Fabula Lignarius

Month: December, 2013

A Little Raising

The other day I went to help one of my friends Ante with the raising of his last project. We had great fun, the weather was beautiful for this time of the year and the company was good.

hips and ridge

A cute little carving.

date carving

Ridge, purlins and hip rafters are made of Larch everything else is Oak.

ridge

braces

By early afternoon we were finished with the work and we had one happy carpenter and a new roof.

Ante on frame

 

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A Stairway To…

Two posts in two days! Who would have thought? After almost five months of little activity I’m making an effort to pick up the pace again. I actually really like blogging it is a great way to communicate what I do with the world. I had good reasons to limit my behind-the-computer-screen time. The single reason for my virtual absence was work and lots of it. Here is one part of the story, it describes the previous project we realized.

One of our clients asked me to build them a staircase for a recently acquired building. The staircase had to connect the ground floor to a lower floor making the lower large room more accessible. The large room will be used for seminars, workshops and other events. This means that the whole construction will see a lot of traffic.

When I say client it feels a bit odd and maybe it’s not the right word since we are actually working for a whole community of people. During the past year I have developed a close relationship with them and they have become more like friends.

The staircase had to fit in the existing elements of the building which made designing it a challenge. I had to deal with limited heights at specific places, a wall heating system and other obstacles. One of the requirements was that the stairs would reflect the architect’s original intentions and that was not an easy task.

The building is called Hotzenholz and was designed and built by Wolfram Graubner, a carpenter, architect and author of the well-known book Encyclopedia of Wood Joints. Wolfram Graubner was an apprentice of Hugo Kükelhaus and because of their contributions to carpentry and woodworking we all felt that a new staircase should both continue the natural flow throughout the building and compliment the original woodwork of the timber-framed house.

It took me about five days of drawing to come up with a solution that fitted the building, answered to the ideas of the community, and related to the existing staircase above and the rest of the building. Of course it had to be structurally sound and since we were planning to cut five large wooden beams that would support the building’s main entry it needed to be strong and rigid.

We had to pour foundations for most of the soseki (column base stones). Three specifically carry the posts which in their turn support a new large beam which holds up the entire floor of the entry way above.

foundation

»Fast forward to the installation. The structure is fine grained Oregon Pine, the platform’s floor, the handrails and staircase are Ash. The Ash was a joy to work with and planed to a beautiful lustering sheen. The Oregon Pine is some of the best quality I have ever seen and is PEFC labeled. Yes, I know, whatever that means.

raising the platform

We were happy when we could start assembling, leaving all the dusty dirty concrete work behind. The assembly and all the adjustments seemed to take forever. In the end we spent three times longer on site than intended, it could have gone faster but when you spend so much time trying to do a good job the last thing you want is to do is compromise during the installation.

I never had time to draw all the details beforehand. Choosing the appropriate joinery and the sequence of assembly was done during layout. This approach is acceptable in certain projects but it wasn’t ideal for this one. I didn’t have the luxury of time and just got on with it and tried to get the job done. As a result there was a lot going on at the same time in a specific location. The picture below shows many joints that could only come together in one particular way. Imagine trying to fit a structure in an irregular but more or less squared shaped box.

platform joinery

The first stage of the staircase project is finished but at some point in the near future we will make some sliding doors to fit underneath the platform that will transform the space below into a storage area. There will also be a new floor installed in the room which I am sure will compliment the woodwork.

railing

One day a journalist of the local newspaper came by and asked us some questions about the project and the future development of the buildings. She wrote a nice article which you can read here (if you know German).

stairs

It was great to work for a community of people who really appreciate the type of work we do and the time and effort it takes. Knowing you can build something that will be constantly used and well maintained is what this work is all about. We all “gotta serve somebody” and this can be one of the greatest joys in life.

whole assembly

Lately I’m occupied with another slightly larger project. I’m drawing fine layout lines on wood, cutting tight joinery to those same lines and we will assemble it with great care after all the parts are finish planed by hand. For now I have not much more to say about it but I hope to tell you more about it soon.

Hewn Logs in the Picture

The sweet sound of an adze cutting a log’s face, a deft blow of a hammer hitting a chisel and a rooster crying in the background. These are the sounds that surrounds us while working in our shop. I pause for a moment and realize how lucky we are to be doing this for a living.

It’s not always like that and often we have noisy machines running that scare away every living soul nearby. Our jointer-planer, an old but very powerful beast that eats everything you feed it, is so loud that my tinnitus is getting worse by the day. But even then when my eardrums are about to explode I still feel lucky to be able do this work and make things for other people.

I just want to illustrate that there are always two sides to a story as the picture below shows.

back yard

The image was shot by Tony De Ceurt a friend and retired art director. The pictures I usually take are made with my phone and don’t really show any subtle details or better said they don’t radiate the character of our work. You can’t really feel it as you would in real life. In order to communicate that particular feeling you need a photographer who understands the subtleties of capturing an image. Someone who can see the picture before it is shot.

That is what Tony does, his eyes and intuition are trained to capture a scene in a raw image, he then reworks it until the image gives you a very specific and intentional feeling.  A feeling that actually tells you a story behind the picture.

Last week he came by and took some photo’s of our current ongoing project. It is a simple structure but it will have some nice features that I believe are well worth documenting. I can’t wait to see all the pictures and will share some of them here with you.

The image shows three hewn logs set up for joinery and adzing, they are in our backyard which has become an extension of the shop. It’s an interesting combination of things, a Mini Cooper sports car, the typical Flemish brick building style and handcrafted logs turned into beams. I really like what he did with the colors and contrast, it takes me back to the moment it was shot. But this is just one side of the story. It doesn’t show any of the obstacles we encountered during the project. Delays with deliveries of the materials, machines that fail and all the other minor issues that occur on a daily basis in a workshop. With Tony’s pictures we can highlight the bright side of things. That’s what actually matters; the work itself and what it represents.

Since Tony will be documenting more of this project we will have some amazing images of our work. I am sure it will help to give potential clients an idea of what we do. Often it is a challenge to explain how different our work is from general modern day carpentry. These pictures will help tell the story of our craft and the uniqueness of every single project.

Is it Dead?

‘Agonizing inactivity’ could be the appropriate description regarding this blog’s (in)activity. I am sorry to have disappointed you dear readers but some events in life require so much attention that little time is left for play.

The last months my efforts were singularly focused on the work at hand and making sure the people who were working along my side remained busy and satisfied. Many obstacles were overcome, a lot was learned and fine work delivered. More on that later…

Today I just wanted to share this article with you. I came across it on the Japan Times website written by Judit Kawaguchi. It is a short interview with a sukiya daiku (teahouse carpenter) named Eiichiro Amakasu. Although short I found it very inspiring and it fuels my energy to keep trying to build beautiful things despite all the obstacles. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Too bad it doesn’t show any pictures of his work which I am sure is impressive.

Eiichiro_Amakasu

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2013/02/26/people/carpenter-eiichiro-amakasu/

For those of you who are not so familiar with woodworking and are wondering what Amakasu-san is holding in his hand; it is a woodshaving that can be as thin as 4 or 5 micron! These wood shavings are produced with a hand plane of which the blade has a very sharp edge. The surface on the wood created is the finest possible and is considered standard in the type of work we do.

So if you were wondering whether this blog is dead or not I can assure you it is still alive and I encourage you to keep checking it on a regular basis. There are a lot of cool things going on in and around our shop and I will report on them here. Posts may take a different form, sometimes shorter but more graphical, but their frequency will increase. You have to know that I really enjoy sharing all these carpentry related things with you, I just have to find a more efficient way of doing it.

See you all soon.