Building Buildings and Landing on Land

Since 2012 I have been researching and building large architectural structures, and trying my hand at homesteading.

In 2012, I built a treehouse around four sugar maples with Caroline Woolard at the Anthill Farm in Honesdale, PA for our friends there, Monique and Skye.  I took some introductory workshops about timber framing at the Heartwood school in Western Mass., and was very inspired by a talk that Jack Sobon gave. I pitched in on a strawbale timber frame house that Jonah Vitale-Wolff of Soulfire Farm and Hudson Valley Natural Building was working on in upstate New York, and did some other building projects with Jonah, as well as being inspired by Soulfire’s whole way of life, and especially their commitments to social justice and love.

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The following year, in Connecticut, my brother Brendan and I built a chicken coop for our chickens, and a milking stand and fences for our goats and pigs.

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We made a fast wigwam-ish bamboo shack for boiling maple syrup.

We also had a beehive, a big garden, and a lot of fun with friends doing all the hard work. We raised and preserved most of our food that year, and gave lots to friends and family too. Those were some damn glorious meals, if I say so myself.

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I helped Sam Ekwurtzel saw some massive logs into timbers for the barn he made in Granby, and helped him cut some joinery and raise them too. Sam is a wild man… we worked all night in a January snowstorm raising a bent with a jury-rigged setup.

I pitched in on a few community hand raisings that the Barn Raisers were doing around Connecticut for their timber frame projects as well.

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In 2014-2015, I built an 18×24 barn/root cellar/sleeping loft, among other things, for Bryan and Anita O’Hara from Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, CT. It was a stick frame of rough sawn hemlock and white oak, with a gable dormer on the south wall upstairs, and incorporating a hand-hewn post and beam for the central support.

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We covered the building in tongue-and-groove pine boards, and a cedar shingle roof with shiny copper valleys.

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Tobacco Road Farm is a wonderful place to work, with communal lunches of greens and veggies grown in the field, and a good steady work ethic and friendly spirit among the crew. They grow with no-till practices, biodynamic preparations, indigenous micro-organism compost, and plenty of love and gumption. It’s been very inspiring and nourishing to be a part of their community.

In 2015 I worked for South Windham Post and Beam for 6 weeks building a huge Douglas Fir timber frame house for a guy in Vermont. I loved working with Bob and Lex, those guys are hilarious.

When we did the raising I scurried up all the rafters setting the purlins with another guy, kind of a harrowing experience. Never built something this big before, feels pretty good.

In summer of 2016 I led a group of visiting MFA students in the low-res Nomad9 program at Hartford Art School on a building project. We built a cob pizza oven and timber frame shelter at Knox Parks, an urban community farm in Hartford. Matteo Lundgren, from Cob Therapy, led the oven building.

I collaborated with artist and author Linda Weintraub on teaching the first part of the course, at her incredible self-designed home in Rhinebeck, NY.

I led the green woodworking, tree felling, and timber framing, while Linda led the slaughtering, cooking, gardening, foraging, and wild eco-art conversations.

We cut down an ash tree that was badly infested with Emerald Ash Borers, and used the clean heartwood to make pegs for our building.

We also made some rough mallets and cut the joinery for the braces of the timber frame.

I had come prepared with lots of tools I had made: sawhorses, a froe, a shave horse, and even a spring pole lathe, which still had some bugs to work out, but I managed to make a chisel handle on it.

Back in Hartford we had another part of a week to cut all the mortise & tenon joinery on the eight big 10″ x 10″ timbers for the frame, which I had designed in Sketchup. We got it done with only a couple of late nights, not too shabby.

We got the timbers from Steve Strong in East Hampton, CT. Highly recommended sawyer, timber framer, and he also raises delicious chicken and duck eggs.

The finished timber frame was finally raised over the oven after the students had already departed, but better late than never, and there will surely be a pizza party next summer when they are back in Hartford. If you live in Hartford get in touch with Knox about having a party of your own!