Author Archives: tcarpentry

Treehouse Structure Video

Check out this video of our Argyle Treehouse made by Deek from HGTV’s Tiny House Builders!

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10 Day Treehouse, Step by Step

As my fiancée and I are heading out from a beautiful weekend spent relaxing in Argyle, NY, we sign the guest book and notice a comment from a previous guest proclaiming excitement to see the treehouse slated to arrive sometime in the coming months. We say our goodbyes to the host, and I mention my former employment as a treehouse carpenter, and two months later my friend and I are breaking “ground” for my first solo treehouse build. With a strict timeline of 10 days, it was long hours but incredible fun to put together this treehouse! You can stay here through AirBnB.

Day 1 – Arrival and Site preparation

After two months of planning off of photos and site measurements provided by the owner, arriving on site was an exciting ordeal. We pulled up with a trailer full of tools, beams, and milled rough lumber.

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Partially loaded truck ready to head to NY!

After deciding on the final site location, we trimmed some limbs and laid out the posts that would become the footings for two posts supporting the front of the treehouse. Measurements were finalized, and as the sun began to set we marked the footings to be dug the next day.

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Getting the site ready for a treehouse!

Day 2 – Footings, TABs, and Beam Installations

Camping and building a treehouse is a surreal combination of ground by night and trees by day. Cooking was time consuming, but the first cup of coffee over a camp stove with a day of tree housing looming was a magical feeling.When we weren’t camping in the field, we were staying in a quaint guest house on the property stocked with tea and coffee.

Day 2 was perhaps the most strenuous of the endeavor, as digging 4′ footings into bedrock and drilling 3″ diameter holes to hold TABs with underpowered hand drills leaves hands blistered and muscles sore. Two 4′ x 12″ diameter footings were dug and poured in the morning with the specialized hardware set in place. Two TABs were installed as well, letting us hoist the first beam (sistered 16′ 2x12s) in to place.

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Dennis working on TAB installation.

By the end of the day, we were resting with a level beam thanks to the water level, and curing footings. The trees chosen to be the backbone of the treehouse are a red oak (right) and two ashes (one pictured on left above).

Day 3 – Post installation

Friend #2 arrived on day #3 and gave us a much appreciated hand with hoisting posts and eventually laying out the joists. We felled a 14″ diameter oak tree near the site and used the trunk as posts for the treehouse. The base was notched with a chainsaw to mate with a metal coupling that had been set in the concrete footing.

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Dennis and Ryan laying out the chainsaw notch.

Curved lumber is difficult to work with, and there was much head scratching as to how best to orient the tree to deal with supporting the load of the treehouse. Eventually it was decided that since the tree had functioned for 30+ years in an orientation, best to preserve that same orientation.

After notching the base of each post, we raised the posts onto the footings and secured them with bolts and temporary 2x4s. Again, we used the water level to determine level from the rear beam to the raised posts, and they were notched with a chainsaw to provide stability against racking. Having a snug fit is always the way to go, rather than relying on fasteners in shear. Easier said than done, however, when using a chainsaw atop a ladder for some fine carving. IMG_1627.jpg

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Braced posts with first joists.

To brace the front posts, we again used lumber from the felled oak. Massive lag bolts were used to fasten the diagonal support to the post and beam. The natural look saves money and increases overall sustainability of the treehouse.

The dimensional lumber for the build was all rough cut, and provided by Drumm’s Sawmill in Schyulerville, NY. The material is gorgeous, sourced locally, and in my opinion this rough cut lumber is the most aesthetically pleasing look for a treehouse.

Day 4 – Joist Layout and Blocking

On day 4, we were able to throw up the final joists, and add some blocking for support. Joists which were full size 2×10 boards, were required for the house, but also for the continuous deck area around the front and left portion of the treehouse. The odd angles of the funky deck were time consuming to block out, and additionally required extra consideration due to a split trunk ash that interacts nicely with the deck.

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Finished joists with blocking.

At the end of the day, my helpers and I picked up some 2×6 T&G to become the subfloor, as well as some full size 2×6 for the decking, planed on one side. While they were doing this, I worked on starting deck railings from natural posts, again from the felled tree. Day 4 came to a close putting some deck boards on the front patio.

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Adding decking to the front patio.

The main body of the treehouse is a 12’x14′ footprint, with a 1’x3’cutout for the landing at the entrance. The roof overhangs 3′ in the front, for 12’x16′ of covered space. The deck on the front wraps around to the side, for roughly another 80 sq. ft. of outdoor space.

Day 5 – Subfloor, Decking, and the First Wall!

At this point, the structural work was finished, and standard carpentry becomes the majority of the work. We next finished the subfloor and the decking, and began on the walls and deck railings. My friend Dennis Walter rocked the railings for the next couple days, as I worked with my fiancée raising the 4 main walls.

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Finished subfloor and funky decking.

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Always make sure your knees can come back out!

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First wall up!

At the end of the day, the first wall was raised, and the railings were beginning to take shape. Walls were sided before being raised, so as to minimize the need for scaffolding, ladder, and tree climbing. The weather was gorgeous, and was an incredible environment to work in.

Day 6 – Walls and Railings

We had hit our stride at this point, chugging forward with walls, railings, and window planning.

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3 walls!

Day 7 – Final Wall, Roof, and Railings

Day 7 included the raising of the final wall and the beginning of the rafter installation. Work progressed on the railings as well, with preparations being made for the staircase and landing as well.

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Fiancée tasked with rafter flush cutting

The decorative rafter in the front was from milled red oak from my Alaskan Mill. It had been milled several months before the job, and therefore had sufficient time to dry. Window and door trim were made from thinner live edge wood also from my Alaskan mill, to match. The overall look of the treehouse is very natural, from the natural posts and railings, to the live edge decorative rafters and trim.

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Scrap wood bonfires are the best bonfires.

Day 8 – Finishing touches on the rafters, staircase, and railings

Day 8 was a whirlwind day, throwing together the final rafters, staircase, and railings.

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Preview of the treetop views.

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Final treehouse framing.

With the walls raised and the roof framed, the treehouse was now incredibly sturdy. The gentle swaying of the treehouse in the wind is very pleasing, and the outdoor patio area is a great place to relax.

Day 9 – Roofing and Interior Work

The first rains during the job held off until 3/4 of the roofing was installed. One of nature’s gifts during this build. Siding was added to the front wall, and tin roofing added to the front, leaving the rear roof sections to be covered with clear plastic to provide a view to the treetops from the loft.

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Siding on the front, tin roofing on top.

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Clear roofing over the soon to be loft. Let the rain begin!

With the roof installed, we began adding the windows and other finishing touches on the exterior. IMG_1770.jpgIMG_1776.jpg

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We were the treehouse’s first guests this night.

Day 10 – Wrap up

Day 10 saw the successful wrap up of the treehouse. The ridge cap was installed, the loft built, and the front doors and front siding added. IMG_1787.jpgIMG_1798.jpgIMG_1800.jpgIMG_1803 (1).jpgIMG_1807.jpgIMG_1817.jpgIMG_1824.jpgIMG_1810.jpgIMG_1827.jpg

We packed up camp, cleaned up the site, and hit the road. Hope you enjoyed the photos and description of the job! You can check out other work on my website or flickr.

Why spend hundreds on premium lumber…

…when windstorms have a way of turning up the best lumber around? Working in the woods last summer in the Pine Barrens, NJ, a huge windstorm passed through, uprooting a gorgeous red cedar. Since it was now only termite food, I had no qualms about taking my chainsaw to it to steal a piece of nature for a turning project. The red heartwood contrasts with the white sapwood for an eye-catching final product. I started with a piece a couple feet long, long enough to make a couple projects, before roughly cutting it up with a chainsaw to a size my Delta midi-lathe could handle when turned perpendicular to the grain.

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This wood had recently fallen, so it was still very green. The piece even sprayed my fingers while it was being turned on the lathe. I roughed out the basic shape I wanted before letting it dry overnight. I’ve read in many sources that green wood should be turned oversize, and let dry for weeks, maybe even months. However this cedar seemed to dry enough overnight to make it able to handle the next day without consequence.

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The next day I got the piece to the final dimensions and let it dry overnight once more before sanding. After sanding I applied a Tung Oil finish to the piece. The color of the heartwood darkened to it’s final red color in a couple weeks, but I didn’t notice any ill effects from not letting it dry fully before finishing. I gave it away as a gift several months later, and it hadn’t warped at all.

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That’s the story of my Cedar Goblet. It has kind of an awkward shape, but it’s great for storing keys and change. And hey. It was free!

Greenhouse grows Woodcraft Program

One of my jobs last summer was working as the Nature Director at a YMCA boys resident camp in New Jersey. My program was geared to teach campers about the benefits of native plants through the lens of environmental stewardship. One project included planting a native plant rain garden, however the summer culminated with the entire camp lending a hand and hammer to construct a greenhouse for the propagation of said native plants. In the photo you can make out the first crew of our greenhouse crops.

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However, the greenhouse experiment did more than teach campers about temperature and humidity. The project demonstrated how much the campers enjoyed working with their hands, making friends in the process of tackling a huge project that required many combined hours of work. Camp directors decided they wanted to try an all new experiment in the form of a full time Woodcraft program for the coming summer, allowing me to share my woodworking skillset with campers. Projects will range from canoes from a single sheet of plywood to birdhouses to picnic tables. Check back over the summer months for great projects for kids!

Procrastination 101

Procrastination. The double-edged sword that is the bane of many students’ existence. Unfortunately to a woodworker, making a trinket (and then blogging about it) is infinitely more appealing than studying for a chemistry exam. Here’s a cool knick-knack that looks complex but requires only basic know-how and tools.

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Taking Forstner bits of 3 diameters to a drill press and a perfect cube, you can create the illusion of having nested cubes (or even suspend one in the middle and dazzle your friends even more). Start with a bit about 1/4″ less than the edge of your cube. Mark the center of each face of the cube to use to center the Forstner bit. It takes some playing around, but test two adjecent sides slowly plunging the but deeper until a small arc is revealed in the overlap. Be careful to not go so deep as to pass the diagonals going through the cube, severing the inner cube from the outer cube. Set your final depth on the crank to keep it constant for all 6 faces.

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By now you should have a cube within a cube. Choose your next bit about 1/4″ smaller than dimension of the new cube and repeat the above steps. Use the divet created by the first bit to center the second. Now you will have a cube within a cube within a cube. You can either call it quits now or hollow this cube out with another Forstner bit. Or for the courageous, continue nesting!

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To suspend the center cube, carefully drill with your second bit to the point that the new corners nearly come to points. It needs to be strong enough to hold the piece in place until the sixth face has been finished, but weak enough that you can break it free with your fingers. It is easiest to creep up on this slowly. If you choose to have a hollow suspended cube, be sure to hollow first, disconnect second.

A few words of caution. Hardwoods, like cherry and oak, tend to split on the two faces with endgrain. Either start drilling on these faces or avoid these woods altogether. Nothing is more frustrating than watching your piece shatter on the penultimate step. These three cubes were accompanied by as many failures. Happy woodworking!