Photo date: October 21, 2022. See header image archive.

big river timberworks



Timber Frame Rationale, and First Look at Our Version

One look at the MVC floor plan and even a casual observer could see that we're doing timber frame construction. (The posts are a dead giveaway.)

I didn't get exposed to timber framing until way too late in life, and now I wouldn't consider stick frame construction for anything, even a shed. Every day I bike by all these massive new stick frame additions and new stick frame construction here in Edina and after I say, "Gross!" — usually in reference to the already dated, cheesy-ass architecture — I next ask myself, "Why?"

Even putting aside timber framing's subjective superiority over stick frame, like its clean, simple, organic, timeless, rugged, and sturdy appearance, it's *objectively* more practical and better than stick frame in three important ways:

  • They can be cut offsite. In a controlled environment, with precision, *before you even own a piece of property*, then shipped to the building site. I don't care if it's Larry Haun's Ghost doing the stick framing; he still can't do it offsite.
  • They can be erected quickly. While the MVC is small — just 36x24 — the Big River Timberworks (BRT) crew will put up the frame *and fully enclose it in SIPs* in 5 days. Let's call the frame erection half of that; 2.5 days. Stick framing is measured in weeks.
  • They don't have structural interior walls. I've laid out interior walls on the floor plan, but this is all still pretty flexible, for the most part, and they're all partition walls. Nothing is load-bearing. Nothing is critical. I can put an interior wall anywhere, and when I goof it up, I can put it somewhere else, no problem. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but unless you use trusses, stick frame will have an interior load-bearing wall.

Onto the specifics about our frame:

  • Port Orford Cedar. All my previous — and very limited — experience is with EWP (Eastern White Pine), which is readily available, cheap, and easy to work with, but I hate how it yellows over time. Thanks to BRT, I got turned onto Port Orford Cedar, which grays over time. Please don't judge our carbon impact having timbers shipped from Coos Bay, Oregon, but we far prefer POC over EWP, and really all the other timber options we looked at.
  • No braces. Timber frame purists might scoff at our frame, but a brace-free design really cleans things up, pretty dramatically. Again thanks to BRT for pointing us in this direction.
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For a few days I thought I could cut this frame myself over time, in my garage, but after practicing this rather advanced joinery (for me) on some scraps, I gave up. 4 hours yielded this sad-looking post. At this pace we would have the MVC when I'm dead.

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First Look: Foundation Assembly

Foundations are *by far* the thing I've spent the most time researching, looking at different assembly drawings, and trying to understand. There are so many different approaches it can start to make your head spin, especially if you don't come from a building background. TBH I'm still not on totally firm ground. (End of foundation-related puns ... for now.)

One constant in my mind has been that bedrock is near, so we should use the foundation Mother Nature has generously provided. It's as good as it gets. There is 4' of soil on top of bedrock at the thickest points. At the MVC site it's more like 2 feet, and at the northwest corner of the volume it's basically exposed bedrock.

The other piece of the puzzle is that we're cladding the structure in a full stone wall, so that has to sit on something hard.

So with the help of our timber framer — who also builds whole houses — here's where we're at right now:

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Points to note:

  • For the stone wall, I wanted to start it directly on the bedrock, but in the interest of time-to-market we decided to go with a 2' wide concrete wall rebarred into the bedrock. I can't let my time-consuming, amateur stonework block the structure's erection. 🤭
  • 2" of foam is shown here, but we're still looking at foamed glass aggregate — specifically Glavel — as an option. We already have loads of foam in the Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) that's giving me anxiety. (Much more on SIPs to come.)
  • Adding to the anxiety is the amount of concrete, but given the site, the building plans, the timeline, and its familiarity to most masons, it's a logical route.

Any foundation pros out there, I'd love to get your take: dack@dack.com