I’m a longtime lurker here, 27 years old, very keen on pursuing a career in building low-impact, sustainable, well-designed structures (homes, barns, workshops) using available local materials, and hand tools whenever possible, while incorporating different building modalities as appropriate (timber frame, cob, strawbale, rammed earth to name a few). I know, quite a mouthful!
Currently, I’m trying to wrap my head around the best way to get where I want to be (owner of a design/build company doing the above-mentioned things) from where I am now (somewhere around square 1… maybe square 2).
I love working with my hands, building small projects out of wood, and dreaming up designs and ideas. I am a fairly quick learner, well-coordinated, and can handle hand and power tools confidently. I have some experience helping out with house renovations, I’ve built simple things like small outhouses, a chicken coop and a couple of windows out of scrap materials. I’ve taken a natural building course at Aprovecho in Cottage Grove, Oregon. That said I have fairly little formal experience in carpentry, and almost zero in joinery. Therein lies the rub.
As of now I figure the most valuable skill to learn is timber-framing. It’s a much better building modality compared to stick framing IMHO, as when designing and sourcing materials for a timber frame structure, there is a lot more consideration and mindfulness required. Implemented alongside some other techniques, such as strawbale infill, earthen plasters, wood shingles/shakes, it can produce beautiful, functional, natural structures that can last generations. I feel it is also mainstream enough that finding work would be a little easier – compared with log builders, or structural strawbale builders for example.
My next potential steps at this point are:
- contact multiple timber framing and natural building companies, asking if they could use someone like myself
- take a couple months of courses at a school such as Heartwood School in Becket, Massachusetts this summer ( I applied to their Apprenticeship program but didn’t make it in )
- make something using joinery (a shavehorse perhaps?)
So, I would humbly ask my fellow permies with experience in this area for your thoughts on where/how to pursue this path, and I thank you all for reading this far!
We have a construction company. The first step is get a hold of a good "construction" attorney to help you decide if you need an "entity" (llc, s-c corp) or should remain "sole proprietary" depending on state laws that can vary. The next step is get a hold of very experienced commercial insurance agent that knows General Liability and Workers Comp insurance and get insured. If you are going to design, check your state laws and see what they allow (usually a state licensing agency can tell you). Ours allows anyone up to a duplex, then you need an Architect. Commercial needs an architect stamp. Talk to the insurance agent about the need for "Errors and Omission's (E&O) insurance....read the policy in depth. Most that design or give advice to the public do not carry and it is a risk they take if the design causes death or harm to someones health, personal injury, they could face a law suit and loose alot of their personal asset if not protected by an entity or properly insured. Next get a hold of a CPA. There is some upfront investment to making a career in construction, without it you can loose your shirt. The attorney can also help you set up ALOT of contracts you will need with clients, subs, employees, advice on how to handle change orders, etc.....
Hello Terry and thank you for the information! Having to worry about incorporating or insurance policies is quite a bit beyond the stage I'm currently at. I was hoping to hear suggestions and advice about timber framing schools or courses, or some self-led projects / books I could complete / read on my own in order to learn how more about joinery.
That said, I will be copy-pasting your reply to a word doc to keep for future reference
Judith! You rock! Those threads were super helpful, especially the first thread from Paula Berry, her goals, values and perspectives are almost exactly aligned with my own. Thanks a bunch
I'm living south of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada with my partner at the moment, but will be crossing the invisible line to the states come spring as her visitor's permit will be expiring in April (she's an Oregonian).
Knowledge is best gained on the job. Find someone who does work that you admire and avail yourself to him/her. I am the proud owner of a vast set of building skills all gained OTJ. It doesn't matter if you are the grunt, keep your head down and eyes open and you will learn.
Timber framing is a great trade, but if that's all you know it can be hard to get work. Natural building is philosophy that has different skills to a point, but most of the trades overlap with conventional construction. I've seen plenty of timber frame homes that are not natural.
There is a great need of traditionally trained builders and artisans; if you get the knowledge, you will never be looking for work.
ps I just noticed that you are traveling to Oregon in spring, stop by Richmond on your way and we can talk further.
Thank you for your reply. Truth be told you made me sincerely re-evaluate my ideas / thoughts / plans. Two or so years ago I approached a couple of natural building / timber framing companies about working for them, but didn't have much luck. I suppose after that experience I resigned myself to the idea that I would need formal training before I started working in earnest. It seems that assumption remained unchallenged until I read your post. Thank you!
I've begun dreaming about setting up on a nice treed piece of land, with a chainsaw, some hand tools, and my stack of woodworking and timberframing books, and spending a month or two working with green wood. In my fantasy I gain a solid understanding of the fundamentals, build a little roundwood hut with wattle and daub walls and a thatch roof. Afterwards I go around to those cool people I'd want to work for, proudly showing pictures of my structure, and they say "Hey! Welcome aboard! You're hired!"
In my mind for the price of the courses I'm considering (~$5k Canadian) I could get a nice set of tools, a good amount of wood from the mill and could be making sheds / outhouses / gazebos to sell (and rent some nice land and maybe pay some groceries!)
Bill, is that Richmond, OR? Northeast of Bend? Not sure where in the US we'll be heading in spring yet, but there's a good chance we'll see some time on the west coast.
Location: Richmond, Utah
posted 5 years ago
I think that's a great fantasy Dustin, I hope you can make it happen!
Along the lines of "show me what you can do". A good first project is the garden shed in "Timber Frame Construction" by Jack Sobon and Roger Schroeder. Build it and take in progress pics. It's 12x16 and is all traditional joinery with wood pegs and joint design being the only fasteners. 12 foot can go down the road with basic wide load signs (here anyway) so you could possibly sell it when you're done and let the buyer have it transported. This would give you some experience, show initiative and maybe even make you a few bucks. If it goes good, build and sell another. Then start going a little custom, do a Dutch barn version, maybe a shed to match the customer's home or some old barn, timber frame playset... whatever. Eventually you would probably be approached to do something bigger like a garage.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?
In South Louisiana we have a lot historic timber structures - structures that are in need of extensive preservation work. If you were able to find a company working in that field and doing a working internuship, be it here or otherwise, that would give you a means of making $ while learning.
This is the industry I work in however I work for the state. Email every historic site in every town you would consider moving too and ask if they are hiring a carpenter in training or if they use an outside co for timber preservation.