What have I done? What have I gotten myself into!?! I blame Kurt. I sort of helped him through the initial stages of building a post and beam home for his self and his family back in 2004. That family included my sister and their newborn son. Now this is, admittedly, not really fair to lay all the blame on him, but he can handle it. In all honesty I had been attracted to such structures most of my life, but I would probably not have got it into my fool head to attempt to build one of my own if not for Kurt. Then he went and talked me into doing it right and making it a genuine timber frame. Dammit.
You see, while working with timbers will always be difficult simply because they are in essence square logs and thus are heavy, there are timbers and timbers. On a fundamental level both forms of building (post and beam versus traditional timber framing) share this common element. Timbers are used for the framing members in some sort of interlocking geometric shape; usually some form of box of course. The primary difference between post and beam and timber frame, as I understand it, is in the manner by which one connects the framing members. Timber framing uses joinery -that is various types of carved, and often elaborate, notches and such -mortise and tenon for example- to connect the timbers together. These joints are then held together with wooden pegs. The idea is that the entire frame is wood. Period. With post and beam all bets are off…nails, spikes, giant freaking screws, iron plates or brackets, glue, twine, whatever the hell you want to use to make the damn thing stand up.
While of course given my idealist tendencies timber framing is the most attractive option, I originally thought that I could more feasibly handle a post and beam project. All along I expected to be doing most of this myself. Stand up a few posts individually and brace them with something. Muscle a section of beam up on top and spike them together. Crude, but more or less effective… Timber framing relies on the solidity of large timbers to support each other…suddenly 8’ posts (the first floor height basically) would not be sufficient. So, based on my design, for the greatest support I would need all the posts to be the full wall height, the tallest of those at at 22’ each. One does not just stand a few of those up and brace them with something. The whole business is different.
But timber framing is solid. Tried and tested. Done right a timber frame will hang around for a while. I mean they put Stonehenge together with mortise and tenon technology. Joinery has been around a loooooong time. It works. It continues to work, and done well works for a looooooong time. You know, hundreds of year old barns and the like. Or this freaking awesome 1100 year old ceiling in the Florence apartment where a couple of my friends are living these days. Hell, so long as the wood is still sound, you can go to an old timber frame, knock out the pegs, pull the timbers apart, put it on a truck and haul it across town, and stand the damn thing back up again. You might probably need new pegs. With a post and beam you may very well need an oops saw, as Kurt refers to a reciprocating saw; ie, sawzall…for starters.
But that is all beside the point. The point of course is…well there are a few points to be made here…dammit. One, timbers are freaking heavy. I can move an 8 foot 8”x8” around. Truth be told I now know that I can move a 22’ 8”x8” around as well, but it is not the same…one does not simply pick one of those up and walk with it. Into Mordor or otherwise. Two, to build a timber frame one has to build complete wall sections –called bents- as singular units, which are then stood up, much like in stick framing…but AGAIN timbers are freaking heavy. So now you have five or six timbers stuck together laying on the ground and they have to be made to stand up. Then you have to do it again. My design requires four bents. Think barn raising. Great. Fricking community effort right? Well, I do not live in that kind of community. Half of the people in Fairbanks seem to hate each other and while I know plenty of people that I could potentially coerce into helping with such an effort…one more time…TIMBERS ARE FREAKING HEAVY! No one I know around here has really done this sort of thing before so it would be the blind leading an army of blind…what a recipe for disaster. So I will get a few friends and a crane…I guess. But all that aside, the bents have to be built first which means the joints have to be cut. This typically involves lots of measurements, saws, chisels, drills, etc. Again, never done it, and one ought be VERY careful when cutting on a 22’ 8”x8” as they are not really that easy to come by. But hell, I got me a whole mess of new tools including a fancy new chisel and a mallet to whack it with! Damn fool.