Hand Tools (97)

Waioli Mission Hall, Hanalei

Waioli Mission Hall stands as a major monument of Hawaiian architectural history, the primary inspiration for the Hawaiian double-pitched hipped roof so widely popularized by C. W. Dickey in the 1920s. Built by the Reverend William P. Alexander, Dickey’s grandfather, the plaster walls of the frame structure repose beneath a sprawling roof and encircling lanai. The roof, originally thatched, was shingled in 1851. Similarly, the freestanding, ohia-framed belfry at the rear of the mission was of thatch construction, but most likely received a covering of shingles in the same year. The form of the twenty-five-foot-high belfry drew upon a long British and American colonial tradition. Common in its day, today it stands as the sole surviving example of its type in Hawaii.

This was the third church building on the site, with the earlier thatched edifices falling prey to fire and storms. It remained a center for worship until the completion of Waioli Huiia Church in 1912, when it became a community hall for the church, a function it still serves today. The building has been thrice restored: in 1921 by Hart Wood, in 1978 by Bob Fox, and again in 1993, following Hurricane Iniki, by Designare Architects.

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Scott Holmen's 14′ × 14′ Post-and-Beam Cabin

…I have worked as a forester since the mid-1970s and have lived in places that had specialized structures with limited functions, a cookhouse for cooking and eating, a bathhouse for showers and clothes washing, and a smaller structure (cabin or tent frame) to sleep in. Not much of a stretch to think I could do that again. I always wanted a large outside space which would stay dry. So I ended up with a 16´ × 16´ covered deck in front of the cabin. This had an added advantage because it gave me a large, dry, flat building area. Since it does rain a bit around here, that was a huge plus.

The cabin’s concept was to build modular log walls, and then assemble them in a post-and-beam framework. The log walls use ¾˝ thick, 3˝ wide plywood splines to attach them to the posts. The modules are built on a jig, and are then either stored somewhere until it is time to build or are then rebuilt on the foundation.

I’m just a retro-grouch at heart. Old school, wood and steel, no electricity, and a bit of skill beats power tools any day. I like my electric hand planers for smoothing wall timbers, love my chainsaw for cutting the big stuff — but for a simple bevel on a board (or 70 boards), I like the sound of a quiet hand plane that is older than my grandkids, older than my kids, older than me, maybe older than my father, and just like the ones my grand­father used to use.
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Hybrid Natural Home in Colorado Highlands Built by Brett LeCompte

My home, which I built in 
2003–04, is a hybrid design. 
The north, east, and west wall are straw bale, while the south wall is adobe and glass. The upper story is framed with 2˝ × 8˝ rough-sawn local Ponderosa Pine, furred out to about 9½˝ to accommodate a heavy coat of cellulose insulation, which also fills the roof cavity. Downstairs, there are earthen plasters inside and outside, while upstairs is sheathed in local, rough-sawn pine board and batten.

Drywall walls upstairs are finished in earthen plasters, which ties the two levels together. A central woodstove heats the home, which is off the grid. I tried to use materials mostly from my county in southwest Colorado. Ceilings are tongue-and-groove aspen sawn in a mill six miles away. The frame is local Ponderosa pine, including a third of them milled from my property. I did my own bathroom and kitchen ­cabinetry. Downstairs floors are earthen (two thirds) and tile (one third). There are lots of porches for protection of my earthen walls during a Colorado winter. One unique feature is a 10-inch lizard (painted blue) that runs up the staircase on an interior adobe wall. I named her Noelle when I finished shaping her one Christmas afternoon. I share the house with my wife Shaine, kids Rosie and Fielder, and dog Ella…

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Barn in Oregon Framed with 1″ Lumber

I’ve been going through old photos lately. I shot photos of this beautiful barn in 2014. I posted it back then, but I think it’s worth looking at it again, in more detail. Here’s what I wrote:

There are buildings that have — for lack of a better word — a sweetness to them. Like this barn, like a small abandoned cottage in an English field I once found, slowly disintegrating back into the soil from which all its materials came. Inside, I could feel the lives that had been lived there. Or the buildings of master carpenter Lloyd House. It happens most frequently in barns, where practicality and experience create form with function. Architecture without architects.

The unique feature here is that the roof’s curve is achieved by building the rafters out of 1″ material. 1 × 12s laminated together (I believe 4 of them) to achieve the simplest of laminated trusses. The barn is 24′ wide, 32′ long, 26′ to the ridge. Thanks to Mackenzie Strawn for measuring it; he also wrote: “I have a carpentry manual from the 1930’s with a short section on the Gothic arch barns, they suggest making the roof radius ¾ of the width.”

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Curved-Roof Shed


This is 10′ by 10′. Rafters made of four 1″ by 4″ by ⅜″ redwood bender board, 16′ long, bent, glued and clamped together. Roof sheathing is 1 × 6 redwood fence boards from Home Depot. Siding is ⅜″ rough-sawn exterior DF plywood. Eventually I’ll panel the inside with used fence boards. Flooring is used yellow pine T&G from Heritage Salvage in Petaluma. Windows (used) from Urban Ore in Berkeley.

Billy Cummings has done most of the work here, including cutting and fitting double-wall polycarbonate greenhouse glazing under the curved eaves.

Next step is to build a sliding door for one half of the end wall shown here so a bed can be rolled out onto the deck for nighttime star gazing. Jay Nelson built a sliding door for his shop that gave me the idea.

Note: A curved roof is infinitely more time-consuming (in many ways) as compared with, say, a shed roof or a gable roof. BUT the space underneath is wonderful and something I highly recommend for tiny homes. If you take the time to build a roof like this, it will give you a feeling of spaciousness and avoid the claustrophobia of small spaces. Curved roofs are the secret to the good feeling in Gypsy wagons (vardos).

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Margaret's Cabin Built by Jan Janzen

This little cabin was built almost entirely from a cedar tree that had been lying nearby. Framing, flooring, shakes. Maybe that’s what makes the building so harmonious. Jan had told me this and, as I was climbing around inside and out shooting photos, I had a vision of a tree, a solid chunk of wood, cut up rearranged, and expanded to make this cozy place…

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Circle Madness

Old guys at work. 153 years of age total here. Billy and I have worked together off and on for 47 years.

I’ve wanted to build a curved roof for a long time. I finally did it, with help from Billy Cummings. For the 6 rafters, we glued together 4 pieces of redwood bender board — 16′ long, 1″ by 4″, ⅜″ thick, using a jig laid out on the floor, with Titebond wood glue, and clamping every foot or so. It was a pretty tedious process, we could only do one a day.

We got the rafters in place, Billy did the blocking on the plates, and we used 1×8 rough redwood fence boards for the sheathing. Yesterday we put down the flooring — used shiplap pine from Heritage Salvage. It looks (and feels) great.

There’s nothing like a curved roof, especially with a tiny home; it gives you a feeling of spaciousness. This is the roof shape in gypsy wagons — vardos.

This is 10′ by 10′. If I did it over, I would make it rectangular, like 8 by 12 or 8 by 14. I’m going to put a bed inside on wheels, that can be rolled out on the deck to sleep out under the stars. I’m still figuring out where to put windows.

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