As a Designer with experience of site work, I was asked to take the Oakwrights laptop and camera to Northern Ireland to assist with putting up a frame with the site crew. I relish the chance to get out of the office and get some fresh air in my lungs, and where else could be better than beside Belfast Lough. I wasn’t the designer of the frame, but as Alex (senior Frame Designer) was too busy, and I could drive the computer and swing a hammer, I would be able to reference the 3D computer model if something needed to be checked.
We left the yard at 5pm on Sunday. It was so cold and dark and could well have been 5am on Monday morning, but once the van was defrosted we were warming up on our way. I didn’t quite know what to expect in the week ahead as I’d never been to Ireland and I’d only erected one oak frame before! We arrived in Liverpool at around 9 o’clock, in good time for our ferry. We were on the 8 hour overnight ferry and would be landing at 6am Monday morning for a full day’s work ahead of us. I thought a good night’s sleep was essential.
While boarding we met with the Gammonds lorry driver delivering the oak to site. We checked into our cabins and dropped off our bags before heading to the bar. As we were travelling in freight, we sat down amongst the ‘Road Kings’ to enjoy our 3 course dinner of pate, roast beef, and cake. It was no cordon bleu but it filled a hole! We spent the rest of the evening in the bar chatting amongst ourselves and the ‘locals’. It felt like I had only just closed my eyes when at 5.30am the tannoy announced that breakfast would be over in ten minutes. I got up and re-grouped with the lads, soon we were driving off the ferry and making our way to site.
The site was situated right on the edge of Belfast Lough, with a nature reserve separating us from the coast line. The view of the Lough was spectacular with fishing boats, merchant vessels and ferries passing through all day. I was told by the client that on a clear day you could see as far as Scotland.
We soon got to work, unloading the oak packs off the lorries onto the lawn. Ross (the foreman), unloaded the timbers post by post and directed the crane driver with a series of hand gestures over to myself, where with the help of Stu, and Ed we positioned the posts onto their footings and connected them with girding rails and braces to create a free standing structure. We worked our way round the building, and by the end of the day we had erected most of the ground floor frame with only the more complicated porch and conservatory to do.
The First Posts and Beams go together with Braces to create a stable structure.
Our accommodation was in the Titanic Quarter of central Belfast in the brand new Premier Inn hotel. After checking into my room, with its king-size bed and flat screen TV I headed down to the restaurant for some much needed dinner, and a pint of Guinness!
On day two the wind had picked up, and although it was sub-zero temperatures we were blessed with sunshine. The rain or snow really sap your energy and slow you down so we managed to press on at a good rate, getting floor joists, wall plates, and tie-beams into place.
Floor Joists help to create a working platform to walk on.
Day three was the windiest of all the week with gusts of 60mph+. Typically, this was the day we were dropping the trusses into place. Stu, Ed, and I were positioned at each point ready to grab hold of the trusses as they spun wildly in the wind. Luckily the crane driver was experienced, and happy to continue working even though the alarm was telling him that the boom was flexing. Slowly we located each tenon into its corresponding mortice and erected the trusses. I began the arduous task of pegging up. This involves hitting hundreds of pegs, in awkward places, through draw bored holes. Usually a lot of force is required as pegs are the traditional method of locking a frame together. While I did this the others climbed around the frame locating the purlins and ridges, pegging them down as they went, to save climbing back up.
The Arch Collar Braces create a feature detail in the master bedroom. The view of the oak frame erection from the existing house.
We worked late into the darkness trying to finish the lifting with the crane driver, but we couldn’t quite get it drawn to an end.
A roof-top view of the trusses and wall plates.
On Thursday morning we left the hotel with our bags packed, unsure if we would be finished in time to get the ferry that evening. As usual, all the complicated and time consuming tasks get left to the end of the project so we were unsure how long it would take to round everything up. We pressed on and finished lifting the last truss, purlins, and ridge into place.
The Completed Frame with temporary softwood bracing to the garage and floor joists.
At this stage of the build you could really grasp a sense of the structure and space. On entering the porch you pass through two large slung dormer cheeks with a cantilevered landing opposite. On one side of the building were exposed oak joists, and the south facing sun room. Upstairs you could see how beautifully the window openings framed the picturesque view of the Lough.
The Construction View as you enter the house via the porch.
The client was extremely pleased with progress of the week. There was still plenty of work to be done, but he was keen to push the rest of the build forward at the same rate as the Oakwrights frame erection. Before we had tidied up the site there were builders laying the base of internal walls, and softwood specialists measuring up the external dimensions to begin work on the cladding. The client was looking forward to eating his Christmas dinner in the house in 2011 and I'm sure he will be!
Thankfully we made it onto the ferry by 10pm Thursday night. A smooth but slightly delayed crossing landed us back in Liverpool around 6.30am and we were one of the first off the boat. As we headed down the A49 back to the yard it was clear just how lucky we had been in escaping the snow! We had reports from other site crews telling us how they were trying to work their way through 12 inches of snow!
I really enjoyed my week out on site, but I was also grateful to be sitting in the warm(ish) office on Monday morning. On reflection I think I have the best of both worlds as a Frame Designer - I can work in the office and be creative in a job that still offers me the chance to get outside and work with my hands.
I'm just counting down the days until I can follow my first full frame out onto site!