Category Archives: timber frame

The Taming of the Screw

Couplets have been rhymed and codpieces have been salted away.

The Worcester Shakespeare Company bids farewell to another great summer of outdoor theater at The New Napkin Stage in Whitinsville, Mass.

For the last several years we’ve raised up an ongoing reproduction of a Shakespearean stage (based on London’s Globe Theatre) and taken it down when the play has concluded its run.

This makes us not a little melancholic-


But the show mustn’t go on…


Then the hammer says to the mallet, you catch my drift?







Mel and Chris are always there to help-



Mr. Starbuck wilt thou not chase the pumpkin spice latte?


Chiaroscuro or gtfo



Some of the players themselves came to lend a hand in the deconstruction-



Bucket o’ Pins, a seasonal delicacy-


Brace yourself-


So much drama and yet the post is still good as newel-


One of our crew (whose name begins with CHRIS) was once a roadie for a certain band…


If you think that is real marble then you are in the throes of a phallicy-


Phallicy, because, you know, phallic.

Arise, I bid thee!


Soon to be roaming numerals-




When Broseph needs a smoke now, and then-


So they loaded up the truck and moved to Chiltonville…








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The tuba plays E then F, ominously

It’s the height of summer in these parts-


Your kitty is high on cat-nip RIGHT NOW.

Great whites continue to snack on grey seals in local waters, fireworks have been going off non-stop for 47 months, the sweet, sweet smell of lighter fluid permeates your neighbor’s backyard (that sure seems like a LOT of lighter fluid, Wayne) and the gypsy moth caterpillars have been doing their part to defoliate every tree in North America.

Dive right in folks-it’s fleeting.

So it’s only natural we should be working a project on Summer Street in the heart of America’s Hometown.

The house in question is situate between the iconic Town Brooke on one side-


Ye brooke where pilgrims once drank, bathed, and body-surfed.

and ye John Carver Inn on ye other:

And his wifi, being a weak signal, died within five or six weeks minutes check-in-

I may have died the first winter but that doesn’t mean you won’t get a clean room and cable- J.C.

It’s a busy little strip with a downtown vibe. The traffic is, shall we say, a presence. Lots of big trucks. I’m quite certain I’ve seen a few carrying pods. There’s a parade of tuned cars with subsonic bass only Australians can hear. And happy folks wearing colorful shirts and fanny packs on their way to or fro the happenin’ and must-see Plimoth Grist Mill.

The logistics of a project in this setting present us a bit of a challenge.


It’s a wee fishbowly, as it were. We’ve taken to wearing matching socks to work.

Kevin’s been holding down the fort while I’ve been away. His spirit is indefatigable. He lives in a House of Seven Indefatigables.

He’s been replacing sill sections, laying out and cutting new post bottoms, and doing the CSI necessary to come up with a plan of action. All this while a very nice family continues to make this their home.

But as great as Kevin’s work is, this is not a one-man job. Progress has been understandably slow.

Even the most hesitant of projects often have a turning point, though, a moment when the something clicks and fires the imagination and everything begins to gather momentum. When more things go right than go wrong. When you find something so cool you need to say HEY LOOK AT THIS to the startled tourist from Albany strolling by.

So today we opened up the east end of the house. The post, decayed, needed out. It will come out in sections.


As we cut the bottom of the old post free from its horizontal girt-


The exposed tenon proved to be in reasonable shape and fair quality for re-use in the new post’s mortise.

Every time we uncover history like this, when we open up something that’s been housed away for years, it gets me. I have no idea who the carpenter was. Even if I knew his name, chances are it would tell me less than the remainder of his work.

And despite the centuries, that connection is strong.


Granted it’s got a few miles on it, but you’ve gotta look past the surface. Beauty.

Check out the hewn away taper on the inside face (left as shown) of the girt down to the tenon. Efficiency trumps (did I just use that word?) beauty.


This sort of standing-house archaeology is appealing not only to the analytical brain, but also to the part which likes a good story.

We take measurements as we go, salvaging the pieces of the old to make a template for the new. Little pieces and bits are reconstructed.

And all carpenter’s marks, from whatever century, tell a story. “Finish that girt ‘ere dinner, goodman, or I shall box thee thine ears.”

It’s both familiar and comforting. It’s as if the old pieces reinforce your own technique, your own frustrations with gnarly grain, your own workmanlike approach to getting a job done well and in a timely manner.

Here’s to rolling on this project, like the brook rolls down in the hollow, like the traffic rolls through a downtown summer.


Also, these guys for no reason other than they are really good and we need some of that today:



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Hangham Style

Just a little side project, they told him.

Install an 11′ mantel between two posts in a new timber frame.

Shouldn’t take more than a week.

And we’ve even got the stock for you!

A barely audible alarm went off in the back of Justin’s busy head…

Over the next 2 weeks it grew louder and more insistent–like a Canadian who’s just about run out of Molson on a camping trip–until it was drowned out only by the dissonant whine of a plugged-in planer and the need for a smoke.

Oh hey, devil hemlock–dry, twisted and left-for-dead–which no human in the history of the world would ever want to touch or even burn, let alone square and build-out.

It was so awesome that the install happened to fall on the heels of all that cheerful and sublime carving at Greenwood Fest. 

I remember when we used to work happy and well-adjusted wood with idiosyncratic Swedes and dreadlocked Englishwomen.


Juxtaposition? More like Suckstaposition.

Other than being a day-long avoidance of trashing a fine house which may or may not have been hosting a party with Marky Mark within a fortnight, things ended up fair and square. The client was pleased, there were no holes in the plaster, and all the joints fit like Tupperware lids.

You had this all along, ked.




















painting by Jones River artist Marshall Joyce

Don’t you DARE put your drink on the mantel without a coaster.

We’re looking at you, Wahlberg.


Speaking of green wood…

If you can scrape together the ducats, the upcoming Plymouth CRAFT workshop with Dave Fisher is a great way to say goodbye to July this summer.


Dave is as amazing a craftsman as he is a nice guy.  Check out his blog for inspiration:

We were lucky to have Dave at Greenwood Fest 2016 and to see him teach and create extraordinary bowls.  Breathtaking work, really.


Course fee includes materials as well as incredible fare by Paula Marcoux. It’ll take place along a beautiful estuary south of Boston. Well worth it.

For info:

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Well that joiner down by the river finally realized his dream the other day…


With the help of several friends and neighbors, he raised a frame for his workshop.


Farmers. office workers, artists, writers, and millers from down the street and from Canada, Australia, Maine–even Newton!–were all there to help.


Mr Follansbee and Mr Woodburn take full responsibility for this darlin’ frame, nestled seamlessly into the hillside and made of salvaged materials laid out and cut on fair winter days this year.


While it would have been special to see FREE BRADY carved on the beam, Peter opted instead for a date–4 digits which always ring familiar here in Plymouth County.


And no frame ever is raised without a hitch or two.

This is how a joiner owns a mistake when he’s helping to build his own workshop:


After a yeoman’s lunch, cooked on a fire partly fueled by discarded carved panels…

dope 3

…the frame seemed almost to finish itself-


And Mr Follansbee applied a traditional flourish for the newly raised timbers.


Then, when the last trenail was pounded, a sight rarely seen ambled its way down the hill…




Look at that party animal.

And though PF doesn’t partake, he rewarded the generosity of those who came to help out in friendship.

It didn’t take long before the newly raised frame saw some of its first use…


And as the sun set west of the river-


-we all knew this would be a place where many wonderful things are created.


Here is a link to Peter’s account of the frame and the process:

Also, here’s a video by Harry Kavouksorian of the raising:

Lots of great things happening over at Plymouth CRAFT.

Check out the latest classes:


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Cape Cod’s Most Interesting Man

He once led the California Highway Patrol on a 3-county chase at the end of which the officer bought him an Arbys Roast beef.

He told US Senator Edward Kennedy to get a real job while they stood side by side on the half-deck of The Mayflower.

He schooled famed archaeologist/anthropologist James Deetz on the sociological ramifications of The Brady Bunch

He is Cape Cod’s Most Interesting Man.


Hey how are you. You got your pants on?

With a name harkening back to colonial times and a wit as droll as any yankee who has ever scratched the earth, Dave Wheelock is an authentic throwback. Shipwright, timber-framer, archaeologist, author, museum curator, historian and part-time farmer and fisherman, stories flow from beneath his Newman’s Own mustache in a soft spoken, southeastern Massachusetts lilt. Women have written him fan mail about his dreamy blue eyes. Dudes want to have lived out even a small percentage of his stories.

I don’t always restore house frames, but when I do, it’s for a good cause.


Needless to say, it’s been nice to be able to work with him.

We’ve been moonlighting at The Benjamin Nye Homestead, replacing sills, post bottoms, joists and a few studs. It’s quiet on this little jog off of touristy route 6-A. You should visit the place. They’re open for the season.


It’s a charming little house–quintessential Cape Cod, really.



The ghosts of Benjamin and his family watch our comings and goings-

Digging out old sills gives Dave a chance to sift through the debris for artifacts on this rich site:



He’s found coins, the obligatory pottery sherds, and pre-colonial evidence of a Wampanoag settlement–a storage pit in the front hall of the house, dug well-before the Nyes’ built their home.

A woman’s hand-

 The other day, while fetching out the rotted end of an old joist, Dave also found this:


To the untrained eye, this would appear to be nothing more than the random remnants of a rat’s nest.

But Cape Cod’s Most Interesting Man knew better–

This is the coolest thing I’ve found in the last 20 years, he said.

If you knew Dave, you’d realize how significant this statement was.

It was flax–expertly, patiently arranged by “a woman’s hand”, as Dave said. The detail of such a delicate and fragile artifact somehow surviving for centuries beneath the floor was astonishing, once Dave put the rarity of such a find in context.


Each strand arranged and the whole work tied up loosely in a knot.

Think of all the steps which led to this, Dave reminded us: The growing of the flax, its meticulous combing and dressing, and the rat which unbelievably did so little damage to it. Perhaps the Nye’s sprinkled a little more arsenic around the rat-hole when the original thievery was discovered sometime around the Revolutionary War.

All this drama played out on a little stage here on Cape Cod, fleshed out centuries later by an expert eye and a sublime storyteller.


John (left) a Nye descendant, great guy and keeper of the house, takes in the find with Dave.

Another day another find:

Our man Dave picked up a sash-sawn floorboard the other day–it came up from near the hearth of Nye House’s parlor.


The shallow burn marks are just above Dave’s hand.

Those divots, he was sure, represented the shallow burning of the legs of hot kettles being put down on the pine. They looked a little like cigarette burns to me, but we always influence our perceptions of “history” with our own experience, don’t we? It would be interesting to see if any of the house’s kitchen tools fit the profile of the burn marks.

Oh, he carves gravestones too-

Thanks to Tonia Deetz Rock for the reminder about this little gem of a video which The Heritage Museum in Sandwich produced a few-less gray hairs ago:

Jethro’s got a goat playing a fiddle inside his head–and you know what they say about goats–they’re hard to catch.

-Dave Wheelock


Poor Kevin (right). He just met Dave and is not sure what to believe. Been there, Kev.

The stories flowed while we cut new oak to replace the old: Tales of eccentrics who hurled angry epithets at rocks in the woods, tales of ground penetrating radar and whether to exhume or not to exhume, and a characteristic chuckle from Dave when he realized he didn’t know his own cell phone number–

I’d call myself but I wouldn’t pick up for that asshole.


Vintage Wheelock.


The Benjamin Nye Homestead & Museum is off route 6A at 85 Old County Rd in Sandwich, Mass.

They’re open Tues – Sat, noon-4:30. (508) 888-4213


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round here we say FRAP, not shake


We took a side job this past Saturday, returning to ye old stomping grounds for a day–



The earth-fast (without foundation) house was suffering from the onset of chimney lean.

This is to be expected as the oak posts and studs decay at differing rates in the ground.


 We’d done a similar fix before. 


 This time, the chimney was out of plumb about 2 feet.


 Some 400 year old friends came to wish us well-


You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Jacobean religious dissenter say “aluminum”.


We punched holes in clapboards and daub (a clay mortar) and ran a strap from the outside of the chimney down to the opposing tie beam.


Then we opened up the thatch and poles between the house’s two rooms to allow half of the roof system to move.


By design, there isn’t a lot of lateral support in the roof frame. These cottages were meant to represent the quick and dirty build of the colony’s first settlers who needed shelter, not manor houses.

Rafters leaned in concert with the chimney–


We used a pipe shore beneath the chimney lintel to carry the load while digging out beneath the posts.


Matteo and Dan did yeoman’s work with us all day. It was a pleasure to work alongside them.

 To bring the chimney back to plumb, we needed to cut 7.5 inches off of their bottoms.


Once the posts were footed with flat stones, we eased off the strain above and below and slowly cranked the roof system towards plumb.


There is a pleasant FRAP sound as all the elements of the frame move together.


After a morning’s prep, it only took a few minutes to bring the chimney and roof frame back to plumb.



As a bonus, nary a chink of clay mortar fell out during the process.



And the loft floor above, which had been been affected by the chimney lean, also came back to level.


As the day wound down, Justin and Michael gathered up spars and sways (wooden fastenings) to put back the thatch.






Mister Burrey truly enjoys going back to his roots. The work–like the houses–is elemental and, dare I say, good for the soul.


And the view–not to mention the indefatigable spirits of the good people on the front lines of this institution–is one thing which refuses to be dampened by listing chimneys or otherwise.



For a pilgrim’s take on the process, check out this blog post:

Rock on with your bad selves–



photo (and thatch repair) by Michael Burrey





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Mortise and Tenon make a porno

A rehab in pictures…

The old sawmill had seen better days…


A larger box mill was added to original sawmill. Both had been stabilized until work resumed.

Its restoration would include as much of the original timber and sheathing as possible-


There’s a lot of assessing when determining which of the old timbers can be reused.

Joinery notes or a martini recipe? You decide-


Wanted: Oak and pine timber with an early 19th-century aspect:


Plans worked out and timbers hewn, it was time to cut.


We are not adverse to machines-


Though certain joints are cut in the old style:


A pin will crash this party between mortise and tenon-


Cutting is relatively easy, relative to layout that is…


The beefy top of a jowled post.

The slow dance of trial fitting…


Here, Pret replaces the forlorn end of an old tie beam.

New life for old ties-


The beam in context with its new post:


A sweet little brace with perfectly swept grain is still perfectly functional-


Now that the majority of the sawmill’s frame was cut, the North Bennet Street School Preservation Carpentry Program helped us to raise it.

First the long walls–


Then the tie beams-


Hatch Mill volunteer and photographer Bill Powell captures the action-



And good men who had been steadfast in their vision and support of this old up-and-down sawmill took a moment to enjoy the progress at day’s end-


Dean and Roy, two of several people who refuse to let Hatch Mill die.

 Time to cover the new (old) frame-


 The roof sheathing was also a mix of old and new:


September’s fair weather allowed us to make hay-


 The NBSS students returned to get their shingling technique on-


There was good progress after a couple of days-


Preservation student Emily made a great video of the NBSS contributions:

MLB Restorations returned after a week of dreary October weather to finish roofing and start on sidewalls-


 And with the help of many, what once was…


Continued a return to its former–if humble–glory.




For more information on the restoration of The Hatch Mill, please visit: 

or The Hatchmill Facebook page:


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Ospreys like John Lee Hooker

 and other picked up pieces…


Ospreys know what they like–fish and John Lee Hooker. Every time that blues genius queues up on our little speaker at the Jones River boathouse site, those river hawks come ’round chattering. I don’t have the (makes finger quotes) science to back that up, but you know, it’s John Lee Hooker.

Another reason to love wood–


Michael’s door (above–destined for the Mirbeau site) is made out of cedar. It was sawn from–get this–recycled telephone poles! This western red cedar withstood 80 years of nor’easters and osprey nests until it was “felled” and sawn into boards and planks by our friends at Gurneys Sawmill. We first used it on our free-range, organic treehouse (I swear we’ll get back to that topic) and we’ll keep finding ways to recycle these old yankee poles.

Speaking of wood, mark the difference between a locust trenail and a white oak trenail. Both will do the job:


We made these pins for the joint of a Peter Follansbee original:


These decorative flourishes weren’t part of the initial build of our recent timber framed bridge. But the braces running up from post to beam were deemed a little too low and a potential head-banger. No problem. We raised the braces up the posts about half a foot. This left a gaping, unfilled mortise in the post. What to do?

When life gives you ADA requirements, make lemonade!


Beautiful as they are, I had a panic attack driving the pins, with all that short grain. I’ll share that panic attack with you, dear reader, with this annoying GIF.

Needless to say, the draw-bore was very slight:


Great work as always, Mister Follansbee. One of Peter’s birds told me that there’s going to be a Follansbee spoon-carving video out later this summer. Keep posted to his blog for the latest.

Meanwhile, Father’s Day is coming up…jus’ sayin:

We’ve got a couple of projects continuing this summer/fall:


The Hatch Mill, in Marsh-Vegas, Mass, is an old water-powered sawmill which needs some TLC from MLB Restorations. With help from some plucky studentia of the North Bennet Street School–we’ve stabilized the lower frame and we will continue to bring it toward the community’s goal of making it a working mill once again. Stay tuned.

The Norwell water tower (below) is one of only a few remaining in our part of the world.


The restoration of this unique building is at once challenging and exciting. Like my dog is at once a loyal companion and a vacuum cleaner. More to follow.

Finally, some of us are headed to England for a few weeks. We’re consulting on the rebuild of some stairs for a little tower in London.

Any-the-hoo, BLUE OAK will keep you up to date on our internationally friendly forays.

Somebody tell The Queen we’re coming–


Happy Birthday, Justin and Andrew–


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La Bataille du Pont de la Mirbeau

The enemy approached us from the nor’east–cold, ruthless and unforgiving. Très redoutable.


Though sand found its way into our girded loins, we stood ready for battle on the open plain at Mirbeau.

But we were weary after our long journey from La Rivière Jones, and armed only with chisels, mallets, long underwear and extension corduroys.

Winter marched against us with icy resolve.

Our Capitaine surveyed the approaching storm.


Early in the campaign, we discussed our strategy amidst the staging. Our soldiers were trembling with anticipation…and cold.


The field of battle was prepared– revetments dug, barriers erected.


We would make our stand in the shadow of La Tour de Mirbeau.


 Heavy were the burdens of our hommes d’armes.


But they prepared willingly, knowing their cause was just.


Regardez! Our watch spied the enemy at a distance.


Aux armes! To arms!


One piece of bois at a time, we raised our timbers against their battalions, a bastion of last resort…


Lifting the heavy oak into place even as le guerre raged relentlessly around us.


The acrid breath of their great dragons made the earth to tremble…


We fought on in spite of it.


Our front lines marched together in formation to the sound of drum and trumpet.


Joints were hacked at. Trenails flew like arrows about our ears.

We knew not if we should see another sunrise.


The strain of battle was obvious. Heavy was its toll.


 And casualties lay all about us.


Our rendezvous was breached by the enemy.


Then, amidst la tourmente, when it seemed our mortises would no longer suffer their tenons, there appeared a light in the distance.


Our forlorn hope glimpsed the promise of a verdant spring.


We rallied.

Pour le roi et le pays!

Pour le fromage et le vin!

Bon Jovi!

Together we pulled against our foe.


And the enemy, sensing our resolve and seeing our joint-strength, began to weaken.



We crossed ourselves, and gave thanks to notre bon seigneur for deliverance.


Humbly, we paid respect to those (chips and shavings) who were lost.

à Dieu, mes amis.


Se souvenir the fallen–and the raised–on the champaign ground du Pont de la Mirbeau.



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Still in Vieques

Pret returned from holiday in Vieques, Puerto Rico, just in time to help finish the last of our bridge joinery at Jones River Landing.


We stowed our tools, swept up our shavings and chips, and headed south–not to Vieques, but to the piney hills where our bridge was soon to be raised.


We’re gonna miss the Landing. The coffee was good, the company better, and it was a great place to cut a frame.


Here’s a video of our last day of layout and cutting. Friend George Greenameyer stopped by to wish us well and tell a few jokes.

Next stop: Pine Hills.


PS: Here is a picture of a saw’s nib, conveniently downloaded from the interweb:


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