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The Heartwood School for the Homebuilding Crafts
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Heartwood School Framing Joy
Reflections of a graduate of the 1O-week timber framing apprenticeship

from Scantlings, October 1999, newsletter of the Timber Framers Guild

A roll of black-and-yellow police caution tape, a set of elastic-inch liar's suspenders, and a T-shirt proclaiming "He who dies with the most tools wins" all featured at the graduation ceremony (less of the ceremony folks, pass me my block plane so I can open another beer) at which the Heartwood School's five 1999 timber frame apprentices received their diplomas and coveted TFGNA pins.

This momentous event occurred mid-August in beautiful sunlit woodland in Western Massachusetts, amid much laughter and accompanied by Will Beemer and Dave McBride on guitar and Michele Beemer on cuisine -- another typical evening at Heartwood.

That says a lot, but it can't begin to describe the value of the Heartwood Experience '99. Most readers of Scantlings may think that a TFGNA pin is acquired in exchange for hard cash. A more life-enhancing method of acquisition was discovered this summer by Ilya Benesch, Erik Lobeck, David McBride, India Viola, and me, Isobel Barnden -- the five timber frame apprentices selected from the winter's swath of applications.

Heartwood's director is Will Beemer, and his January appointment as co-Executive Director of the Guild has prompted a shift in emphasis of the carpentry and building school's well-established schedule of courses and apprenticeship program.

In this year's ten-week apprentice program, four one-week courses in basic and advanced timber framing practise and theory were presented in what can only be described as glorious technicolor by a glittering cast of experts in engineering (Grigg Mullen, Ben Brungraber), design (Andrea Warchaizer), square rule and scribe rule (Dave Carlon, Will Beemer), log scribing (John Palmer, Mike Goldberg), and compound joinery (Will again).

For the apprentices, these Heartwood-Guild courses (class size up to 20) were supplemented by a nine-day workshop in New Hampshire, run by a trio of experienced framers enthusiastic in their commitment to share skills and framing fun: Kyle Whitebead, Glenn Dodge, and Will Truax. At Canterbury Shaker Village we cut and raised a replica of a 19th-century garden barn, using only hand tools and applying our minds to their square rule framing method incorporating the use of chalklines to allow for bow or wind. Living in this "museum village," working with band tools, surrounded by well-preserved Shaker buildings and artifacts, was an unforgettable experience.

The other activities -- planned and spontaneous -- which filled most of our remaining waking moments were as valuable and wide-ranging as the formal course element. There were visits to timber frame shrines from Maine to New York State: covered bridges, old, new and restored churches, houses and barns. There were glimpses of established framing shops which may or may not prove to be Y2K compliant. (Is that a Pentium chip in your adze?) There were entertaining and informative slide shows and videos to watch; there were dark second-hand tool grottos to explore, and there were tool sharpening marathons late into the night at Heartwood. There was a fairly impromptu tree felling for the local owner- builder, who suddenly "needed" a band-hewn beam for Monday. There was a sweltering weekend cabin-raising with Joel McCarty at Mt. Riga, Connecticut. And there was beauty, calm, and Southworth hospitality among the creaking old belts and rushing water of Garland Mill.

The five of us came as strangers and wannabe framers from Alaska, Rhode Island, California, Boston and the U.K., and threw our different personalities and professions into the 10-week melting pot of Will and Michele Beemer's carefully planned and lovingly executed Heartwood experience. In the process we not only became a team far greater than the simple sum of its parts, but also - which I trust is already obvious if you have read this far! -- were infected through the many framers we met by the high spirits and high standards that seem to characterize timber framing in the U.S. in the 1990s. Returning to the job I love as a framer in the U.K., I take with me not only a whole raft of new knowledge, but also those highs.       - Isobel Barnden

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