Thursday, September 07, 2006

I have started collecting the tools that I will need for timber framing. I am now the proud owner of the following:
  • Framing Chisels - 2" and 1" Barr chisels and a 1" corner chisel.
  • Framing Slick - A heavy slick with a 2.5" blade.
  • Sawmill - A 24" Granberg Alaskan III portable chainsaw mill jig.
  • Boring Machine - An "Ajax" brand antique boring machine with 2" and 1" bits (shown below).

There are some obvious things that I am missing before I can really get started. The first are sharpening and honing stones for my chisels. I am not sure yet what to get there.

I also need a mallet, and I am trying to determine what, exactly, I need. I suspect that I will go with a couple wooden Barr framing mallets. But, perhaps a plastic dead-blow mallet from the local hardware store will work, too. Yet to be determined.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

We just had dinner with Nils Peterson (the local timber framing guru) and his family. He showed me two structures: A 12x20 toolshed and a 20x30 timber frame barn with a beautifully finished interior. Both were impressive buildings in their own way.

The 12x20 "shed" was particularly interesting, because it is fairly close to the exact design that I intend to use to build the cabin (again, based on a design in Sobon's first book). Sobon presented plans for a 12x16 tool shed and Nils made it longer at 12x20. I intend to extend the plans further to make my cabin a 14x24. Nils hand-hewed the posts and beams in this shed, which obviously gave the shed a nice, rough-hewn look. This was the first timber-frame structure that he ever constructed, sometime in the early to mid-1990s.

The barn was impressive in its size and beauty. Notably, it used three bents with crucks! It has a partially cantilevered sleeping loft upstairs. The timbers were different sizes, and the roof was very high at 20' from floor to ridge beam. The crucks are the dominant feature of the barn, and Nils paid special attention to them (that was undoubtedly unavoidable, I suspect!). In particular, for the crucks in the middle bent, the loft allows you to see and feel both sides of the bent.

I think Nils will be a great resource. Not only is he a great guy, but he is very passionate about timber framing and he seems very willing to help. And I think I will need all the help I can get!


I have wanted to build a very small cabin in the woods for more than a decade. My interest started after reading Thoreau's Walden in the spring of 1996, and then rekindled after reading Michael Pollan's A Place of My Own sometime after that. I don't just want an existing pre-built cabin or a cabin from a kit. I want to build a cabin with my own hands and my own mind. I think that at least half of my fascination with a cabin in the woods is in the building of the cabin itself. The other half is in using and enjoying the cabin for decades later.

In 2004, my wife Jenny and I purchased some timbered land near our Moscow, Idaho home with the intention of eventually building a small "weekend retreat" cabin. While my wife fully supports my interest in building the cabin, she admits that her true passions lie elsewhere (mainly quilting). Part of me wishes that she was as excited about the cabin as I, but part of me enjoys the freedom to make design and construction decisions without committee.

Why Timber Frame?

One of the key decisions was to construct the cabin as a timber frame structure. I considered traditional stick frame, log cabin, and timber framing methods as well as others (straw bale, etc). But when I picked up Jack Sobon's books on timber framing, I was hooked. The simplicity, durability, beauty, and honesty of timber framing convinced me that timber framing was the way to go. I was also inspired by the fact that many of the posts and beams could be harvested and milled by hand from trees on our land. It was also so simple to see how building a timber-frame cabin is a problem which is easy broken down to small, manageable parts and can be done by one or two people. I also liked the idea of having a frame raising party at the end of the process. The community aspect of an old-fashioned frame raising gathering in the woods sure sounds like a lot of fun.

Overall, I have finally decided on several key things:

1) Location on property (this was very hard!)
2) Construction method (Timber Frame)
3) Dimensions

There is a lot of learning and work left to be done. This will be exciting