The temperature for March 15 around Madison WI typically varies from 27°F to 41°F.  Today it hit 80.  It’s never done that before.

All the more reason to build the most energy efficient, sustainable building practices house that we can. That meant working outside in tee shirts, although in the afternoon I put my long-sleeved shirt back on to avoid sunburn.  Doug and I spent the day working with Bryan, our building foreman, Brad, his assistant, and Vince, the miller.

Most of the wood in our house is coming from our 44 acres.  The oak, black walnut, elm, cherry and pine timbers that frame the house will not be milled.  That’s the way Whole Tree Architecture and Construction  builds.  But there was a small stand of pine too big for timbers growing on the building site and blocking the solar exposure.  These trees are being milled to provide the boards for the roof.

The milling process is beginning with the pines for the roof.

Doug and I also worked with a miller when we built our timber frame barn.  We milled a stand of oaks killed by oak wilt for the roof boards of the barn.  Doug and I spent two very physical days lifting each inch-thick oak plank off the mill and stacking them.  Each cut revealed grain more beautiful than the last.  It was like going to an  art gallery of wood.

Working with the pine was a new experience.  Freshly-cut pine almost glows in the sun and is dappled with the circular traces left by branches.  Once again each new slice was like a work of art, and I found myself in a whole new kind of wood gallery.  .

Somehow the first slice always seems the most dramatic to me.

Another difference between oak and pine is that these pieces were sliced to 5/8 inch.  They were shorter logs to begin with, and they felt like feathers compared to the oak.

Pine is so much lighter than oak!

When we realized that the pines had to be cut, we spent a long time thinking about how to use the wood.  Roof boards will be perfect.

These boards will dry out in the open. They don't need a kiln.

The shorter logs are cut into 2×2 stickers to stack the rest of the boards.

These stickers are perfect for stacking the roof boards.

Milling generates a LOT of sawdust, which I am collecting and wheel barrowing over to the part of the barn yard where we compost.  This bounty will keep the luggable loo dry and sweet smelling, and what we don’t use in the loo will add carbon to the garden beds.

This sawdust is incredibly light and fluffy. It was great fun to work with.

The rafters of our house will be unmilled pines that we chose because they needed to be thinned for the health of the woods.  They have been peeled and are stacked in the barn for the moment.

The barn makes a great staging area for the house project.

Peeling these timbers in the barnyard created a mountain of bark curls.

This is valuable material.

Several of the guys who are working on the house-building project have expressed an interest in growing a garden that they can each out of this summer.  We have been preparing a garden spot by cover cropping it for the past two years.  Doug and I actually thought we would not have time to garden while building, but with this little extra nudge, we are going to start the garden bed.  That meant raking up the thick layer of pine bark that had been peeled there.

Raking and barrowing all that bark was actually a lot harder work than taking pine planks off the mill, but it felt really good.

This building project is making us rich in compost materials.

What feels better than building a big pile of material ready to be composted?

We have known since we selected our building site for its great solar potential that the pines would be cut.  It takes the sting out of the job to be putting every atom of them to good use.

Next week the miller will be cutting thick slabs of black walnut, oak, elm and cherry that will be used for counter tops, shelving  and the deep window sills you always get when you build a straw bale house.  These logs also came from our land, and were chosen to thin the woods.  I can hardly wait to visit the wood gallery again.

10 replies

  1. Isn’t this weather amazing? What a wonderful time to be doing all of this. I love the smell of wood and I almost feel I can smell the pine from here! :o) Thanks for all the wonderful photos.

  2. Yes, milling wood is a very sensuous act. I have been loving every step of working with the trees that are going into our house, from walking through the woods looking at every tree closely to select them, to cutting off the branches of the pines and spruce and peeling them standing to start the drying process, to sanding the surface of some of the main branching pillars to watching the boards come out of the logs. It’s all an amazing hoot.
    What I am really excited about is next week when the miller gets to the cherry, black walnut, oak and elm logs that are going to be cut into thick slabs for various horizontal applications.

  3. How are drying the wood? Or not drying the wood?

    We are very interested in building a small barn in the same way. Plenty of wood available on our site.

    • Hi Kathy,
      Great to hear from you.
      Yes, we are drying the wood. The pine for the roof decking will be dried naturally. It is sticker stacked with 2″ spacing between boards. Our building manager says that will be adequate for that application.
      The hardwood slabs for the house interior (counter tops, window sills, etc.) will be kiln dried.
      Good luck with your project.

  4. I’m glad you decided to plant a garden to enjoy during your building process. You’ll appreciate pulling a little food out of your garden now and then and having that quiet spot to rest for a few minutes when you can. I find gardening to be very grounding, and it doesn’t have to be a big deal, either. I love your building stories; thank you!

    • Thanks for your positive feedback, Eleanor.
      I was working out on the building project today, and a quiet spot would have been appreciated. The frogs were singing in the pond, but they were drowned out by the sound of the portable saw mill and the power hand tools that Doug and I were using to finish some of the pine timbers. What a relief at the end of the day when they were all turned off.

      • They certainly are! I have tried sanding the tree surfaces by hand, and it is great for the very final phase and certain very irregular spots, but I could never sand these trees by hand in time. It is taking long enough with a palm sander. It’s a deal with the devil, but I can’t say no.

  5. I felt that way about our latest acquisition of the snow blower, but the time to dig by hand would leave alpacas waiting a long time to be fed and not much space to be outside after a heavy snow fall. All I can think of though is at least we are not investing in large scale equipment like so many farmers are expected to do these days

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s