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September 26, 2010

Everything Waits til After the Fair

Tunbridge Fair

 The 139th annual Tunbridge Fair was held on September 16th through 19th. One of the few remaining "country" fairs in Vermont, it draws folks from all over the state and beyond. Marion's mom comes to visit each year during fair time and my folks drive across the state to take in the sights and sounds. My favorite events are the horse pulling and antique tractor pulling which each have a uniquely rural flavor.

Tunbridge Fair

The power of the team is truly magnificent.

Tunbridge Fair

 Equally colorful are the characters waiting their turn behind the scenes.

Tunbridge Fair

Each team is driven by three men - one that does the driving and two that carry the hitch to be dropped on the hook on the weighted sled.

Tunbridge Fair

Horses eventually were displaced by machines and the competition to pull changes shape.

Tunbridge Fair

Given that 8 of every 10 Vermont farms that I knew as a kid have vanished from the landscape, I find myself caught up in the nostalgia as the fair rolls into town each year.

Tunbridge Fair 

We were treated to perfect weather for fair weekend with family members enjoying blue skies and good food in the meadow. In the picture below, my mom and dad, sister Cheryl, Marion, Marion's mom, and Meghann enjoy BLT's before heading off to take in the fair.

Tunbridge Fair 

All other activities get put on hold for the Tunbridge World's Fair. The barn raising will just have to wait til next week.

Tunbridge Fair 

September 12, 2010

If the Timber Fits

timber

With the passing of Labor Day the pace of summer finally slows down. Time is once again available for projects that had been put on hold since May. I uncovered the stack of timbers that I’d spent much of last winter cutting, moved them to the equipment shed foundation, and the process of assembling the timber frame bents began.

timber frame

I was nervous – really nervous – as Marion and I laid out the timbers that I’d cut months earlier, completely trusting that they’d fit as intended come raising day.

timber frame

With a block plane and chisels at the ready, we assembled the pieces. I knew that there’d be shrinkage between the time I cut the joints and the day they were fit for the first time but the question of how much had been a guess. When I shaped the mortises and tenons in January and February I’d left the tenons a little thick to allow for contraction as the wood dried. My guess as to how much to leave was close. A few swipes of the block plane or a bit of shaving here and there with a framing chisel were all it took for the pieces to fit tightly together.

timber frame

After starting the tenons into the mortise pockets, webbing straps and come-alongs are called into action as the timber framer’s clamps. The mechanical winches are capable of applying thousands of pounds of pressure.

timber frame

I have yet to build myself a timber framer’s “commander” (a large wooden hammer used for driving timber joinery home), so I substituted a chunk of apple wood and a small sledge hammer. In the process of driving the joints together I must have struck that piece of apple wood hundreds of times, yet it hardly showed a mark at the end of the day. (Earlier this summer I'd tried to split pieces of an old, downed apple for firewood but, try as I might, I could not get a wedge into it. With that in mind, apple will be my wood of choice when the time comes to make my commander.) With the pressure applied from the winches and the sharp blows from the hammer the bents came together snugly.

timber frame

My anxiety was steadily relieved over the course of the day as Marion continuously checked the corners for square and no surprises or mistakes emerged.

timber frame

With the joints tight and square, peg holes were then drilled through the thickness of the timber and the inserted tenon.

timber frame

Tightly fitting oak pegs are driven home and the joint is secure.

timber frame

The beauty of a timber frame is undeniable. Over the course of building this relatively small barn I’ve developed an incredible respect for the framers whose craft had been nearly lost over the past hundred years or so – the result of our modern-day quest for rapidly built structures that can be constructed using low-skilled labor. I’m much indebted to those who’ve done so much in recent decades to revive the truly craftsman-built timber frame.

timber frame

Assembling the first bent required six hours, but the learning was applied to the next bent and our time was reduced to four hours for number two.

timber frame

By the end of yesterday, two of the four bents had been pulled together and pegged. Today the forecast called for rain by mid-afternoon. Before it arrived, another successful four-hour session produced a completed bent number three. What had begun the weekend as a neat stack of timber has now started to take its final shape. The pieces are fitting as planned – so far.

timber frame