the weather graced us, and we got the rest of the walls up and dropped on the 24 rafters and funky compression ring at the top. It was very difficult to get the posts spun to just the right orientation during assembly so that the hip rafters lined up with the post tops later.
One of the unique aspects of this frame is that the foundation was not buried. Prefab concrete lock blocks sat atop the ground per BC Parks’ request and therefore forces in the frame must be totally resolved at the post feet. We have high potential for wet snow loads and an imminent earthquake threat, so many big structural screws were installed and fancy Ricon connectors tied the rafters and compression ring together (including clips to prevent ever taking the pieces apart).
I’d love to cut and raise this frame again because I don’t feel like I got it quite right this time—it is really solid and we all learned a lot, but my labor estimates and the effects of complexity on project flow weren’t very accurate. The 18″-plus round logs are really impressive but complex; it would be simpler to accurately mill a pentagon so that the orientation is set.
The biggest charge for me at these events is to see people learning something new in a safe environment. Add the fun we have working with dedicated colleagues to the equation and I am totally reassured that our Guild Community Building Workshops – even when they don’t go exactly as planned – are a huge benefit to members and a good story whenever they happen. This particular one kicked me in the butt and reminds me to be humble. And as my mom would say, while the multiple days of rain didn’t help our project efficiency, the grass and ferns sure liked it.