Timber Frame (Thru December 2002)

Initially this structure was going to be called the "guest house," while we had another site in mind for the "big house." If a cash windfall ever comes in then maybe this scenario will take place, but for now this building, which we like to call the "cabin on the hill," will become our main residence.
The initial design called for concrete footings to support a timber frame post and beam structure (using salvaged timbers), with exterior earth bag stem walls and 2 string bales on edge. This allowed the posts to remain on the interior and also to provide some bale modular construction.
Groundbreaking began on March 1, 1999 with the excavation of the utility trench to the site. Aside from the entry stairway, this was all that could be dug with machinery: the rest would have to be hand dug with pick and shovel. This would be Satomi’s job during the spring of 2000 while Tom continued to work on the utility trenches.
Kingston has a wonderful clay-rich soil, which we used to fill the initial 450 earth bags; once stacked and compacted the earth bags provide a rigid stem wall on which to stack straw bales. With the help of a lot of friends, a concrete footing with a 16-inch thick, 4 cubic yard pumice-crete stem wall was built to act as a retaining wall for the hillside to the south.
With the first phase of the stem walls completed, Satomi was ready to mix 4 yards of concrete for the radiant heat floors (October 2001). For now the floors are stained, but wooden nailers (stringers) are in place for a future tongue and groove bamboo floor.
One of the beauties of being an owner/builder without a mortgage is the ability to be flexible. Our initial floor plan was laid out around the trees on the southeast corner of the property, but this had to change due in large part to the fragile nature of the forests in the Southwest. Kingston is high on the Forest Service's list for wildfires, and our little site is right in the middle of a danger zone. New guidelines recommend creating a defensible space around your structures, meaning that we needed to clear all of the trees with in 30 feet of the house. So much for our cabin in the woods.
As the trees began to go, so did our original design. Satomi has had a hard time with this. Changes, deviations from the plan, rework and change orders: Tom's point of view is that it's been for the better. He says, "I really have enjoyed watching the house change and grow into its final shape, more of an organic process. For me, this is the benefit of the owner/builder/designer concept." We gained a root cellar, a breakfast nook, and more interior space from moving the second story stairway, all without losing the initial curves and flow of the house. The breakfast nook required the addition of a pumice-crete stem wall (no earth bags), and we added pumice-crete bond beams atop the existing earth bag stem walls to enhance the attachment capabilities of the future wooden curbs and window frames.
The timber frame phase officially began April 24, 2002. The last beam went in place on October 28. Tom estimates he single handedly spent 1000 hours hand crafting the frame. What a way to spend the summer: up in the mountains and fresh air, making chips, cutting joints and pounding in wooden pegs to create a lasting work of art.
The basic hybrid frame consists of 15 exposed wood posts and 3 hidden steel posts. Four main beams (joined out of 9 different round and rectangular timbers) and 2 tie beams connect the exterior walls together. Add 20 wooden knee braces, 6 corbels and 8 smaller tie beams along with 26 various metal brackets, 7 metal knee braces and 114 wood oak pegs, and you have 80 different joints in all. Not bad for an amateur timber framer. There still are 2 more tie beams to install to strengthen up the front door, but they can wait.
Our plans call for an eventual second story bedroom and deck. To accommodate those future additions, a flat roof was constructed out of dimensional framing lumber: 2x8’s on 16-inch centers sheathed in 3/4-inch tongue and groove plywood, all glued and screwed. Cedar facias, metal drip edges and a painted-on elastomeric roof coating finished off the temporary rain-tight roof at the end of 2002.
With the cabin taking longer and costing more than we ever expected, our schedule has changed. We have moved on to finishing our earthen straw bale office and now an adjoining earthen straw bale kitchen/bathroom/bedroom building. This will facilitate us moving to LanderLand in late spring 2003, then taking a 2 month break to visit friends and family in the Northwest and Japan. When we return in June we will begin the next phase of the cabin.
When will this building be finished? Only poverty, injury, and Tom’s attention to detail will hold us back.

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