Q and A with a Timber Framer featuring Pete O’Brien

Leaving the world of party tents, awnings, and rough construction behind, Pete O’Brien joined our timber frame group finding the craftsmanship and finer work of traditional mortise and tenon joinery much more to his liking. In his opinion, handcrafting is second only to raising a frame.

pete for profile

We seem to be inundated with folks who love the outdoors so we were not surprised to learn that this timber framer likes hiking, kayaking, and frequents the Adirondacks. However, Pete admitted that he’s a gamer with a passion for racing and marksmanship games (cat’s out of the bag, sorry Pete!). On occasion Pete puts his kayaking skills to the test, participating in our local white water Wild Water Derby. After sitting down for this rapid fire interview, he regaled us with a few stories from the derby. Read on to learn more on this young craftsman (with author comments in brackets):

Pete's favorite way to view the ADKs!

Pete’s favorite way to view the ADKs!

What’s your favorite word or phrase?
Awesome. (Pete’s fellow timber framer and long-time member of the team, Jake, piped in saying to me, “That is for sure his favorite word.” Based on the grin he and Pete exchanged I suspected differently but didn’t press.)

Pete with chainsaw


We think this photo of Pete applying a chain saw texture is pretty awesome.

What’s your favorite time of day?
Dinner. (Big smile from Pete with this answer.)

What’s your favorite truss or joint?
A scarf joint.

Scarf joint assembly.

Scarf joint assembly.

Favorite wood species?
Oak.

What sound or noise do you love?
(A long pause here was punctuated by a good-natured verbal jab from a fellow timber who suggested the high pitched whine of the drill he was operating nearby was the sound Pete loves. Shaking his head and smiling Pete offered a different answer…) Water.

What sound or noise do you hate?
Nails on a chalkboard (He couldn’t suppress a shudder and I grimaced with empathy for his reaction.)

Let’s move on…you travel to raise frames. What’s your favorite area of the nation?
The Blue Ridge in Virginia – the views are amazing. (“Better than the Adirondacks you visit so much?” I asked.) Different. Less populated…

Not quite the Blue Ridge, but plenty of blue water for this lake home raising. (From the left: Pete, John S, and Mike G)

Not quite the Blue Ridge, but plenty of blue water for this lake home raising Pete was a key member of this Spring. (From the left: Pete, John S, and Mike G.)

What’s best about your profession?
Crafting something unusual, something not many other people do.

All focus.

Speaking of unusual, here Pete’s working some new joinery for 100+ year-old reclaimed agricultural timbers salvaged by our sister company, Pioneer Millworks.

What profession would you not like to do?
Telemarketing. (Pete looked stricken by the very thought of having to cold call people.)

What’s your dog’s name?
No dog, I have a cat. His name is Porter and he’s…awesome. (Another grin spread across his features. I have to admit appreciation for Pete’s sense of humor and overall affable nature.)

(Follow the pink arrow to Pete)

(Follow the pink arrow to Pete)

How about the Wild Water Derby?
This was my first year participating. Bruce, Jason, Matt, and a few others – we formed a team using an old wooden raft some of the… (he paused, sending a quick glance at Jake) …more seasoned guys raced a few years back. Things were going well until we started taking on water. (“Really?!” I asked and Pete laughed.) Really. The rapids were splashing up and tossing us around. We were using our hands and a bucket we had in the boat to scoop it out between bouts of rowing. It was epic. We all made it out fine and we got a wooden oar award too! I’d like to do it again next year. 

Ann Arbor Legacy Home

Thanks to Mike W, Timber Frame Champion on this project, for sharing his comments, leadership, and skills.

Thanks to Mike W, Timber Frame Champion on this project, for sharing his comments, leadership, and skills.

“I truly could not have asked to work with a better crew. It’s great to work with people so on-point. Hardly anything went by without someone helping to make the others’ job easier.” – Mike W, Timber Frame Champion on the Ann Arbor Legacy Home.

rendering MI legacy timber home new energy worksRaisings are often an exciting culmination of years of dreaming, months of planning, and hours of crafting. This Ann Arbor, Michigan home was no exception as our team was met with excited smiles and kind accolades from the homeowners Cindy and Bill and the builder, David (of Coppernail Construction). Our team of Mike, Jimmy, Taylor, and Randy from the McMinnville (Oregon) shop raised the frame amidst some rainy summer days in July.

raising main bent new energy works

A large hybrid timber frame and stick-built project, timber abounds in the great room, main entry, kitchen/dining areas. As a full-time home to the owners, this structure will also comfortably accommodate visits from their five children and many grandchildren within its nine bedrooms and seven baths. Plus they’ll have all-season fun with both indoor and outdoor pools.

Jimmy was all smiles for his selfie from the top of the frame.

Jimmy was all smiles for his selfie from the top of the frame.

Mike explained, “Jimmy (featured in a previous blog post) really showed his experience and took charge like a champ. He was absolutely my right hand on this raising,” 

 

Over 300 kiln dried Douglas fir timbers, nearly 20,000 board feet, were crafted for this project. On-site pre-assembly and layout of the hammer beam inspired bents and trimber was smoothly orchestrated over three days.

preassembly new energy timber michigan.jpgWorking between raindrops, the team raised the bents of the great room and main entry in a day.

taylor on frame.jpgOur newest guy, Taylor, got his feet wet (quite literally) during this, his first raising. He has hustle and shinned day after day with a “go getter” attitude and excited mindset,” Mike continued.

raising timber truss ann arbor by new energy works

 

 

Randy was all smiles as he helped direct "flying" timbers.

Randy was all smiles as he helped direct “flying” timbers.

pres MI raising.jpg

The entry was set with posts on concrete pillars that will have a stone facade in the future. More timber will grace the exterior as “trimber” as the project finishes out. Many thanks to the homeowners for a great project, the builder for his many skills, and our team for their dedication, camaraderie, and good work.

Guiding the corner posts of the entryway is a team effort.

Guiding the corner posts of the entryway is an effort in communication on the ground and to the crane operator.

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

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