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Progress report and other gleanings

by on 15 Jun 2011

Inner Workings

It seems that blogging belongs up (or is that down) there with law and sausage making, processes that are best left unobserved. Last week at this time we were visited by old friends from the Czech Republic and were treated to an extraordinary demonstration of the use of axes in hewing and joinery. That event was to be the subject of this blog post. But the discovery of a cache of photos not yet in our possession, plus unsettled issues about axe terminology and technique mandated a delay and occasioned rapid course corrections to fill this space. But enough said about that. So, right full rudder and off we go on a new tack.

Evidence of Progress

First some business, a report on the progress of our timber frame. As of Tuesday afternoon, June 14, here’s how things stand in our various departments:

Progress Report

Log Walls. The log wall builders have completed the courses containing the box frame sills and hammerbeams and are beginning to lay up the log walls proper. By the numbers, they have completed 28 of a total of 44 sticks or 64%. But they are done with beam to beam joinery, since the logs that remain require only scribed copes and end dovetails. So in terms of joinery, the log walls really are over 80% complete. As for hewing, only 5 sticks remain in production, so the wall builders have over 90% of the material they need and will have the balance in hand shortly.

Box Frame. The box framers have done all the work at the level of the box frame plates, plus two out of the four walls are complete and the second two are in production. Out of some 170 pieces, there are 64 still in the works, putting the box frame joinery over 60% complete by the book, more so in reality as the outstanding work is primarily small, repetitive stock.

Roof Trusses. The rafter crew is working on truss five of six, which will be done by the end of the day. This leaves them the final rafter truss plus the ridge truss assembly. The have 38 of 59 pieces done, technically making their joinery 64% complete, but considering minimal joinery in the ridge truss, the true figure is again closer to 80%. Bob reports that they have every piece of stock they need save three.

Cupola. Of the 84 curved ribs Jim’s team needs to make, all are done but 4, which amounts to 95% completion. The cupola sills and crowns remain, bu have little on no joinery on them. Stock is in production, with 18 sticks of 24 still needed. So call cupola beam conversion 25% complete. The crew is tooled up and stands ready to jump on cupola boards as soon as they arrive at the Skansen.

Commons. What’s left outside the scope of the four departments are the outshot rafters, struts and hips, pieces which will be tackled by the full crew once the major frame sections are fit up. There are 74 of these sticks with minimal joinery at their ends, and the stock for them is mostly hewn and pitsawn (don’t have sufficient data to put a percentage on this).

Summary. Drawing conclusions from the above, we are in pretty good shape. On the schedule we may be a day or two behind, but in almost every department, the more difficult work was frontloaded and the easier remains. Still a hard push will be required at the end. But between relying on statistics versus the fortitude and follow through of timber framers, my money will be on the latter every time.

Shaving the cope to the scribe

The Cope.

The Log Wall crew has now taken this process one step further by asking the hewers preparing log stock to hew the mating surfaces hollow to start with, thereby saving the shaving labor.

X-braces in progress on the box frame walls

One of two roof truss stacks

Kelly shaves the backing true on a cupola hip rib, one of many

*     *     *

The Snap

The frame contains almost 100 3×4 braces which lap into posts and beams with a half dovetail.  That’s 200 dovetails to cut (plus half laps for the passing braces). Obviously some way to speed the process would be handy.  So here, front and center, comes The Snap. Given relatively straight grained wood, if you first cross cut the shoulder and the end grain of the tail (but only down to the cheek line) and then whack the waste sharply with a mallet, the pieces snap apart leaving you an almost finished joint.

Jordan prepares the stock for snapping. Note bionic clamp.

Jordan executes The Snap

And Emily follows suit

And we examine the results

Emily’s straight grained joint looks fine.

And even Jordan’s knotty candidate comes through pretty well.

*     *     *

A first signed peg, from the Finch family.

Isaiah demonstrates for Museum Director Agnieszka Rudzińska and family on a visit from Warsaw to the Skansen.

Turning a long stick on the pitsaw trestle

Barabara sharpens the pitsaw blade. Barbara is another of those disproportionate collapse pillars that hold us up.  She drove to Sanok from England, her car overloaded with essential tools, is the master of all things pitsaw and much else besides, serves as our Polish interpreter, and I suspect had something to do with the presence of the estimable Kevin DeSilva on our crew. Without Barbara we would be lost.

And speaking of Kevin, I am sad to report that he slipped away yesterday, returning home to other commitments. We will miss his good fellowship, his skill, his stories, and his broad knowledge of medieval trade and craft.

The following is a comment sent in to the blog by Kevin’s dad Mike:

“Over the past weeks I have followed the progress of one of the most exciting and important international projects I have been aware of in my long lifetime. The spirit of community,fellowship and industrial expertise shines out in every posting and photograph. I very much hope I shall be able to visit the completion in 2013. Somehow I just know who will be the most disappointed man in the whole of Europe on Tuesday 14th June. “

*     *     *

In the “Bits and Pieces” post a couple of days ago, we showed our lead carpenter Mikkel Johansen wearing the Poetry Hat, discoursing to the crew on historically appropriate joinery. Here is a transcript of that talk. 

Appropriate Accuracy

Throughout the last 3 weeks of this project we have tried to come to grips with how to recreate not just the structure but also the carpentry in this project. On our visits to old churches around in the upland and at the buildings at the Skansen museum we have seen some beautiful smooth surfaced timbers, some timbers that almost looked like they were carved out with a dull shovel, nice tight joinery and joinery so bad you could throw a dead turkey through it. One grand old church had half lap joinery in one corner of the log walls and dovetails in the three others! The Timber Framers from TFG are trained make remarkably tight joinery. They are ambitious, capable guys and none of them wants to do bad work in front of their peers.

It has been difficult to find a way to grasp what is required of us, since dead-on furniture-accuracy obviously is not what this project calls for

Last week I presented a little speech at our morning meeting called the appropriate accuracy:

For this particular project we don’t necessarily want the best, tightest joinery you guys are able to produce. We want to recreate what was there, but how do we achieve this without letting go of our pride in good craftsmanship?

Here is a standard you can gauge yourself against: make the joint fit the first time. Lay it out, cut it, clean up the surfaces and pop it together. It takes skill, experience, and a good understanding of the joint to do this. This is something to strive for.

Another standard is to only cut it tight where it matters. To do that you need to have a good understanding of the forces in the frame and in the joinery. You can allow yourself to practice axe work only along the non critical shoulders.

We have all learned a lot about hewing in the couple of weeks. What we produce now is a lot better than what we did when we started and on this project we do not reject beginner’s products. That learning curve produces the variety that reflects the desired diversity in the synagogue. Here is another thing you can learn while you are here:

I don’t think they had bubble levels or scribers back then. They probably had plumb bobs but I don’t think they used them for joinery. The joinery in this frame is pretty simple. So how about taking up the challenge to lay out the lap joints and the half laps with only a straight stick, a good eyeball measurement and a pencil? The stick is to support your sense of plumb when you trace the sides of the lap and to trace a straight line. I am quite sure that you will be able to produce work with appropriate accuracy in a few days.

Mikkel Johansen

  1. Kevin de Silva permalink

    Well I am back here in the UK, I’ve done my washing and I’ve still lost a sock!!! . Thanks to you all for the adventure, I had a great time and learnt a lot, such is the religion of wood. Missing you all.


  2. Shan permalink

    Bionic clamp!

  3. Mikkel provides some true insights related not only to execution but to proper attitude.

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