Archives for the month of: September, 2014

Last Thursday was frame raise day for the orchard house. It is such a privilege to see a timber frame make its way up. They are born from the hard work and craftsmanship of so many people and the product of the management of the woods from where they grew. In this case the woods are on Black Down, and the craftspeople are the Ranger team and many friends of Black Down.

The frames had all been lined up ready the day before.

dropping off the frames

I didn’t get much sleep that night.

Ever a believer in (or hoper for) kind omens, the day started with the making of a wreath.

The wreath

Made from the fruits of the hedges at Swan Barn Farm, tied onto a base of apple wood. It was in hope for a good day, and was lifted with the first frame. The frames were lifted into place with a hand winch. As the first one slowly creaked upright I got a good feeling, it felt like it was all going to be ok.

first frame goes up

Because we were using hand tools, and because everyone was concentrating on their part in the lift, there was an atmosphere of calm and quiet while the frames went up.

matt and sarah on the ropes

Thanks to everyone who came along to watch, I found it spellbinding, I hope you enjoyed it too.

One by one they were lifted, tucking themselves underneath the ridge pole.

lifting frame 3

Up until now it had just been a collection of jointed together poles in a field. Now it was something different altogether. It will become our orchard house, a home and store for our apple, orchard, veg garden and beekeeping activities. I guess not everyone will like it, but we are really proud of it, I hope it will help give purpose and breath extra life into our orchards and the things we do with them.

Two of the bays of the building form an open barn, to maximize on space we mixed in a box frame along with the cruck frames. The box means there is space for people, but it still needs to meet the ridge pole. To answer this framing problem we pinched a traditional carpentry technique and made a king post. A king post is a bit of a special thing, requiring it to be made from something special. Ours is made from a piece of windthrown rowan, a species of much significance for a westcountry boy. I hope it brings us luck.

Shaping the king post

It was a nervy moment lining up its mortices in the ridge and frame. Whilst we were jointing the frames these two timbers had never been within so much as 20 meters of each other. In the event the tenon only needed a slight adjustment to get it  to fit snugly.

Seating the king post

As I was slotting it into the ridge I looked into the mortice and wondered. Spike must have had a similar thought. He chucked me a 2014 10p piece to pop in the heart of the joint. Evidence for the future.

The frame is now standing next to the basecamp at Swan Barn Farm, waiting for us to get stuck in to the next phase of the project. So much more still to do, but we have a building now, and that feels like an achievement.

This Saturday is a great opportunity to come along and have a look at what we have been up too. It is our Community Apple Pressing Day.


We will be there from 10-4. Bring along your apples and we will use our historic pressing machinery to turn them into juice that you can take away with you. If you like we will even teach you how to turn it into cider. The Black Down Rangers will be on hand to answer your apple, orchard, fruit tree or pruning questions. Even if you haven’t any apples of your own you can come along and help press ours. Refreshments will be available, and we will offer tours of our two (one finished, one far from!) new buildings. It is going to be fantastic family fun on what we hope will be a lovely autumn day in our orchard.


One of our main tasks recently has been putting together the timber frames for the Orchard House. It is being made using roundwood Sweet Chestnut which was sustainably grown in National Trust Coppiced woodland around Haslemere. We always try and use our own timber wherever possible, we know it comes from well managed woods packed full of wildlife. I also think it lends a feeling and reflection of the local landscape to the project.

We are learning and developing useful and transferable skills as the project develops. We are very lucky to have help from well known local woodsman and author Ben Law who is advising us on timber framing and green building techniques. He will be helping us with the frame raise too, making sure we get it all right.

First job was to transcribe our plans onto our framing bed.

Marking out the bed

Each of the frames for the building is put together on the framing bed. These marks, along with the timbers of the bed themselves give us a map to ensure all of the frames are the right size and shape as well as consistent with each other.

Timbers on the bed

The timbers themselves are then put onto the bed and set out in the position we want to joint them together. Above you can see our first frame coming together. If you look you can see where we have already half lapped together the cruck blades (the crossed timbers) which support the roof of the building.

In some ways cruck framing is quite an old fashioned form of timber framing, but it lends itself really well to working in roundwood. It gives solid strong buidings which are ideally suited to the kind of materials we produce in our woods. Ben has developed methods for jointing together roundwood into cruck frames, and has been helping us by passing on these skills.


Here you can see Matt transfer scribing the profile of one round timber onto another.

Transfer scribing

This method enables us to cut clean tidy joints which hold together these beautiful round timbers in a very elegant and strong way. Below you can see where some of these joints have been cut into a tie beam, and further back in the frame you can see where round timbers have been joined together using these techniques.

tie beam joints

It has been wonderful working on the frame as it has come together in the field behind the office. We have scheduled the build so we can work on it for a few days here and there as well as getting on with the rest of our job of managing hundreds of acres of stunning countryside around Haslemere. this means that the build will go up slowly over time, but I think that makes the process much more interesting for the people that come to visit Swan Barn Farm. They have had the opportunity to see these timbers arrive, and then see the way they are put together. This thursday, 11th September, we will be raising our frames to form the skeletal structure of the building. It is going to be really exciting, I can’t wait to see them go up, visitors are welcome to come and watch the process from our Orchard. On 13th September we are taking part in the Heritage Open Day scheme, it will be a fantastic opportunity to see both our new timber frame under construction, as well as to have a look inside Speckled Wood, a similar timber framed environmentally freindly building we put up a couple of years ago to house long term volunteers. You will also be able to see all of the green technology we have installed which means we now generate 80% of the energy we use here at Swan Barn Farm on site from sustainable and renewable sources.

Frames laid out

At the moment the frames are all laid out in the field behind the office waiting. Soon they will be moved up onto the padstones to sit ready to be winched up into place. I feel full of nerves and am hoping we have got everything right and that it will all slot elegantly into place.

Last week as we were working in the sunshine finishing off the last of the frames I looked up and saw a Speckled Wood butterfly landing on an offcut of wood at the side of the bed.

a speckled wood

We chose the name of this butterfly for the last building that went up here at Swan Barn Farm. It thrives in the glades created in the woods by the management we carry out to produce the timber we use. It hung around for a couple of days, flitting along the woodland edge with the sun sparkling off its speckle’s, occasionally landing on the timbers next to the framing bed. A good sign I hope.

Of course before you can put a building up you need some foundations. Usually these days that means poured concrete, which is pretty sturdy, but environmentally disastrous, not what we want for Swan Barn Farm’s new Orchard House. In keeping with our last build we are using local natural stone as a foundation. It comes from a small sandstone quarry a few miles down the road.

First though the site needed to be prepared. It was pretty exciting the day the first sod of earth was cut.

The first sod

Soon the site was level and it was time to dig the foundation pits. There is a 3/4 metre square pit under each post of the building and each one was filled with compacted local sandstone.

Compacting foundations

This provides a really firm footing for the building. As two of the bays of the building form what is effectively an open barn we needed a floor as well. This was made of compacted fine sandstone.

Setting in padstones

Into this floor and directly on top of the filled pits we set our recycled York Stone Pads. These are what the posts will rest on, they have been set into the floor to ensure they don’t present a trip hazard. To make sure they rested level and true on the foundation pits and stayed firm for the frame raise we bedded them on lime mortar.

Then came the dreaded maths…

taking levels from the padstones

We needed to work out the releative levels of all of the stones against a set datum point. This is how we work out how long to cut each of the legs of the frame. A dumpy level and measuring staff along with much head scratching and note taking gave us the numbers we needed to take over to the framing bed…

Next came the timber framing (more on that soon)… Which I am pleased to say we have just finished, so we are all go for the frame raise next thursday. Wish us luck!

back to the frames


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