In France, there is an ancient guild of craftsmen known as the Compagnons Du Devoir. Within the guild, dating back to 1226 AD, there are twenty-one different trades, one of which is carpentry, and more specifically, timber framing. In France, Compagnons built and continue to build everything from the great cathedrals to farmhouses and barns. It is a time-honored system of ‘stagiaires’ (trainees), working to become ‘aspirants’ (candidates), striving to become compagnons – the masters. The Compagnons must then pass on their knowledge, values, and ethics assuring dignity within their noble profession. The system fosters the perfection of character and education in each person resulting in more than 800 years of quality craftsmanship in building history.
It was this history of the Compagnons and the legacy of the buildings that inspired local timber framer, Bill Sturm to pursue his passion. Bill, owner of Oregon Timberworks, recently worked on a project for Desert Rain. He created a massive memorial plaque from a slab of the 201-year-old ponderosa pine tree that was removed from the building site. I visited Bill at his shop to learn more about his craft and the materials he works with.
Bill began his career as an architecture student at Georgia Institute of Technology. He spent a year in Paris studying design and architecture where he was intrigued by the heavy, timbered structures, wooden joinery, and longevity of the built environment. He attended the Design/Build program at University of Oregon, worked as a carpenter on traditional framed houses, and eventually found his way to a timber frame shop in Sisters, Oregon. In 2000 he created his business, Oregon Timberworks.
In the early years, Bill said there was very little use of reclaimed wood. ‘Green’ was not yet a common term in the building trade and Bill did not intentionally choose timber framing as a sustainable profession. Today he finds his craft and his business have all the elements of meeting environmentally conscious and sustainable building practices. The quality of workmanship, materials, and design creates a structure with longevity. He uses reclaimed materials when available. The reclaimed timbers tend to be large diameter, high quality wood from demolition projects – grain elevators, commercial structures, barns. Any new timber he uses comes from small mills. Bill often knows the source of the timber as he visits sites to choose the standing trees.
Oregon Timberworks builds furniture, signs, houses, and barns. A recent project was a 40’ high tree house in the Willamette Valley. The process is math based so pieces can be designed and cut at the shop and then shipped to the building site. One house went to Hawaii in two containers. Bill likes to maintain control of the process so he works with a crew on site to construct the frames on the building sites.
Bill is adamant about not wasting wood or what he calls, ‘drop’. He is a self-proclaimed timber hoarder, saving almost all scraps of 24” lengths and sometimes even shorter, if he likes the wood. Eventually, this ‘waste’ may end up in a project – a furniture piece, bench, or saw horses. After many cuts some small scraps find their way to the firewood pile. Even then, Bill admits to occasionally rescuing a piece.
Bill has a story and enthusiasm for almost all the timbers stored at his shop. He exudes knowledge and a love for trees, timber, and his craft. Port Orford Cedar was used for the tree house project. Though not a true cedar, it is native to southwest Oregon. It has an interesting history and is considered a spiritual tree by the Japanese.
Bill has a spiritual philosophy about trees as well. His most eloquent words give perspective and reverence to his chosen craft of timber framing and working with natural timber. ‘We have to appreciate that this timber was a living-breathing tree. The best way to honor a tree is to never let it see a burn pile. We must always let it keep its value’.
The plaque that Bill made for Desert Rain is mounted on a wall inside the house, honoring that Ponderosa pine. The rest of the ponderosa story will be unfolding in an upcoming post helping that tree keep its value.