Bridges to Community: Building in Nicaragua

The Bridges to Community group along with Nicaraguan families gather in front of one of the new homes in El Mojon.

Fifteen volunteers from the Bridges to Community group along with Nicaraguan families gather in front of one of the new homes in El Mojon.

Our companies have long supported Nicaragua, in small but valuable ways. Starting with a Solar Oven Project a few years back and earlier this year a Clean Water Distribution System, both done in partnership with the Victor-Farmington Rotary. My son Jake and I went to Nicaragua for a week, returning in the wee hours last Sunday. Exhausted, for sure. Glad we went, very glad to be home. Here’s a short report for those interested:

Nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, rainy season was in full swing in El Mojon, NI.

Nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, rainy season was in full swing in El Mojon, NI.

 

The trip was organized by Bridges to Community, a NY-based secular NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) that focuses on housing and sanitation in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

 

 

 

Jonathan and Jack joined the mud-boot trend while laying up walls for two homes.

Jonathan and Jake joined the mud-boot trend while laying up walls for two homes.

We went with 15 other volunteers, totaling 8 teens and 9 adults, to a tiny village called El Mojon, in the mountains above Jinotega, NI. Elevation was about 1,200 meters (almost 4,000 feet) and it’s the rainy season in Nicaragua so rubber boots are all the rage. There are no paved roads where we were. We stayed at a small farm (or finca) that has accommodations for groups. One of their crops is coffee, and at harvest time numerous hands are needed to pick the ripe berries. An average adult can pick about 80 liters of berries a day, for which he or she can earn $4.20 USD, plus some square meals and a place to sleep. During the off-season, general farm labor and crop maintenance pays $3/day. The farm we stayed at was third generation, but only about 50 years old. It’s almost non-existent carbon footprint is fascinating. Electricity came from a water wheel fed by rain-collection pools higher on the mountain. The generator could produce either 220 or 110 volts, and was shut off, with the water re-directed, for much of each day.  Most all the food (except rice) was made on site. Crops of lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, beans, corn, and tomatoes are grown. Cows are raised for milk and beef, pigs and pelliwags (a cross between goat and sheep), are grown for meat. Milk is made into cheese and any food left over is sold at the market in Jinotega.

The 9 men slept in bunk beds with 2” mattresses in an 11×14 room. Each day, we were all ferried 30 minutes to the job in the back of 2 pickup trucks. Meals were served at the finca, rice and beans (of course), fresh salad (typically a no-no in the third world), flautas and tortillas, farm cheese, fresh chicken sometimes, and even American-style pancakes on the last day. Each morning I would wake to a rhythmic tha-thump, tha-thump, tha-thump, thut, thut, thut and repeat, beginning around 5 and going on until after we would leave. I walked into the kitchen to see what it was, finding one of the women hand-making tortillas, as she likely had been for the previous thirty years. Her rhythm was so perfect, one of the guys was convinced it was the water pump.

Buckets of concrete were hand carried up the hill to the build sites.

Buckets of concrete were hand carried up the hill to the build sites.

Our job was to lay up the walls of two new homes for two families. Both foundations had been set already. The house Jake and I worked on was above the road a bit, perhaps 50 meters up a path. We needed to move block to the site, sift the sand to eliminate stones, mix concrete and water, fill buckets, then carry it up the hill to the house. Three skilled masons laid block, set re-bar into the walls (Nicaragua is extraordinarily prone to earthquakes) and applied parging. The water well was 80-meters one way, although the sand pile was a bit down the road, while the 46kg (101lb) bags of concrete were up another rise in the grandmother’s wood hut (in the room where she slept, because it was the only room around that seemed dry enough to store them). The masons were amazing guys who cared for their work, their jobs, and for us, knowing that conditions were neither ideal nor efficient, they were just conditions.

The interior of the homes include dry-laid tile and steel frames. As one mother said: "I can now raise my family off of the wet dirt and lock my doors when we leave."

The interior of the homes include dry-laid tile and steel frames. As one mother said: “I can now raise my family off of the wet dirt and lock my doors when we leave.”

In three days the walls were up on both homes (6-meter x 5-meter floor space). The 300 sf new home will be divided into 4 rooms: a kids’ bedroom, a parent bedroom, a sitting area, and the kitchen. There are 2 doors and 2 windows in each house. The “Tiny House” movement here in the states has precedent, for sure. We then took a break while the masons welded a steel frame and panel onto the top of the walls (for the low slung gable roof), and dry-laid the tile onto the dirt-and rubble floor we had prepared. The final day on site included the presentation ceremony from us to the recipients. Our work there had saved construction time roughly 20 days, but more importantly, the group raised the money to pay for the masons and materials. Of the many things said, the mother’s words hit hardest: “I can now raise my family off of the wet dirt, and lock my doors when we leave”.

Our group ranged from the most conservative Texan to the most liberal Oregonian (guess), and we can all bring our opinions and knowledge to the reasons why these families needed our help, but none of us questioned the value of being there that moment, that day. As always, friendships were born, and yup, that redneck Texan is sure-‘nuff heading to Portland for a good visit and wine tour.

Thanks a million to my co-workers, who as always, totally had my back while gone. And to Maxine, who, as always, remains my home beacon of warmth and sanity.

As you likely know, “us is lucky”. (Thanks, you-know-who-you are) -Jonathan

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Timber Cabin on Odell Lake

By Darren Watson, Timber Frame Champion

Timber bents are pre-assembled on-site, stacked on the deck and ready to be raised for the Odell Lake cabin.

Timber bents are pre-assembled on-site, stacked on the deck and ready to be raised for the Odell Lake cabin.

We started this job in the end of the summer of 2015 when Dan Hill and Ryan Rojas from Arbor South Design-Build approached us about building a timber frame for their client’s lake cabin on Odell Lake, Oregon. Our crew had a great time working on the project. We had 3 of our long-time team members (myself, Todd, Jimmy) plus we added our new project engineer, Quinn, to the mix so that he could see all the intricacies of how one of these projects go together on the ground. (He’s now migrated to the office to start his frame joining education.)

Mike, Todd, and Quinn secured joinery while I manned the boom.

Jimmy, Todd, and Quinn secured joinery while I manned the boom.

 

Odell Lake is a stunning mountain lake with beautiful vistas and HUGE fish. The cabin is in an area of Historical Significance, which means that though the owners are building a new cabin they don’t actually own the land beneath. The cabins in this area are all on a long-term lease with the US Forest Service. Because of its historical designation, the site had to have an archaeological survey done to ensure that there weren’t any important artifacts the new structure was going to disturb. It was a gamble for the owners to take as this area had been a prime fishing spot for not only the last hundred years, but for millennia before. A few arrowheads and pottery shards were found but nothing significant enough to stop the project.

SIP panels waiting to be placed for the roof.

SIP panels waiting to be placed on the roof.

While it is on the lake, the cabin is located at nearly 5000 feet of elevation right below Willamette Pass Ski Area on a seasonal Forest Service road that is only opened once enough of the snow has melted to allow it to be plowed – this made scheduling a raising date challenging. Understanding that this project had an indeterminately limited building window, we worked with Arbor South to design a timber frame and enclosure system that would allow us to prefabricate as much as possible ahead of the road opening. Once the road was cleared this Spring, we could arrive on site and install the frame, walls, and SIP roof panels in quick succession.

We had tentatively scheduled the raising to begin in April, 2016 but Mother Nature had different plans and dumped and additional 18” of snow on the site the last week of March. As soon as the road opened Sean Berman (of our engineering group) and I headed out to take as-builts and to better understand the constraints of this tight site. We discovered there would be only one location where the crane could be placed and that we would have to stagger the delivery of materials so that we wouldn’t block ourselves in with our own product.

We arrived on site on June 6th with the majority of the walls and timbers, received the crane, and immediately began setting walls and pre-assembling the bents. Typically, we only have a crane in for the raising day, however on this project there was so little space to work that we decided it would be best to rent the crane for the entire timber and enclosure portion of project. By the end of that week we had the first floor walls and the main frame all in place.

The exterior porch in place.

The exterior porch in place.

To remind us of the importance of expediting this build, we were unexpectedly treated to five days of Winter during our second week on site. Though it slowed us down a bit, it was a good break from the roving masses of mosquitoes that were present throughout the rest of the build.

The following weeks involved setting the remainder of the upper walls and timbers and adding in some additional hidden framing needed to support the nearly 300 pounds per square foot snow load. This made for some exceptionally heavy duty connections involving custom steel weldments to connect the rafters to the lower chords of the trusses along with 1” threaded rod to be able to carry the 37,000 pound tension force that was being developed in the lower chord.

During our final week on site we set the roof SIP panels which included Western Red Cedar rafter tails and outlookers, and 2×6 Douglas fir T&G soffits. This combination along with custom staining turned out a nice roof.

We had the pleasure of staying at the other end of Odell Lake and discovering the best roasted chicken in the whole area at Manley’s bar, in the nearby town of Crescent Lake, which quickly became our go-to evening meal. It was delicious!

Raising and enclosure complete! Time for one last meal of roasted chicken on the lake.

Raising and enclosure complete! Time for one last meal of roasted chicken on the lake.

Running Timbers on the Hundegger

Andy operates the Hundegger controls and computer as a timber is processed.

Andy operates the Hundegger controls and computer as a timber is processed.

What is that big yellow, blue, and red tool? It is our Hundegger, a large CNC capable of cutting timbers with joinery. We have always liked the combination of technology with traditional craftsmanship. The marriage of both allows us to produce more efficiently, work with larger outputs, and helps our co-workers have a long career practicing their craft.

 

 

 

Andy has been our co-worker for 10 years and main operator of the Hundegger on the East Coast for over 5.

Andy has been our co-worker for 9 years and main operator of the Hundegger on the East Coast for over 5 years.

The CNCs in each of our shops rough cut timbers and joinery before the pieces head to layout and hand fitting/finishing. Andy is our main Hundegger operator on the east coast. He’s been a part of our team for a decade, starting as a timber framer, learning the trade from our master timber framers in the shop and then traveling around the nation to raise the frames he helped craft. Andy told us he liked the travel (before he had kids). He was up for a new challenge and went for the opportunity to learn the Hundegger technology. Most days he can be found standing at the main control station for the Hundgger between bouts loading the platform with raw timbers.

Reclaimed Red Pine Timbers celebrate the original surfaces with few to no old mortise pockets or peg holes. Phot

Reclaimed Red Pine Timbers celebrate the original surfaces with few to no visible old mortise pockets or peg holes. Photo (C) Sylwia Janik

 

 

Andy’s a quiet guy with a composed nature that makes him a great team member, as does his attention to detail. Part of Andy’s role is to determine which side of each timber will face the exterior wall and which will be visible to the room. This becomes especially important when working with reclaimed timbers.

“One project might call for old mortise pockets to be everywhere, while another may only want the reclaimed surface without any exposed peg holes or pockets. Sorting that out, working with each timber for a project, fresh or reclaimed, is a good daily challenge,” explains Andy.

 

 

 

Hundegger with Timber Stacks Watching the Hundegger rotate and cut full size timbers is mesmerizing. The sound of a timber being worked is so familiar to Andy that even with ear protection he can hear if a bit is getting dull or a clamp is overworking. The process is fluid. Once checked (and double checked), after a few keystrokes his hands are on the controls and the timber moves down the chain into the tool. Depending on the complexity of the cutting, it will be fed out the other end in a matter of minutes then move down another chain to be planed and put into layout.

Andy references printed wide format (‘old-school’ as he says) plans alongside a computer program with K2 coding for each project as he works individual timbers. Plans are often splayed across the work surface next to the Hundegger controls and computer screen.

Pointing to a large bottom cord on a set of plans Andy says, “The maximum size timber the tool can cut is 21″ wide and 12″ tall by just about any length. It has five axis cutting capability so we can rough out simple and complicated joinery.”

We use our Hundegger CNC tools to rough cut timbers and joinery.

We use our Hundegger CNC tools to rough cut timbers and joinery.

At the end of the day, the Hundegger is shut down falling silent before being swept out. The off-cuts are cleared out (and head to our high efficiency boiler to heat the plant). Files are saved and plans are rolled up. Andy organizes timbers for the following morning before heading home to his family. There he stays busy with his wife Ashley, their daughter Bristol, and son Luke. He’s also applying his skills to remodeling their family home. “Someday it’ll be done,” he told us with a light chuckle and a final critical study of the Hundegger as he headed out the door.

NEWwoodworks Selected as Business of the Month by Shortsville Manchester Area Chamber of Commerce

For over 20 years NEWwoodworks, our fine woodworking division, has specialized in handcrafted cabinetry, furniture, stairs, doors, and other custom designed interior furnishings from their shop in Shortsville, NY. The Shortsville-Manchester Area ChamBusiness of the Monthber of Commerce (SMACC) is a volunteer organization that promotes progress and a positive business climate. NEWwoodworks has supported local Shortsville activities for many years, including the annual Wild Water Derby, and has been recognized by SMACC as business of the month.

“Crafting projects from antique reclaimed wood is a unique privilege,” remarked Rob D’Alessandro, General Manager. “We’re excited to be recognized by the Shortsville Manchester Area Chamber of Commerce as a Business of the Month.”

NEWwoodworks has built a reputation as the go-to shop among designers and architects for taking on challenging, one-of-a-kind, custom woodworking projects. Each piece is hand-crafted using sustainably harvested and often antique wood by skilled craftsmen and design software. Thanks to experience, talented hands, digital technology, and good-old-fashioned creativity the more unique, the more difficult, the better the project.

The craftsmen at NEWwoodworks have knowledge and abilities which ensure every project is a work of art, whether it’s doors, cabinetry, stairs, tables, wine rooms, or commercial fixtures. They have worked with world-famous retailers, hotels, restaurants, and spas to bring the vision of the brand and the designer to life. Great attention is paid to the details: hand-forged hardware, oil rubbed finishes, and antique wood-with-a-story-to-tell are a few of the features incorporated in their products.

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double doors_LEED-H Gold home in NC

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About:
NEWwoodworks has been the fine woodworking division of New Energy Works Timberframers for over 20 years. They specialize in custom crafting cabinetry, furniture, stairs, doors, and other custom woodworking that is unique to the individual and harmonious with the project design. The group is well known for their expertise in handcrafting elements for timber frame homes and constructing projects with reclaimed and extraordinary wood.