My first attempt at milling an 18-foot beam with a chainsaw came out less than ideal. The guide rails I used were 10-foot 2x4s butted end to end and scabbed together with scrap lumber. I used lag screws to hold the rails against the log and in retrospect, there is really no reason I should have assumed the milled beam would turn out reasonably square. I’m glad I practiced on a windfall hemlock that had a pretty significant shake in the heartwood as hemlocks are prone to have. I can learn from the mistakes, reevaluate and refine my technique, and move on to the more desirable white pine logs. Plus, the hemlock 4×6 will make good practice for timber frame joinery when I get to that stage. I’ll probably make saw horses or timber ponies with them and that will give me some practice with mortise and tenons, and also allow me to get a feel for all the new tools I’ve picked up over the past winter before I jump into the joinery for the actual cabin. Another quick point I’d make is that I’m glad the first beam was hemlock for a couple reasons. First, the old growth hemlock and yellow birch complex is one of my favorite forest types and secondly, hemlock has one of the best Latin names ever: Tsuga.
This 18-foot 4×6 boxed heart hemlock beam is all I could salvage from a large windfall tree. Multiple stems, knots, reaction wood and checking made the rest of the tree unusable for timbers. After it was milled, I sealed the end grain and labeled the timber with the species and grade.
While browsing through some of the resources on the website of the Timber Framer’s Guild (an essential stop for anyone seriously considering a DIY timber frame project: http://www.tfguild.org/), I found some references to timber frame plug-ins for Sketchup, an open-source 3D drafting platform offered free from the company, Trimble (http://www.sketchup.com/). Having used Trimble GIS equipment as an ecological researcher, I began running through the possibilities of mapping the complicated terrain at my building sites in my mind. I thought it would be a useful exercise for planning layouts for the cabins in terms of views, window and door positions, access to the water, drainage, etc., but I was blown away by how much more I could do with this software and it was all free! Not only was I able to teach myself the CAD software in an hour or so just watching the free instructional videos online, but the software has add-ons specifically designed for timber framers to formulate and layout joints, generate building material lists, and much more that I’ve yet to try. After I spent some time messing around with different frame concepts, I started adding roofing materials, SIPs, foundation elements, staircases, furniture and appliances, and all sorts of other items offered in their user-generated warehouse. I tend to be an adherent to the old-school methods of doing just about anything, but it was certainly easier and less time-consuming to manipulate design features within this software rather than erasing pencil marks and redrawing. Not to mention all of the measurement calculations for drafting to scale were no longer necessary. I’m attaching one of the frame designs I completed below.
It seems that for a DIY person like me, I could mock up a timber frame design myself and submit the design to an engineer for tweaking and approval, and save myself some billable hours avoiding all the professional drafting work. And as long as I’m on the topic of engineers, I should mention that the Timber Framer’s Guild is a great resource to find engineers specializing in timber frames to help with your designs.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with architect David Salmela and discussing some design ideas for the cabin. The cabin he designed with the Saganaga site in mind is beautiful, elegant and very much characteristic of his modern aesthetic. The footprint is small, 18’x20′, but cantilevers out over the foundation walls that double as the garage. Everything is designed to take advantage of the views and build as vertical as possible. The living space is at the very top. I appreciated the conversations we had about design and I gained a lot of insight into some of the things I’ll need to keep in mind moving forward. Here is a picture of the scale model he built of his cabin design:
If you’re not familiar with the work of Salmela Architect, it’s worth checking out his web page to see a clean layout of photos from different projects he’s completed over the years. Truly amazing and unique designs from a master: http://www.salmelaarchitect.com/