Thursday, April 6, 2017

Forest to Farmstand Construction, Part 3

We made another trip to Williamsburg today, tracing the semifinal step in the journey from the woods to the construction of our new farmstand building.  Dan Pedersen has been working away for the past two months at shaping the timbers into Lok-n-log pieces so that  will come together into the form of a barn structure in just a few days once they arrive at the farm. While we were there, we got the special treat of seeing our former apprentice, Sam Deboskey, who is working on the project too.  Sam has decided he wants to be a carpenter, and so he was thrilled at the prospect of learning the task of timber-framing while also contributing to this new development at the place where he learned about farming 2 years ago.  
Sam is at ease in his new profession
Dan wields "the persuader" used to get stubborn joints to fit together

Dan's shop is a greenhouse that he built by his house after seeing a greenhouse go up at our farm.  While our greenhouses are full of vegetables, his was full of the timbers that we had followed from the woodlot to this location.  Dan takes a careful plan, and cuts notches and holes in the timbers so that they will fit together nicely.  The timbers are always worked while they are green, since they are most perfectly straight and square before they start to dry.  Pine and hemlock are relatively stable, but the cuts and notches are all made in such a way as to allow for some expansion and contraction as the wood dries.  Many of the cuts are made with a saw, but then chisels are used for the finer shaping.
This cool chainsaw device is used to make plunge cuts like the one to the right
The details of this cut were finished by hand with a chisel

As Dan talked about the timber framing industry, I was struck by the parallels with the organic farming movement.  Timber framing as a craft was largely abandoned and forgotten starting at the turn of the 20th century as builders switched to 2X4s and nails.  Interest in timber-framing was revived during the back-to the-land movement in the 1970s, and people re-learned the skills and techniques by moving old barns, taking them apart and then rebuilding them in a different location.  Today, timber-framing is a small part of the overall building trade, but demand for those skills is strong and growing.  Dan credits an organization called the Timber Framer's Guild with keeping the knowledge alive. Dan has many connections with the local food movement, since a large part of his business is repairing and renovating the barns at local farms. We're glad to be able to support this local craftsman. If you're interested, you can find out more at
"How do you move the timbers into the shop, anyway?" "With this dolly!" "Really?"

Friday, February 3, 2017

Forest to Farmstand Construction Part 2

A large log ready to cut
Wednesday morning, we got a text from our builder: "David Lashway just called to say that he is milling the last of your timbers tomorrow and Friday if you want to get some pictures."  So Friday morning we carved out some time to make the trip to Williamsburg to see the next step in the process of turning trees into a building.  David Lashway operates Highland Community Lumber in Williamsburg, and his passion for local wood products and for the local land-based economy is clear.  The technology in his saw mill is consistent with what was used at the turn of the century (the one that occurred in 1900, not the one that we can still remember in Y2K.)  Much of the sawmill is engineered to move heavy logs to the saw, slide the logs into the stationary saw, and then moving the lumber away to it's stacks.  Where I have often joked that moving heavy things around is a big part of my job as a farmer, we never handle anything as large as the trees that they move around at the sawmill.
David sharpening the huge sawblade

The pine from Foxbard Farm had already been milled, but today he was working on cutting up hemlock for the main timbers for our farmstand.  David usually steers framers away from hemlock, because of the tendency to rot.  But Ernie Kelley, neighbor to the Paynes at Foxbard Farm, had a stand of beautiful hemlock trees, and he wanted them to go for a higher and better use than the bridge timbers that are the usual fate of hemlock logs.  David's frustration was palpable as he showed us the hemlock logs that were beautifully straight and true, and showed no sign of rot from the butt end of the log, but then revealed rot upon sawing into the log.  He estimated that even with the nice big straight trees he received from Ernie, half of the wood would be below the standards required for timber framing.  He showed us one of the five large timbers that will be the purlins for our farmstand and that turned out to have dry rot along one side.  That wood can still be cut up for pallet lumber, but those are much smaller pieces of wood and therefore more labor to cut, and would fetch a much lower price.  I asked him if he would get 10% of the price that he could get for the larger timbers, and he said "Oh no, not nearly that much."  But his perseverance did pay off and we saw four massive timbers that will form the main structure of the farmstand.
David points out rot visible from the outside of the log

Our timbers are in the foreground
I was impressed in talking to David how his knowledge of the how trees grew informed his knowledge of the structural characteristics of the wood.  Yellow pine from the Montague Sand Plain has very nice structural stability and a lot of weight and strength due to it's slower growth in the nutrient-poor sandy soil.  Hemlock tends to rot because of it's tendency to grow faster and slower in better and worse seasons.  He also had a great perspective on his place in the network of local foresters and millers.  He delighted in telling us the names of all the other sawyers who he works with, and described himself as a "sawmill aficionado."  We got the sense that he sees the local wood
industry as an endangered one.  Many of his colleagues in the sawmill business are in their 80s and 90s.  None of the local lumber yards buy his timber; he sells it all directly to builders.  At one time, many farms had a mill onsite and derived some winter work cutting wood.  David has more modern income mix: we glimpsed the edge of a 2.4 megawatt solar array up hill from the mill.  It was inspiring to see one younger fellow (younger than his 80s, anyway) continuing on a New England tradition in the face of myriad difficulties, and to do our part to support his important work.  

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Forest to Farmstand Construction, Part 1

On a cold January Saturday last weekend, Audrey and I bundled ourselves and our dog into the car for a different-than-average date day.  The kids were both busy, so we set out on the first step of our mission to trace the origins of the wood that is being used to build our farmstand.

Foxbard Farm in Shelburne has been farmed since at least the 1700s, as evidenced by the make of some mule shoes found in one of their fields.  John Payne welcomed us into his well-maintained 1812 farmhouse to talk with us about the history of the farm and the timber management.  John's parents purchased the property in the early 1940's, when John was a child.  His father pruned off the lower branches of the pine trees, and thinned the stand to select for nice straight trees with a minimum of knots in the sawlog.  This level of careful forest stewardship is much less common now than it was then, which is perhaps not surprising, given that the benefit was realized a half-century later by the next generation who now has grandchildren!

The farm produces two main products: grassfed Angus beef, and timber.  The farm is close to 1000 acres, of which about a third has been placed into conservation restriction programs.  John's hope is to have it all conserved before he dies.  John sent us down to the end of "the Long Mowing," a long hayfield that stretched along the contour of a hillside.  We walked through the woods, admiring the many huge pine trees still remaining, along with the flawless sawlogs stacked by the road, ready to be taken to the mill where some of them will become timbers for our farmstand structure.  We took great pleasure to meet this friendly and thoughtful steward of the land, and felt honored to be part of our local web of sustainable land managers that extends not just over to Shelburne, but back in time as well.

Now those are some nice looking pine trees!

Scout appreciated the careful stewardship
which has produced plenty of sticks in this woodlot

The view up "The Long Mowing" with some nice pine logs ready for pickup

Jeremy with a nice looking white pine

  "The Long Mowing" extends north from the farmhouse; it seems even longer on a map than it does driving by, but I'm sure that the guys picking up hay bales know just how long it is!