Raising Heavy Timber
Tools and tips for maneuvering big beams.
Synopsis: Working with heavy timbers and no crane, the author moves material by hand. Implements like a peavey help, as does a raising device called a gin pole. These techniques are well suited to remote sites where mechanical help is not available.
When there were many gigantic redwood and fir trees in the Pacific Northwest, huge logs were milled into massive timbers to build saw-mills, bridges, wharves, warehouses and buildings for heavy industry. Lumber 12 in. square was common, though larger beams were also sawn. (The largest piece I’ve seen is 18 in. square and 42 ft. long, but the old-timers say they milled bigger ones than that.) The joinery of these structures was simple, relying on steel pins, bolts and plates for strength.
Today, many of the big-timber buildings are dilapidated beyond repair. Often the owner just wants to get rid of the old wreck, so salvage rights can be obtained before the wrecking crane is called. Salvaging any material is sound economy, and in recycled lumber there are some terrific finds like clear, tight-grained redwood, and well-seasoned fir that is suitable even for fine cabinetry. Used lumber, cleaned of paint and grime by rough-planing, sandblasting, and wire-brushing, reveals a new and rugged complexion that’s quite pleasing to the eye, with nail holes and blemishes adding character.
We recently built a house using timbers purchased before it was designed. The timber had framed a navy warehouse in Eugene, Ore.; we bought 2,400 linear feet of Douglas fir 12x12s in 10-ft., 20-ft. and 30-ft. lengths, and 9x18s 32 ft. long. Many pieces had several coats of paint, and others were covered with dirt, grime and grease. The lumber was roughsawn and box-cut; its width sometimes varied more than an inch from one end to the other, and many beams were twisted…