Craftsmanship Goals: The Housed Joint

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This past week Dan, Danny and I attended the Cleveland Home and Garden show where we saw several examples of timber-framing, mainly as garden pavilions and outbuildings. I was excited to see them, since it reinforces our belief that this building style and the values it represents are making a comeback. But Dan challenged me to look closer, pointing out details of the joinery. “We house our joints; these aren’t,” he said often.

It took me awhile to figure out what he meant, but then I saw it … several millimeter gaps where two members come together at an angle. I think back to the frame raisings I’ve watched, where the fit of each joint is tight … so tight that it takes a fearsome looking wooden mallet swung by a very powerful person to persuade them to come together. And yet they do, every time. The craftsmanship of our frames follow the philosophy of our muse, Roman Troyer, who insists upon joints so precise--with not a millimeter to spare--that they squeak when fitted together.

Many of the frames we saw at the show were being sold as kits that homeowners can assemble themselves in a weekend. Our level of precision-fit may preclude our frames from being assembled that way. Our frames really require someone like Jake Grant to persuade them together. But there is no air in our joints. No opportunity for moisture and insects to invade the crucial connections upon which the strength of the overall structure depend. Our frames are built like fine furniture on a large scale. You can run your fingers over a seam where two huge beams come together and barely feel, or see it.

There’s something about Ogonek Custom Hardwoods’ assembled frames that I’ve never been able to articulate, something breathless. They are so massive, but also seemingly weightless despite it. They don’t seem to be tied to the earth, yet how can that be when each beam out of dozens weights hundreds of pounds? A few imperfectly housed joints here and there may not have much effect on the overall aesthetic, but over an entire frame they must reduce that sense of effortless-seeming strength.

Danny is currently learning about gravity, and starting to understand that it is a formula of mass (“You have more matter than me, Mommy!”) and distance. A well-executed timber frame design is also a precise formula balancing mass and height, using, while seemingly defying, Earth’s gravity. Housed joints are important to that formula.