Springfield House – On Site: Round 1

Springfield House – On Site: Round 1

Once the sycamore had been sawn back in April there wasn’t much I could do on the Springfield House project until I got a call in July from Ben at Sutton Timber to say that the wood was out of the kiln and ready for use. On Monday 14th July 2014 I somehow packed my workshop into this pick-up truck and headed up to Norfolk for two weeks of on-site carpentry.

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Wilf’s father, Anthony, very kindly provided me with a suitable workshop in the form of the old milking parlour at Berry Hall just down the road from the build site. As well as a great old workbench from his father’s old workshop.

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The old milking parlour yard at Berry Hall
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A borrowed altar

The parlour and yard were suitable in all respects other than the fact that I had chosen the hottest two weeks ever to happen anywhere on earth (probably) and the yard was geographically positioned in just the right way so that it never got any shade, ensuring that all the heat of the flaming sky ball could be reflected off the red brick walls and roast anything within it. Apart from that it was perfect.

And then the sycamore arrived.

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In the phone conversation with Ben he had said that the wood had ‘bananna-ed a bit’, which was to be expected with the unorthodox speed-drying method we used on it. It certainly had, but the bananna-ing was not the biggest problem, 95% of the boards had twisted and once a board has twisted you have to do a lot of work and remove a lot of material to get it flat again. I wasn’t really prepared for this. Out of the timber from this one tree I needed to make a large dining table, several windowsills – one of which was over 3 metres long – and around 8 metres of 60cm deep countertops for the kitchen. I had my work cut out and was more than a little worried.

It took an entire week of 14 hour days to process all the timber down to 30mm thick, flat usable boards. Fortunately my visit coincided with that of 3 brilliant UEL architecture students and I managed to commandeer helpers on the weekends. Even with the help it still took 7 long days of pushing wood through a planer over and over again.

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UEL student Freddie showing a twisted board who’s boss

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Laying out the boards for the countertops

The majority of this processing was for the countertops, which consumed about 85% of the available timber, but alongside this I was also making an experimental dining table built around a central beam of concrete to reflect the house itself – which is built around a central concrete stair.

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The design was finalised back in April and the concrete beam was pre-cast in the workshop in Wiltshire as it needed 28 days to cure before reaching full strength.

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The table beam in the form

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Around this central beam the sycamore surface, legs and support ribs fit together in a complex system of slotting, bolting and dovetailing.

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As the construction of the house was being filmed for Grand Designs while I was on site, Kevin McCloud came along one afternoon to have a chat and see what I was upto. Unfortunately none of this footage made it into the final program but it was quite fun anyway.

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The most time consuming task after the wood processing was gluing up the countertops. The longest one being 3.5 metres long. An unforgiving task to do on your own, it took several days to complete.

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In between the constant gluing and clamping of the countertops I got to work on the 3 metre windowsill for the entrance hall of the house. Lacking any boards long enough I decided to make the sill out of three boards connected with some Japanese gooseneck joints. As I never make anything over 2 metres long I don’t get a chance to play with joints like these often so it was an opportunity to have a bit of fun – I regretted this decision later as they are rather time consuming and time was running out. Nonetheless I got them done and they look great in the house (even though the builders drilled right through the joints to screw the sills down.)

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A pretty well cut gooseneck joint

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gluing up the 3m windowsill

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The table was coming along in the background too.

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Cutting a leg/rib junction slot

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Unfortunately, time did run out. Despite working 16 hour days flat out for the second week there just wasn’t enough time to get the quality of finish that I wanted on the surfaces so I finally packed up my tools and arranged to come back three weeks later to finish the job.

To be continued…