Timber-framing (With Bugs)

Aug, 2017

Picture this: you enter the woods in August. You’ve put on long pants, boots, and a hat, because you know the bugs can be bad. Also, it’s August and the weather is hot and still, so you can’t bear to put on long sleeves. You wear a T-shirt and, throwing your principles to the wind, spray on a layer of Deet.

It’s more humid than ever when you step into those woods. The bugs greet you with hunger. A tiny mosquito is first, on your bare arm, unaware that you have applied bug spray. She is soon accompanied by a swarm of her tiny sisters and orbited by an entire solar system of biting black flies. You begin to run.

The air is very still inside the woods; the trees breathe out humidity. Your sweaty legs have begun to stick to your pants. As you sweat, running and swatting, that poison Deet begins to burn and you picture it entering your body through your wide open pores. You imagine an early death. And just a little, you welcome it.

This is August in the north woods.

J., much more a man than I (obviously), has looked at the dwindling days of the building season and simply put on another layer of spray.

Here you can see the sheen of Deet mixed with sweat on J.’s arms. Not shown: around his head, the cloud of black flies. In fact, the image is blurry because it is very difficult, in fact, to swat a mosquito while taking a picture.


And still, progress has been made. The posts are all notched and their ends cut to the same level. Before knocking them back apart, the last step is to mark them so that, come raising day, the pieces can be reassembled like some enormous three-dimensional IQ quiz.

The marks remind me of cuneiform or hieroglyphs and will be visible from the finished interior of the house. I love looking at the beams, resting still on their sides, with their wonky knee braces and curious marks, and imagining them as part of our future lives in the house, silent observers of our days.


We use the “enforcer,” a giant mallet J. made, to knock all the posts apart. (The sound reverberates through the woods, enough to bring a neighbor or two up the hill to see what’s going on…) 

Once all the posts and knee braces were knocked apart and moved aside, it was time to bring the four giant tie beams up onto the platform for their turn to be notched. We were trying not to think about how much they weigh, but since they’re all freshly-cut oak, 8″ x 10″ x 17′, they’re a bit hefty. 800 pounds each, give or take a few.

J. and I grovelled in the dirt with a log arch, cant hook, and a ratcheting strap called a “come-along” and barely made it up the ramp with the first tie beam. We sighed, wiping the sweat away and looking at the other three tie beams. Once again shrugging off his principles, J. trotted down the hill to borrow the neighbor’s tractor.

Here, three of the four tie beams are on the platform, resting on the previously notched wall plates. A few of the posts are unceremoniously stashed on the right.
Once on the platform, J. used his chainsaw to trim some of the tie beams up. I say: hey, we worked hard to get that log up the ramp, and NOW you’re making it lighter?!


Every night J. comes home for supper so tired and hungry. He says he works like a peasant and eats like a king. Even now as I type, it’s 8:30pm, the kids are in bed, the house is quiet, and J. is staring vacantly at the wall. You could blame the all-day work in the hot sun. I blame the blood loss from all those mosquitoes.




2 thoughts on “Timber-framing (With Bugs)

  1. J > Great work – and under conditions that would lead most folk to give up! D and I once visited a church acquaintance who lived in the Welsh Marches between Bishop’s Castle in England and Yr Trallwng in Wales. It was known as The Royal House – though for what reason is no longer known, though it appears on old maps from the 16thC – so had stood there for about 400yrs. The house was built of a oak frame with wattle-and-daub infill. The internal walls, too. All the timber ends still bore identifying marks, based on roman numerals, but apparently varying from that according to the practices of the mediaeval guild that were entitled to carry out architectural joinery. The thing is, though, that the marks did not match up. A III might be joined to a XIV or a LIX with a XIIII. And some timber ends had a different marking system – but those did match. The explanation for this given by the government architectural historian responsible for the ‘listing’ of the building, was that the house had originally been built elsewhere, had been dismantled, and rebuilt in different form, with some timbers replaced or altered, and perhaps new ones added (also some apparently missing). So, the question is, how old was it when it was moved? According to ring-dating and carbon-dating, the timbers were felled in the 12thC. I hope this story adds to your vision for the place you are building!


    1. Wow, what a great story! And such a puzzle for those who came after! I can only hope our little house will still be standing in 400 years! Thanks for your interest…I love your blog–you two do such important work and in such an inspiring setting! If we’re ever in Scotland, we’ll be sure to come and visit. I hope you do too if you’re ever in the middle U.S.–just don’t come in August!

      Liked by 1 person

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