“Apprendre le métier et apprendre par le métier.”
To learn the craft and learn though the craft.
-Expression of the Compagnons du Devoir
What you can expect working with Arris Timber Works
Based in Fort Collins, Arris provides timber framing and construction services for all of Colorado. At Arris, you can expect to be treated with honesty and respect, to have your questions answered fully. We will explain the process to you with associated costs so you can make informed decisions and unpleasant surprises can be completely avoided. Only time and our integrity will allow you to understand that the highest quality of work will be performed on your behalf in order to meet and exceed your expectations.
Who I am
I am a journeyman timber framer. In the European traditional guild system, there are 3 stages of learning-apprentice, journeyman, and master. A journeyman is one who travels and learns from other masters. At the end of his journey, he begins to teach those who follow. I am a registered journey worker in heavy timber carpentry. This formal system of learning still exists in Europe, but not in the US. My journey has been self directed, pursuing what interests me and subjects I do not fully understand.
In the summer of 2000 I began my apprenticeship, as 1 of 4 candidates at the Heartwood School in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. I had quit my job as a product designer to pursue this idea that popped into my head. “a what if moment” The faster, cheaper, mentality of design for mass consumption left me unfulfilled.
The Heartwood School teaches traditional timber framing-wooden joinery cut using hand tools. The program is structured around various competencies – design for timber frames, engineering for loads, joinery decisions and design, proper use of hand tools, cutting and raising of a frame, compound joinery (hips and valleys) and enclosure systems.
Since that first summer, I have traveled and worked, studied and taught. Most of the work has involved traditional wooden joinery secured with wooden pegs. I have worked extensively in New England, some in England, and with advanced studies in France with the master carpenters of the Compagnons du Devoir.
I have had the good fortune to work on challenging projects with highly skilled craftsmen. They have been generous in sharing their knowledge. Under their guidance, I have become highly proficient using traditional hand tools and common layout methods used in the US, England, and France.
Here are some of the people and experiences who have been instrumental in my understanding of the craft.
Glenn Dodge, New Boston, NH 2002-2003
Working with Glenn, I learned about French scribe and the lofting floor. This is a pre industrial (geometry based) method of building rarely practiced in this country, but still commonly used in France and England. With this technique, one makes a full scale drawing on the floor of what you wish to construct. The timbers are aligned and leveled over the full scale floor drawing. Using a plumb bob (a universal reference for vertical or plumb) one can quickly and accurately mark, and then draw the joinery. This method is direct, accurate, and flexible. It is powerful because it allows curved or highly irregular timbers to be used. Often times this is the only practical way to build.
Glenn also is a big believer in using hand tools. Since he often works with irregular shaped timbers, much of wooden joinery must be cut by hand. This allowed me to become highly proficient with the carpenters tools of the 1800’s-the axe, adze, chisels and the hand saw. Properly used, hand tools are often faster and more accurate than power tools.
Abington School Boathouse-Oxford, England July 2003
This was an international collaboration of 70 carpenters from the United Kingdom, the US and Germany. Half the frame was cut by an English timber frame company, the other by volunteers. In 17 days, this group cut half the frame and raised the entire oak boathouse. The successful completion of this large building (55’ x 100’) required close cooperation among participants with different building traditions and even language. It was an enriching experience to work so closely with other carpenters and share knowledge from 3 continents. It is important to keep learning and to share knowledge to further the craft.
Russel Colbath visitors center, Albany, NH Sept. 2003
The Timber Framers Guild is a non-profit educational membership association dedicated to the craft of timber framing. They are interested in building communities as well as buildings. I have been a heavy timber carpentry instructor on 2 occasions for the Guild. Projects are often ambitious, offering great opportunities to share knowledge and learn in the process.
In 2003 the Guild partnered with the US Forestry Service to build an interpretive center on the Kangamangus Trail in NH. This was a big project. I was chosen as 1 of the 7 professional timber framers/instructors who lead 70 volunteers. We had 17 days to cut and raise a building that contained 450 timbers. This is one of the most challenging projects I have chosen. And one of in which I have learned the most. Teaching is a huge responsibility. But it is through teaching that one truly learns about the craft and one’s abilities.
I first met Boris, a master carpenter, at a Timber Framers Conference where he was demonstrating the methods French carpenters use solve compound roof problems. This is a complex subject that had baffled me and other carpenters I know.
Talking with Boris after the class, he encouraged me to come to France to study.
In 2004, I traveled to France to live and study with the Compagnons du Devoir. They are a craft guild teaching in 26 traditional crafts. This is a 10 year program graduating some of the most skilled craftsmen in the world. They have their own infrastructure throughout France and live apart from contemporary French society. Most major towns have a “Maison du Compagnons”, a house that includes- dormitory, studios, dining halls. These craftsmen are part of centuries old tradition in metal,stone, and wood. It is their craft lineage that built, and now maintains the great cathedrals and palaces of France.
I went to study the system of traditional drawing called in French “epure” or “essence”. While the other carpenters were at work, I would spend the day in the drawing studio, puzzling over increasing difficult assignments. During evening classes they would explain (in French) these subtle concepts and proper techniques. Under their patient tutelage, I learned this method. Using it one can solve lengths of timbers and cut angles for complex roof systems using simple drafting tools. This is a system developed and refined since the middle ages and passed on to each carpenter, at a desk working out the solutions.
A year’s language preparation left me barely able to cope with a complete immersion in the timber framing craft culture. Their “houses” are filled with their master works demonstrating the proficiency of these craftsmen. It is difficult to express the wonder I felt. I had gained rare access to an active living craft culture. There were significant cultural and language barriers, but I felt very much at home. These were people who felt the same passion and commitment to their craft. I now bring that passion to Colorado with every project that I begin.