The 57 acres that comprise Cedar Ridge Farm are located in the beautiful rolling hills of South Central Kentucky. My wife, our four children, and I are on a homesteading adventure as we work toward increased self-sufficiency. We grow much of our own food and enjoy being in touch with the agrarian roots of our lives.

One of the major projects we have undertaken is the building of our own home. The house we're building has three major distinguishing features: 1. we're building it without incurring any debt; 2. it is a timber frame structure; and 3. the exterior walls will be plastered straw bales. We live debt and mortgage free, and building our house with that approach makes perfect sense. Large timbers in a home possess a beauty and project a sense of strength, stability, and warmth that we want in our home. Straw bale walls provide insulation and make ecological sense. This blog is a record of our home-building project.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Note-taking during the project

Building a house is a big project. I've tackled the job from conception to finish, and because of finances, I'm not paying someone else to do my thinking and planning for me. Just the timber framing aspect is a large undertaking, as I designed the frame and am completing all the joinery on my own. I'll also be directing the raising of the frame. In light of the immensity of the project, I knew that I needed to keep some notes as things progressed. There are a lot of things that I could potentially forget. So, I have a framing notebook in which to keep my notes all in one place. It may not be the best organized notebook, but it seems to serve my purposes.

When I first began the joinery, I didn't have the notion or the space to lay out all of the timbers I bought to determine where they each would go. I could've chosen which post timbers were to be which post, which beam timbers were to be which beam, etc. But, I didn't. I didn't even think about doing that. I began with the timber on the top of the pile and called it whatever I had in mind to work on next. I did have a method, completing the beams first, then the girts, then the posts, the rafters, the braces, and then floor joists and purlins. I kept notes on the timbers as I progressed.

I also made an assumption that I didn't realize until later wasn't true. I assumed that the timbers I had ordered to be 8"x8" were actually 8"x8" and that the timbers I ordered to be 6"x8" were actually that, 6"x8". they were close, usually, but few were actually as I had assumed. There were timbers that were 7-3/4" at one end and 7-1/2" at the other, or ones that were 8" at one end and 7-1/2" at the other. There were some that were consistent from one end to the other, and some that were truly the dimensions I assumed they would be.

When I realized that my timbers were only nominally sized, I knew that I needed to clearly record their measurements to help assure some degree of levelness for my floors. There are different approaches to timber framing, like scribe rule and square rule. I've worked with a modified square rule approach, meaning I've done what made sense to me. If I had known that the timbers were not truly sized, I would've done some things differently. But, I didn't, so I didn't. I cut the tenons on the ends of the beams and girts to the full depth of the timbers, whatever they were. I then noted the depth for each end for each timber. This allowed me to make sure the mortises on the posts were the right size and placed so that the floors would be level, not varying by up to 3/4" from one post to another. My reference point for each mortise was the side of the beam or girt that mattered, generally the floor side.

I've kept notes of other things, like spacing and location for floor joists and roof purlins. I've also noted the size, shape, and location of tenons and mortises. This has been important since the beams, girts, and posts have been completed with varying amounts of time in between, literally months or over a year for some of them. We'll see how well it all goes together. I suppose that will be the real test of my note taking.


Bron said...

I'm impressed with your record keeping. I wish I had kept better track!

Anna said...

I only just discovered your blog on and I'm most impressed by your plans and the way you do it all by yourself!
Future generations will be very thankful for those notes of you - I'd be so grateful if any of the previous owners, let alone the builder, had left any notes at all concerning our timber-framed house.

Keep up the fantastic work and the blog, please, as I'd love to read along.

Best wishes from Germany

dp said...

Thanks for the comments. I'll keep blogging my project -- I'm enjoying it! There are a lot of things I wish I had kept better record of. I'll have to keep the records of the blog with the house for future generations.