A Bridge of the Future

Authored by: Darren Watson

Jonathan, our founder, and president, brought me into this bridge project about 5 weeks ahead of the annual Timber Framers Guild (TFG) conference. It is the beautiful realization of an offhand comment made at the Coeur d’Alene TFG conference in 2015 between Jonathan and Richard La Trobe-Bateman.

completed latrobe bridge tfg and new energy works

I was immediately excited to have the opportunity to work on this bridge having seen Richard La Trobe-Bateman and his minimalist pedestrian bridges presented at the 2015 TFG Conference. I was asked to coordinate the temporary installation of this 92’ long 19’ tall bridge on the rooftop plaza of the Edgewater Hotel in Madison, WI, from 2000 miles away using volunteer labor fitting in around the conference sessions. Right away I took to looking at Google Earth to understand just what I had agreed to.

empty rooftop for bridge

“Roof top” turns out to be true though rather deceptive as the hotel cascades from street level down the hill to Lake Mendota six stories below. This did mean that every timber, bolt, and section of scaffolding had to be carried from the valet parking down, and then back up again; 22 steps to and from the build site on the plaza.

timbers down the stairs for bridge

Shortly thereafter Dick Anderson, of Darlington, Wisconsin contacted us expressing an interest in working with us on this temporary bridge. He turned out to be our “Ace in the hole” as he was able to visit the site and make arrangements to have the scaffold delivered and to coordinate with the hotel staff. He also built a model of the bridge purely from pictures and a couple of sketchy dimensions. Dick has a history of working on other traditionally timber framed bridges in his area and having taught high school shop class for the majority of his career he was uniquely qualified to help me wrangle the cats responsible for making this project a success. Dick has written a great blog post with more details and images on this project – I think it is worth a read for sure.

The project began with a further lesson in coordinating from a distance as a missed flight connection in Denver on Thursday night sent me scrambling to find the right combination of flights to get to Madison, WI. Again, Dick was in the right place at the right time. He was able to get the scaffold delivered to the site Friday morning and then take Richard, and his son Will, out to Mike Yaker’s shop where the frame had been delivered – all before I finally arrived late Friday afternoon.

bridge raising in rain

6am Saturday morning started out beautifully, cool and overcast with a light breeze off the lake. Dick and I were able to get the bridge “footings” and scaffolding located and laid out very carefully as we would be building the bridge from both ends to meet in the middle. As the finished bridge would reach 19’ in the air, this initial layout was critical. We added a couple extra inches in length to the overall length to allow us some wiggle room to pull the halves of the bridge together at the end of the assembly instead of ending up too close and having to figure out just how to spread it apart.

By the time this was all said and done the timbers arrived along with the rain, which would be our constant companion through the rest of the day. Fortunately, the rain let up for just long enough to get a bunch of help from the TFG conference goers, allowing us to run all the individual timbers and walk plank assemblies down to the build site.

bridge assembly aerial

Once all the timbers we loaded into the site, construction commenced. Myself, Dick, Richard, Will, and Keith Rockett formed the core assembly team. We were joined intermittently by numerous folks taking a break from the conference sessions to help us out. Dick’s model became an invaluable tool in communicating what was to come next in the assembly sequence as our paper plans soon succumbed to the rain. At the end of the first day, we had completed approximately three-quarters of the bridge. The north half was complete and the south half was nearing the upper stages of assembly.

Sunday morning dawned overcast but DRY. With this turn of the weather, we had a surge of timberframers eager to get involved with the final assembly of the structure which now loomed tall on the plaza right outside of the conference windows. We were able to wield two teams of bridge builders on this day. One completing the final structural assembly of the south half and one installing the walk-board starting with the north end. The walk-board assemblies were able to slide neatly up the previous section eliminating the need to carry these large and heavy units into place.

vertical of latrobe bridge at TFG

In another lesson in relinquishing control, I was pulled away by a session presented by Tedd Benson and two of his most knowledgeable managers on the concept of Lean Manufacturing and distribution of leadership and responsibility – right before we were to begin installing the central walk-board and diagonal cabling that comprises the structural heart of the bridge. I asked Joe Miller, of Fire Tower Engineered Timber who did the engineering design, to take over the installation of these components and off I went to the presentation.

under latrobe bridge

After an hour and a half of manufacturing process enlightenment from some of the best in the industry, I came out to find a scaffold-free completed bridge with people walking over it. This was a highly poignant lesson in trusting in people’s inherent capacity to perform the task in from of them when trusted to do so.

close up of bridge joinery

The bridge stood for a total of 20 hours before we started the disassembly Monday morning at 8am. Again, we were graced with a perfect day and more than adequate work force. By noon all of the bridge and scaffolding had been cleared from the plaza and it was like we had never been there. I was astonished at the speed this structure was dismantled as I was expecting it to take fully two thirds of the install time to remove from the site due to the challenge that the assembly presented.

new energy works team on latrobe bridge

My co-workers along with Richard posed on the finished bridge. Front to back: Sean, me, Richard, Jonathan, David, and Quinn.

I can’t adequately express how fortunate I feel for being given the opportunity to meet and work with Richard and Will La Trobe-Bateman, Dick Anderson, Keith Rockett, George Brinkman, Joe Miller and Fire Tower Engineered Timber. I had a most enjoyable time working with them and all of the other unnamed Guild members making this dream a reality.

latrobe with Arete Structures east coast

The bridge was auctioned off at the Saturday night benefit auction bringing in over $20k for the Timber Framers Guild. Arete Structures, a division of Arete Engineering out of Boone, NC, were the lucky winners of the auction. Atere Structures specializes in custom prefabricated pedestrian bridges so this was a great opportunity for them. Shaun (pictured above with Richard LaTrobe Bateman) and Brian of Arete were there to help with the assembly but unfortunately had to be on a plane before it all came down. However it was great to have them there for the bulk of the project. That first-hand experience of the assembly will hopefully help as they re-build the bridge for one final time in its life.

Find the Beetle: Greenwich, CT

Our craftsmen are raising the frame for a large timber frame central hall for a project with Kurpinski Builder. Each timber has a multistep custom finish and a few have needed to be ‘persuaded’ into place. The best tool of the trade for this? The trusty wooden beetle mallet wielded here with gusto and precision by Matt.

matt h timber framer with beetle

Restored, Reused, Reloved: Doors of Heritage

Doors are the transitional pieces, the welcoming elements, the barriers against intrusion—be it weather or other diversions—the room dividers, the separators of space. A high-crafted door is designed to function flawlessly and be in service for decades. Yet over time their movement and environment can impact aesthetics and usefulness. Our fine woodworking group, NEWwoodworks, has had the opportunity to restore doors of heritage, bearing, and beauty for a few special spaces.

Home at the Spa

spa door rehab by newwoodworks

Elements from an original carriage house in Rochester were carefully salvaged, including the main entry doors, for a local spa. Always believed to be arched, during removal it was discovered that the original doors were rectangular. They had hung for years behind an arched opening to give them the look of arched doors.

Original doors, site salvaged.

Original doors, site salvaged.

The craftsmen at NEWwoodworks, lead by door guru, Jay, were tasked with creating arches in the old doors, along with general restoration. The doors were constructed in a traditional way using wedged tenons which were hammered in from the side. This type of old craft construction would close and tighten all of the stile and rail joints. With skill and care, an arch was cut in the doors and components were re-fitted to create truly arched doors. The surface was then wire brushed and mounting hardware was set into the backs of the doors so they could be hung on a wall.

spa door refurb by newwoodworks

Today they greet patrons from their new home where they live as pieces of art behind the spa reception desk.

newwoodworks spa door refurb

University Ave

Though species and finishes play a large role in the durability of wooden entry doors, time and weather will eventually wear through and some TLC will be needed to bring the wood back to life. A set of white oak entry doors on University Ave in Rochester, NY were removed by our craftsmen and transported back to the shop.

univ ave door orig

The original weather-worn oak doors on University Ave.

It was clear the bottom rails were beyond repair which lead the team to dismantle the doors and sidelights. Over 200 oak pieces and all joinery was restored. New insulated glass units and oil rubbed bronze hardware were added bringing a touch of modernization to the doors. Originally the oak was stained dark brown, but for this revitalization, it was requested to keep a natural finish to allow the oak’s patina to be celebrated. The craftsmen employed a polymerized tung oil that will be applied biannually as part of normal maintenance for the revived doors.

university ave door refurb newwoodworks

Eatery Entry

A fun find by a restaurant owner, this tall and slim pair of doors is believed to have originated in India before making their way to the US and eventually to the NEWwoodworks shop for a bit of care.

newwoodworks refurb pine doors detail

The doors were sinch-nailed together, nearly 3″ thick, solid white pine covered in layers of paint and signs of age.

original pine doors eatery entry

Original, as-found pine doors.

The first step was stripping off the hardware and cleaning up the grills. A light wire brushing was applied to the surface to remove some of the rotten paint while highlighting the hard-earned surface character. Structural repairs were required in the moldings and some of the rails, but overall these doors were fairly solid. Frosted glass, new hinges, and a dead bolt completed the overhaul. Today the doors conceal a closet while acting as wall art. Their grills and glass are backlit, warm and captivating in the eatery’s entry foyer.

restored pine doors by newwoodworks

Rejuvenating and repairing, bringing new life and new love to these timelessly authentic doors are stories we’ll tell for many years to come. They’ve influenced and inspired new doors (below) and reminded us of old high craft techniques. See the gallery of door creations here.

Inspired by the adjacent antique doors, the new entry door was crafted by NEWwoodworks using reclaimed Heart Pine.

Inspired by the adjacent antique doors, the new main entry door for the eatery entrance was crafted of Reclaimed Heart Pine by NEWwoodworks.

A Family Retreat on Canandaigua Lake: Designing Spaces

When we last visited Dan & Laurie’s project on Canandaigua Lake, Pete, one of our design group architects and the design leader for the home, walked us through the site planning. I nabbed Pete again, this time to take a look inside the project at the design considerations for creating the layout and formal floor plans.

Lakeside Family RetreatJust like last time, Pete made a quick inquiry about little orange fish crackers. I had to let him down softly; I had nothing. Looking disappointed for a beat, he moved on reminding me that Dan & Laurie’s site overlooked the lake and came with strict site constraints (not uncommon to building near water) including height restrictions, erosion/sediment concerns, setbacks, and more. He explained that the constraints drove the overall siting of the house and garage, but there were still the interior spaces (and floor plan) to negotiate.

“Dan and Laurie’s project is meant to be a multi-generational home that will act as a central gathering spot for family and friends. Overall the home has an open floor plan with the public spaces centralized on both the main and lower levels which can easily accommodate larger gatherings. Balancing that are private spaces on the ends of the home which allow folks the opportunity to enjoy their quiet space or step inwards to join the party.”

Canandaigua lake home timber frame hybrid floor plan

I was curious about what techniques are used to create a division of space in open floor plans, particularly when the same flooring flows throughout the level. “Great question—we like to make psychological breaks to take the place of walls in open floor plans. Although this project is a hybrid using timber frame and traditional construction, the public spaces fall under the core timber frame. We used the main carrying beams, a bigger timber, to bring visual and physical weight and delineate the great room, kitchen, and dining areas. The great room is also vaulted while the dining and kitchen spaces have flat ceilings. The kitchen island provides a further break between food preparation zones and the dining room,” Pete explained.

timber frame kitchen and great room new energy works

“One less common trait in this home is a single point of entry from the garage and parking areas. Without a dedicated breezeway or mudroom, the goal was to welcome visitors and inhabitants through a cleaner entryway in a style more traditional to guest-only entryways. We designed a lower volume with a flat ceiling softened by lifted timber common rafters, which draw the eye through the entry space to the great room and expanse of windows beyond. There is still a need for organizational spaces…a place to take off shoes, a laundry room…We “hid” these just off the entryway, branching to the right beyond a wing wall and screened behind a pocket door,” continued Pete.

canandaigua timber home new energy works entry

View of the entry door.

entry to canandaigua hybrid timber home

View from the entry.

Given the location of the home, I wanted to know about the views. “Below the curved bottom chord king post trusses, glass wraps the frame at close to ninety-degree angles. You can see through the corners resulting in a nearly 180-degree view of the lake. It’s pretty neat,” Pete obliged.

How about solar heat gain? “Always a consideration,” Pete agreed. “There is morning sun only because the room faces Southeast over the lake. Other windows throughout the home are covered by large overhangs and exterior roofs, so the gain won’t be significant there.”

interior canandaigua lake great room timber frame new energy works

“Oh, also about exterior decks and views—we aim to keep them from wrapping the great room because views are more enjoyable when uninterrupted. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like a piecemeal view broken by slats of a deck railing.”

I recalled that in our previous conversation Pete had stressed a desire to have the house set into the land, as part of the land, rather than perched on it. I asked how that impacted the interior light in the lower-level. “Whenever we have spaces under grade we make every effort to bring natural light to as many sides of the space as possible. Dan and Laurie’s home has light on three sides and includes lake views; it’s a pretty good situation. We gave the stairwell carefully consideration and arranged it in an “L” within a rectangular opening so plenty of western light could spill through to the lower-level family room. Plus, we made every effort to eliminate soffits, carefully planning and utilizing open web trusses—this way the lower-level ceiling height remains constant and the space feels more inviting and comfortable.

timber frame lower level stairs new energy works

“Going back to private spaces, the master suite has a vestibule. It is one of those planned rooms that helps create further division from the more public areas. There’s also a private deck accessible only from the master bedroom. The in-law suite is situated down a hallway off the entry, giving it the feeling of a private branch separate from the main core of the home. We know Laurie’s folks are excited about the suite. While we were raising the exterior timber components and decks, they pointed out the timbers going up on their corner exclaiming to onlookers ‘That’s our bedroom!’,Pete smiled broadly, “Their excitement was infectious.”

exterior timber frame raising new energy works

“The lower-level is also the space for guests. A bedroom, a bunk room, a family room, and what we’re calling a lake bathroom. It will be the spot to stop prior to journeying into the rest of the house after a swim or a visit to the shore.”

Giving Pete thanks for the information, I sent him off with a piece of spearmint gum (the best I could do in lieu of orange fish crackers).

Further into this summer, Laurie and Dan’s project will be complete. We’ll share a bit on the interior design and have plenty of finished images for you then. Thanks for joining this journey! If you’d like to see other projects we’ve general contracted, visit our Case Studies. And to learn more about our teams, visit Meet our People.

Q and A with a Timber Framer featuring Jimmy

Jimmy has been with our timber frame team for almost two years. He lives in Mt. Angel, Oregon and works out of our mill in McMinnville, Oregon. Even though the commute one way is at minimum an hour, Jimmy tells us he wouldn’t trade his 1/3-acre peaceful property for anything. His love of nature is also his favorite thing about timber framing. According to Jimmy, “There’s no better place to be than 25 to 30 feet in the air looking at beautiful scenery.”

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Where are you from?
I was born in Newburg, New York and still have family in Brooklyn, New York. When I was 6 months old, our family moved to Puerto Rico. It wasn’t until I was 13 and moved to Missouri that I began learning to speak English. I made my way to Oregon via, Florida and Los Angeles.

What were you doing before NEW?
Before joining New Energy Works, I was a blacksmith, welder, mechanic. When I have time, I restore furniture.

Leaving the frame to check out the region. Darren, Mike, Jimmy, and Adam.

Leaving the frame to check out the region. Darren, Mike, Jimmy, and Todd.

When you aren’t at work what are you doing?
Chilling with Chip (my dog) watching TV or out hunting and fishing.

Jimmy w chip in shop

What’s your favorite truss style or joint?
I don’t have a favorite. I love them all.

What’s your favorite wood species?
I love purple heart and coca bola.

What’s your favorite time of day?
I’m an evening person. I like 6:30 pm, when I walk in to home at night.
 

What’s your favorite curse word?
hijo de puta
 (son of a bitch)

Favorite project you have worked on?
A big barn raising with east coast guys. Huge painted timbers for kind of a modern take on a barn. 

white barn east coast new energy works

What’s best about being a timber framer?
Traveling to new places and the views from the tops of the frames.
 

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What’s Chip’s role at the shop?

He’s the Mill Mascot, my constant buddy. 

shop mascot chip