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Timber Frame Raising Day

When we pick a date for a frame raising, there's a certain element of stress that comes along with the excitement of having our frame go up. It's a big day for us, but there are many, many things that need to happen to make things run smoothly throughout the day.

First of all, we need to have the frame ready. Beams need to be moved up to the site, and checked to make sure that there are enough braces, posts, tie beams and plates. If there is a beam missing, it's a big deal, because we can't raise a frame without them, most of the time.

With our frame at Hawk Circle, we know that there are always mortises and tenons to be checked, just in case the apprentices didn't quite get them deep enough, or thin enough. We check for peg holes, because those have a way of slowing us down too.

We need to bring timber horses, to get our beams to the right height, and all kinds of blocks, which are cut off beam ends that help us raise too. We get our scaffolding together, and the planks for the scaffolding, and ladders and wood for bracing the beams while they go up.

There are all kinds of tools needed for raising, in addition to the usual timber framing chisels, mallets and squares. We usually bring some crow bars, rock bars, and some big mallets called 'the Commander' and 'the Beidle'. There's always a checklist going in my head to make sure we don't leave something necessary behind!

Of course, for the recent Eagle House raising, we were already at home, so we didn't have to worry about that.

Raising beams takes a lot of hands and strong backs, but it also takes people who can anticipate what is going to happen next. It takes people who can listen to instructions carefully and not 'go rogue' and start doing something on their own that could be dangerous. So, it's good to pair up people on tasks, and make sure everyone knows what they are doing, how they are helping and how to do things safely.

It's a huge help if someone is there who has raised frames before, who can help the mortises and tenons fit snugly, and not put beams in backwards, and stuff like that. (Trust me, it happens!) Experience makes everything go much smoother, and helps get a lot more work done.

During the raising, it's important to allow people to have some 'space out' time, or what I like to call "Timber Framer's Hypnosis", where people who are fairly new can just chill out and see the whole frame and process come together, and enjoy it, and absorb it, and experience it. It's normal, and it's part of the learning curve, basically.

As the coordinator of the Raising Day, I try to modify my expectations of what we can accomplish, based on who shows up, the status of the frame, the weather and other factors, and try to do as much as we can, without feeling like we are rushing constantly, and not able to enjoy the process. We do as much as we can, safely and enjoyably. There is a little bit of teaching time, but not too much that it slows down our progress.

Sometimes, I get a little irritated by the expectations that some people have when they watch old Amish videos online and expect that the whole frame will be magically raised in a day. They forget that in those videos, there are like, forty or fifty EXPERIENCED timber framers, who ALL know what they are doing and need very little explaining to make it happen. Don't get me wrong, though. The frames they cut and raised are amazing works of art that are massive monuments to unique structures and I love seeing those old films too. But in today's raising environment, if you want speed, you better be willing to open your wallet and schedule a crane. Cranes make the lifting part easier but they are not cheap.

Raising a frame is something that is great to have kids see and take part in if there are things they can do to help in a safe manner. It's also fun to have a kind of community party, even, and invite some of the greater community to come and check it out. However, I don't like too many people when I raise, because I don't want to deal with the distractions of having to meet new people and do long introductions while I am trying to get things done. So, it's a balance. It helps if you have a few different people who can show people around so you are freed up to just work and take care of business!

Raising day is awesome when you have good food around for nourishing meals and snacks, and just sharing food together after working hard on something that is meaningful. Timber frames are valuable and will last for a few hundred years if they are built right and kept dry, so it's a generational investment and one that will leave a lasting legacy for lots and lots of people. It's an honor to be able to be there for the 'birth of the building', so to speak, and tell your grandchildren that you were there when it went up.

Raising beams is a lot of fun and a culmination of months of work, in many cases, and it's powerful and exciting and nerve wracking and amazing. Our latest raising for our Eagle House frame resulted in getting the front porch frame up with the rafters and everything, and then we started on the posts for the main frame, too, but ran out of daylight and dry weather at the very end. But it was a great, great day, and we accomplished a ton.

We will be having more raisings coming up in July, so stay tuned, and I hope you will come take part if you are able, or seek out a timber framer in your area and attend if you can. It's worth it, believe me! It makes years of childhood Lincoln Logs all worthwhile!

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