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January 24, 2010

A Pace and a Peace I'm Comfortable With

winter

It’s been nearly two weeks since our last trip off the mountain. My days have found routine in the equipment shed project. With settled weather and lengthening days I’m able to work for seven or eight hours a day, from the time the sun first rises over the treetops, until the pencil lines on wooden surfaces begin to fade in the diminishing evening light.

winter 

There is great peace to be found in my immediate surroundings. The snow-covered meadows and forests are so very hushed in winter. Rather than working in silence, however, I’ve chosen to bring my radio into the greenhouse each day. I begin my work while tuned to Tom Ashbrook’s "On Point." Next up, it’s "Vermont Edition", followed by "Here and Now," "The Story," "Fresh Air," and, finally, as I’m cleaning, sharpening and oiling my tools at the end of the day, I catch the first half hour of "All Things Considered."

winter

I can’t help but note the extreme contrast between the winter peace outside my door and the stories the radio delivers from far and away. Haitian earthquake devastation, political senselessness playing out in a feeble and potentially doomed attempt at health care legislation, judicial blunders protecting the free-flow of money between corporate America and the political machine . . .

The magnitude and pace of world events often overwhelm my ability to make sense of it all, if indeed there is any sense to be made.

winter 

Here on the mountain, however, the world is at rest and the pace remains steady. Begin the day with a fire for warmth. Listen to the radio news. Coffee. Breakfast. Haul water from the stream. Step into the greenhouse and smell the freshly cut hemlock. One or two timbers per day are transformed into components of a framework that will hopefully stand at the edge of this orchard for centuries to come. It’s a pace and a peace I’m comfortable with.

winter 

 

 

January 02, 2010

Giddy-Up!

ponies

Last winter, when I made the decision to build an equipment shed, I knew that I was entering new territory. While many of the buildings in my native New England (virtually all homes and barns built prior to 1850) are still supported by timber frames, it was only relatively recently that I came to understand the beauty, strength, and practicality of those old structures. Despite the efforts of revivalists that began reintroducing the art of timber framing in the 1970’s I had never taken the time to sort out the difference between a tie beam and a summer beam, never mind the nuances of scribe rule vs. square rule, common rafters vs. principal rafters, etc.

ponies

With my admitted lack of experience in the craft, I deemed the proposed equipment shed a suitable “practice” building, on which I’d sort out the necessary skills before taking on the larger primary barn that has been on the drawing board for the past couple of years.

So, we now have a stack of hemlock timbers under cover alongside Gypsy and the greenhouse has become a makeshift woodworking shop. The time to begin cutting the timbers for the first bent had arrived. Almost.

I needed a solid surface on which to place the timbers while carving the mortise and tenon joints. An ordinary set of sawhorses would not do. These timbers are heavy – hundreds of pounds apiece for the longer ones. I needed a set of stoutly built framing ponies. Besides, I reckoned, they could be “practice” before tackling the equipment shed. Hmmm. Will that barn ever be built?

ponies

Among the first lessons of the timber framer is one of patience. In contrast with the contemporary “stick-built” or “balloon framed” buildings that were adopted en mass during the latter 1800’s, a timber frame is the domain of the skilled craftsmen. Here on our land in Tunbridge, however, my apprenticeship will be a solitary affair, without the guidance of a master framer. It will take time.

ponies

My first 2-inch by 7-inch through mortise took nearly four hours to complete. My first “blind” mortise took two hours and I was initially intimidated by the challenges of fitting braces in mortises cut at 45-degree angles to the timber surface. By the end of a week of work I had cut, fitted, and refined the components of my first pony and was ready to drill and peg the joints together.

ponies

There was something very satisfying in the feel of that first 1-inch oak peg being driven through the joint connecting the pony’s base with its upright post. It’s a feeling that doesn’t go away with subsequent connections.

ponies

I had set a goal of laying the first timber for the equipment shed atop the ponies by the fist of the new year. On January 1st, 2010, at the end of a two week period (including ample breaks for holiday gatherings with family), I had two ponies solidly standing. Now, the real practice can begin. Giddy-up!

ponies