Archives for posts with tag: timber framing

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.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago about our exciting Orchard House Project. This year we will be putting up a building that will be used to house our historic apple pressing machinery as well as a much needed store for our orchard and veg garden related activities. We also plan to use it on our community apple pressing days when people come from the surrounding area with apples to be pressed and juiced.

The building will be a roundwood cruck framed structure, a bit like Speckled Wood, but with an open fronted aspect. It isn’t going to be very big, but it is going to be really interesting. I am really looking forward to seeing it come together. We are lucky to be working with Ben Law again on the project, hopefully between the Black Down Ranger Team and Ben we will have all the skills and experience needed to make it come together well.

Although we only got planning permission recently the cycle of the woodland year meant that we felled the timber for the building back in the winter. It is all coming from managed National Trust woods around Haslemere, and all of the timber has been sustainably produced. Recently one of the main tasks has been fetching this wood back from the woods to Swan Barn Farm.

loading poles

Thanks goodness for our timber crane, it makes my back muscles grateful every time I use it!

marley coppice loading

The main frame of the building will all be made from coppiced Sweet Chestnut, these were the rafters ready to be brought back, the block of coppice the tractor is driving through was cut a year and a half ago, and as you can see the regrowth from the stools is almost as tall as a tractor already.

On the way back I spotted an oak that had been brought over in the storms during the winter. It caused us a bit of greif at the time… but looked like it would come in handy now.

storn felled oak

Our cladding and beams will be made of oak, and these two lengths made a useful addition to the pile.

We needed a some particularly long straight poles as well, for the ridge and wall plates. Another of the storms over the winter had skittled over some larch trees on the edge of Black Down, and we had put the most useful looking ones to one side whilst clearing up.

long timbers

Matt from Hindhead very kindly came over to help us move these with his long bale trailer, we were very grateful of the help, it would have been very tricky otherwise. Even then getting them in to the build site was difficult, we couldn’t come the main way in to the farm as the timbers were too long, so we had to come in across the fields and use a bit of initiative…

passing through hedge

At one point they even had to be passed through a hedge with the crane as they were too long to get around the corner!

All the wood we need is now ready and waiting in the field next to the basecamp at Swan Barn Farm, over the next few weeks we will be starting work on processing it to get it ready for framing. Pop in and have a look if you are passing, its going to be an exciting summer.

The last of the main frames of the building was lifted into place last week, that doesn’t mean we haven’t still got a long way to go, but it does mean we are moving properly onto the next phase.

It was the frame for the outer edge of the last of the verandahs. It was constructed on the framing bed at the back of the basecamp over the past week or so. It had to be shifted from there round to the opposite side of the building and stood up on its padstones, another job for the telehandler. It was a bit more tricky this time as there is scaffolding in place for the roof which needed to be driven around (you can just make out the edge of it to the left of the telehandler in the picture above).

Once it had been lifted up it was driven around to the front of the building. This is always a bit tense, the frame is designed to stand upright in the building, and when it is being moved the pressure is running the wrong way through the frame. The timbers are pretty hefty though and the jointing has been expertly done, so each frame has fealt solid on the move.

After sneaking it past the scaffolding the frame was spun round and raised upright.

Have just seen the face I was pulling from the cab of the telehandler, not exactly sure what that expression means, but hopefully I was concentrating.

It was then a question of driving the frame in and dropping it off on its padstones.

Last minute tweaking of position and lining up was done by Dylan with the comedy hammer.

The joists are now being put in for the verandah floor on this side of the building, when these are in place the full footprint of the build will have appeared on site. Dylan told me how he particularly likes the curved appearance of the final frame, he said it hugs the building. Using roundwood for the main structure of the building has been a real eye opener. The character of the wood leads the eye and gives a soft, natural feel. It makes the building sit well within the wooded landscape here at Swan Barn Farm and gives a built record of the management of the woods.

The shape of the new building has been starting to emerge over the past few weeks as more of the timbers that form it have been added to the structure. When the body of the roof went on you started to get a feel for some of the finished dimensions, both internal and external.

Work has been continuing on the roof this week, but a couple of pretty interesting pieces of the structure have also been put into place as well.

The second set of wall plates have gone on, these hold the rafters as they go over the top of the straw bale walls. Now they are in you can see the gaps within which the bale walls will fit. Getting them into place with the roof and scaffolding in the way is a bit like threading the needle on a large scale. A gap in the scaffolding has a roller attached to it and then the telehandler is brought in to move the timber.

You should be able to see that it has already had the mortices cut in it so that it will slot straight onto the tenons that had been cut on top of the outer jowels.

Once the end was resting on the roller a bit of nifty reversing and driving is required to get the timber to roll over it up onto the scaffold into position.

Another timber that has been added to the structure this week is the newel post for the stairs. The stair treads will rediate out from this post as they wind around and up to the first floor, you can imagine resting a hand on it as you go upstairs. Its nice seeing some of the timbers going in that that will see the most of the people who will be living here.

It was lifted into the building mechanically but then raised into place using a block and tackle. The bottom of it rests on a padstone, and the top is attached to the rafters.

On a totally seperate note, if you followed my method for making elderflower champagne, now would be a good time to let a bit of pressure out of the bottles, I know from bitter experience just how messy a job it is cleaning up spills from exploded elderflower bottles and am hoping to save people some of the same trouble!

Work on the roof of the speckled wood building has started, and today the first of the rafters went up.

They span the gap between the ridge pole and wall plates, on them will sit a membrane, then counter battens, battens and finally the shingles which people have been working so hard in the woods to make for us. Seeing the first shingle going on is going to be quite something, hundreds of hours of dedicated work by many teams of volunteers has gone in to making them.

The rafters were sawn out earlier in the spring here at Swan Barn Farm using Douglas Fir which we had felled just up the road.

They were cut out of some pretty hefty 5 metre long pieces of timber, fortunately our sawmill has a hydraulic handling system built into it which makes moving the timber into position much more easy. Above you can see Catherine cutting out 14 inch wide boards which were later cut in half to make 7×2 inch rafters.

Joining roundwood to sawn timber is quite a skill, the ridge pole and wall plate are made out of pretty long tree trunks, and so taper along their length. Getting the rafters to sit level so that the roof will be square takes some very careful jointing work.

Small notches are cut to the right depth to ensure they all sit at the right level. I’ve always thought that with any practicle work you can tell when someone is very good at it, they always manage to make it look easy, even when you know it isn’t. The guys on the framing team seem to have been doing a lot of that lately.

Its a bit difficult to tell from the picture above because of all the scaffolding, but the gable end frame has been erected as well, this is the one thats going to have glazing let into its roundwood poles. I reckon its going to look pretty smart.

Today the joists started to go in to the building, real progress, which I thought was pretty exciting, it marks the start of the frame becoming a house. The joists will support the floorboards, on which people who work in the woods will walk. Thats what I like about this project, the whole thing is so circular.

The joists are made of douglas fir. You may remember the trees we are making them out of being felled earlier in the year.

They came from a plantation not far from Lion Green in Haslemere. Thinning the trees in plantations is really important if any wildlife is to live in them, it also allows the remaining tree’s to grow to their full potential. If you find yourself walking in a plantation the most interesting place to look is usually where any small glades have been cut in it, thats where the wild flowers and birds will be found.

Once they were felled the tree’s were cut to length and brought back to Swan Barn Farm.

The five meter lengths were for rafters and the three and a half meter pieces were for joists. You may notice I have developed the unfortunate habit over the years of mixing metric and imperial measurements in a slightly odd way, its a habit I have noticed Ben also seems to have. For example our joists were cut at 8 x 2 inches by 3.5 metres long. I suppose it comes partly out of the mix of people you work with with in the woods but it also seems that imperial measurements are still used in most building projects, they are just given in multiples of 25 millimetres. It can be confusing sometimes, our sawmill for example has a ruler mounted on it which only shows inches and a computer which measures in millimeters. Best not to worry about it too much, it all seems to work out in the end.

Once they were back here at the farm the timbers then needed to go onto our sawmill in order to be turned into joists.

The timber is squared up to start with, we plan to use the offcuts from the outside of the log in our biomass boiler when it is installed. Then some 1 inch thick boards were taken off the outside to create a blank 8 inches wide. The 1 inch boards don’t go to waste, they were resawn into 4 x 1 inch planks, you will see where they are being used in a bit.

The 8 inch wide blank is then sawn into as many joists as you can get out of it. On the bigger logs we could take 2 inch boards from around the outside and then recut these into 8 x 2’s as well. Learning to see the timber within the wood and making a plan for how to cut it out is one of the key skills in sawmilling, one we are hopefully doing ok at.

This was one of the last pieces to be milled, in the background you can see the stack of sawn joist’s waiting to be taken up to the building.

Today some of the timbers off that stack found their way to the end of their journey.

Above you can see them running away from the camera. They are hung in the bays that are created by the main underfloor oak beams. Each joist has a piece of 4×1 inch douglas fir screwed onto its underside before it is put into place. This sticks out an inch either side of the joist and is there to hold up a layer of insulation.

We will be using sheeps wool for insulation. The sheep in the Speckled Wood orchard are due to be shorn soon, but there are only 7 due a haircut, clearly not enough to insulate a building. The sheeps wool insulation will have to be bought in, but if I’m lucky my friend might knit me a pair of socks from the fleeces of the sheep in the orchard.

Yesterday was the day of the frame raise for the new building, and what a day it was.

Everyone was up an about early, one of the first jobs for the day was to make a wreath, we wanted it to go up on the frames for good luck. I went out on to Black Down to find a pretty special tree I know. Its a Rowan, one of the largest on the hill, Rowans are thought by some to bring luck, which certainly couldn’t do any harm.

I took what we needed, said thank you, and left a small present in return.

We added in some hawthorn and wild rose flowers from the hedgerows here at Swan Barn Farm, and then it was hung on the first frame.

Ben led the raise, the Black Down Countryside team and Roundwood Timber Framing Company team gathered together for a safety breifing and a run through of the plan. Then something rather special happened. You may not believe me, but its true, and it set the theme for the day. Some time ago we decided to name the building Speckled Wood after the pretty little woodland butterfly. As we were waiting to start a Speckled Wood butterfly flew in and landed on a mallet, we could hardly believe it, in front of the whole frame raise team it then took off, flew into the site and landed on top of one of the frames before it took off once more and dissapeared. It was just that sort of day.

The ridge pole was brought in to the site and settled in the top of the first frame, and then the raise began.

There were four frames to raise, they were pulled up using a hand winch which was anchored to one of our tractors which we had parked at the end of the site.

The first frame reached up into the sky and dragged the ridge pole up with it.

We then used the telehandler to hold the ridge pole up and out of the way whilst the other frames were being winched into position.

We knew before we started that the first two frames were going to be pretty tricky, getting them in the right place before any of the rest of the structure is in place to brace things was really quite difficult. But the inevitable problems that came up were dealt with calmly and the raise proceeded as palnned. Quite a few people had shown up to watch from the field next door, which was really nice, if you came along I hope you enjoyed it.

As frame two came up there was a fair bit of manouvering of the ridge pole that had to be done to ensure it didnt push against the ridge and knock the first frame out of position. We had a cloudbirst of rain at this point as well, and everything was all rather tense. In the end though everything slotted in to place and it was on to frame three.

Things were gradually starting to get a bit easier, as the frames were braced together everything was becoming more stable, and the tension was starting to lift. Frame three was our target before stopping for lunch, which was sometime after 3 oclock !

Once this frame was in position we could finally remove the telhandler, which had been supporting the ridge pole all day. That meant the last frame came up without any noise from machinery, you could hear the birds singing in the woods as the frame was winched upright.

The last frame slotted into position and deep breaths were drawn all round. It looks pretty impressive now as you come down the lane to the farm, if you get chance to come and have a look its well worth it.

There is clearly a long way to go before it becomes a building, but yesterday was a very proud day. So many people have worked so hard to get us this far, I think the frame is a tribute to all of them.

By the time we were finished and tidied up it had been a  long day. Fortunately we had a batch of Swan Barn Farm cider chilling in the fridge. We fired up the bbq in front of the basecamp and settled in to toast the successes of the day.

As you can imagine we fealt in a pretty celebratory mood, and the party went on well in to the early hours.

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