Rick's Journal

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hawk Circle 3.0: Transformation, Creation and Renewal

The New Hawk Circle Woodshed, Fall, 2011
We got the firewood stacked even before the roof was up!
So, years ago, Hawk Circle had piles of wood around the Farmhouse, covered in big tarps.   It also had garbage cans, some with lids, some without, just far enough away from the house to eliminate the smell factor, but clearly, needing a more secure location to avoid the raccoon feeding hour!   The firewood would get covered with a large snowfall, and then it would rain, and then freeze, making the tarp a giant convoluted ice cube, leading to intense frustration for whoever's job it was to bring in firewood to keep the house warm.   Sometimes, the tarp would be lifted to get wood, and then forget to put it back over it, and it would all get covered with snow.   Also frustrating.

The Old Woodshed and Trash Shed, Summer, 2011
I know, it's scary, isn't it?
So Simon Mayer, Chris Marx, and possibly Matt Burr, built a trash shed for the trash, out of old silo boards from the old lower barn, which is now gone.   They used nails and screws and hinges and built a two door shed for recycling and trash.   It was on cinder blocks, and kept our trash somewhat secure until it was time to head to the transfer station outside of Cooperstown.   It was pretty old, but still worked.  But it looked pretty funky.

Lucas Kane makes pegs for
new Trash Shed Frame!
Abigail assembles the New Trash
Sill Beams.
The woodshed didn't happen until a few years later.   Eli Martz, another of our early campers turned instructors, built a lean to woodshed, using logs of white ash from up on the hill, sunk into the ground, and covered with corrugated steel.   It was strong, serviceable, and while lacking in diagonal bracing, it kept wood dry, and allowed us to load a lot of firewood, maybe seven or eight full cords in there at one time.   We also stored the splitting mauls, axes, sledge hammers and wedges there, as well as our old wheelbarrow.    When it was full of firewood, it looked pretty good.   When it wasn't full of wood, it quickly became filled with all kinds of wire, an old blacksmithing forge, various lawnmower parts, a snow plow, and other things that looked like if you got scratched in there you would need a tetanus shot!   Barry Keegan installed some boards to brace it along the back, to keep it from falling over, using random planks and some steel lag bolts, which added a number of years to it's redneck life...

The posts are up with braces!
The thing about a shed is that it keeps things out of the weather, and around a camp and farm, there are all sorts of things that are good to keep dry, so it fills quickly.  It also is a place to put things that we don't know what else to do with it, so in the shed it goes.  But with no walls or doors to close, it ends up looking pretty banjo, if you know what I mean!   Which isn't a terribly bad thing in general, unless the woodshed is the first thing you see when you drive up the road to the Farmhouse.   So, the funk factor was starting to become a problem for us, which I had been waiting to address for a couple of years, and in the summer of 2011, we did something about it.

Putting on the Plate Beams...
The first thing we had to do is figure out what to do with the trash and recycling.   In order to burn the old nasty small shed, we had to first build a new shed and put it somewhere more out of sight, but still close by for us to use easily.   We chose to build the new one behind the Hide Shed, which is itself a little funky, so it would be in good company.  And it would be very much out of sight most of the time. The second thing was to figure out where to get the funds to build it.   We don't usually have much in the way of extra cash, as we are a not for profit organization called the Earth Mentoring Institute, Inc. and our budget pretty much barely covers our expenses on most years.   We had to keep the costs very low to make this happen.

Watch out for the pegs!
I looked in our woodpiles for extra wood, and found that we had a number of 5x7 beams left over from a frame that we did in 2010, that had a number of worm holes in the wood, and we didn't feel we could use them in a new frame, so the sawyer had cut new ones for us, and never picked up the old ones.   I would have been able to build a shed very quickly with 2x4s and smaller wood, but since we didn't have that on hand, and we didn't want to take the time to order it from a local sawmill, and since we had some apprentices who wanted to learn timber framing, we set to work.   Abigail Liss and Lucas Kane worked on making the pegs, cutting the mortises and tenons and drilled the holes for the pegs out of the older wood.   It was white pine and it cut very easily.   It took us about three days to cut this small trash shed frame, working part time, and soon we were ready to put it up.   It seems ridiculous to make a timber frame for something so small, and so mundane as a trash shed, but hey, it's how we roll here at Hawk Circle!
Classic Timber Frame Joinery!

Putting it up was fun because it was so light and small.   Usually we need a bunch of people to help lift the beams into place, but I could have probably done this by myself and been just fine.   As it is, Abigail and Lucas did a great job, pegging it together, making little adjustments to get it to fit, and cutting off the pegs afterwards for a smooth exterior.   We got the rafters up, too, and then I ended up buying a couple of sheets of plywood for the roof and some 1x8 inch boards for the siding and doors.   I also got a few hinges and clasps too, to keep out the chipmunks, mice and rats.

The rafters are up and the frame is
Putting up the siding was a lot of fun too, screwing the boards in place, and getting the doors to open correctly.  It was a good learning project for the apprentices, and the sun was warm and the weather beautiful.   Eventually we got the plywood up, some felt roofing paper down, drip edge installed and then asphalt shingles over the roof so it was water tight and ship shape.

Then, we moved the trash to it's new home, along with the recycling, and started tearing the old shed apart.  We took off the old doors, and brought them up to our burn pile, and then we rolled that old shed up to the center of the pile and filled it with wood chips and shavings from our timber framing.   They were extremely dry!   We covered it with brush from some clearing that Adam did with the Caretakers earlier that summer, near the Garden Shed, and added some of the wood from the old shed too, that had too many nails to reuse, or was rotting or broken.

The Epic Hawk Circle Trash Shed Bonfire
It was the last day of camp, and the summer session was the Wolverine Survival Camp.   We ate dinner and there was a light rain, and our hope for having a bonfire seemed dashed by many of the staff and campers.   But wait!   There was a flash of inspiration!   As dinner wrapped up, we all agreed that our goal could still happen, and be accomplished, if we just "Went For It!"   Which we did.   In the rain.   We tore up the old woodshed, pulling up old pallets that was the floor for the firewood, and took down old boards.  We pulled off the old steel roofing, and put it in a pile to be reused.   We dodged wasp nests and sorted out old metal and wire, being careful not to get injured in our moving and piling.   All of the time, the Bonfire Pile was getting bigger and bigger, as we added poles, old rafters, boards and posts to the giant tipi.   It rained hard, but our spirits were strong and there was much joy in our labors, and the rain mixed with our sweat and we were alive and awake!

Hawk Circle Summer Campers and Staff, enjoying the
cleansing power of fire...
We made an ember with a bow and drill in the barn as it was raining and kind of dark by then, and we carried it out in a nice tinder bundle, and let it ignite into the fire, which started to smolder, and flicker with small light, and thick smoke.   Then, the smoke rippled with energy, and flames began to lick along the long edges of the wood, then rising through the pile towards the cloudy skies and the dark mist.   Our fire was alive!    When the fire got to the burning of the old trash shed, it became Epic.   There is even a Hawk Circle Facebook Page about it...   That was one huge, intense, crazy fire!   It burned for about three days after the camp ended, too.  In the end, the land was cleansed of the old woodshed and trash shed, and the space for the new Woodshed was opened for business.

The Sill Beams, leveled and ready!
The First Bent goes up!
The first thing is to clear the site for the foundation and the sills.   Each corner has to be dug out in a three food circle, about four feet deep, and filled with mango sized stones, to keep the frost from lifting the frame up due to the cold.   The spaces between the stones gives room for the moist soil that expands, room to move, rather than push up.   Anyway, we dug six holes, and filled them with stones, after careful measuring, that is.   And then we sloped the soil around, to move the water away from underneath the frame.   We also covered the ground under the frame with plastic and old tarps, and covered it with gravel, about 3 or four inches deep, so that moisture won't come up under the sill beams, floor joists and floor boards which keeps it dry and helps the frame to last a long, long time.

The Second Bent is up!
Then we found some large stones, of varying sizes, to be the foundation rocks.   We had to put the sill beams up, and then try to level them, using different sized stones to make a solid floor.   We used the largest rocks we could, and it took a while, but we made it.   Once that happened, we dropped in the floor joists, which we cut from beams we had that were extra, and started on cutting and raising the posts and ties.

The Woodshed Rafters
Our Fall Apprentices Ezra Ward and Ben Gallagher cut the old posts, the tie beams and the braces, using posts from other frames that either were extra, or were two long or two short, that had been waiting to be put to good use.  We used a couple of white oak posts, and white pine and hemlock tie beams, and a mix of hemlock and pine beams for the top plates, which we scarfed together to make the 10' x38' frame.   We cut them in the barn, and then put up the beams as soon as they were finished, so it was kind of fun to work so close to home, so to speak.   The weather was good and we started putting the floor down too, using 2" hemlock boards that are strong, long lasting, weather resistant and not slippery when wet...

Putting the last few roof boards up...
Ezra and Daryl put the
Top Plate in Place.
We were able to use left over 5"x5" beams for the rafters, and those went quickly, until we ran out of extra beams.   We ordered more, and when those arrived, we cut them as well.   Putting them up felt great, just to see it come together.

We ordered boards for the roof, using a variety of 1" boards of different widths, and staggered these across the span of the structure. I did a lot of cutting them to length and handing them up to the crew to screw down in place.   It came together very nicely!

The new Railings, freshly peeled!
Waiting for Roofing Paper, March 2012
 in the Winter without Snow.
Once the floor was up, and the roof also, we covered it in roofing paper and got it filled with wood for the winter.  In the spring season, before our school group season got started, we installed a railing of natural wood saplings, and a half wall on the back, to protect against weather and rain splash, and we were ready for action.    Lizzy Mello got in on the action, drilling and screwing in our rails, as she was doing her Senior Year special project at Hawk Circle for the month of May.

The New Woodshed, filled with wood boards
in early April, 201
The Minnesota Waldorf School's
Eighth Grade made Ash Bark
Baskets in the New Woodshed.
Heather Burrill Cuts her Rafters in the Shade!
August, 2012
It didn't take long for our school groups to enjoy their meals on our picnic tables in this amazing new space.  We also did cooking classes, made baskets, various crafts and enjoyed the shady cool breeze even on the hottest days of the very hot summer of 2012.   Heather and Ben cut many beams in the shade, and Javi and the staff played many board games and did art projects on it too.   We cured our garlic there, hanging in the beams out of direct light, and we dried herbs and tea plants too.  

Garlic drying in the loft, mid July...
In short, it has turned an eyesore into a wealth of positive uses, and the first thing you see when you drive up is it's wonderful outline waiting to be enjoyed and explored.   Currently, it is filled with a lot of firewood, but we will running youth and adult programs come spring, you can be sure.

So, Hawk Circle continues to grow and build, even as we work on strong programs that transform our youth, and we are ready for more!   Wait until you see my post about Eagle House, coming up shortly! That's when things will get crazy!
The Aurora Eighth Grade, April, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Raising Wood: Getting Luke and Sarah's Home Addition Up in Silver Spring

The Second Bent is Up!
When Luke Jessup asked me about making a timber frame for an addition to his and Sarah's house in Silver Spring, MD, I was happy to help.  After all, Luke had been an instructor at Hawk Circle for many years, leading camps, teaching school programs and rites of passage events as well as help our Adult Earth Skills Semester Programs get going too.   Sarah had a small brick house that had an addition that was 11ft x 11ft, two story, and it was in rough shape.   I know, because I stayed there for a couple of nights, on a winter trip to promote our summer camps in the greater Maryland area.  They needed more room, with a downstairs living room/woodstove/bay window and breakfast nook, and the upstairs as a yoga room.   It took a few months to get the design put together and after the building code  officers, a new architect and an engineer all got on the same page, we got to cutting some beams!
The odd looking girding tie end tenons   Don't ask!
But they do look cool, don't they?
Ben cuts the large girding 
ties in the snow.

We used eastern hemlock, as it is one of the strongest local woods that is also readily available.   We started cutting in the fall, storing many of the beams in the barn for the winter, and as it got colder, we cut outside, too.   The long beams were 20 feet long, and they are hard to move around inside our barn, so we just bundled up and the framing actually kept us warm, too.  I remember cutting beams in the snowstorm and having to sweep off the wood every fifteen minutes.   That's life in the mountains!

A pile of collar ties and the post beams.
The tiered joist pocket gives plenty
of strength for carrying the weight
 of the floor and house across the
 18 foot span, while also keeping
 the tie beam very strong as well.
Ben cleans out the second floor
 joist pockets on the big beam...
We put the beams on the trailer and shipped it off to Silver Spring, then loaded the remaining beams and tools in the truck and headed south.   When we got there, we found that we had to figure out how to get the massive big beams, of which there were four, into the backyard and to the addition site!   Luke and Sarah invited many friends for the raising, and our first task was to get the different cut beams and scaffolding and supplies in their tiny back yard, already full of organic landscaping business inventory, their compost pile, their organic garden and other assorted construction materials used for the foundation section.
Working on the stub tenon mortise for the
second floor posts.

We rolled beams with the beam mover.  We carried them individually, and in pairs.  For the really heavy beams, we lifted them, walked (I should really say, 'shuffled') and then set them on our beefy sawhorses.   Then we moved the extra sawhorses ahead of the beam, and lifted, shuffled and rested, again.  Over and over.  Until we made it to the backyard.   "On Three!   One, Two, Three!   Go, go, go, and lower, and Rest!"   We took turns leading the beam moving, and sliding the sawhorses around, and we finally got them all back there.   It was awesome!   No one got hurt, heavy stuff got moved, and finally, we were ready to raise the first bent.  We did it with human power, like the Aztecs, or the Egyptians, or the Amish!
That beam is 8 inches wide and 16 inches high.

Ben prepares to make a collar tie
mortise in the workshop.
There is a good feeling when a group of people move a huge, six hundred pound plus 20 foot 8x16 beam, that we all know we couldn't have done it alone, and we get it done, and you feel like a community, a tribe, or a village or whatever.   We all figure out how to communicate, and anticipate what is needed next, in just a few minutes with a bunch of strangers.   Maybe the way we lived in the old days wasn't so bad!

The complete frame, waiting
on the trailer for raising...
We weren't sure about the exact length of the first floor posts, because they had to match the height of the second floor, and we had left them long rather than cut them in our workshop back at Hawk Circle.   So we measured the height they needed to be, and got out the saw and cut them to the exact size.   It didn't take too long, but it is amazing how long it can feel when you have ten or fifteen people watching you, waiting to raise the frame!

Moving the big beams 
to the backyard...
Safety First!
Anyway, we got our first beams in place, on the floor of the addition, and we pegged them together with the diagonal braces, and lifted (again) them up and into their permanent places in the frame...   And when the second bent got up, we put in the flooring girts and the floor joists.   The floor joists went in smoothly and it started looking like a house!  

The floor joists and tie beams.
I haven't even started on the wonderful food that everyone brought to share, either!   We feasted like Kings, timber framing Kings that is...   It was delicious and kept us going, and there was a steady stream of helpers bringing various containers of salads, sandwiches, bagels, lox, fruit (my God, the fruit salad!) and more...   I guess, it is one of the hidden benefits of being part of raising a frame, and Luke and Sarah are community people, so it was AMAZING!   Let's just say no one went home hungry...

Luke and Sarah's Addition Floor
Ready for Raising!
Both Luke and Sarah are natural leaders.   Luke led many camps and groups through wilderness skills, and he felt very comfortable guiding students and staff through unique experiences and ceremonies.   He has an infectious enthusiasm, with lots of joy, humor and positive support.   His presence at the raising was always helpful and detailed, as he checked various building issues, and kept everyone engaged.  

Hanging around on the collar ties!
The finished frame, rafters and all!
Sarah is a Yoga instructor and comfortable being in charge as well, with lots of confidence and strength to make things happen.   She has a "Viking Warrior" type energy, ready to take on a challenge.  She and Luke lifted many beams, and pounded lots of pegs in to hold their frame together over the three days of the raising.

Luke and Sarah, putting up the ceremonial evergreen
on the peak of their frame.
Luke and Sarah, pounding pegs!
Having a vision of a timber frame, a secure structure and strong place to call home is a good calling, and making that vision activates energy not just in a family but in the greater community at large.   It brings people together, and the trees that form the beams, that will last for hundreds of years, if a good roof keeps it dry.   The role of Hawk Circle is to help bring that frame into reality, using hand made, traditional and authentic steel tools, chisels, corner chisels, cross cut saws and rawhide mallets;  framing squares and the giant Commander hammer.   We carve the wood, hauling it into our barn workshop, and making them fit in tenons and mortises, joinery that has withstood the test of time.   And the hardwood pegs that our apprentices split and carve also hold strong for decades.   It is our gift to the community, to shelter and inspire.

Bringing up the Plate Beam to
the Second Story
View from inside, later in the Spring
So, we got the second floor up on the second day, and the top plates made it up two stories high, too.   We had to lift each beam onto saw horses, then onto blocks, then up onto the scaffold, then onto more blocks, then up onto the second floor, then onto blocks, sawhorses, blocks and then onto the posts.   It was pretty exciting!   We managed to get a few rafter sets up, too, but the full rafter array had to wait until the following day.   The rafters look amazing up against the sky!

Installing the framing for the windows and insulation.
The Hawk Circle timber framers 
and completed frame.
Since it is over a year and a half ago that I am writing this, am looking back on it and remembering Luke and Sarah's neighbor Bill, who helped us during the process.   I sometimes forget some of the different details, but he definitely stood out in my mind.   And to tell you the truth, all of Luke and Sarah's friends are amazing, rich in personality, energy and passion!  Bill was retired, and at first I thought he might be someone who was on the 'too old' side of the raising, but he was a shop teacher who had worked with wood all his life, and each day seemed to make him come alive.  He helped us tremendously, and had good ideas and was a fantastic person whom we enjoyed very much.   Sometimes, raising a frame can be rejuvenating!    We hope to see him when we visit their home one of these days.

The kids got involved with
hammering pegs...
I haven't been back to the Silver Spring area lately, so I only have a photo from the time they finished the windows and sheathing, and the second part of their addition, over the main house...   I bet it looks great inside, and when I get more pics I will post them here as well, just so you can see them too!  
This is the addition December 2011, I think!

Hope you enjoyed getting an inside view of this frame project.   There is a lot to share, and this is just a taste, but I have been remiss in telling the story of these experiences, which taught us many things as we learned to get better and better in our framing.   Thanks for checking it out!