The Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium (FLM&A) has announced they are offering beginner and advanced timber framing workshops this summer, taught by Rob Hughes of Big Beams Timber Frames in Cohocton.
Timber frame construction uses large, heavy wooden beams that are hand-formed and carefully fitted together using Mortise and Tenon joints and wooden pegs. This simple, and strong building technique has been used for thousands of years throughout the world, and is a large part of the building history in the Finger Lakes Region. Many timber frame buildings, constructed by hand over a hundred years ago, are still standing today.
Rob Hughes interest in timber frame construction came at an early age. He grew up in Upstate New York, where he spent many hours working and playing in barns that he viewed as agricultural cathedrals, with their oversized beams conveying a sense of strength and permanence. In the 1970s, Rob voraciously absorbed articles and books related to the Back to the Land Movement, the wisdom of past generations, and old tools and methods of timber framing, which was enjoying a resurgence in the Northeast at the time.
Rob established himself as a science teacher at Wayland-Cohocton Central School, where he has worked for the last 28 years. About sixteen years ago, Rob taught himself how to build his first frame with zero experience in carpentry, but, as he says, he did have “the valuable trait of ignorant determination” on his side. Ever since then, Rob has designed, cut, and raised about two simple frames each summer; each one incorporating something more advanced.
About four years ago, Rob worked with his colleagues to develop a Timber Frame Class at his school, which has turned into an award-winning, community based STEAM program, where students complete all stages of a timber frame project over the course of 40 weeks. Three years ago, with the encouragement of friends and family, Rob took the plunge and started his own company, Big Beams Timber Frames, where he creates custom frames for customers. The staff of the FLM&A became aware of Rob’s work in 2016 after he constructed a timber frame lean-to for the Finger Lakes Trail Conference on the museum’s campus near Sugar Creek.
The first week-long Timber Frame Workshop taught by Rob at the FLM&A happened last summer. Six participants worked together under Rob’s direction to erect a timber frame lean-to structure on the north side of the museum’s Creekside Center.
This year, in addition to repeating the Introductory Timber Framing Workshop from July 23-27, there will also be an Advanced Timber Frame Workshop from August 13-18, for those with a little more woodworking experience. For the Intro Workshop, a timber frame lean-to structure will be built on the south side of the FLM&A Creekside Center. For the Advanced Workshop, an 18-foot octagonal pavilion will be built in the FLM&A Townsend-Grady Wildlife Preserve Wetlands. Each day of the workshop, which runs roughly from 8 am through 4 pm, participants will have hands-on experience working with tools, and learning the history and significance of the art of timber framing. Lunch is provided each day. The cost of the Introductory Workshop is $300, and the Advanced Workshop is $350, with a $50 discount offered to anyone who signs up for both. Grant funds from the Rochester Area Community Foundation will help to offset program materials, have enabled reduced registration fees, and will be used to place permanent signage on the museum site that explain the history and art of timber framing in the Finger Lakes Region.
Anyone interested in this year’s workshops can register online, and can call (315) 595-2200 with any questions.
The Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium is a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization and is chartered by the New York State Education Department. For more information, visit their website.
Photo of Participants of the 2017 Timber Frame Workshop at FLM&A courtesy Helen Sullivan Heizyk.