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South East Asia Timber Frame in India  RSS feed

 
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Since January this year Ive been attempting to build a South East Asian style timber frame stilt house. Here are some Sketchup images of the plan.
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A sketchup preview of what were trying to build
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Greg Clark
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We used 'red river gum' eucalyptus trees for the frame. These were planted about 25 years ago as a cash crop for various reasons. I managed to acquire about 40 of them for the frame. They were cut in January and already they have coppiced with shoots of up to nearly 12 feet. Our school teaches Vaisnavism which is an ancient monastic tradition in India from time immemorial. The school is known as a Gurukula, or school of the teacher or guru. We keep our cows and oxen lifelong, they are never slaughtered. Indian culture holds that the cow is like our mother, because she eats only grass but provides life sustaining milk, and the ox is like the father, because he works very nicely with man to prepare the land and haul the produce. Our boys learn to handle these animals from a young age. From the milk you can get Yoghurt, Ghee (butter oil) and paneer (a curd like cheese which if you fry in the ghee makes a fantastic substitute for meat and is amazingly delicious!) We view the cows as sacred. And of course the cow dung is the best all round fertiliser you can get. We also dry it and use it for cooking. You may not know this, but it has been scientifically proven that cow dung is the only animal dung that is completely antiseptic. It is prepared and used for many medicines in India.
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On the road
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Arriving at site
 
Greg Clark
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Raju, our horse, is from the princely state of Rajasthan. He is known as a Mewar horse, typified by their upward pointing ears that rotate like radar! They are trained in Rajasthan to dance. We just got him to encourage the boys to ride horses instead of motorbikes. I also teach archery and had thought to use him to learn mounted archery. But he's quite jumpy, so that'l have to wait. He was good at moving the logs around onsite.
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My son with our home made alaskan mill.
 
Greg Clark
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In our school we have boys from: Australia, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Peru, Ecuador, New Zealand, Israel, China, Taiwan, Nepal, Spain, Hungary, America, Brazil, Czech, Croatia, Lithuania, Chile, and a few more places as well as from several states in India. From ages 5 to 25. The older boys manage the school under the supervision of the teachers. The head boy, Tamal, from Israel, is 15. The boys do all the preparing and cooking, our head cook, Naren from Bombay is 14. They wash their own clothes. They clean the whole school. Some manage the cows, others the kitchens, others cleaning, managing classes, etc etc. They learn how to be self reliant and at the same time they learn the science of self realisation. They really love the school. Even on holidays, they often turn up looking for something to do. They have great respect for the teachers, because the teachers also assist in all the activities.
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The logs stacked and commencing on the first frame
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My son and Guangshi from China making the first saw horses
 
Greg Clark
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I ended up getting a haddon lumber maker, much easier to use for long logs. At a certain point I realised there was no way we were going to mill all that lumber by hand, so we ended up loading it onto a tractor and taking it to the mill down the road. The temperature here gets to about 40 degrees Celsius in April May with humidity at 90%, there was no way we were going to be out there milling lumber in that heat! You can see the fan we had set up at the end of the log! One more thing I should mention. You might notice the absence of protective clothing? For a start you can't get it in India, and in any case we believe in Karma, if you have bad karma no amount of protective gear is going to save you. So far we appear to have good karma!
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My son, Sudama, milling a long log
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Chinese Baladeva and Bulgarian Kripasindhu successfully hauling logs with the winch
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Greg Clark
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Contemplating the work, getting the foundation built. I used a couple of ring beams. This land was raised against our regular (every 7 or so years) flooding from the river Ganges. So I had to put ring beams in to prevent settling. There is one about six feet down, joined by RCC columns to another at ground level. Then I extended the columns above ground about 5 feet and capped them with stainless steel plates that the frame will bolt onto. Another consideration is that we get severe flash thunderstorms in springtime so the building needs to be well anchored. I wanted to just sink the poles into the ground, but many friends persuaded me that much as I dislike RCC It would be prudent to use it. So I surrendered.
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Me in deep thought
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Observing the concrete foundation with suspicion (I hate concrete)
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Laying bricks in herringbone pattern for the ground floor workshop area
 
Greg Clark
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The foundation complete, we assembled the frame and prepared to winch it up into position.
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The finished foundation, on the left our hand pump facilitated laundry area.
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Assembling the first frame on the foundation
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Greg Clark
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A lot of the older boys helped us to raise the frame. They pushed from below while others winched from above. It took several hours to lift, 2 or three inches at a time.
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The boys lifting the frame.
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Our shave horse, 12 year old Ukranian Madhusyam making pegs
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A storm rolls in as the boys lift the frame to the foundation
 
Greg Clark
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Various shots of the boys learning various tasks.
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Stripping the bark
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14 year olds, Radhesyam from Nepal and Pundarik from Australia making mortices
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Greg Clark
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The main frame is up. Started putting in floorboards of local teak. The teak is expensive. I'm thinking of making the lower floor of bamboo strips which are held together with bamboo nails in a kind of panel, then packing an earth/cowdung mix on top and finishing it with linseed oil. Much cheaper. Ive seen something similar done in two floor rammed earth houses which are built in North Bengal.
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The frame today
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Teak Floorboards being laid
 
Greg Clark
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The roof structure is next. The following are sketchup ideas for the main structure. In Hawaii some people used teak for shingles. Its my only choice here in India. So I'm going to try it. It doesn't split so easily so I'm going to saw it. Im thinking of making slight notches in my plane blade so that the finished shingle will have slight ridges allowing the water to be channeled downwards.
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My idea for the roof structure
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I discovered that Teak makes good shingles. They use them in Hawaii
 
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i'm loving this. Was a Vaisnava for a little while on New Barsana in Western Colorado farm - and some of the best, most peaceful times in my life were my reading to the devotees as they ate lunch in the sun around the root cellar on the farm. i've also done living history - was a 1700s woodworker and back-up blacksmith at a 1700s era refuge fort in the early 80s. Had my own shaving horse, broad axe, carpenter's adze (toe adze) etc. Split enough shingles with a froe and riving knife to roof many squares of roof.

Your pitch is really steep in the drawing - looks to be about 14 or more - 16?  Regardless - there is no need to plane the wood - best would be a rough sawn cut and let the gravity do the work. When you plane you have more cell walls cut through. That makes them more susceptible to rot, molds, mildews, etc. Broken cell walls allow the exterior moisture in more easily and they expand more easily, contract more easily. The strongest would be splitting as almost all cells will remain intact. Next best would be a rough sawn shingle. Least desirable from the wood standpoint - and it adds extra time and processing - is the planing. If you nick your blades that shortens their lives too. i personally don't like wasting steel, and i have enough equipment left over from when i built million dollar houses in SW Colorado mountains that i own multiple sets of planer blades. And a sharpener for them. But i would not ever consider what you're talking about.

Before i did that, i'd rig up some sort of depth controlled v-groove maker that i pulled toward me. Think good high carbon steel with a v-shape, a cross piece that would prevent the chisel tip digging in (being sawn - SOME of that wood grain will pull you up, some down and you may rip it deeper than you want if you aren't real careful to follow the grain in your shingle blanks, or you hit knotty or wild grain, or compression wood, or...)

Well, i'm loving it. Always been afraid to go to India because i'm afraid i'd never want to come back.

brad
 
Greg Clark
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Brad, thanks for your encouragement and useful info. The only reason I thought to make grooves in the shingles was to replicate the natural grooves you get when you split the logs. I hadn't thought of the reactions due to cellular damage. Its a good point, especially because the humidity is so high here that mould or fungus could be a problem. Ive heard that the tannins in teak are a preventative, but you can't be too careful.

I decided not to try to split the logs because the local carpenters are not at all familiar with doing that, the logs are not that big, and the time it would take, I only have one froe. I can get them all rough sawn with a bandsaw in an afternoon.

Regarding coming to India and not wanting to go back. Thats what happened to me 30 years ago. I couldn't even think of going back now. I'm resigned to living the rest of my life here. There are so many problems in India, mostly in terms of efficiency. But the people, the atmosphere and the culture particularly in the rural areas are what keep me here.

Thanks again!
 
gardener
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Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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food preservation greening the desert solar trees
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Hi Greg, I'm so glad to see your project! Thank you!
 
brad roon
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Thanks back at you prabhu. Namaste'

If the logs are narrow the splitting really isn't an option. i've done mostly red oak in WVa/Appalachia - and you want "huggers" a trunk section you can put your arms around and hopefully not touch fingers. With most woods you have to split roughly in half and then half and then half, and work them in your riving brake - reasonably hard work once you break the blanks down to that thickness. If you did something the size of say your larger timber logs there - you'd end up with about 4 inch shingles i'm guessing - by the time you split off the sapwood. Sapwoon never has as many tannins as the heart - but teak might have enough tannins in the sapwood to have some preventative effect - never worked with it and haven't bothered looking it up in Hoadley's book to see - since i will ONLY get to use tiny pieces on our sailboat at most, lol.


Outside the tropical jungles - Appalachia has more tree species than anywhere else on earth - and we had multiple trees with good preservative properties. One of the best going was Yellow or black locust - but it frequently had carpenter ant holes through it. 40 yrs as fence post, then pull and flip it. The American chestnut was king until the blight. 70 years as fence post and flip for 70 more. i'd be shocked if there were no other weather resistant woods available unless they have all been cleared for industry and farms and stuff. Just your luck, the only thing that would replace the teak might be Rosewood which is likely even more expensive, lol. The Walnuts - black - in the US are quite resistive. In Indiana a sill log - in contact with the soil directly for 150 years - was hewn into a letter "L" shape and the joists were pegged onto the hollow part. The sapwood had rotted off in the first years, the sill logs were fine 150 yrs later. Since the "english" walnut is actually from the middle east, perhaps some of that family sharing similar phytochemical resistance is around somewhere. (Grow as big as your thumb and then no higher than 6 feet, lol.)

Good luck with your project. With you in spirit.

Om Namo Bhagavate Vahsnudevaya.

b
 
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