t was the late afternoon of a long day of hauling timbers,
sawing posts, and hammering hand-carved wooden pegs.
Excitement ran high among the 10 workshop participants as
they carried the first section of a timber frame along a concrete walkway that protrudes from the earthen dam of Norton
Brook Reservoir in Bristol. The walkway leads to the foundation of what was once a gauging station, back when the city of
Vergennes used this reservoir as its water supply.
Master timber-framer Will Gusakov and David Brynn,
Vermont Family Forests executive director, were in the midst
of leading a three-day course, From Forest to Frame, and the fruits
of the students’ labor were about to coalesce into a timber frame
“forest hut” built on the foundation of the old gauging station.
On the west side of the foundation is a 14-foot red pine frame
with posts and diagonals. “All of this wood is wet – it hasn’t dried
much at all since we cut it – and it is heavy,” said Brynn. “And there’s
all this enthusiasm. Man, we’re about to raise this thing!”
A lot can go wrong in this moment – an injury, a miscue, an
overly enthusiastic effort that pushes the frame too far and sends
it toppling into the reservoir below. Gusakov focused the students’
energy to the task at hand.
“We want to do this well and with great care,” he told them, “So I
need you to be quiet as we raise the frame.” In a silence broken only
by the cadences of songbirds in the surrounding forest, many hands
coaxed the frame to vertical, and Gusakov fastened it into place.
“It was meditation with a timber frame,” recalled course participant
John McNerney. “It was an eye-opener on how much you can
communicate and cooperate without the verbal part going on.”
Next, the students raised the east side of the framework, and
then the sugar maple gables whose curving forms reflect the
character of the tree from which they were sawn. Finally, they lifted
the white pine rafters into place.
By day’s end, a completed timber frame rose above the reservoir’s
dark waters. In keeping with European carpentry tradition, Gusakov
affixed a hemlock bough to the roof ridge to thank the trees that, in
his words, “gave up their bones to the building.”
The hut is an open-air community shelter and gathering place
within the Waterworks property, a conserved parcel of nearly 1,000
acres in Bristol and Monkton.
Building something useful for the community was one of the
many gratifying aspects of the course, according to McNerney. For
him, the workshop satisfied a curiosity he’d had since his childhood
in Ohio, where he grew up in an old farmhouse with a big, 1830s-
era timber-frame barn.
“I was interested in seeing how it’s done, especially from start to
finish – going into the woods and picking the trees and having the
sawmill on site and going up to Will’s place for the joinery.”
Building a Timber Frame,
Story and Photos by Alexandra Murphy
Paul Cate (center, orange jacket) talks with students before gathering
the logs for the forest hut using his Vimek forwarder.
to the reservoir.