It’s a Snug Fit: Assembling the Timber Frame Pavilion

by ziggy on April 5, 2014 -- 1 comment -- Follow

Cutting a Mortise at Timber Frame Workshop

April works on some of the last remaining joints before the timber frame assembly

I think I’ve realized that the excitement of timber framing can be represented by a curve. If the x axis on a bar graph represents time, and the y excitement, the line climbs and rises from left to right. The entire process is gradually more invigorating and interesting as you proceed on a project.

First is layout of the timbers, which is often the least glamorous, but of course the most important part of the work. It’s slow, there’s not a whole lot of really fun tools involved, and it’s methodical. Next is cutting, when the chisels and saws and the rest of the sharp edges come out, and you begin to see those blank timber canvases take on certain shapes. It’s clear you are making progress as wood chips and sawdust accumulate. Sawing and carving are fun and a good workout.

Timber Frame Delivery

Getting the timbers stacked nicely for their delivery to the raising site

Third is the (by this time) long-awaited test fitting and assembly, which is no doubt extremely gratifying. All those seemingly scattered mortises, tenons, lap joints, and pile of braces join up and you get to see just how well things fit… and if you were careful, as soon as that joint comes together, there is a rush of satisfaction.

Timber Frame Assembly Process

And raising? Well, that is easily the best part. But for the moment, I’ll share some photos of the assembly process at the Lake Naconiche workshop hosted by the Timber Framers Guild.

Lake Naconiche Timber Framers Guild Workshop

The site for the timber frame pavilion at Lake Naconiche — our blank canvas

First, we assemble the walls of the timber frame (the longer dimension of the building) and make sure the girts and braces fit well with the posts. Using come-alongs and straps, we can ensure that everything is snug, and then drill for pegs. But we don’t put the pegs in yet, since the frame will not be raised in this assembly. The bents (the shorter wall sections) are what we must assemble and peg to be raised in sequence. As each new bent goes up, the girts and braces are installed that tie each bent into the next, creating the walls.

Fitting Up Timber Frame Walls

Fitting up the wall sections of the pavilion and using straps to snug things up

As you could imagine, keeping everything in good order is of utmost importance here. Every piece of the frame is labeled clearly, and in the case of beams or girts, each end of the piece is labeled so that it’s clear how they are oriented in space.

Timber Frame Building Site

Keeping things in good order is important, and moving things as little as possible is a sometimes tricky

After both wall sections are test fit and dismantled, it’s time to assemble the bents. In this pavilion, there were five total, so we began at one end and worked towards the other. Since we would have access to a crane, we were able to assemble everything in place, close to where it would be raised in position.

Timber Frame Bent Assembly

While the bent is still assembled with straps, pegs are driven to keep it tight

Driving the 1″ pegs into the frame is definitely exciting — you know there’s not much going back at this point, as everything fits well and is ready to go!

Timber Frame Pavilion

Some joints require a bit of “persuasion”

The trickier pieces to assemble are those that have multiple joints that need to go together simultaneously. A commander/persuader/beetle/giant mallet makes things go together nicely. It shouldn’t be a brutish thing, really, and if something is too tight, it’s better to pull things apart and shave down the joinery so it’s not so tight-fitting. In fact, it’s better if your joinery is a little loose-fitting, as it’s extremely annoying for things to just barely fit. Better to have some breathing room and sweat a little less, ya?

Timber Frame Bent

Seeing things come together and all of that layout finally makes sense!

As pieces come together, the entire layout process is illuminated, too. All of those strange angles start to make sense when you see how well things come together. This is where a lot of the comprehension finally comes around.

In my next update, you’ll see this sucker finally rise high in the sky….

Timber Frame Crane Raising

The crane is here… better hurry up!

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  • Tim Goller

    Thank you soooo much for sharing these pictures with me as I probably will never get the chance to work on something as great as this project. It is exciting to be able to just see the different stages that go into this building !! I can’t wait to see the final pictures and enjoy the solid look of the wood !! I am a fan !

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