Between making this oak frame, and putting it up at the end of last week
Glyn and Melissa had part one of their oak extension framed up and installed, and to be honest, I’d forgotten about the next phase – a 3 bay garage/studio outbuilding – which was sitting, composting (?) slowly on-site, out of sight, out of mind, somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle between Bearwood, Broxwood and Pembridge.
Imagine my surprise when I got the call to say that they were ready for the frame to be raised…
My initial thoughts were:
– Oh hell!
– This is never going to work
– I’ve lost the drawings
– Where can I run away to?
Remember the scene from Sleeping Beauty that met the Prince after 100 years? Well, it was nothing like that, although it took a while to locate all the packs of oak, buried under years of bramble growth. The wood stack had become its own charming ecosystem and it seemed a shame almost, to disturb all the critters that had made it their home.
But disturb it we did, and so began the process of trying to identify what was what, and what went where. Thank goodness for chisel marks as we gradually pieced together the puzzle.
Five trusses, posts, cross frame and wall frame braces, soleplates, wallplates, purlins, ridge and wind braces.
Rune and Fred provided the willing muscle, along with teenage enthusiasm. Anthony Prout steered a calm ship on the crane, and before we knew it, we were pegging up and admiring a frame that looked like it had been there for hundreds of years.
– Oak is beautiful no matter how old
– You can always find a way (Confucius, or was it Karate Kid 2?)
– Dovetail lapped joints look good, but over time shrink and so aren’t that effective
– The oak had barely moved – we only had to fettle two joints
– Panicking was not really that useful a strategy truth be told
– It’s probably best to ignore the above and try and erect your oak frame straightaway…
Sometimes, after a heavy raising, you just want to forget about it for a few days while your batteries slowly recharge. All well and good, but then after a suitable hiatus, you pick up the quill and….nothing….you can’t remember anything. Your brain has shut down, and you’ve already moved on to the next project.
So, here goes. This is the story of the oak framed extension in Cwmbran. How it worked out in the end, after a potentially disastrous start.
Chris and Karen came to see us almost exactly a year ago to discuss their large “dream” extension project which practically doubled the size of their old farmhouse. They must have liked the coffee we made them, or perhaps even our oak framing because they had already signed up before returning home to Cwmbran. We set Martyn Davies our designer to work, producing a beautiful frame design and a full set of construction drawings so that we could order the oak, and make the frame, while Chris and Karen could oversee the groundworks.
As with all extensions that connect new to old, it’s important to have an accurate survey to ensure that things “marry”. And when you join a wonky oak frame to an even wonkier old stone farmhouse well, there’s plenty of room for things not quite working out… The first sticking point was flagged up at an early site visit when it became apparent that the groundworker had not left sufficient tolerance for the oak frame against the old stone building. The only solution, other than redoing the footings (a non-starter), was to mark the positions of the oak posts and beams against the stonework and channel out the stone with a big fat angle grinder. I pity whoever it was who had to do that!
A bout of covid in August and the lingering after-effects set us back and although things were happening in the workshop, they were happening quite slowly compared to our normal capabilities. So Chris and Karen’s frame kept slipping, and although we had hoped to raise the frame in November, it ended up being the beginning of Feb before we were finally able to get to the site. Frustrating for everybody, but eventually, we were ready to send off the frame, book the crane and assemble the raising team.
Then the fun started. Perhaps covid had scrambled my neural pathways along with my sense of judgement because it quickly became apparent on accompanying the first of two lorry loads down to the site that,
a) We couldn’t actually access the site to drop off the oak where we needed it.
b) Neither could we position the crane where I had intended.
Whoops! We had to think quick and come up with a plan or Karen’s dream open plan living room would remain just that – a dream. No time to panic though, as we were putting up the frame the next morning!
We managed to offload the oak some substantial distance from the slab and quickly contacted the crane company to see if they could find me a bigger crane. By this point, I had run out of fingers and toes to cross and nails to chew… Could we actually get the crane onto site? And would it reach right over the house?
The next morning arrived – it’s funny how they always do – and after an early start, we made it to Cwmbran just in time to meet the 60t crane at the bottom of the lane. 60t cranes are big! The driver’s first words were “I can’t make it up the lane, the branches are too low”. Oh dear. Luckily my chainsaw was in the truck so the naughty branches were trimmed as we inched up the incline and finally made it to a suitable location somewhere near the oak, but still a long way from the house.
We rigged the crane and now we had to see if it would reach, and guess what? It did. 48m of boom length was right smack on the limit. Whoohoo! Except now the wind had picked up, and Mr Crane Operator got his wind meter out and cheerfully advised that the wind speed was just over the limit for safe lifting. This news was received at the same time as my phone rang to say that the second load of oak was stuck on the lane with no traction.
By now my bottom lip had really started to wobble, but we sucked in a deep breath and kept at it. A neighbouring good samaritan farmer turned up with a tractor and chain to pull the lorry up the hill, the wind died down mercifully and, even though we had lost nearly half a day, we were finally ready to start assembling the frame.
The dramas were all over by this point, and Rob, Sylvan, Graham and Michael kept plugging away adding one piece at a time. Posts, girding rails, braces, floor beams, wallplates, studs, sole plates etc.
By the end of the first day we had pretty much caught up, and once the crane had departed, hand-balled all the floor joists into place as the light was fading. Then it was off to the local Parkway Hotel and Spa for a swim, steam room, sauna and evening meal ready for the next day on site. General pampering of this kind is going to be the norm from now on.
Day 2 was a breeze and the pressure was off to some degree. Another clear but cold day as we assembled trusses, and lifted them into place. Chris kept us hydrated with warm brews and even found time to help with parts of the raising – that’s him knocking pegs in on one of the trusses.
Remember the long purlin runs with wind braces in the workshop (photo above)? Well, now you can see them as part of the roof structure.
There’s no ridge beam on this particular frame as the oak common rafters will be bridal jointed at the apex – a lovely aesthetic detail.
By 4pm on day 2, we said goodbye to the crane and knocked in a few pegs before packing up and heading home. It seemed extraordinary that we had been able to get to this point after the histrionics of the previous day.
It took another couple of days to peg up the frame, and fit all of the rafters and rooflight window openings before we could finally relax, step back, and admire. I particularly love the contrast of the old stone wall against the oak. So satisfyingly beautiful.
Chris and Karen are delighted with the results, as are we, and we hope you too have enjoyed this particular journey.Feb-10-22 a las 5:54 pm Uncategorised. Sin Comentarios
Isn’t it lovely to be out there doing stuff in the clear spring sunshine and to be able to forget all about Covid life for a few days!
Last Thursday and Friday we rocked up on site just down the road in Weobley, of all places, to raise Paul and Susan’s new oak framed home.
I say Weobley of all places, as Weobley is high up on the list of Herefordshire’s finest black and white villages which showcase centuries of staggering traditional timber framing. Apparently, King Charles I spent a night there in 1645 (possibly to sample the fine Indian takeaway at the Lal Bagh), but then again Charles got around, and spent a night practically everywhere in England. Rumour has it he that was even spotted at Beggars Bush, just down the road from Castle Ring, but it’s late, and I might have just made that up.
Either way, Weobley is well worth a visit, especially to take a closer look at its stunning architecture.
Continuing in the tradition and adding to it, is a strange and wonderful feeling even if the oak framed houses we build nowadays showcase the oak on the inside only. Although half-timbered buildings look great, they tend to be terrible things to keep water-tight and air-tight, and we gave up trying years ago. Our oak frames sit inside an insulated envelope and stay warm and dry. There will be some oak on display externally though – a porch and sunroom – hinting at what’s within.
Paul and Susan’s house project as with many oak frames, was a long time in the making. If memory serves, it took about two years from initial discussions to the point we reached on Friday. But no matter, good things come to those that wait. Paul is project managing the house build and oversaw the groundworks using his building industry experience. Scaffolding was erected and the oak delivered to site ready for the off on Thursday morning.
Raising day nerves never seem to diminish despite the hundreds of frames we have put up over the years, and sometimes it seems an impossible miracle for everything to align. But align they usually do, and align they did again in this case.
Jake, Jack, Sylvan, Rune and Rob worked tirelessly for 2 days in the bright April sunshine, bringing to a culmination two months of carpentry in the workshop. Susan kept us fed and watered, and in the warm evening sunshine on Friday, we were able to step back and admire the fruits of our work.
Graham and Philla were planning to build a family house on a large plot on the outskirts of Bedford and dropped by our stand at the NEC Homebuilding and Renovating Show in the spring of 2019 to show us the plans and discuss ideas. There was talk of a full oak frame with encapsulation, along with ICF (insulated concrete formwork) walls with an oak framed roof, and quite possibly various other options too including, as memory serves, lego bricks, breadsticks, and car tyres, although I may have made up the last bit…
With so many ideas, we wondered whether this particular enquiry would ever come to anything, especially since Graham was busy managing his thriving sound design and audio company in London. It seems we made a suitable impression with our “we’ll have a go at anything” attitude, despite competition from the big beasts of the timber framing world. There then followed a period of six months or so as Graham refined his build route choices while we quoted accordingly. The breadsticks and lego were ditched (wisely) in favour of traditional cavity wall construction with a large vaulted oak-framed roof.
As is the way with most projects, it took a while for things to get going, and we didn’t start making the frame until Graham had begun work on the masonry walls back in September.
Graham was concerned about the final truss spacings, and so we held off framing the purlins and ridge beams until the very last minute. Indeed so last minute that I remember calling Graham from the workshop to ask him if he’d made his mind up yet?
We spent three weeks fabricating the eight trusses and roof frames.
Eventually, we were ready to ship the timbers to the site and trundle across country to Bedford, wherever that was.
Turns out Bedford is quite a long way East and a little bit South, but Jake and Rory and I found it last Wednesday and readied ourselves for a busy day on site. The forecast was clear but with the likelihood of a strong breeze – not what you want to hear when you’re using a crane with a 37m boom… A wind speed of more than 9.8m/s will shut the lifting operation down straight away so we had our fingers crossed.
Not all of the eight trusses were the same, and some had raised collars that needed reinforcing with stainless steel threaded rods to mitigate the outward thrust at the wall plate.
Thankfully Chris the builder and Graham had got their measurements correct, and we made speedy progress assembling each truss individually, and working our way along the roof.
Thanks to crane operator (also a Graham) and NMT crane hire for providing safe and steady lifting.
Some of the truss tie beams inserted into pockets in the masonry.
The gable truss has two external “legs” and forms an overhang over a picture window. Graham was keen for this to feature two large curved braces.
The wind was picking up, and for a while, it looked as if the raising might be thwarted, but mercifully the windspeed hovered at the allowable limit and we were able to pack the crane off ahead of schedule at 3pm.
Graham receives a Special Award for providing the best, safest, and most secure scaffolding we have ever had the pleasure to work on at Castle Ring Oak Frame. Feeling safe is something to be cherished when you’re putting up a monster frame!
And if that wasn’t enough, he also receives a Bonus Award for popping out to the local farm shop at lunchtime and bringing back the best oven-warmed, home-made pies we have ever savoured.Nov-16-20 a las 11:32 am Uncategorised. Sin Comentarios
In mid July last year, Matt and Lucy arranged to come and see us to informally discuss the plans for their new build house near Ludlow, and to see if we could design and quote for an oak frame. So began several months of information gathering on their part, as they tried to work out the best approach to the project. Not easy by any means, as they were working full time and new to the idea of building a home.
By November they had made up their minds – to go with an internal oak frame (designed and made by us, yippee!) encapsulated by a softwood insulated frame courtesy of Taylor Lane in Hereford.
Contracts were signed, and now we could get to work with the frame design. Martyn Davies, one of our frame designers put in the hard yards and came up with a design that incorporated all of Lucy and Matt’s ideas, including internal half-timbered wall partitions, an external lean to veranda and a jettied gable.
Inevitably planning to build a house can take longer than anticipated and it took until early February for the frame drawings to be signed off and the oak ordered with a scheduled delivery date towards the middle of March. Of course, we all know what happened then to turn our world upside down. For several days, it looked as if getting the oak over from the mill (open, but only just) in France was going to be an impossibility, but somehow we found a haulage company, a port that was open and unloaded the oak to much relief all round.
By now, Covid had ensured we were down to a skeleton team (actually just Rob in the workshop!) so fabrication took a little longer than usual. This worked out well for Matt and Lucy, who were able to get ahead with the groundworks, whilst simultaneously having their first baby. Congratulations!
A couple of workshop visits to see the frame in progress whet the appetite and kept spirits up and before we knew it, we were readying ourselves for the raising at the end of June, nearly a year since the process began.
The scaffolding was erected and the oak delivered to site ready for an anticipated 2 days on-site. Now we just needed some good weather. Well, we needn’t have worried about that. The temperature nudged 30 degrees on both days with barely a cloud in the sky. Thankfully Matt and Lucy kept the Castle Ring team of Jake, Debbie, Adam, and Rob hydrated and fed with cold drinks and fine food all day.
By the end of the first day, we had met our goal and got up to wallplate, spending the last half an hour knocking in a plentiful number of pegs. Matt and Lucy were so enamoured of their half-built oak frame, they had an evening meal in the hallway.
Day two of a raising can be tricky as everyone is feeling the effects of day one. But we kept moving forward, assembling the trusses and lowering them into place one by one.
By lunchtime all that remained were the spline-jointed purlins, wind braces and ridge timbers and by 3pm we had sent our crane driver packing, with all the heavy lifting done and dusted.
This is the point where the pressure eases and you can start to relax and enjoy the frame. I say relax, but there are still hundreds of pegs to hammer in. Matt joined us for the whole raising and will always be able to say he helped put his house together.
We saved the best for last as Matt and Lucy clambered up to the ridge to “top out” the frame with a sprig of oak. Topping out is the way we bring the raising to a fitting end and say thank you to the trees that have gone into making the frame. It’s also a good photo op!
As raisings go, it really couldn’t have gone any smoother. All that was left to do was for the team to wearily climb the scaffold one last time and toast Matt and Lucy with a cold beer. Good luck with the rest of the build. We have no doubt you’ll do a brilliant job.
Rob, Jake, Adam, Debbie
If you're considering an oak framed building (or larch, or douglas fir), let's talk. We'll gladly put together an outline quote (completely free, with no strings attached). And we need very little information from you to do so.
Equally, we're always here, at the end of the phone, to talk through your ideas.