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Augusta Project Nearing Completion

A couple of years ago, I was called by Dan Hellmuth of Hellmuth and Bicknesse Architects to work on a new green building that they were designing. I had worked with Dan previously on Washington University’s Living Learning Center and was glad to hear from him again. For me, the new job was similar to the Living Learning Center – trees from the property were going to be milled and the lumber was going to be used to make finished products throughout the house. The new building wasn’t trying to be the greenest building in the U.S., like the Living Learning Center, but it was designed to be very energy efficient with structural insulated panels (SIPS) and geothermal heating and cooling.

The property had about 80 acres of forest comprised of eastern red cedar, oak and hickory, along with a sprinkling of sugar maple and ash. The best trees were white oaks in the 24″ diameter range, some of which had veneer-grade butt logs (which means they were perfect, straight-grained and knot free). Most of the trees were slightly lower-grade and smaller, but still nice. The smallest were the cedars, which are considered invasive and were scheduled to be removed.

White oak logs on the landing waiting to be milled.

White oak logs on the landing waiting to be milled.

My choice of logs to harvest was limited by the terrain, which ranged from hilly to mountainous. Only one inclined ridge allowed reasonable access to the better logs. The rest of the forest housed bigger trees that will probably never be cut – it is just too difficult to get the logs out. Even spots that looked reasonably flat were only so in relation to the steep drop-offs. Often it was so steep that I had trouble getting the Bobcat back up to the landing, even if I wasn’t moving a log.

Once I got the logs out and back to my mill, I cut them and either air-dried or kiln-dried the lumber depending on their final use (kiln-dried goes inside, air-dried goes outside). The white oak was used for the deck, the boat dock and interior doors. The cedar was slated to be used as siding for the house, but that was changed to reclaimed barn siding and the cedar was moved indoors to be flooring in the loft areas. The smaller amount of ash, maple and hickory haven’t been used yet and are waiting their turn, most likely for future furniture.

Interestingly enough, two areas of woodwork in the house that I am most proud of, did not use wood from the property. We built the entertainment center cabinets from a mix of the customer’s cherry and cherry that I provided, while we made the front and back doors from WunderWoods walnut.

Overall, the project is nearly complete (I am finishing up the wine cellar racks), and since I never remember to take photos, I thought it was about time.

Here are some photos I took last time I was there (click on any photo to enlarge and view the slideshow):

Special thanks to John Stevens and Dan Draper for their help on many aspects of the job. Also, thanks to Scott Allen and his crew, who took over the general contracting of the house and made sure I always had an extra hand when I needed it.

The “Augusta Project”

I have been working on a project for a year or so,nestled in the rolling hills of Augusta (MO) on 200 acres of land that makes me question going home at night. After all (I ponder), if I had a tent I wouldn’t need to drive all the way home just to drive all the way back in the morning. There is a never-ending chunk of woods surrounding a never-fished pond at the end of a never-seen-before creek bed. I picture myself catching fish for dinner and sleeping off the aches of a long day alongside the crackling fire. Of course, I come ill-prepared to camp and don’t really have permission to do so, but I think about it – then head home.

Now that winter has rolled around, I think less about camping and fishing and more about the project at hand, and it is a good thing now that it is finally coming together. There have been a few bumps in the road, but it is on track again and it is time to show some photos. Everyone I talk to has heard about the “Augusta Project”, and I am sure that they are starting to wonder if there really is such a project. Well, I have proof now.

The “Augusta Project” is a timber-frame house that is being built with an earth-friendly approach, though the homeowners aren’t going out of their way to get any particular green certification. I got in on the action through the architect, Dan Hellmuth, from Hellmuth & Bicknesse. I worked with Dan a couple of years ago on a project for Washington University, where the Living Learning Center was crowned one of the greenest buildings in the country. This job has much less paperwork (none, to this point), but I am doing very similar work.

So far, I have been contracted to harvest the trees and manufacture specific products for the building. The exterior decking is made from 5/4 thick white oak and is the first finished product that has been delivered to the job site. The land has a lot of nice white oaks (some that I can actually get to) that I felled, milled, dried and then had molded by Fehlig Brothers in St. Louis. The material was profiled with grooves down both sides to receive hidden fasteners. I have also cut a lot of cedars which are going to become the siding for the parts of the house not covered in stone. There was also a mix of hard maple, hickory and ash that I milled for purposes yet undetermined.

I cannot take credit for the major installed work to this point, which is the timber frame being installed by Trillium Dell Timber Framers. It is made from Douglas Fir and mostly cut in the shop, though some of the trickier cuts are being done on site. I snapped some photos this week of the frame, which is almost done. Be sure to enjoy the view! Click on the photos to enlarge.

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