Saturday, January 24, 2009

Heidi's new studio, pt 2, The Timber Frame

Like I said, the foundation went fairly quickly. Using no mortar I managed to get the walls about a foot above grade. Once the frame was up, and the sills secure, I went back and filled the gaps between the stones and sill. This was done with shards of shattered stone. Some areas have been pointed, more remains to be done.

I managed to get my logs sawn into timbers in trade for some picture frames, and I went to work on the frame. Lacking electrical power and with somewhat inferior tools I set about building the frame. The progress was slow, using a bit and brace, but by the end of the season I had the floor and walls up, and had begun on the trusses. But then the snow came and I had to stop. The frame at that point looked like this.
A great deal happened, and a year and a half went by in the blink of an eye, before I returned to the frame.

Over this period I lost my horse. It turned out that Pinnochio had a brain tumor, and his feet started to go. There was quite a spectacular reunion when he was first returned to the herd. And he spent his last days in the warm barn back at the riding school.

When I returned to the frame in June of 08, it was with an entirely different approach. What I have come to think of as Phase 2.

After several years of sporadic efforts, Heidi was still painting in what we had started to call her "closet." I had long wanted to expand my shop into the other half of my building and get some new tools and machines. We looked at the situation and figured it was now or never. So we swallowed our pride and went about begging for a small business loan. When Opportunities Credit Union, Burlington, VT decided to back us, the whole project got a much needed boost. Mad props to their board! No longer dependent on found materials, I ordered timbers and 1" boards from a local sawyer. And I was off.

While I was waiting for the new timbers to arrive, I dismantled what I had up of the trusses. I was never satisfied with them, they were way too skinny, and I had 6"x7" ties coming.
I used these pieces and some left over timbers to fill in the walls. Meanwhile, my son, Orion, dug a trench from my shop for the electrical installation.He finished up right about the time copper doubled in price. Thanks George!But finally, I had power for my new Milluakee, heavy duty drill. No more bit and brace. Since the new timbers hadn't yet arrived, and I still had some wood, I went ahead and built the mudroom.

The mudroom foundation is made from 2 pieces of old electrical pole. They sit on cinderblocks 3' deep, each in a bed of gravel. A tenon is shaped, with sloping shoulders, on the top of each pole. Mortises in the sill timber fit over these tenons. This should prevent rot in this prone area. Or maybe it will increase it. Who knows when you try something new, no?Building the mudroom first afforded me an opportunity to build two small trusses as a practice run. I also got the raising sequence down a bit before tackling the main rafters. But perhaps two king post trusses for a 4'x3' space is a bit over built.
The protruding plates are left long for a very strong, cog lapped corner. Boxed in, they form a nice little overhang. I shaped a 2" cedar cap with a drip edge for the top.Working the timbers for the roof was a thrill. The new drill and onsite power really sped up mortising. With three new Robert Sorby's, I was in heaven.
I already had good saws, having reconditioned a rip and crosscut several years back. My cross cut looks horrible, but the steel is awesome, and I have a large set on it, just under 1/8” kerf in the green softwood. It's a real hog.Rain days were spent in the shop building windows and doors. I got a great deal on some clear white pine from NH. Kiln dried but stained black from being cut in the summer. I was staining all my windows black anyway so it was a good match. All the glass in the studio comes from windows that I salvaged locally. The blind motise and tenon fixed sash is all coped and sticked by hand. This is made much easier by the use of a simple 30 degree chamfer moulding.
I used an English tying joint. By leaving the ties long, they cantilever out for a substantial 16” overhang. Load from the rafter is transfered to the tie outboard of the post. I am not an engineer, but this configuration looked very strong to me. I got the idea from medieval frames with a jettied second floor. Also, I needed a large overhang on the south side to keep from overheating in the early summer and late fall. The pitch of the roof was determined by the largest 6”x7” timber I felt I could raise above my head and manipulate. This turned out to be about a 10 foot piece in green pine, so that’s where I cut them off. With 16’ ties this ended up giving me a 9 in 12 pitch or a little better. Good enough for wood shingles. Raising the trusses was scary stuff. I did it alone, one piece at a time. To aid in this I did several things which I would recommend. First I was very careful not to make loose joints. If the tenons go in and stick a little, everything can be assembled slowly. Loose tenons that drive home too quickly can also be dangerous. Secondly I cut in queen posts, which were unnecessary, structurally, but formed built in props for each rafter. These could then just be left in place.

Even so, getting those things up took everything I had. It is a good thing that by this point the work had me looking pretty buff! Ha! Also, I fully assembled each truss on the ground and had every piece well marked and labeled.
Purlins were cut with dovetails to lock the whole thing together. And the trusses are well braced to the ridge. Note the intermediate ties to support loft floor.To facilitate an assembly raising, I formed the ridge in two pieces with a stopped, mortised scarf, centered over the middle post. In an unconventional manner, I left the tops of the king posts long and squared; lots of relish is good. I also left the ridge beam square in section and cog lapped it over the tops of the outboard posts. I did this to avoid carving it and the king posts, since I only had a drawknife, and I am very lazy.

I had logged quite a bit of the local white cedar with the horse, and my sawyer had turned some of this into boards. The longest cedar logs were used for the sill. The boards had been stickered and drying for almost 2 years. When sheathing the roof and the rest of the frame, I used the cedar boards in areas that might benefit from extra rot resistance. The rest was done in local white pine.
I don’t own a circular saw, they are way too unsafe, noisy, and in my opinion a little bit lazy.

So I trimmed the sheathing by hand, just like everything else.

But, I’ll be honest and admit to contemplating a complete abandonment of my principles at times.But before you feel too sorry for me, lets put the whole thing into perspective...With horizontal purlins I was able to run the roof sheathing boards vertically. In my view, these boards are really also the bottom layer of shingles. I think a drop of water has a lot better chance of making it’s way to the eaves on boards laid this way. Also the gaps between the boards are effectively vents all up and down the roof, under the shingles.

I built the roof structure nice and strong, so that I could use cedar shingles. Wood shingles hold the snow, which is heavy, but really helps insulate the roof. Besides, when I need to reshingle in 20 years I will have some awesome kindling instead of a disposal problem. Such would be the case with asphalt shingles. Besides all that, cedar shingles are not all that much more expensive than a high end three tab. But the labor, now that's another story isn't it? I used clear seconds. You have to be very fussy with these because of the knots in the top. I would discard heavily on site and then take the discard pile into the shop. Using the table saw I would rip clear shingles from the waste. I used a 5” exposure and stainless steel nails. I used no underlayment but I debated it for weeks. In the end I could forsee no benefits and only trapped moisture, so the shingle went right over the boards.
After the roofing was on, along the top of the squared ridge beam, I ran a one inch board cap. Down the center of the wood cap, I ran a sharply chamfered spline. This raises a shaped metal cap at its center for runoff. Flashing runs up the side of the ridge beam(painted white and scalloped), and I have “wrapped” the tops of the posts with this metal flashing. All the flashing is heavy guage salvaged roofing, shaped and cut by hand then painted. In reality, the cap’s substantial overhang, with it’s metal drip edge, is sufficiently protective for cobwebs to form underneath. I am very happy with this roof, even if it looks a bit unconventional. I stained the underside of the wood cap red. It is very subtle, but quite a strong statement. Christian Louboutin's red-soled shoes were directly responsible for this idea. Why not a sexy roof?
Before I could shingle the mudroom, the bargeboards had to go up. Might as well try to make them pretty. The red flower petals are relief carved in the cedar.

So the frame was up. The roof was on and nice and tight, and the whole thing mostly buttoned up. A good thing, because the leaves were starting to change.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

New guitar update, headstock veneers

Headstock veneers are finished. Back before I built my first guitar, I knew nothing and everything about headstock veneer.

When my boys first started playing a few years back, I took my first real look at an acoustic guitar. Discovering that they are in fact, largely made from the same 3/32” hardwood veneer, with which I have an intimate relationship, was very cool. I instantly saw the potential for my marquetry. I came up with my headstock shape when I was building my first commercial piece, Stars & Stripes. I was initially resigned to using a “classic” shape, as I assumed that every possibility had surely been tried. I mean, how many luthiers out there are trying hard to be original? I'd just gone ahead and used the Rickenbacker shape on my sons ¾ size electric, my 3rd build. Can you tell the tuners are on backwards? I learn all my lessons the hard way.

As you might be starting to realize, I don’t really know what the final guitar is going to look like right from the start. The design sort of evolves during the process of building. This is what keeps it fresh, and makes my work so much fun.

I was well into the flag motif before I’d settled on a headstock shape, and I was looking through my books on federal style furniture. This and the French empire stuff is some of my favorite. American craftsmen of this period used flags, eagles, shields galore. When I’m feeling patriotic I often turn to the finest pieces for inspiration. I was staring at a picture of a folk art gate in the shape of federal shield, with the scalloped top, when it hit me. How about a shield? I spent the next week or two searching for this headstock. Had it already been used? To this day I haven’t seen one like it, and definitely not on an electric, so maybe I just got lucky. Once I had it on the Stars and Stripes, I was struck by the resemblance to a “W”. It also seemed to work with my curly hearts, so I had my headstock and oh so original. Note the bookmatched walnut ground perfectly centered on the point. How many of you can do that?

Marquetry allows me to inlay the headstock veneer from underneath, prior to laminating the headstock. (just like with the finger boards and bodies.) The inlays are the full thickness of the veneer and a perfect fit. Below is the process of design in photos.
The foliage is drawn in. I am more precise in my artwork here due to the proximity of hardware. Note that final placement of the flowers will eliminate many intricate foliage details. The key to a successful panel is to cut the foliage in without regard to what will be lost. Then, the details that remain in the gaps between petals are more fluid. Coins are great for layout. Although , if things keep up, I might have to switch to little wooden circles.
Petals are cut in opposing pairs. Because the entire process is done by hand, it is no problem to switch the grain on each pair, around the center. This way the spalting radiates outward on each petal. Do you think anybody will notice this stuff on the finished guitar?

The walnut centers are cut with the grain at 90 degrees to the ground. And the logo, in flame maple, right over the top. Once sanded out and polished the shimmer of the curly maple should “push” the flower back and create depth. We’ll see. Note the piece of broken band saw blade. The back edge of this has been my scraper for about 8 years. You can see the shavings in the photo.

This one is my favorite. Flames are the same wood as the ground, curly maple, only with the grain of the wood at sharply contrasting angles. I've scraped it smooth and brushed on a little shellac for the photo, but it won't come into it's own until we get it past 600 grit. Note the cherry burl flames within the walnut lettering. Do you think anybody will notice this stuff on the finished guitar?

As an artist, I can envision the finished work and draw it in place, a layer at a time. The majority of inlay work is done from tracings that include all details on the same layer. My ability to produce the design in situ, a layer at a time is perhaps more similar to pencil and ink on paper.
When Heidi paints she uses a palette with a dab of each of her colors. My palette is made up of local hardwoods and when I’m cutting marquetry I end up with quite a pile. I am always searching for the perfect grain and color for each detail of a panel. It is from this chaos that my artwork emerges.

I’ve also got the back panels fitted up.

These are jointed on the edge sander, but without it being turned on. The belt is turned slowly by hand, and the pieces are offered up to the straight edge for a perfect fit.

These edges have to be airtight, for the joint is formed by hand, holding the pieces together for a couple of minutes with the assistance of a few pieces of tape. Finish seams must pass candling and the floppy test. After glue is fully cured I hold one edge parallel to the seam and flop the sheet to ensure a good bond.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Heidi's New Studio, pt 1 or, A story about a horse

Heidi has a new painting studio. It is far from completed, but we managed to put it together enough for her to move in and start painting. Lacking siding and interior finish work, it is a bit on the homely side. Heidi seems to dig it though, and she has asked me to put together a posting on its somewhat unusual construction.

Considering that I have been working on the place for over 4 years, there is quite a bit to tell. So, I thought I’d go back to the beginning and tell the whole story. And the story of Heidi‘s studio starts with a story about a horse. This little guy.

A pony really. Pinnochio was his name. He had had a career of jumping over barrels and hedges at a riding school in Vershire, VT. Everybody called him Noki. He’d been a bit of a trouble maker at the school and had never worked in harness before. I’d not seen a horse since I was a kid and had never driven so much as a goat. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, I know. But we managed. Using a restored leather harness with wooden (of course!) hames we started dragging stuff around. We had a few hair raising events here and there; he never really settled down, but he really took to the pulling.
I built this little stable for him. I hewed the timbers with an adze that I bought on E-bay. Most of the rest is salvaged material. The whole thing cost about $600, mostly for the cedar roof.

To augment his paddocks I made him this portable one. He loved being on fresh grass everyday, and mowed the lawn at the same time.

It was clear from the start that he had some draft genes in him. But it was really cool to see him get excited when it was time to get into harness. I made him this little sled and we spent his first winter dragging it and some short logs around the corral. My boys were still little, and thus still mildly curious about what I do, and they were there to provide a bit of ballast on occasion.

And who wouldn’t take a free ride back to the top of the hill.

Once Noki had the hang of it he could begin to earn his keep.

I put sides on the little sled to gather up the hay. Mowed with a scythe and tedded with a rake it was really cheap hay. You'd probably call it organic.

And this is where the story of Heidi’s studio begins. But perhaps a bit of back ground on the author would be in order here.

I have a bit of a “thing” for wood. The raw material. The first material worked by man was most likely wood and this natural substance is still the backbone of all building and industry. Even the steelworker makes patterns of wood, and stone arches are built over removable wood forms.

I have always looked for alternative sources of wood. By alternative I mean cheap, preferably free. Very early on I found that wood in log form, or “in the bole” can be had for free almost everywhere. First with a froe, and then with a big 18” resaw, I started getting boards out of logs and stickering them to dry. Initially there is a lot to learn, and much waste. There are the heartaches associated with moisture content before one breaks down and spends $200 on a moisture meter. But after a while you have lots of wonderful wood.

When you are just one person, though. Just a single man with some tools. There is a limit to how large a log you can handle. Really big stuff can be split before you move it but this wastes a lot of wood. I made a harness for myself to skid logs but no matter what, I always had to pass on the really big logs. And they have the best boards. I got to thinking, if only I had a horse. Why, then I could get the really big stuff and build Heidi a studio.

So, like I said that’s where Noki comes in. We went to work.

The woods behind us is all conserved. Owned by a rich banker from Boston, so I’m told. I’ve never met the fellow, but indirectly I obtained permission to take some trees off his land. The area had been savagely logged by a previous owner and there was a great deal of damage and erosion. Many trees were compromised and either blown down or dying. Working with a forester to decide what to take, and “releasing” apple trees as I went, Noki and I spent the winter logging.

Like, I said he really loved to pull. He’d give it everything he had, every time.

The firewood really started to pile up. Which is good because it was cold. Really cold. And way out in the woods, in the depths of an icy winter, a man can get a little edgy.

The work pays off, though. The big logs are no longer out of reach. Heidi’s studio was born.

The next spring I turned to the backbreaking work of building a foundation.
Skidding a boat load of stone with an energetic pony is dramatic, dangerous work. I never allowed anyone around so have no photos of the event. I’ll try to describe it as best I can.

Our five acres is a big square field. The overgrown hedgerow has an accumulation of junk and debris going back 150 years. Most numerous are the large and small stones that have been pried loose from the field during plowing and dumped around the perimeter. Using pry bars, levers and wooden rollers, I reclaimed theses stones one by one. Noki would drop off our little sled and go have a snack. It took some time to load the stones I'd most recently pried loose from the tangle of roots and old farm machinery. After that I’d most likely need a break.

Hitching a hyped up pony to a loaded stone boat is one of the most difficult tasks I have ever had to accomplish over on over for weeks on end. I’m behind him, tight on the lines walking up through the field. He’s trying to get the tops of timothy, just out of reach of his check reign. Flies are buzzing and his gorgeous black tail is never still.

He sees the sled, loaded with stone. His ears go back, listening to my every move and sound. He is tight now, tense, trotting in place as we come up on the sled from the rear. I’m talking to him softly, telling him how handsome he is.

We pass the sled on the right and I tell him “Gee over,” but he’s already shifting to the right. I give him a sharp “Whoa” but it takes a heavy pull on the lines to stop him, and then he’s pulling on the bit and it’s all I can do to get him to stand.

You, have to get right up under him to hitch up. On these heavy pulls everything needs to be short and tight. He knows what’s coming and it takes all my strength on the lines to keep him still. I say softly “Stand,” over and over. The hook on the single tree has to fall into a ring on the sled. It has to go in loose, any strain on the traces will instantly cause Noki to pull, with me still between him and the boat. He is just too excited by the heavy pull that he knows is next. I carefully pull back on the single tree, a massive piece of ash with heavy iron strapping that I’d made in the shop the previous winter. It misses the hook by 6 inches. I need Noki to back up.

“Back! Noki, Come on Back,” I say, releasing tension on the lines just enough to give a little jerk. He searches with a hind foot. Making sure it’s clear. He knows; fouling on a chain is no fun. The little give from backing is all I need. Noki is still putting his foot down as the hook clinks down into the ring.

Noki hears the iron on iron “clang“. I know it’s all he needs. Instantly I’m on my feet, a greasy black leather line in each gloved hand. I give Noki the click click to start him off but he’s already into his collar. The sled is sticking in the mud a little and he feels the full weight of the stone. I growl, “Get Up!” His hind hoofs dig in as he drops into a crouch. Noki launches himself forward, in a leap that would propel him and a rider over a 5foot wall. The horsehair and leather collar takes the full force of the explosion and with a jerk the sled breaks free from the mud.

Noki is low all the way down the hill. He is working hard, His glistening muscular form is in spasms. It takes everything he’s got. Once on the load he wants it done quickly. Coming in on the pile of stones that’s been forming, I have to keep him lined up. If I stop him just right, I can just roll the stones off. I bring him to a stop and have him take a step back to slacken the chains. Noki is breathing hard, his sides are heaving. I’m excited and relieved, another run down, with no broken bones.

At this end of the run he is docile and his stand is perfect while I unload the stones. All that’s necessary is to loop off the lines on a cleat attached to the shed. Once unloaded I can hitch a ride back to the hedgerow on the sled. Noki will go back to his stable for some hay or maybe go out on a little grass for a while. I collapse for a break before I go pry loose the next load of stones.
And so it went for a time. Grueling, back breaking work of the most mundane sort interspersed with hair raising adventure. Slowly, one load at a time my pile of stones grew. Until I had deemed it sufficient. Then I went and got a shovel.

The foundation progressed quickly. I cut a drain under the first course of stones and filled it with crushed rock. The same material from the hedgerow, pounded into rubble with my grandfather’s old sledge hammer. Yes, you end up singing Peter Gabriel over and over. You just can’t help it. Two or three swings against a nice piece of granite and at the top of my lungs, it’s “I wanna be… YOUR SLEDGEHAMMER!” Kaboom, more rubble.
After extending the drain forty feet down slope to daylight, (more crushed rock in a trench, covered with layers of old hay), I started building the foundation walls. I was digging in heavy clay, so was able to use the sides of the 3 foot deep trench as an in situ form. Only time will tell if I did a good job, but early indications are that drainage is excellent and the whole thing is sound. I haven’t pointed the whole of the exposed surfaces yet, but once that’s finished it should last as long as we need it to.

I do know that it is a very inexpensive foundation. Both in terms of cash outlay and also our carbon footprint here at WCS. Of course, my priority is always to keep costs down, but this brings us back to what I mentioned previously. Everybody knows that eco friendly is where it’s at. People want to do the right thing, but they’ve got you all in such a rush. Most folks wouldn’t hesitate to call in a backhoe and pour some concrete should they need a new foundation. And I see structures, billed as eco friendly, sitting on huge concrete slabs all the time.

I’m not delusional, though. Don’t worry. I don’t think that my stone foundation is going to save the world. I do think my stone foundation is going to make for one very eco friendly studio, however. Way more eco friendly than Brad Pitt’s silly resort. And way more real. Just like everything I build here at WCS. Whether it's a stash box or an electric guitar.

Tune in next time, I’ll show you what some simple, but very nice, hand tools can do with those logs, after my sawyer does his thing, that is. No more adze for me.