From Forest to Structure: Maple tree “Atlas” becomes a main post in our CLT project

A tree for a mass timber project? What started as an idea branched into reality as our team selected a west coast Broad Leaf Maple tree to be a central post in our Cross Laminated Timber project. Mike W, one of our timber craftsmen and an avid nature lover, applied his skills and artistic eye from unloading the big Maple in Oregon to hand-crafting the joinery and leading the raising in New York. Along the way he formed an attachment to this “post” and named it ‘Atlas’. He shares his adventure with Atlas below:

moving tree into shopThis tree had a purpose, a destiny even. The 60-year-old Acer Macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple was selected by my co-workers Randy and Noah (from Randy’s land) for its particular size, shape, and branch structure. It would become a load-bearing post and not just any post – it will support a 30,000 lb gravity load and an 84 foot glulam beam line in our new Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) building in Farmington, NY (the first complete CLT building in New York State!).

Using some experience from previous projects, the support of my colleagues, and a little book knowledge I picked up at the Timber Framers Guild conference, I got started.

tools of the trade for tree joineryFirst, I snapped out the reference lines – this would orientate the precise position of the beam pocket and base cut (where all the pressure is). Second, I set the tree onto sawhorses and played with the overall shape. This was my favorite part because it is all about balance and feel. This was where I got to imagine how the piece I was working was going to orientate when it was done. I had to get high over the tree and observe its relationship with the lines I snapped. I even laid down and looked at it from the side, imagining how it will look as the post I wanted it to be.

tree in shopOnce I was set on the position of the tree in relation to the joinery I began to mark my datum lines and started layout of the beam pocket. One thing to mention is that plans were for the beam pocket to be made up of two upright co-dominates. (Co-dominate, in this case, refers to how the main trunk splits and becomes two. This is a fun thing I learned from our newest addition in the timber frame shop, Noah Mize.  He comes from an arborist background and is very knowledgeable.) I got out the laser to guide my cuts, after all it is the 21st century.

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A little customization on the joinery. According to Mike, it represents “With love from the west coast to the east coast.”

The chisel work was a true joy. The chisel seemed to glide effortlessly allowing me to really push for precision, without losing sight of efficiency. That was the first upright. The second proved to be much more difficult. Long story short I had to tap out the lap joint all upside down and overhead. I had to squat on a block of wood 7″ off the ground while operating my chisel at shoulder height to make a flat which was facing the ground. Awkward, to say the least. To add to the difficulty the location of the work was right near the union, or point where the trunk splits into two. Needless to say the grain got harder and ran in all directions at once, or so it seemed.

tree joinery mcminnvilleThe time for the post bottom cut was upon us. Randy brought in his O44 chainsaw with a 42″ bar to preform this work. We made a couple test cuts and away we went. The final cut was cleaned up with a 12″ planner to flat with the layout marks re-written on the fresh surface.

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Our McMinnville and Portland OR teams, as well as our Farmington NY teams, signed the base of Atlas prior to raising.

With the base cut done this was no longer a tree; it was a post. I could imagine myself as this post, holding my arms out wide supporting the timber [much like Atlas]. I can truly say it was my honor to pour my love and energy into tree. It was my privilege to be part of giving this tree to its new life, a post at the heart of our new fine woodworking shop.

Mike was a key part to raising Atlas earlier this week. The post is now in place and connected to the frame, supporting substantial glulam timbers. More CLT panels are going into place and will shelter Atlas for decades to come. A video and photos of the raising are below:

Raising Atlas Video

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Atlas arrived to Farmington, NY on a typically snowy January day.

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Mike readies Atlas for raising.

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Mike applied leverage and muscle to turn Atlas into the precise orientation for the frame.

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A Lakeside Home: Transformation with Integrity

lake home remodel w timberThe challenge was set: take a well-loved 1980’s family home and transform both aesthetics and functionality. Our design and build teams embraced the challenge with gusto. Ty Allen, head of our Design/Build groups and our in-house Architect, gave us the cliff notes.

During our first site visit we captured this image of the home's roadside facade.

During the first site visit Ty and team captured this image of the home’s roadside facade.

The homeowners built their family lake home over 25 years ago. They raised their children and made countless memories. Yet, the 1980’s contemporary design was no longer meeting all of their needs and had become dated in style. We were building a new timber frame home on a neighboring lake and we’re told that project was part of the inspiration for couple to join our community and incorporate timber framing into their lives.

Ty explained, “I think 80’s contemporary homes are the best type of existing home to transform. They are often a clean slate with open volumes and simple details.” Remodeling requires balance – the changes for this home would be bold. “We wanted to respect the integrity of the existing home, using what was already existing as a springboard to modernizing how the home looks, feels, and works.”

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The original roadside facade (above) and with updates (below).

orig car port and front of house“A good example is the porte co·chère,” continued Ty. From the road it was difficult to tell what the structure was particularly as the roof flowed down from the house as one mass over the car port. The existing porte co·chère was removed and re-imagined, presenting a gable end on the roadside facade. “Rotating the roof lines defined the porte co·chère and allowed it to have impact. It is the primary focus the facade while maintaining the original purpose of the space.”

 

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Tear off of the original car port.

The naked timber frame of the new porte co·chère.

The naked timber frame of the new porte co·chère.

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Rotating the roof lines to present a gable end on the roadside facade redefined the car port as a focal point while maintaining function.

Under the new carport a custom door from NEWwoodworks welcomes guests.

Under the new carport a custom door from NEWwoodworks welcomes guests.

drawing out the garage additionA major new functional improvement: a three car garage. The home’s original single car garage was ideally situated for transformation into the transitional space (mud room) from the new garage into the home. Our team had several visits to the build-site to stake out the garage addition. While accommodating set-backs and other regulations, they worked to get the angle, the flow, of foundation for the new garagethe new structure to fit best with the existing garage, house, and driveway and be considerate of lake views. “We wanted to create a courtyard effect with easy access to the home so the setting of the garage was key. The mud room offers the first garage with roof going onglimpses of the lake as you transition through it from the garage or as visitors move down the drive in front of it.”completed garage with timber by new energy worksThe lakeside facade had a large span of roof and large windows which allowed harsh western sun into the home. “We were deliberate about the fenestration [window placement]. The placement and scale of glass needed to lower solar heat gain was carefully balanced with taking in lake views.” The new fenestration, updated Marvin windows, breaks in the roof lines, and an expansive covered porch improved efficiency and style. Covered space on the lakeside not only provides more enjoyable year-round shelter from the elements for the homeowners, their family and friends, but for the home as well.

The lake side of the home before (top) and with the remodel nearly complete (bottom).

The lake side of the home before (top) and with the remodel nearly complete (bottom).

Inside the home timber elements were added to the great room and entry. Beginning at the porte co·chère entry, the same truss style flows through the central great room and back outside to the lakeside porch. What’s next? An interior timber ‘bridge’ is on the list. It will replace the current loft-bridge to connect the bedrooms on the upper level.

interior timber truss in lake home great room remodel

 

Interested in seeing more of our projects? See our website galleries. Want more images of this lake home remodel? See the below photo collection:

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Updating the lakeside facade and a glimpse of the back of the new garage.

Updating the lakeside facade and a glimpse of the back of the new garage.

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The home's boat launch also features timber framing.

The home’s boat launch also features timber framing.

Stone for the new chimney.

Stone for the new chimney.

New walls.

New walls.

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A Family Retreat on Canandaigua Lake: Working the Land

“I’ll give you the whole story if you share those with me.” I glanced at the white box with orange fish dancing across the outside. Crackers for information, the deal of the day. With a smile I handed the box over to Pete, one of our design group architects and the design leader on our current Canandaigua Lake general contracting project.lake-retreat-rendering2“So Megan,” Pete began in his usual serious-but-joking-and-easygoing manner, “You want to know about the Canandaigua Family Retreat? Well, Dan & Laurie have been looking for the right site for about three years now. They gave us a call and asked if we’d come check out the spot they’d found. They felt really good about it, but wanted our take, which I thought was pretty cool. I like being involved from the beginning, especially because I had a good idea of what they wanted their project encompass.”

getfile-7“Had their three year search reached an end?” I asked as the crackers disappeared with unnatural speed.

“It had,” he confirmed. “We knew our design plans would be influenced by stringent site constraints associated with being near the water (height restrictions, erosion/sediment concerns, set-backs, etc) and the nature of the narrow, deeply sloping land. But it was perfect for Dan & Laurie’s home.”

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I attended the raising (more on this in another post) and I agree with Pete; it is a great spot. It is nestled into the hillside and it maintains privacy even though it is on the lake. The land slopes away allowing views of the water through pockets of mature trees. I couldn’t help thinking it was as if the land had secret views of the lake, but hey, I’m a romantic at heart.

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The steep site offers elevated views of Canandaigua Lake.

“Why Canandiagua Lake? Why timber framing?”

Pete grabbed another handful of crackers before answering, “Laurie grew up visiting a family lake home – who doesn’t love those? Canandiagua is a good ‘meeting’ spot for Dan, Laurie, their kids, parents, and extended family. A central location everyone likes.

A few years back they checked out a lake home that happened to be a timber frame we’d built in the 2000’s. They loved it and were inspired to build their own on Canandaigua.”

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Extensive excavation and landscaping work was the first step in preparing Dan and Laurie’s site for their new home.

“Were there any special design considerations for the site, for the project?”

Pete grinned quickly before responding. “The short answer is the steep site,” he paused, flashing a grin again, “but you want to know more than that, right?” Another handful of crackers later he continued, “We wanted to create a nice way to get from the detached garage to the house, from guest parking to the house, from the house down to the water. Reducing the necessity of long, continuous stairs, descent and assent around the site was key. Extensive excavation and landscaping work was the first step in the solution. Ted Collins Landscaping has been a huge help there.”

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The home is set into the land, a part of the hillside. ICFs were used for the foundation and here are filled with concrete.

“I wanted to set the house into the site rather than rest it on top of the site. This minimizes some of the challenges of living on a hill and keeps the overall height within restrictions. Setting deeper into the land also helps the structure become more a part of the land, living with the land. Another benefit to sitting the house into the site was easier connections to the garage and parking. Plus, it brings everything closer to the lake.”

A pause for more crackers. At this point I was thinking about taking them away before the entire box was demolished and I was left with nothing for future interviewees. “There were a bunch of existing retainer walls,” he continued, “that were in disrepair. The plan we have replaces those with feature boulder walls against grading. They’re functionally stable, organic, and way prettier. There will be more natural paths of stepping stones, each with intentional pauses to break up the steps between structures.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant by ‘pauses’. “Like stair landings?”

“Yep. And some larger flats that will work as gathering areas along the way down to the lake.”

“Neat.” I smiled as ingratiatingly as possible. I had to move him out of my office before my crackers were entirely gone. “I’m going to ask you about this home several more times, but give me summary of the project and we’ll call it a wrap.”

img_20161031_090117275_hdr“This is a retreat home for Dan & Laurie and their family. It will be the central hub for all major gatherings and vacations. It is a single story with spaces throughout capturing views of the lake. We crafted a Douglas fir frame with a custom finish and inside it will have an in-law suite and a master suite on the main level. The walk-out lower will have a bunk room, guess suite, and rec room. Landscaping will include native plants and pleasant paths.”

“Great!” I reached slowly for the box of crackers, pulling them from his grasp. “Thanks Pete.”

Looking somewhat forlorn, he replied, “Sure thing, Megan.”

I’ll share pictures and details of the raising in a later blog. Below is a picture of current progress. Roofing and enclosure are nearly complete. Our construction team has been thankful for a fairly easy winter (so far!) in the Northeast.

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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

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.